Madness before the show. Akademietheater is packed to the rooftops. The lobby a mob-scene of the Vienna and Impulstanz dance worlds. It seems the Icelandic Dance Company‘s We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR is the most waited for show.
The curtain is wide open and the action underway when the doors open. The theatre had been stripped to the bare walls.
A drum set in the middle back of the stage. A couple wrestling on the back right corner of the stage. A woman walking upside down on her hands at the left of the stage. Two provocatively dressed women pace back and forth at the front of the stage examining spectators with penetrating eyes.
A man crosses the stage in woman’s shoe. He climbs a ladder to the balcony.
A rousing dance and singing number. The two front women urge the whole audience to follow suit. Double clap. Push both arms over your head twice. A hip thrust. Repeat. Over ninety percent of the audience participate.
A light-skinned black chap (Peter Anderson) with a British accent starts to talk about the posting of American soldiers to Iceland. The Icelanders didn’t like their daughters mixing or exchanging gifts with the American soldiers. He explained how the daughter of one of them – named Cynthia Wood – appeared in Apocalypse Now as a Bunny Girl.
Her own daughter now appears before us, introduces herself as Rala (co-choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir):
I like soldier and they like me.
I like uniforms but I don’t like fighting
and I don’t like violence.
Out strides a guy in his late twenties with a mop of pale blond hair and enormous white fur jacket (Flemish dancer Diederik Peeters).
Imagine that there is no heaven.
Imagine that there are no deadlines, no more time pressure, no more aging.
Timeless existence, all the people living for today.
While he speaks the others dance pressed up against the back wall.
Now Erna Ómarsdóttir sits in the middle of the stage and begins to kiss herself vociferously with obscene mouth. She begins to perform head on her own hand, moving on to fist fuck her own face and then rolls all over the stage kissing it all. Ómarsdóttir and another dancer start to move around the stage in full splits bouncing up and down. It looks all the world like they are having sex with the floor.
A guitarist and a bassist join the drummer on stage and begin to play a hard rock song. The powerful musical score comes from Belgian musical phenomenon PONI. Former Rosas star Alix Eynaudi in a white chiffon skirt and a shiny top brings out three microphones, behind which she, French dancer Alexandra Gilbert and Ómarsdóttir line up.
Alexandra Gilbert is particularly striking with her long black hair and pale white skin in black clothes. She looks like a sexy vampire straight from the coffin.
After the song, Gilbert and Peeters in his white fur coat begin a dialogue on the cost of sexual services. It gets explicit. He wants to know the prices in heels, in boots, with two, with three girls, with head and without, and Gilbert is happy to oblige with details. In a Comme des Garcons dress an extra 300 euros plus the cost of the dress. Legs behind the head are an extra 129 euros.
Why so much?, he asks.
It took me seven years to learn how to do it, Gilbert ripostes.
Alix Eynaudi sings a song with the chorus “I am laughing” while the Ten Rules for Conduct for Blue Helmets roll slowly up the back wall of the theater.
- Dress, think, talk, act and behave in a manner befitting the dignity of a disciplined, caring, considerate, mature, respected and trusted soldier, displaying the highest integrity and impartiality. Have pride in your position as a peace-keeper and do not abuse or misuse your authority.
- Respect the law of the land of the host country, their local culture, traditions, customs and practices.
- Treat the inhabitants of the host country with respect, courtesy and consideration. You are there as a guest to help them and in so doing will be welcomed with admiration. Neither solicit or accept any material reward, honor or gift.
- Do not indulge in immoral acts of sexual, physical or psychological abuse or exploitation of the local population or United Nations staff, especially women and children.
- Respect and regard the human rights of all. Support and aid the infirm, sick and weak. Do not act in revenge or with malice, in particular when dealing with prisoners, detainees or people in your custody.
- Properly care for and account for all United Nations money, vehicles, equipment and property assigned to you and do not trade or barter with them to seek personal benefits.
- Show military courtesy and pay appropriate compliments to all members of the mission, including other United Nations contingents regardless of their creed, gender, rank or origin.
- Show respect for and promote the environment, including the flora and fauna, of the host country.
- Do not engage in excessive consumption of alcohol or traffic in drugs.
- Exercise the utmost discretion in handling confidential information and matters of official business which can put lives into danger or soil the image of the United Nations.
While this is going on one of the men sits down in front of a television and begins to play a very violent first person shooter video game. Ironically, the character blowing up cars, houses and other soldiers is wearing a blue helmet. The soundtrack of explosions and shooting is played very loud.
