Dining in Vienna: Two Very Different Dinners Two Hundred Meters Apart

August 16th, 2009 § 0

On a balmy August Saturday night I was making my way home when I found two groups of people dining in the street. One group had a table under Karlskirche on Karlsplatz. The other were taking bowls of soup from the back of a van by the Vienna Technical University.

These two locations are just a few hundred meters apart.

Cities and differences.

Dinner in Vienna  Soup Kitchen Technical University
Dinner in Vienna Soup Kitchen Technical University
Dinner in Vienna  Karlsplatz Church
Dinner in Vienna Karlsplatz Church

This was supposed to be a post not associated with ImPulstTanz. Ironically, the group dining under Karlskirche turned out to be associated with ImPulsTanz. It’s the theatre usher team. I only realised when preparing the photo for publication at 100% magnification. Great idea to take a table out and eat on Karlsplatz.

ImPultsTanz 2009: Delgado Fuchs – manteau long en lain marine

August 7th, 2009 § 0

Actually the full title is "Manteau long en laine marine porté sur un pull à encolure détendue avec un pantalon peau de pêche et des chaussures pointues en nubuk rouge"

In other words: "A long wool coat in navy with worn over a sweater with a soft collar worn with peach leather pants and pointy red nubuk shoes".

In other words, you know this piece will be frivolous before you even get there. Frivolous not as in pointless, but frivolous as in the écume des jours (Froth of Days) of Boris Vian.

The stage is bare, without curtains.

The dancers enter from the house, each dressed in the sports clothes of the down on their luck, carrying a large plastic bag. Certainly from not such a good neighbourhood, ordinary folk. They begin by stripping off the ordinary clothes and showing off their very showy bodies.

Nadine Fuchs does gymnastic stretching in pink lingerie, staring matter-of-factly at the audience.

Delgado Fuchs © Sophie Ballmer
Delgado Fuchs © Sophie Ballmer

You can see this pair are either making the requisite sacrifices for their art. Neither of them has an once of fat on either stomach or hips. Either that or they hate food.

We are now firmly in the domain of the unpredictable. The conventional down on your luck dancer in sweatclothes to world class gymnastic stretching, it’s extremely unclear where this is going. In the background there is very faint music.

dress change  © Alec Kinnear
dress change © Alec Kinnear

Now they dress themselves up in something else again. Marco is in black tie and patent leather shoes, his strange long hair making him look like an out of work British rock idol from the eighties.

Nadine puts on green hotpants and a lacy cowgirl shirt with tall boots. The pair circle one another warily, begin to dance and kiss. Nadine flings herself passionately on Marco but then starts to pull herself higher on his chest still thrusting her hips at him.

They make us believe for a moment it might be real passion and then it just changes into absurdity again.

Nadine Fuchs by Catherine Leutenegger
Nadine Fuchs
by Catherine Leutenegger

Eventually the pair get to talking. Nadine speaks about Marco to the audience in first person.

"He got his start in dancing at a club in Brussels called Happy Fee, a strip club," she accuses him. At this point Marco is down to bare chest and black pants again. He lingers over at the side of the stage.

"Marco is waiting for a moment," continues Nadine. "A moment where the positive energy of the moment and the body come together." It’s hard to tell if she is serious or not.

When Marco begins to dance now, slow turning movements, a spine sloped backward, hands at awkward angles, we get contemporary dance improvisation 101. Both Fuchs and Delgado are mocking their opponents, the earnest contemporary brigade.

Delgado is clearly comfortable and in control of the idiom which makes his mockery of it all the more delicious. At the end of his parade across the stage he stops and stands in one place. Fuchs strolls by to make some adjustments and distorts his face, before moving his arm into a grotesque thumbs up position.

Marcos thumbs up   © Alec Kinnear

grotesque thumbs up position   © Alec Kinnear

Marcos   © Alec Kinnear
grotesque thumbs up position © Alec Kinnear

Delgado’s distorted half clown face makes us wonder about the poses we make and the poses people want to put us into.

A little bit later they find their way to naked and dance across the stage holding one another’s crotches. From naked Delgado and Fuchs move to a pink sixties outfit for Fuchs and head to toe blue tails for Delgado.

naked Delgado and Fuchs © Alec Kinnear
naked Delgado and Fuchs © Alec Kinnear

Curiously as soon as they are perfectly attired they set to meticulously rebuilding the stage with metal and wood. On stage, they left to life size photos of themselves. Each photo includes a hole in the wood for a self-portrait like in the surface.

self portrait © Alec Kinnear
self portrait © Alec Kinnear

"I’m thirsty," proclaims the pink Fuchs. "We’ll be up in the bar enjoying a drink. Anyone else who would like to have a drink too, come and join us."

