Erste Tanznacht Wien: Lots of skits, a little dance

October 26th, 2009 § 0

Agata Maszkiewicz Komposition
Agata Maszkiewicz torn by fellow dancers in Komposition:
Anne Juren’s simple and poetic co-creation was the highlight of the evening

If nothing else, the season opener at Tanzquartier was extremely ambitious. Ten different performance venues in the TQW Studios, Halle G, Jungl, museumquartier21, the courtyard of MQ.

There were over twenty different performances in these venues starting at six. The performances offered a cross section of almost everything we’ve seen in TQW in the last five years. The evening was meant to be more inclusive than exclusive, a chance for the new director to work with all the resident choreographers and performance hangers on of TQW.

I managed to see about seven different shows. Here are my impressions.

Erste Tanznacht Wien: Lots of skits, a little dance Continues »

Leica’s S2 and the death of the R

October 19th, 2009 § 0

So Leica is coming late to the medium format camera and killing the R.

What are they thinking of?

Leica has a reflex camera: the R. R glass is brilliant and holds up just find to even the best full frame sensors. I shoot an Leica R 90mm on my Canon 5D and it’s my favorite lens.

With all that great legacy R glass out there, all they needed to do to make a killing is make a new R. The new R could be bare bones. Only one issue is important, the size of viewfinder and the ground glass in it. You should be able to really use Leica’s new R as a manual focus camera.

This camera is too big in an era where people want to scale down. The lenses are too expensive.

The next issue with the new Leica cameras is image quality. There is just not much all that exciting about the images I’ve seen floating around from either camera. The pictures themselves would look better if you put top R glass onto a Canon body (it works).

What Leica should have done here is build a high quality manual focus camera to use R glass.

The viewfinder should be like the Olympus OM-1, with a brilliant prism and very clear focus markings. I’d recommend a a simple a diagonal or horizontal prism. The approach of Canon in the 5D enhanced focus screen is not too bad either: everything goes sharply in and out of focus. In combination these two could be very strong, allowing one to focus away from center when necessary. Size and brilliance are the issue.

If I had the resources, I’d make that body myself.

I’d partner up with Samsung or Sony for the sensor (if Samsung could do the full frame, otherwise Sony’s full frame sensor that is in their A850, A900 and Nikon’s D3X). For electronics, it would be nice to partner with Nikon but if they won’t play along, Pentax has some good technology.

For the body and viewfinder and assembling I would go to Ukraine’s Kiev, as they have quite a bit of experience with Leica lens mounts and high quality glass viewfinders.

I’d go further and make the mount swappable so that one could use manual Leica R, Pentax screw, Pentax K, Nikon and Canon FD lenses. Each mount adapter would cost a few hundred euros but would allow normal stop down focusing and have high quality parts making it as easy to swap lenses as on the original camera.

Unfortunately, the camera business is extremely capital intensive so this is not a project that can be undertaken by a small business. The danger in the project is the disparate parts. If the Ukrainians made a mistake somewhere in machining or assembling the cameras, they would only be liable for the broken parts. The investor would then be responsible for Pentax and or Sony or Samsung’s order.

On the other hand, Leica could have built such a camera quickly and easily. That they didn’t indicates that Leica is not a company to be trusted. They preferred to obsolete their R glass than build an updated camera.

Why not?

With an updated R, there is a sea of great legacy glass out there. So there is no great win for them. Would I trust Leica with the money that a P5 costs?


Trisha Brown – Three Works: You can see us, Foray Forêt, Set and reset

October 2nd, 2009 § 0

“Trisha Brown brings three dance works to Vienna’s ImPulsTanz.”

This sounds like something from the nineteen-nineties. In the nineties, Trisha Brown did bring eleven works to Vienna, including the three we saw tonight .

ImPulsTanz and Tanzquartier managed to collaborate on bringing this reconstruction to open the modern dance season this year. Over the last few years, dance has so lost its way in Vienna, that there are no steps anymore just words. For music at most one gets modern pop songs blasted too loud, at least just silence.

In the lobby of MuseumsQuartier’s main stage Halle E, the excitement was palpable with a keen dance and cultural audience eager to step onto the time machine Karl Regensburger created for us this evening.

Curiously the best piece of the evening was the earliest creation shown, Set and Reset from 1983. The music is vintage Laurie Anderson. The constant bell rings alarm and and tension throughout the theatre. Overhead onto a triangular construction old films and advertisments are projected with the soundtrack behind the bells, the cacophony of modern urban and televised existence transmuted into art. Images of engine rooms and troubled nurses, as if in the bowels of a great ship.

The dancers fling their arms and move urgently across the stage, never staying more than a minute or two before another wave replaces them. The choreography is a celebration of movement.

Laurie Anderson’s music reminded one of Liquid Sky, the cult film about aliens in search of heroin addicts in New York counterculture. We are transported to another time where solutions seemed more plausible and decadence still a veneer.

One doesn’t notice it as much in Set and Reset, but the current Trisha Brown dancers are not nearly hard and lean or desperate enough. These are the academic movers of reconstruction and not the artists on the cutting edge of the avant garde who created the original work with Trisha Brown.