This is perhaps the clearest indictment of modern civilisation in We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR.
Another revue dance number featuring all the women and a couple of the men. “Thank you Vienna. You are the best audience we’ve ever had.” A very strange and banal phrase in the context of all this death and destruction.
A white curtain is pulled across the front of the stage and we have our visit from the platinum blonde man in the fur coat. He proposes us a world with “no countries, no Christians, no Muslims, no Jews, no more military camps, no more Americans, no more, Full Metal Jacket, no more Platoon, no more Hiroshima, no more Cold War, no more Hot War.”
There are problems here. First Peeters is heckled by another of the men who mocks him from the darkness at the edge of the stage. Second, his character also manages to come across as delusional and off-balance.
The curtain parts. An incredible loud music set animates three sets of fighting pairs, rolling on the ground and tearing away at one another’s eyes. The fighting groups break up and the male performer pastes money onto all the women’s forehead as Erna Ómarsdóttir begins to do the blow-job on her hand routine again, followed by the poking of her own eyes out. Soldiers are projected on the back screen marching. Now all three women are doing blow-jobs on their own index and second finger stuck together. They are hopping across the stage in the splits in a gruesome emulation of violent sex.
Another powerful live music set. Combat belts made up high heels. Peter Anderson and Alex Eynaudi in a vicious combat. Katrín Ingvadóttir rolls out a huge roll of paper towel from the back of the right side of the stage. She then comes back and drops ten huge hunks of raw meat onto the roll evenly spaced.
Alexandra Gilbert returns in her gothic black and high heels. She pours dark red jam down her leg which looks all the world like blood. She starts to lick it off. When she is done, she slowly puts both legs behind her head, as suggested by the earlier conversation about prostitution.
Erna Ómarsdóttir returns with her mouth full of huge metal screws, at least thirty of them which she slowly spits out. A vivid and horrible image.
At the same time Alex Eynaudi sings some kind of love ballad “he had one of those faces…”
At this point, one feels in the middle of a David Lynch film. Very Blue Velvet. I wonder if this is self-conscious or accidental for a moment.
The gentleman in the fur coat returns. “Why did you come here?,” he demands.
“Imagine,” he asks us again, “a world without fear, no more movies, no more David Lynch, no more dogma movies, no more modern dance, contemporary dance, dance theatre, physical theatre, Mozart, no more imagination, soap operas, breaking news, soccer hooligans.”
The piece ends with a rousing rock version of “Life is life”. Erna Ómarsdóttir wanders the stage with a huge knife sticking out of her bare chest, bleeding to death while we are treated to projections of a Polish marching band and girl revolutionary.
Lights down. The house goes wild.
Strangely, in his final speech the man of peace’s propositions are made to seem overtly unattractive. Without the inherent human aggression which sees its most pure manifestation in war, the suggestion is that both the creative and sexual urges would be gone too.
Would we rather live in a world with lots of sex and entertainment and have to put up with a little bit of war or would we rather live in a harmless world devoid of conflict – but bland, dull and passionless.
Initially I felt that this was a strong and imagistic anti-war revue. But now I am not so sure. It seems more to make war inevitable and a necessary part of human nature to be celebrated and appreciated. Certainly a world with Erna Ómarsdóttir and Katrín Ingvadóttir and Alexandra Gilbert in high heels and lust and greed in their eyes, is inevitably more appealing than sitting in darkened huts with a raving albino man in a fur coat for company.
Such a choice is very disturbing. Especially in an explicitly propagandistic piece. It becomes a justification for the roadmap for perpetual war through which we are living.
The overall impression We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR leaves is very adolescent. Blood, soldiers, marching, prostitutes, vampire girls, high heels, heavy rock. On the other hand the issues are real.
Some dramatic concerns. We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR might benefit from a few more low-key moments to appreciate the crescendos. It is a bit like the conversation of a coke-head. It never stops to take a breath. Even Diederik Peeters’s just imagine moments are loud and over the top. One is never given enough peace to fully feel the peaks.
The dramaturgy is somewhat fragmented. Who cares about the American soldiers billeted on Iceland in times of peace and this bunny daughter?
As a show, though, We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR, is fantastic.
Live music, crazy sexy girls, shocking images, thematic grandeur.
A huge and welcome change from all the minimalist work on show since the beginning of the festival. It’s good to see ambitious if slightly off-balance work.
We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR is a Europe funded initiative part of the Cultural 2000 Programme of the European Commission, with the main partners being Slovenia and Iceland. Dancers from France and Belgium complete the multinational cast.