Delgado hands someone in the front row a polaroid camera and then they both walk up through the audience and out of the theatre.

The audience sits in stunned silence for about thirty seconds and then they start to go for the self portraits.

The perfect anti climax. We are left taking pictures of ourselves in the cutout clothes of the two leads.

Marco Delgado by Catherine Leutenegger
Marco Delgado
by Catherine Leutenegger

I wondered about whether it was necessary to include Marco Delgado’s biography in the piece. I asked Delgado about it: "Who says it’s my biography?," he smiled.

That bit of stagecraft – breaking the line between the real and the imaginary seems to me to be at the core of manteau long en lain marine. Delgado and Fuchs want to take the stage back from earnest explorations of your real internal self to the magic of let’s pretend.

The constant costume changes are a reminder that surfaces are just that and that one’s impressions of someone are only clothes deep. This simple paradigm of blurring reality and fashion wakes the world up. You wonder who you really are and who the people you know really are. For at the end of the day, you are the sum of your clothes and your presentation.

Or at least much of the world works like that. manteau long en lain marine is a wonderful voyage into appearances and the unpredictable.

Even nudity is anything but clarity in this show.

Seen a second time, some of the magic comes off. The jokes turn out to be more closely timed than you think and less spontaneous. The improvisation and unpredictable is actually carefully choreographed.

But it is amazing how Fuchs and Delgado manage to maintain that feeling of unpredictable spontaneity most of the time. I asked Marco Delgado about it – "The freshness is essential. It is sometimes hard. We are often changing the show to keep it fresh."

So take this review with a grain of salt. In a month or two, you may see a very different show than the one I saw in Vienna.

ImPulsTanz 2009: Alice Chauchat – The Love Piece

August 5th, 2009 § 0

The Love Piece is one of the more unique pieces in the 2009 ImPulsTanz festival: it is entirely experiential and completely different every time it is played and for every participant.

The creators and cast of The Love Piece provide an environment and a context and the rest is up to you.

alice chauchat the love piece 028
The Love Piece: Where it all happens

The experience for the most part is positive, but as I wrote the quality of your experience depends mainly on you and what you bring to that evening.

Here’s what the program says about the piece. This much is public knowledge:

The Love Piece unfolds along a loose score that can described as: there as many audience members as performers. As they come in, audience members are each taken by the ahand by a performer, who for the duration of the show ‘give love’ to his/her audience. What such a love can be, is the stake of the piece. Love songs are playing the whole time.

There are just 10 performers – so very few people had the opportunity to experience The Love Piece. I was one of that fortunate 100 and will reveal the details to you about my own visit.

*** SPOILERS FOLLOW – PLEASE DO not read farther ***
*** if you expect to attend The Love piece personally ***

ImPulsTanz 2009: Alice Chauchat - The Love Piece Continues »

ImPulsTanz 2009: Eszter Salamon & Christine de Smedt – Transformers

August 5th, 2009 § 0

One of the curiosities at ImPulsTanz this week was the stage performance of Transformers, the culmination of two weeks of rehearsals and workshop led by Eszter Salamon and Christine de Smedt.

This is one of three or four professional level two week programs, mainly populated by the DanceWeb dancers. For those not familiar with DanceWeb, it is a program run by ImPulsTanz which brings about forty dancers from around the world to Vienna to study dance at the ImPulsTanz workshops and at the performances as well for free. DanceWeb is one of those great initiatives which changes the world by providing a conduit for international exchange. Often DanceWebbers end up visiting one another across the globe. I have been the guest in Venezuala on a road trip with one of my friends from DanceWeb. This is not untypical. So that is the context of this two week intensive: working professionals from around the world, but with no prior experience dancing with one another.

Some will argue that Transformers should not be critiqued as it is just the results of a workshop. Not so. It is deliberately presented as a stage work and not in laboratory format.

Salamon De Smedt  Transformers
Salamon & De Smedt & Pro Series – Transformers
© Alec Kinnear

Black box stage. Stage environment not accented, more black curtains and shadows than raw backstage. All the dancers are in everyday clothes: blues, reds, yellows, browns. Nothing remarkable.

A curiosity are the wires going into each dancers left ear. More on them later.

The show starts off slowly with heavy breathing moving to amplified shch whispering noises and lot of meandering around the stage. The whispering slowly accelerates to quiet howls over the course of twenty minutes. Frankly this warmup session is pretty painful.

