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Impulstanz 2012: Franz West Tribute

Franz West died July 25. West was a conceptual artist who collaborated often with the dance creators at ImPulsTanz. Karl Regensburger moved quickly to put together a tribute by many of the dance makers who had worked with West or were influenced by his work last night.

Franz West by Ludwig Koeln
Franz West by Ludwig Koeln

Moderator and hands on organiser Jennifer Lacey did her best to keep the program on track but at two hours without a formal break and some real trouble moving the performers on and off, momentum was uneven. Had Lacey known how many pauses there would be, she could have passed on the introduction and done that in forced breaks. She told one joke which made me laugh while waiting what seemed like half an hour for Philip Gehmacher to get out of the back and onto the stage. Gehmacher’s equipment in the end was moved out onto the stage by force by Intendant Regensburger himself.

“As dancers we learn young to come on time or ahead of time and to be ready. Visual artists don’t ever seem to get this message – they are almost always late and badly organised – so collaborating with them is always an adventure for us.”

To open there was a beat poetry reading in the upper foyer of Kasino. Then the doors opened and a blonde transvestite in the most amazing electric blue platform heels pranced out.

“you can fuck a German in English too, fuck the uglies too to be kind and polite.”

I believe this was François Chaignaud.

Right after Chris Haring came out to show off one of his simplest tech tricks, microphone wrangling. Haring uses two loudspeakers and a microphone on a long cord. First he swings the mike between the speakers like a bell to get the measure of the feedback and then he starts to swing it around his head slowly and then faster. All the while his sound guy cranks up the volume into a crescendo of sound. It’s an impressive party trick. The stocky Haring can still really swing a mike like a rodeo man.

Here Lacey told us a bit about Franz West. He was a “participatory audience member. He would come to shows he wouldn’t like to be challenged by the work. An elegant hippy punk. Unlike most artists, West just got better as he got older.”

At this point, the highlight of the evening. Benoît Lachambre strutted out in thigh high platform bondage boots with a studded dog collar wrapped around his neck. Lachambre sang a song of unrequited love in a long term relationship, the pace of it tapped out by long strides with his boots. A pretty girl in tight blue hotpants and long dark hair joined him on stage, doing strange tricks like standing on her head and shaking her butt like a gogo girl. At one point Claire Furey puts on red sparkling Dorothy shoes from the Wizard of Oz and accompanies Lachambre in his rhythmic stomping. Finally Furey sits down at the piano and sings a richer version of Lachambre’s lament. Furey here sounds as good as Tori Amos, while Lachambre offers his rump coyly to the audience in a passive position of love.

The idea was good but what made Lachambre’s piece stand out was the intensity of his performance. Lachambre emoted the despair of love at the audience at volume know 12 out of 10, with a pasty face and bulging mad eyes. One worried for the man’s health. The effortless sexiness of Furey gave a necessary gloss of glamour to Lachambre’s gay madness.

After the show an Israeli Dancewebber where Lachambre is the mentor this year told me about what he had taught them: “Lachambre always talks about energy. Energy and more energy is the core of performance.” He’s not wrong.

Cecilia Bengolea did a cover of Kate Bush’s song “Wuthering Heights”. I’ve always loved Kate Bush’s fluttering voice and passion here. Bengolea got off to a surprisingly strong start despite a very present French accent. Alas, when she started to move, her vocal work limited her dancing and her dancing limited her vocal work. I think it’s the only time I’ve seen Bengolea perform clothed. I don’t think this performance can ever progress beyond shock value as there is no physical way to do the singing and dancing right.

Right here we went right off the deep end – but as this was a tribute to Franz West, it’s not important what I think but what he would have thought and I believe he would like the next (non-)performance very much. One of the world’s most famous Baroque violinists came over to perform the piece. The violinist very seriously set himself up on stage and played some tuning notes. We waited two minutes and thirty six seconds for him to start playing. He never did. The piece is called “Moment of potential silence”. It could just as easily be called “Moment of missed potential”. Bringing a world class performer to not perform is highly ironic and about as intelligent as burning €500 notes. As a political act, yes it’s highly charged. But as a long term proposition it has nothing to offer.

Now a new black strip of stage had to be rolled out. An enormous young woman in a black fur coat, a tall hair bun and nothing else strode out and stood in the middle of the stage, challenging us with her glare. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons starts. She rips off her fur coat, revealing hills of plump powerful flesh. Now she starts to powder her body as she tremors to Vivaldi. Shoulders, arms, breasts, belly. Turn and now buttocks in a rolling crescendo before stomping naked off stage. Again a party trick but a good one, confusing us with signals of classical culture, hygiene, body image and overt sexuality from non-standard body shapes. Doris Ulrich deserves praise both for the composition and for the performance.

Next come out a couple of old guys in worn out suits. It turns out to be the hairdresser of Franz West on stage with a massive soap bubble apparatus and a musician who worked with him in a beanie cap and a trumpet. A confusing twenty minutes of bubbles and half hearted trumpet. These guys are definitely going to miss Franz West as without him the world is just not quite the same. It was great to see them and to know what is waiting for all of us whether twenty years or fifty years down the road: the respect of time obscured by the confusion of age. Time waits for no man. Sow when the sun is high.

A young black gentleman in a black skirt came on stage to apologise for not being a singer and then to sing a song about “Daddy’s eyes” with the principle line being “Daddy is an alcoholic”. A moving enough performance but bit off topic. Dancers doing song covers is not really innovative or breaking the mold.

Philip Gehmacher took forever to get his act together and to come out on stage for semi improvised percussion with synthesiser on top. Phil Spector’s wall of sound. But not nearly so polished. I felt like we were being exposed to the experiments of a musician just starting his career. Something like a small child bringing his droppings to present to his mother, confident in his mother’s love and praise. Despite emptying half the hall (as usual), Gehmacher did collect a hearty round of applause after his half hour of diddling so I guess his expectations are not wrong. The sad part about this performance is that the pause waiting for it to be set up and the length of the performance broke the back of the evening. By the time we all left we were exhausted and drained.

Ivo Dimchev came out in a blonde wig which accented his cherubic face. The amazing trick Dimchev has of switching from angelic to demonic is quite mesmerising. He played with some sculptures, swapped the sculptures around, danced around to techno, scared the audience a bit by threatening to throw the sculpture at us, dry humped the corner of the wooden box he brought out with his props. Dimchev reminds me of King Lear’s fool: his madness allows him to say or do whatever he wants without giving anyone the right to offence. As much as “The P Project” delighted, this piece confused me. Showing off Dimchev’s talents but without much purpose.

Finally Mark Tompkins in his Sinatra suit wrapped up the evening with a performance of Heaven. “A place where nothing happens.” A fitting end to a tribute to a departed and much loved friend. As Karl Regensburger said in a short speech:

“I’d like to think that somewhere Franz has moved on to other works and other projects and that he is still with us in spirit. Such a creative force cannot come to an end, can it?”

High points? I was happy to have seen Benoît Lachambre’s work finally, in just the right dose to start. Doris Ulrich in the fur coat with baby powder is a very effective work. Seeing Mark Tompkins sing is always a pleasure. The beat poetry in the hallway was very good. Putting together almost overnight tributes is not an easy task and it is wonderful that Franz West got just the public wake he would have wanted.

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