Impulstanz 2012: CIE. I.D.A./Mark Tompkins – “Opening Night – A Vaudeville”

August 5th, 2012 § 0

Sometimes one is just blown away by a theatre piece. This happened to me last night with CIE I.D.A. and Mark Tompkins last night. Their piece has a rather silly title “Opening Night – A Vaudeville”. Theortically it’s billed as light entertainment and performance art, two of my least favorite genres. Normally performance art is under rehearsed claptrap by imperfect and sloppy technicians of modest charisma who are convinced the world rotates around their navels.

In other words performance art is an unadulterated fiasco which has poisoned the dance world and taken it over, as the less capable outnumber and outvote the properly trained as conteporary dance slips down a long greasy rail into ramp amateurism.

At least that’s what I thought until I saw Tompkins and his French partner Mathieu Grenier perform last night.

Mathieu Grenier Mark Tompkins as mother in Opening Night
Mathieu Grenier Mark Tompkins as mother in Opening Night

Both gentleman are gifted singers and very capable actors. For much of “Opening Night” they sing a cappella together. In the Broadway or musical genre which provided the basic for their performance piece, both would likely be able to find and hold serious roles. These men take their craft seriously. Both are very funny but they do not camp it up with sniggers to the audience as so many of our new “funny” performers do. No Tompkins and Grenier pack their material thick with meaning and absurdity and power through it relentlessy, leaving audiences a bridge deck of questions to solve.

One of their songs includes throwaway lines which are not so throw away – “how life ebbs and flows”. A Vaudeville turned out to be a matter of life and death, the fragility of life.

Impulstanz 2012: CIE. I.D.A./Mark Tompkins - "Opening Night - A Vaudeville" Continues »

Sarka Ondrisova’s Voda na Vode in SND

June 11th, 2012 § 0

Voda na voda starts with a woman lying in a chalk body circle, surrounded by suitcases and clothes scattered across the stage.

The ruins of life.

The beginning is the end, like a film. How did she arrive here?

As we all do by living life.

Voda na voda is a series of associative tableaux, focused alternatively on travel or on the relationships between men and women.

Men don’t do very well here. We’re either brutes, or dependent winos. Easily seduced, easily duped. Better controlled on a short leash than loved.

It’s a dark look into the heart but not an unmerited one. Most women do feel hard done by.

Along the way we are treated to elaborate work with bathtubs, high heels, climbing gear, skipping ropes, suitcases, suspended rope.

Sarka Ondrisova's Voda na Vode in SND Continues »

Oper Graz: Deal.West.East

April 27th, 2012 § 0

A trip to a Graz dance premiere is always a challenge. Graz Opera ballet director Darrel Toulon has been either dancing or creating dance for a quarter century, ever seeking the grail of the new.

Once again we are in the extraordinary studio theatre Wilder Mann. What makes Wilder Mann different from almost any other space is that there is no depth to the stage and it is enormously wide. Dance works horizontally instead of vertically. Alas neither of tonight’s choreographers took full advantage of the space this time: to take advantage of the space, one needs to program opposing important actions on either end of the stage. The effect in when used properly is almost like Mike Figgis’s Timecode film with four frames of action taking place at the same time.

In Deal.East.West, the something new involved bringing together two young choreographers from the two far extremes of the Eurasian continent: Shanghai native Jie Dong and James Wilton from England. Both are dedicated national artists, working respectively in their native lands, rather than from the European melting pot of choreography (French in Belgium, Spaniards in Paris, Russians in Germany).

I can think and dream about it

To be fair, Dong’s work is very much in the Western tradition of modern dance and has very little to do with Oriental movement: his masters studied in the tradition of Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan and Pina Bausch. Dong is as Chinese (or not) as Hong Kong action films.

Jura Wanga Jana Drgonova Daphne van Dooren Ruo Chen Wang Dianne Gray
Jura Wanga, Jana Drgonova, Daphne van Dooren,
Ruo Chen Wang, Dianne Gray

Dong collaborated with long time Toulon stage designer Vibeke who onced again offered us one her extraordinary minimalist environments in white. On the left there was an enormous three meter high white chair. Later a smaller white chair is passed among the dancers. Small elegant details which worked.

Oper Graz: Deal.West.East Continues »

Balet Bratislava: Czech In

March 18th, 2012 § 2

A prolific season for Balet Bratislava: tonight saw the third full evening of new choreography from Mario Radacovsky’s young company.

The opening piece Slovanské Dvojspevy (Slavonic Duets: Czech choreographer Libor Vaculik) tells a playful tale of Slovak courtship. The long white skirts and the white shirts of the men gave the stage the lightness of spring and early summer. The music is much heavier though Antonin Dvorak’s Slovak Dances opus 46 and 72 and one of the Moravian dances too). Sadly the sound system in Novaj Tsena is simply not adequate for classical music: played too loud Dvorak descends into cacophony.

While on the subject of the theatre the stage seems too small as well for this piece. With ten dancers forming two groups at the same time, you did not have the feeling of observing Slovak courtship rituals in fields or the countryside but rather a kind of back urban alleys version. Basically, too much furniture in a room. Whether Slavonic Duets would be any better on a larger stage is an open question: I believe a catastrophic Ivan the Terrible I once saw in the SND was also the creation of Libor Vaculik.