We have cute little hobbit "hee hee" noises. Let your inner voice out, seventies kind of primal scream warmup. Definitely useful for ungluing uptight dancers from stiff cultures. Not so entertaining.

accelerating Transformers voices
accelerating Transformers voices © Alec Kinnear

They now turn it up a notch and go into spasms and fits and real primal screams. Particularly amazing is a guy who looks like one of Ghenghis Khan’s lieutenants with long dark hair and high cheekbones. You fear for his life and yours as he screams and thrashes.

Particularly effective is Chris Haring’s dancer Alexander Gottfarb who doesn’t let the spasms go through his whole body but confines it to one part of his body at a time in a controlled rotation, focusing your attention much better on the nuance. Alexander has an unfair advantage here though as Chris uses spasms as well as part of his stage vocabulary (albeit a small part rather than the whole enchilada as here).

This thrashing and screaming goes on for at least a quarter of an hour.

Somehow it turns into a love-in with dancers merging together and blending with other groups. At first it seems heterosexual but over time same sex couples and mixed threesomes appear. The dancers keep their clothes on but otherwise with the passionate breathing and screams you are witness to a full on orgy. Somehow it is unclear if this is meant to be sensual or off-putting.

When it quiets down the stage goes dark and you think the purgatory is over. Not at all.

The lights slowly come back up and the dancers begin to assault the audience verbally.

contact audience
contact audience © Alec Kinnear

"Do you know what standing by means while the government kills your fellow man?"
"What about La Hacienda?"
"It is time for a revolution."
"Stop the injustice. Just wake up and stop it."

The dancers come right up to the first row and look in the eyes and shout in the face of the audience. Most of them believe in their revolutionary text and pronounce it with fervour. Quite effective.

They then move up the staircases of Halle G shouting at audience members higher up.

Sho Ikushima in Transformers
Sho Ikushima © Alec Kinnear

I thought they were all going to leave the theater as in Delgado or The Love Piece, leaving the audience alone to muse on what we just saw. It would have been quite effective.

But no, they made it back down to the stage.

Fairly robust applause when the lights went up, but the audience is mainly fellow dancers and friends – hardly impartial.

One could argue that Transformer is a workshop and not a performance to be critiqued. On the other hand, Eszter Salamon and Christine de Smedt made a conscious decision to present on mainstage and not in a laboratory session.

My neighbour Keith Hennesy complains about these white European kids appropriating the text from the Civil Rights movement (The Last Poets). This critique doesn’t seem particularly relevant to me. The issue is with revolution and injustice, not with colour and civil rights. Colour is a very narrow view of injustice which has become as much as an economic issue as one of race.

I could live without the half hour of painful buildup as the young dancers build their nerve up to explode on stage and then do their love-in.

But the peak moments did have a genuine character, enough to make one reflect on what humanity means and the differences between man and beast. Apparently not a lot. A fair enough conclusion. Beasts do less damage to the earth as we do.

I do have issues with the technology used. Apparently the wire into the left ear is actually an earphone attached to an iPod shuffle. Each dancer has a soundtrack with both noises and instructions on it, to guide him or her through the performance. For me, giving them a constant hidden soundtrack to perform to is the equivalent of cheating on exams. Almost all of the sound the audience gets is from the dancers.

The dancers should have learned how to generate these noises unselfconsciously without doping themselves with dialogue in their ears. If the dancers need a conductor or fluffer, that should be provided from the first row.

However, Christine de Smedt says the title Transformers is about transforming those sounds and those instructions from the iPod shuffle into performance. Okay, but this is not really preparing the students for the true internal work on themselves. As a prep exercise okay, but I’m not convinced.

Technology should be used to enhance, not as a crutch. I’d like to ask the participants about how they feel. If any of them read this, feel free to leave a comment about the experience of performing to recorded instructions and audio.

© Alec Kinnear

It should be noted there is scant little dancing in Transformers, but given the sparsity of dancing in the entire ImPulsTanz festival, there appears to be scant need for contemporary dancer performers to be able to dance. If all pro dance workshops go in this direction, we are bringing up a generation of dancer cripples who will be able to do little else than howl and writhe.

Despite that caveat, Transformers is far from the dullest show among this year’s mainstage performances. There is movement, there is emotion, there is excitement, there is a point.

