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Mozart Choreography – Philip Gehmacher, Salva Sanchis and Joanne Saunier

For those who still don’t know or might be reading this sometime in the future and have forgotten, 2006 is Mozart Year in Austria.

We’ve been deluged with dance performances centered around Wolfgang Amadeus’s music since the New Year, starting with the Christmas concert at TanzQuartier Wien and following through with Tanz Company Gervasi and others. What we saw tonight at ImPulsTanz may be the last round.

And it’s a good thing. For some reason, dancers and even more so, choreographers have a lot of difficulty dancing to Mozart. This surprises me as Mozart has always been famous for his musicality. I talked to Leoni Wahl and Esther Koller of Tanz Company Gervasi about Mozart in February.

“Mozart is very difficult. The music is so well known for so many other things, you have no feeling of freedom or freshness. The music imposes itself on your dance.”

The Gervasi Company is by far the most musical of any of the companies I have seen in Austria and arguably as musical as any in the world.

So if Elio Gervasi and his company had trouble managing Mozart, you can imagine the difficulties that three young choreographers would have.

ImPulsTanz offered Salva Sanchis (Spanish dancer well-known for his collaboration with Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker), Philipp Gehmacher (Austrian choreographer) and Joanne Saunier (Belgian choreographer, ten year Rosas veteran) the occasion to work on the Mozart theme.

What united the evening is that all three choreographers were obliged to work with a single pianist, the well-known German conductor and pianist Alexander Lonquich. Curiously enough Mr. Lonquich has both a standard concert piano and a harpsichord. All of the choreographers made him play both.

Salva Sanchis – “Ten Variations on G”

Highest hopes were for Salva Sanchis. As anybody who saw Sanchis dance in last year’s Desh or A Love Supreme, Salva breathes musicality. His ideal reshaping of John Coltrane’s convoluted jazz score through his body had to be seen to be believed.

Alas, “Ten Variations in G” was not as well conceived. Sanchis came out in red track top and black pyjama bottoms, accompanied by Manon Santkin in jeans and a square white top with the cut of a garbage bag. Alexander Lonquich joined them in a black t-shirt, black jeans and bare feet.

The opening stark poses and first sensitive small gestures of Sanchis’s hands had the audience rife with anticipation. But it was not to be – the casual attire carried through the whole show.

Sanchis and Santkin wandered rather pointlessly around the stage, occasionally dancing a little bit. The musical performance was rather indifferent. Even when Lonquich switched to the harpsichord, there was no discernable difference in the dance.

Finally towards the end, some contact between Santkin and Sanchis livened the stage up some little. But even that contact was disinvolved and disaffecting.

Sanchis is a difficult partner. With such stage presence and perfection of gesture, he can easily show the inadequacies of his partner. In Desh and A Love Supreme there was no issue as the dancers – from Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and the Rosas dancers – were a suitable match.

Santkin was not. While she can move, she is not nearly as fluid as Sanchis. But more importantly, Santkin suffers from negative charisma. Her stage presence in “Ten Variations in G” was self-satisfied and disinvolved. None of this was helped by the prison style crewcut she sported.

Santkin’s form was that of the new style female modern dancer, pear-shaped. I’ve spoken against the emaciated style North American ballerinas, but here I am going to take the opposite tact. There is no excuse for someone who calls him or herself a dancer not to eat and train properly. It’s one of the disciplines of dance. Those who don’t bother to do so, show an enormous disrespect to both audience and art form.

For some reason Emma Zune received a credit for the costumes. In which case the audience should receive a credit for the set design as we turned up in our clothes too and decorated the theater with our presence.

Philipp Gehmacher – “das überkreuzen beyder hände”

Initially Philipp Gehmacher’s piece was programmed to be first in the program. There was a last minute change to move it to second after the opening night. Given that a dozen people walked out of the Gehmacher piece when second (even though there was unrelated work to come from a third choreographer) in a half full theatre, I suspect the losses were too great on opening night.

So what did Mr. Gehmacher do this year to drive dance fans from the theatre?

Blackness. Gehmacher and Lonquich appear on stage. Silence and grim looks. Now back to the audience. The pain of the theatre. Very 1930’s, alienation. Berthold Brecht. Why we have to face these tired ideas recycled on the dance stage almost a hundred years later is a mystery to me.

In praise of Mr. Gehmacher, this year he did go to the trouble of getting a good haircut, his white t-shirt was clean and trim and his black trousers were very well-cut.

Just as in last year’s incubator, the primary choreographic gestures was a single raised arm and a pained facial expression.

Cleverly, Gehmacher had Alexander Lonquich fix him with an intense stare which forced the audience’s attention to him.

Nevertheless, at a certain point, significant snickering began.

Unlike incubator which had been shown to Tanzquartier Wien audiences who are more polite in the face of having theirr time wasted or last year’s Arsenal audiences who are more discreet as they are dancers in the Vienna scene or guests at ImPulsTanz, “das überkreuzen beyder hände” was shown in Akademietheater. Akademietheater brings in a main stream ImPulsTanz audience for the most behoven to noone and with high aesthetic standards. They also pay a pretty penny for the privilege – the best tickets were at €45 euros/head.