Photos by Marc Andrea. Many more photos.
As we enter the theatre, we see a woman sprawled up against the wall, looking miserable. There are some wires around her so we think she might be one of the artists. She is looking at all the spectators as they come in, not shying away from eye contact.
The theatre at Schauspielhause is yet again a black box.
No dancer comes at the appointed time. Instead we face a tripartite image. From left to right: a panel written over English, the image of the artist pressed up against the wall, a panel written over in German:
The initial message is this:
hey dude i have
talent, i’m just here
waiting for god
The artist bends over to each panel to change the writing gradually. Finally the message is that she wishes Robyn would finish her costume so she could start the show.
After about seven minutes, she finally rises and comes into the darkened theatre via the spectator entrance. The centre screen is a projection of her face and carnations she is carrying from the camera in her own hands. The left and right screens show one feet as she walks, there is a technician carrying each little web camera on both sides of her. Mantero is lit by a yellow projector from the wings. The music is some kind of rising electronic fugue.
At this point, our prospects for the evening look good. Multimedia projection, live performance. Funny cryptic scrawlings. A suggestion of playful irony…
Halfway down the stairs, Vera Mantero breaks character and shouts out, “Put the houselights up.” The houselights finally come up. And there she is in some strange black wool dress with an enormous collar. There are still knitting needles at the bottom to indicate its unfinished status.
She continues, I can’t do this really I can’t do this. It’s no good. I’m really sorry I don’t understand what I’m doing, I’m having a lot of trouble with my body. When I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t really do it.
Fine. Apparently Vera Mantero wanted to do something political about homeless people and Robyn Orlin wanted to do something about Portugal. But for Vera Mantero this doesn’t work:
I’m not into nationality, I’m into people.
At this point we are lost. The dance show is over. A comic monologue has begun.
She takes her carnations and sticks them in the mouths of three spectatators in the front row. Each specator’s image is projected by one of the webcams. She makes the carnations line up in their mouths. Apparently this was part of the Portugal theme.
Very long carnations, very short revolution.
Vera Mantero has mixed feelings about flowers. In Portugal there are all these Indian guys wandering around at night. They target couples, usually men. Why do people need flowers as an affirmation of affection?
The flowers are put away. Vera Mantero asks for cigarettes and receives them from the balcony. She leaves the theatre for ten minutes at a time and we can only hear her monologue.
Mantero’s constant stream-of-consciousness rambling in her New York accent comes across as a female Woody Allen persona. This happens two or three times. The whole performance becomes a blur of words, stand-up comedy for Vera Mantero junkies.
The dress somehow manages to become green and yellow before being shed altogether. There is a very short dance sequence at the end as Mantero dances her way out of the dress with a pink lit reindeer hat on her head.
The topless Mantero leaves the theatre.
End of the show.
This wasn’t dance. Not even sure it was theatre. It was stand-up comedy built-up on personality. If Vera Mantero was not a very strong performer, the piece would have been a total and utter failure. Painlful.
Thanks to her rather skillful delivery, it more or less works for what it is. But it has absolutely nothing to do with dance.
My companion for the show – an excellent modern dancer in her own right and a generous spirit – felt that Vera Mantero’s ramblings and her difficulty in some direct way touched the homeless issue. Homeless people are confused and talk non-stop, she suggested, as Vera Mantero’s character does.
But for the moment homeless people don’t do a lot with webcams.
Meta-theatre in all its tedium. Next time Vera Mantero has trouble pulling her show together I hope she and her creative partners find a more original trope than a monologue on the impossibility of creating the show. Or they could just cancel the show until inspiration comes.
A huge empty workshop at the Arsenal. An enormous set of windows letting natural light stream in from overhead. One hundred foot ceilings.
A crowd of one hundred and fifty spectators gathered around the dance floor. Most sitting on the ground. Some on chairs. More standing.
From the back left corner a pretty girl with striking red hair in a white dress wanders in.
Very tall, with striking facial features, Ulrika Kinn Svennson, is an alluring and mysterious stage presence. A native of Sweden she works in Le Ballets C de la B.
She reaches centre stage and pulls up her dress to reveal that she is in fact in diapers. She finds a ball microphone.
“I had it all…” she intones into her microphone, the tones of her voice being modulated through a very sophisticated soundbank of mixing boards, keyboard and three computers behind the spectators. Behind the boards is a very intense Andreas Berger.
“You can never understand me.” Her voice begins in the female register before being dropped into the male register. Somewhere near the province of transvestite acts with a confusion of gender.