Sandro Amaral, Tim Darbyshire, Kathryn Enright, Elisabete Finger, Alexander Gottfarb, Arianne Hoffmann, Tahni Holt, Sho Ikushima, Lenio Kaklea, Benjamin Kamino, Igor Koruga, Karen Lambaek, Enora Riviere, Bert Roman, Salka Rosengren, Liz Santoro

ImPulsTanz 2009: Kylian and Schumacher – Last Touch First

August 5th, 2009 § 0

Of all the pieces I’ve seen at ImPulsTanz this year, Last Touch First is much the most careful art design work.

LastTouchFirst © RobertBenschop
Last Touch First © Robert Benschop

The stage opens on the interior of an imaginary eighteenth century manor house, where three pairs are standing. There are window frames and doors to give a sense of place. The whole group are standing on a a great canvas sheet.

The light is sculpted and three dimensional. There is a slight sepia tone, like in the best preserved photos of the period.

Last Touch First mirror scene  © Robert Benschop
Last Touch First mirror scene © Robert Benschop

The music is an atmospheric ting-ting-ting on a piano (Dirk Haubrich). Recorded as far as I could see and hear, rather than live, but still unnerving and compelling.

The trick of Last Touch First is the motion. The motion is unbelievably slow. The cast are all dancing but in stopped time.

The working group was formed on the ruins of Nederlands III, the company of retired stars who can still dance. Apparently it was just not possible to get enough funding to keep Nederlands III running. Jiri Kylian is still disappointed about it, as he was personally very closely associated with the founding.

When you see Last Touch First, you can understand why.

Nederlands III was the very best of Kylian‘s artists, nurtured over the course of decades into artistic forces. Each of them is able to command a stage alone, there are no beginners or mediocrities. All the dancers are charsimatic and spellbinding performers.

It is hard to believe that such a successful company would be scattered to the winds of time, a horrid reminder of the ageism of dance.

Rather than do what Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker did this year with the restaging of Rosas dans Rosas, and have older dancers do a show written for younger dancers, Kylian uses the special skillset of these dancers to have them control motion.

This is a much better approach to take to working with older dancers: give them work in which they can outperform younger dancers rather than moves which highlight their weaknesses in strength and speed and snap.

I’m still wondering what it all means. But the beauty and strangeness of Last Touch First remains after the noise of the rest of the festival all dies down.

Kylian Schumacher choreography  © Robert Benschop
Kylian & Schumacher choreography
© Robert Benschop

The underlying theme appears to be that bourgeois appearances are just that appearances. Under the finery and the well-set tables, each couple is world of primal violence and fractured intimacy. Pretty close to the truth. A mature truth – this is not Romeo and Juliet. But then most of life isn’t either.

Revenge is best tasted cold. After the closing of NDT III, Last Touch First was crowned dance production of the year in 2007 in Holland.

Kristen Cere, Pedro Goucha, Cora Bos Kroese, David Cecil Krugel, Ester Karin Natzijl, Michael Scott Schumacher

ImPulsTanz 2009: Jetzt bist du dran – George Blaschke

August 1st, 2009 § 0

George Blaschke gets off to a running start with Rachmaninoff music and a tall thin dancer in a grey prison suit climbing the walls and sprawling on the floor. Really compelling movement.

Petr Ochvat © Georg Blaschke
Petr Ochvat © Georg Blaschke

The idiom is a bit dated and Chaplinesque but strangely compelling. Alas after about ten minutes it’s over and two other gentlemen walk out from the back of Kasino. Everything is very cordial, they nod and greet the dancer and then sit down.

We watch the dancer rehearse some more and then a home movie is shown of the three men on stage in a rehearsal studio. The two gentlemen sitting turn out to be a choreographer and a dancer. The sixty year old choreographer Harmen Tromp learned this material directly from the original dancer/choreographer Andrei Jerschik (Linz 1902-1997). And he taught it to the forty year old teacher George Blaschke. Who is now passing it on to the young Czech dancer Petr Ochvat.

Jetzt bist du dran © Georg Blaschke
Jetzt bist du dran © Georg Blaschke

George Blaschke is a piece about passing material on from one generation to another. Perhaps the passing of choreography should be an impenetrable mystery to audiences. To me it’s just a given. That’s what happens.

In this context, the pickings here are slim.

Ten minutes of compelling dance and ten minutes of dull rehearsal and ten minutes of rather mediocre film.

On the plus side, I would like to see the dancer perform again. I would like to see more of the choreography again.

I’m not sure about the advisability of taking 12 euros from people for what is a non-show and a rather bare bones demo. Apparently I was in the minority and most of the people attending were actually on a whole evening ticket which included Maguy Marin and so you got a lot of minimalism for your 25 or 30 euros.