Set and Reset gets away with reconstruction as the elements of projection, sound and music are so dominant and can be accurately reconstructed.

In the other two works Foray Forêt (1990) and You can see us (1995), the reconstruction is less successful as they are both far more dependent on the individual performances. You can see us was originally a duet for Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown, created relatively spontaneously to fill a program.

<blockquote>I didn’t have the time to make a new piece, but honoured by the request, suggested he learn my solo If you couldn’t see me and we perform it as a duet….front/back, man/woman, gay/straight, young/not so youn, black/white, etc..</blockquote>

With all the good will in the world Leah Morrison and Dai Jian can’t fill those boots. Consequently, You can see us comes off as somewhat pointless. Shakespeare wrote his plays thinking of specific actors. So it is with the choreography of You can see us. A foggy mirror.

Foray Forêt fares somewhat better as it is a group effort. The accident of a marching band outside the rehearsal becomes the memory of a marching band inside the performance. National anthems take over the bodies and movements of the performers and we drift with them against the pink and golden skies projected on the back of the theatre wall.

The dancers wear garb which is a cross between the Arabian Nights and golden space suits: the whole effect is rather surreal, as if one has landed in another universe, somewhat like our own but different. The dance, a strange world of miscommunication.

The music is performed live all over the world, as one cannot count on the audio system of the theatre can’t be counted on to reproduce space. So different real marching bands from Portugal to France to Austria have filled. The measured unpredictability of the score forces the performers to really pay attention, to be alive.

By way of comparison, I’ve seen Trisha Brown’s o Composite performed by the Paris Opera, another Laurie Andersen collaboration. Here each slight emotional intonation becomes a precise movement. Foray Forêt was informative but could be performed better. But neither Foray Forêt could touch the frenetic energy of Set and Reset which left the audience and this reviewer on a high.

Set and Reset remains a vibrant and timeless work. Not reconstruction but living art. To see it live, made the whole evening worthwhile.

By bringing back works from Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Trish Brown, Karl Regensburger is giving a new generation of artists a chance to see what the excitement about dance is. That it movement and not just long faces and pretentious posing.

Perhaps they will be able to return to the high road and the world of performance installation can go back to where it belongs, the museums of modern art.

New World Ballet at Vienna Staatsoper

October 1st, 2009 § 0

Six different performances from five choreographers in a single evening. This starts to reminds one of Choreolab. And in fact one of the Choreolab choreographers did manage to make the main stage. No great surprise that it is fellow Hungarian Andras Lukacs and protegé of ballet director Gyula Harangozo.

Duo by Andras Lukacs Alice Firenze
Duo by Andras Lukacs & Alice Firenze

The good news is that Lukacs’ piece Duo while short was the most emotionally moving of the works danced that night. Duo is simplicity itself: rich purple costumes covering just the torso (Mónika Herworth) and a simple dark stage. The lighting was atmospheric but at the same time clear. We weren’t squinting in the dark.

The emotional character of the work had much to do with the music of Max Richter (from the Blue Notebooks) and with Rafaella Sant’Anna‘s performance. She is in the prime of young womanhood, a powerful dancer with graceful curves.

Her scissors in the air cut sharp like steel. Generally Sant’Anna carried her role with the class of a Paris Opéra étoile, though her footwork could sometimes be more accurate.

The Brazilian Sant’Anna has been in the Staatsoper a long time but despite her dramatic gifts and natural talents has been left to drift much of the time. Whenever she has had the opportunity to dance outside the corps she has always shone. It’s nice to see her have this chance on the main stage.

While emotionally cooler than Sant’Anna, her partner Masayu Kimoto supported her performance with élan. He was always in the right place and handled his lifts as though effortlessly.

Ederlezi 1 by Maria Yakovleva Mihail Sosnovschi
Ederlezi by Maria Yakovleva & Mihail Sosnovschi

The opening piece of the evening Ederlezi from choreograph Myriam Naisy was quite the opposite. Shrill, bathetic music as if from a second rate Hollywood melodrama bathed the audience in bathos. Goran Gregovic must take the blame. The choreography did little to rescue the situation, despite some pretty lifts, particularly notable when Kirill Kourlaev held Irina Tsymbal horizontal over his head in an acrobatic pose. To their enormous credit, both handled this visually effortlessly.

Ederlezi 2 by Roman Lazik Karina Sarkissova
Ederlezi by Roman Lazik & Karina Sarkissova

Glow was a more ambitious work than either of the first two, with a cast of twelve dancers. Musically, choreographer Jorma Elo reaches directly for the sky, mixing a Mozart symphony and a Philip Glass’s concerto for piano and orchestra. The music was live making Glow a perfect fit for the Vienna Staatsoper, which may have the best ballet orchestra in the world. Unlike other ballet orchestras, the Staatsoper musicians have the opportunity to play a mixed repertoire and do not become as jaded and cynical in their playing.

The piano playing by Lucas Mais was superb: you could have closed the curtains. Anything that happened on stage was a bonus to the concert level playing.