Svennson is followed by a young man who walks out with a very awkward droid like step. He introduces himself as Johnny. Johnny Schoofs is a Dutch-based dancer, graduate of the Rotterdam Danceacademy.
Schoofs does an “I am/I am not” dance to the sounds of his own voice.
“Could be nice:
are some of the interjections coming in quicker and faster and higher and lower tonalities from the sound system as Schoofs jerks around.
The technology of dance and voice is complicated and interesting but the skit carries on about twice as long as necessary. A nice touch is Schoofs’s exit through the crowd mingling with them on his way.
The third dancer to come out of the back corner is a long-legged young woma in skirt and t-shirt with a short pony tail pulled back. She delivers a long speech about celebrity and beauty and money. Nothing profound. The zeitgeist of contemporary North American culture.
Dancer Stephanie Cumming is a British Columbia native who studied dance at the University of Calgary in Canada. Since 2001, she has been dancing in Vienna with Chris Haring and others.
Cumming’s dance is an elaborate strip game. There are three layers of cotton under skirt and shirt which she pulls up and down. At one point she has all the tops up and we see both her stomach and a bra which she appears poised to pull off before she instead pulls her panties down around her ankles.
No worries. She has another two pairs of panties hidden. This is not to be a naked show.
The accompanying movement track of soundbites is one of conceit and insecurity. “I am so beautiful. You want to see me, don’t you.”
There isn’t much warmth in Cumming’s strip performance – it is strangely cold. The absence of charm may be intentional but the piece would be more engaging with some element of sensuality in the movement.
The final chapter of this experimental movement and sound piece is a trio with Cumming’s character controlling Johnny and Ulrike with commands like “Smell Johnny’s breath. But don’t come too close.”
Ulrike takes a pose on top of a box. Her hidden white skirts go all the way down to the ground making her seem like an impossibly tall monster, something out of the 5th element. Ulrike lipsyncs a song, which Cumming sings made up of very strange sounds strongly manipulated, as if a lizard could sing”.
Cumming follows this strange song with a virtuouso performance in three characters. A conversation between Ulrike, Johnny and herself. She switches quickly between voices and personalities without the slightest hesitation.
Much live manipulation of the sounds as we go. Impressive.
One phrase stood out: The space is so vast and generous.
Liquid Loft was perhaps overlong. As is often the case with artistic director Chris Haring’s work, the innovation often risked seeming technology for technology’s sake.
But in the case of Liquid Loft it didn’t matter. The manipulation of sound by Andreas Berger was virtuoso-level. Ulrike Svennson’s movement performance was perfect. Cumming’s voicework was wonderful. Schoof had a goofy sort of charm.
A lot of work and thought went into the creation of this new organism of sound and movement. All involved deserved the very warm and extended applause to which the audience treated them. New roads were opened to us.
Additional creative credits: Story, Thomas Jelinek. Text, Katherina Zakravsky.
All photographs by Alec Kinnear. Do not reuse without permission.
I am often disappointed with the dance photos which I am able to present with the pieces at Impulstanz. Unfortunately modern dance companies believe that the audience has no right to see what the show actually looks like. They provide their own publicity stills and do not allow newspapers or anyone else to take photographs of the actual performances.
While some of the companies have provided excellent pictures which correspond to the show at hand – Opéra de Paris, Etienne Guilloteau, Jan Lauwers to name a few – others have offered pictures which have little or nothing to do with the stage performance. Particularly regrettable in this respect are the Marie Chouinard Company’s publicity stills which are purely iconic poster images which have little to do with what we actually see on stage.
In the case of Tanz Company Gervasi, I am obliged to present photographs from a previous revision of Fuga-Ce in other costumes. In the case of Sebastian Prantl’s Land Bodyscapes, the photographs offered are from an entirely different piece (I will try and get some pictures which I saw taken at the performance).
While I understand these dance companies would like to protect their image, at the very least there should be an official Impulstanz photographer shooting every show in rehearsal and offering the company director or manager to approve or disapprove shots from the rehearsal photo session. The technology exists.
Reviews of the work would be more vivid and useful for all concerned with accurate photo materials which correspond to what is actually on stage. Newspapers would probably be happier to run newsworthy photographs rather than somebody’s contrived poster piece.
Strangely enough, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and Wim Wandekeybus – whose pieces along with Jan Lawers have been far and away the best of the festival – offered some of the most accurate photos.
More and better dance pictures! Let us see what we are missing or see why we are coming to the theater.