So if a choreographer has nothing to offer, they will snicker and complain.

Fifteen minutes of silence (Mozart night) and grimaces later, the lights went down very low and Alexander Lonquich settled into Fantasie in C Major.

At this point, Gehmacher is lurking in almost blackness in the far back right hand side of the stage, just standing there. We wait for him to move for two or three minutes. Then we understand. The lazy dog doesn’t intend to actually move to the Mozart. Those who came for dance become impatient and some of them leave.

Alexander Lonquich did a much better job on Fantasie in C Major in the dark than he had with the Ten Variations for Piano, so I just enjoyed the concert. Especially as there was no need to cope with Philipp Gehmacher’s pained grimaces in the near dark.

After about twenty minutes, Alexander Lonquich had finished his playing the piano and the lights came up again. In three further minutes of silence and pained expression, Philipp Gehmacher manages to stumble up to the front of the stage. Intermittently he hides his face from the audience in his armpit. To be honest, I started to feel sorry for him now. If this is all the dance he has to offer and all the rhythm he feels in life, no wonder he is so perpetually ashamed and sad.

Alexander Lonquich sat down now at the harpsichord, the lights went down and Mr. Gehmacher threw himself face down on the floor, his arms behind his back as if in handcuffs (a gesture we saw in incubator as well). Alexander Lonquich plays for another fifteen minutes, Philipp Gehmacherr doesn’t move a muscle, his unhappy face hard against the floor.

Many more patrons leave – those who came for an evening of dance and not a Mozart concert. I can only imagine the numbers who would have fled had this been a single Gehmacher evening. Philipp Gehmacher risks opening to a second night of empty seats if he carries on like this (there is a hard core contingency in Vienna determined to remove all movement from dance who approve – there are about enough of them to fill a five hundred seat theatre one night) – if he ever does an evening length work again.

Strangely, Mr. Gehmacher keeps himself in reasonable shape, considering that he seems to have no intention of ever dancing himself or allowing dance in any of his shows. At the end of the harpsichord solo, Gehmacher offers us another couple of minutes of dreary face and spasms.

For the first time in my experience, an ImPulsTanz let go a considerable amount of hissing and booing at the end of Philipp Gehmacher’s “das überkreuzen beyder hände”. There are enough mischievous programmers out there who live to piss off the audiences in their state-sponsored theatres who will likely be pleased and impressed with how well Philipp Gehmacher mocked and annoyed his audience. Perhaps a successful European tour awaits “das überkreuzen beyder hände” and Mr. Gehmacher can successfully continue his quest to permanently alienate audiences from dance theatre throughout Europe.

For those of us who dream of a larger audience for modern dance and the opportunity to present work to an extended public, this is anathema. If Gehmacher and his ilk continue to be given the stage, soon no one will actually be able to make any kind of living from dance. There will be no audience left.

Joanne Saunier – “Urban Bubbles – A study in old and new listening technics”

Finally some fun. We begin with three characters – as they are clearly characters from the beginning – all plugged into the same video iPod and speaking among themselves.

One is a hip young guy in blue sportsclothes (Beniamin Boar), another is a beautiful young woman in black sportsclothes (Julie Verbinnen) and the third is a more mature young woman in black tights (Joanne Saunier herself).

The video is projected on the back wall so we can see it to. It’s not quite clear what’s going on but the three react to it and start to move, each in his or her way to the action.

The notion that everyone (even if plugged into the same video iPod) has different reactions to identical stimuli is an interesting one.

At some point, Beniamin Boar breaks off into some lively solos of his own. Charisma and energy go a long way in the theatre. The atmosphere in Akademietheater improved immensely after the first two dreary numbers.

No Mozart yet and we’re still wondering if we are going to get any Mozart this time around but finally Alexander Lonquich sits down and breaks into Sonata for Piano in A Minor.

The three characters carry on living their lives and dancing around. The steps are very modern initially but then take on something of the baroque. Truly half in Mozart’s world, half out.

The extraordinarily radiant and quite beautiful Julie Verbinnen sits down at the front of the stage sideways and lets down her hair. We see her in cameo as Boar continues to prance energetically behind her. The classical poses of Verbinnen – like a 19th century locket of Natalia Goncharova or Jane Austen – are a stark contrast to Boar’s energy.

Some exceptionally blue lights have come up now and we are somewhere in Mozart-land with beautiful women posing and funky moves grooving. This is a world Mozart would understand of beauty and energy.

Joanne Saunier got it, the Mozart spirit.

The audience was thoroughly appreciative as well with a heartfelt round of applause. I’m not sure if it’s significant work or not but I’d like to see it again and decide. There is a lot of dialogue and I’d like a closer look at the video.


  1. charlie brown charlie brown

    male chauvinist pig

  2. derrida derrida

    i dont respect the person who wrote it becuase of how they approach in writing the work of Philip Gehmacher.

    terrible, insensitive, lack of observation, reflection, openness and perceptiopn. totally closed, preconceived ideas of how things should be.

  3. You have my opinion of Philip Gehmacher’s Mozart piece above. After receiving your comment, I reread it. Frankly, my writing is a whole lot more entertaining than Mr. Gehmacher’s choreography. Fortunately.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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