Olga Esina showed up the entire cast with her long arms Dancers like Olga Esina are the reason to justify a trip to St Petersburg or Moscow to see the Marinsky or the Bolshoi. Kudos to Gyulo Harangozo for bringing Esina to Vienna and keeping her here. When you see her on the program, don’t miss the ballet. Kirill Kourlaev was the best of the men and partnered Esina adequately but for the moment the Staatsoper haven’t found a man to match Esina. The search goes on though: she will be dancing Swan Lake with four different partners in October and November.

Glow Stop by Ketevan Papava Alexis Forabosco
Glow Stop by Ketevan Papava & Alexis Forabosco

Of the other women in Glow – Stop, Ketevan Papava’s long arms nearly matched Esina, but her movements have a more deliberate and posed feel. I prefered Esina’s natural and effortless style.

Throughout Glow – Stop, the dancers mix and pair and mix again, like the river of life which brings people together and takes them apart.

At the end of Glow – Stop, the last dancer makes some small mechanical gesture with his arms and hand, as it the dancers are marionettes. We are just puppets moving frentically through life driven by our feelings.

Slingerland is a short duet by William Forsythe, originally staged on Stefanie Arndt who came to pass the role on to Olga Esina. Esina this time was paired with Eno Peci. Strangely, while both of these dancers are very talented, something did not work in this performance. Stefanie Arndt is a very angular and sharp dancer. Esina has a silky smoothness to almost all her gestures, even when stacatto. Her grace is out of place in the brittleness of Forsythe’s later works. Eno Peci is more at home in this idiom but he never seemed to hit full speed, nor was the any extraordinary chemistry between them. With all of the caveats above, Slingerland is the kind of work of which there should be more of in the Staatsoper repertoire and both Peci and Esina did sufficient justice to their roles. It’s just the trifecta Forsythe-Esina-Peci raised higher expectations on paper. The music didn’t help as it was a scratchy grinding bit of modern composition from Gavin Byers which irritates far more than it engages.

Slingerland pas de deux 1 by Eno Peci Olga Esina
Slingerland pas de deux by Eno Peci & Olga Esina
Slingerland pas de deux 2 by Eno Peci Olga Esina
Slingerland by Eno Peci & Olga Esina

The end of the evening was given to Juri Kylian with two of his masterworks, Petite Mort and Six Dances.

Petite Mort involves swordplay and fake dresses and great swooping pieces of fabric which are carried across the stage, set to sweeping Mozart concertos (Nr. 21 and 23). A lot of Petite Mort’s effect is based on visual gags and surprises. I’ve seen it a few times, perhaps in Paris as well. To be frank, it was a disappointment for me last night. The men were very sloppy with their swordplay, not in sync. They didn’t seem to have any military discipline in their timing. The women didn’t move me either. Petite Mort did not seem to have the precision necessary or to be fully rehearsed. Had it been the first time I’d seen Petite Mort, perhaps I would have sufficiently delighted by the eye candy and visual surprises to forgive many of these faults. I’ve seen it danced better elsewhere. Staastsoper should be dancing work like Petit Mort, so I’d like to see them go back to the rehearsal room and get it right.

Petite Mort 1 by Karina Sarkissova Mihail Sosnovschi
Petite Mort by Karina Sarkissova & Mihail Sosnovschi
Petite Mort 2 by Rafaella SantAnna Jaimy van Overeem
Petite Mort by Rafaella Sant’Anna & Jaimy van Overeem

Six Dances is again the duo Kylian – Mozart, but this time in an overtly comic context with white pancake makeup on the dancers. Juri Kylian has a secret fascination with the word of slapstick silent comedy. He indulges this passion to the hilt with six dances. The dancers drove the staid audience to laughing out loud and put a smile on my own face. Under the white face I couldn’t tell who was who among Alice Firenze, Gabor Oberegger, Céline Weder, Marcin Dempc, Iliana Chivarova, Thomas Mayerhofer, Liudmila Trayan and Richard Szabó but nobody danced badly. The danseuse who opened up Six Dances was perhaps the funniest of all. In addition to his talent for creating beautiful and emotional movement, At the end of Six Dances beautiful soap bubbles float down from behind the stage. The dancers look up and are surprised. They share their surprise directly with the audience, looking us in the face and shrugging their shoulders as if we were there on stage with them. And interesting breaking of the third wall before the curtain closes on their strange mime world.

Sechs Taenze 1 by Mayerhofer Chivarova Szabo
Sechs Taenze by Mayerhofer & Chivarova & Szabo
Sechs Taenze 2 by Trayan Oberegger Dempc Firenze
Sechs Taenze by Trayan & Oberegger & Dempc & Firenze

New World Dances is the closest I’ve seen Staatsoper come to one of those splendid Opera de Paris Palais Garnier evenings of contemporary choreography. Never mind that most of the creations here were made in 1980’s. There are a couple of newer pieces and this is a huge step in the right direction. There should be one or two of these evenings made every season. Costume ballets and classics are fine but to breathe a major ballet company needs this work too. I’d like to see newer works and less name choreographers but perhaps to sell contemporary choreography to the Viennese audience, it’s a necessary evil.

All photos copyright © Das Ballett der Wiener Staatsoper and Volksoper/Axel Zeininger