The performances were evenly adequate with one exception: Klaudia Bitterová stood out for her radiance, her poise and the lyricality of her movements. There was no Katarina Kosiková to share the stage with and Bitterová took full advantage of her opportunity to shine. Andrej Szabo as the lead among the men presented himself an ideal partner to Bitterová.

Balet Bratislava: Czech In Continues »

Choreolab 12 review: Junge Choreographen Des Wiener Staatsballetts

March 2nd, 2012 § 0


So many people put so much into Choreo.lab to make it happen, to finance it, to create it. Vintner Hvram, every year brings up some of the finest cuvées from Burgenland. From the ambassador’s wives to the professors in the audience, Ingeborg Tichy Luger is a lady very precise in her gratitude. I thought all our grateful hands might fall off when we were done clapping for everyone present and everyone who contributed. Tip to the producer: group the people and fire through the names in a group and let us clap louder for four or five names together.

This year under Choreo.lab under the aegis of Staatsoper and ballet artistic director Manuel Legris was even more ambitious than usual with a full nine pieces in two acts, including two from Fabrizio Coppo.

Choreo.lab veteran Samuel Colombet opened the evening with a Balanchinesque bit of neoclassicism. The costumes were unusually good, splendidly draped white over four beautiful dancers Ionna Avraam, Iliana Chivarova, Erika Kovacova and Rui Tamai. In particular, Ms. Avraam was in spectacular form. One could also see why Manuel Legris promoted Erika Kovacova to the main stage from Volksopera. In line, she is like the top Paris Opera dancers. Her dancing is very smooth, but a certain absence of snap and a weak jump break the illusion you might be watching a younger Elisabeth Platel.

As accomplished and lovely as Columbet’s distaff contingent, his men were extraordinarily beautiful led by a dramatic Martin Winter. Young Felipe Vieira is like a confection, with almond roasted skin and cherub mouth. Gleb Sheilov did not stand out but supported his comrades well.

The difficulty with Columbet’s Oktett is in the end was the easiniess of some of the choices: a concerto from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is a certain crowd pleaser. The splendid lifts and accomplished steps and bare torsos of handsome men almost cannot fail to delight a ballet audience. In the end, after Oktett one has enormously enjoyed what one has seen but little remains.

Choreolab 12 review: Junge Choreographen Des Wiener Staatsballetts Continues »

La Sylphide, Vienna Staastoper 2011: Manuel Legris and Irina Tsymbal

October 26th, 2011 § 3

La Sylphide is one of the easiest ballets to perform and one of the most difficult ballets to get perfect. The dangers of La Sylphide are multiple:

  • the Scottish setting can seem very campy
  • adequate stagecraft to preserve a sense of wonder
  • the music can come across as thin and grating
  • sufficiently large, gifted and beautiful corps-de-ballet
  • the male audience can fail to fall in love with La Sylphide
  • the women in the public fail to identify with Effie
  • the women in the public can wonder what Effie sees in James

Manuel Legris has gotten it all right with Wiener Staatsoper ballet.

Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
All photos courtesy & © Max Moser

The decors are very sober, even a little bit drab. You feel inside a Scottish manor somewhere in the Highlands. Yet all the space of the huge Vienna State Opera stage is all there for the variations. In the second act the woods were tremendous and airy.

The small touches of stagecraft were a delight. Sylphides flying across the stage at 15 metres above the stage, Sylphides perched in the branches of the trees, La Sylphide disappearing vertically up the chimney or disappearing instantly into the floor.

The Staatsoper orchestra was in fine form, particularly in the overture which was sufficiently lyrical and touching that one wishes a recording. Through the rest of the ballet the performance was usually very good but the limits of the score were sometimes felt and the music hinted of military marching band. Still I’m far from sure one can do better without reorchestration.

Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide
Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide

Manuel Legris has continued to work wonders with the splendid corps-de-ballet that his predessor Harangoza so paintakingly built. There are no less than 23 additional sylphides on stage in the second act. The whole corps-de-ballet looked great. There are small moments of synchronicity to perfect, but it is the premiere after all. There are few over-rehearsed ballet companies left in the world and Vienna Staatsopera ballet is not one of them.

Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide

Irina Tsymbal is a perfect Sylphide. Her pallid complexion and somewhat tragic demeanor finds its natural home. Tsymbal can portray imperious roles as well. She is a very versatile ballerina. But La Sylphide is the most natural fit of all for her.

After the performance, Manuel Legris elevated Irina Tsymbal to First Soloist. It is good to see Legris keep an open mind about dancers. Initially, he planned to release Tsymbal before his first season as what he saw in rehearsal hadn’t impressed him. Fortunately a good fairy told him that Tsymbal’s talents flame on stage and not at the bar. If Legris can remain open to talent like this, he has a long and bright career as a director ahead of him.

Effie is a more difficult role. Danced with sufficient flair, James enchantment with La Sylphide would make no sense. Nina Polakova is almost as lyric a ballerina as Irina Tsymbal, with less of Tysmbal’s undercurrents of dangerous passion. As Effie she very deliberately curbs her charms to become a real girl, in love with her man but more cheerful than deep, trusting than passionate.

Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide
Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide

As James, Roman Lazik is in his element. James is the ordinary guy caught in a remote fantasy. Lazik plays James as a good old boy more than a dreamer. Still, in the second act, he struggles as one feels the the emotion is not in his bones. While Lazik is a very handsome man and a very correct classical dancer and an attentive partner, he lacks a certain passion.

With a truly charismatic and masculine dancer in the role of James – Sergei Filin from the Bolshoi comes to mind – the men identify strongly with James and the women understand and feel both for Effie and La Sylphide. Lazik didn’t fail to move us, but didn’t move us as much as I’d like. This single weakness explains to me why the audience reception was enthusiastic and not ecstastic. I hope we will see Vladimir Shishov in the role of James.

Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge
Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge

We did see some great performances in secondary roles: Andrei Kaydonovsky was truly wicked as Madge. The pantomine was writ large but he pushed through it with sufficient abandon that we believed in her evil. His movement remained strong but feminine.

Kamil Pavelka was a resolute and sufficiently antagonistic Gurn. One felt his contempt for his friend who was half heartedly stealing the woman he loved. Pavelka is the kind of dancer who is perfect in the secondary role, although I’m not sure how well he’d carry a prince.

The Scottish kilt complemented Mihail Sosnovichi’s shape and gave him more traditional proportions, which along with a good leap and his usual energy helped both Sosnovichi and his partner Maria Alati to an invigorating pas de deux as the young newlyweds.

Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova

The solo Sylphides – Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Alena Klochova, Andrea Némethová – were very good but perhaps a little bit too heroic. Super Sylphides, I would call them. But why must Sylphides always be frail.

Manuel Legris brought in excellent pedagogues: himself and Elisabeth Platel. Gradually he is pulling Vienna up to the level of Opéra de Paris. The danger is too much success and perhaps Paris will be calling him back too soon for Vienna’s good.

On the whole La Sylphide earns a 9 out of 10. If I hadn’t seen Sergei Filin dance James, perhaps I’d give La Sylphide 2011 at Vienna Staatsoper a perfect 10.

Special thanks to Max Moser for his ever excellent dance and theater photos. You can book Max’s services at His full gallery of La Sylphide.

Upper Room – Darrel Toulon: Two pieces under one moniker

September 19th, 2011 § 1

Upper Room is a strange name for a dance piece. Dance is about movement and not about static space.

On the other hand, perhaps the title is not so out of place as space is crucial to Oper Graz ballet director Darrel Toulon’s latest work. The Wilder Mann studio theater where Oper Graz ballet will work for the next two years of Next Liberty renovations is very special.

The space is exceptionally wide and very shallow. What this wide space means is that everyone in the audience as first to third row seats. In the front row you are so close to the dances you could reach out and touch them. Or as in Upper Room, feel the wind of a pillow flying in the hands of a pirouetting dancer across your nose.

Upper Room leaps
Upper Room: pillows, pillows, pillows everywhere
notice the breadth of the stage: this is only about half of it

The great advantage of this stage is the possibility to work with multiple independent dance units at the same time. It’s easy and even desirable to have as many as three different sets of action informing one another at the same time. For choreographers who want to control the audience’s eyes and minds, the opportunity to have multiple action at the same time is frustrating. For those who accept its potential, multiple centres of action is very liberating and very modern.

Upper Room Bostjan Ivanjsic
Upper Room Bostjan Ivanjsic

We live in a world of intense sensory input: billboards, cellphone, radio, television, telephone, street traffic, computer all compete for our attention at the same time. We are constantly making choices of what information to absorb and what information to discard. Wilder Mann is a contemporary stage for contemporary dance.

Toulon’s Upper Room is an evening length work divided into two distinct parts. Part one and part two include entirely different costumes and entirely different stagings. The only unifying element is the music of singer Vesna Petkovic and violinist Boris Mihaljcic.

Including live music is a wonderful decision. Live music brings dance to another level and Petkovic and Mihaljcic offer powerful performances which visibly infuse the dancers with energy.

Michael Munoz handstand in Graz
Michael Munoz acrobatic handstand in part one

One could argue that also unifying the two pieces is that in both parts a single metaphoric prop is central to the work. Part one focuses on metal frames, about the size of a large door or a single bed. Part two focuses on pillows, large white pillows on which to lay your head for sleeping.

Sarah Schoch in front of frames Upper Room
Sarah Schoch in front of frames Upper Room

In part one, the dancers lie inside the metal frames, walk through these frames, observer one another across these frame and jump through these frames. At times there are up to five frames on stage at a time worked each by a pair of dancers.

Even more striking are the costumes in part one: each dancer is wearing a bob of shiny bronze hair. Each wears dark silver pants. The men are naked from the waist up, the women in small tube tops. The look is very androgynous. As is the dance.

Upper Room Darrel Toulon
Upper Room: part one fantastic wigs and alien look

With the strange wigs and clothing, I felt a certain alienation and otherness from the dancers. As they all look identical and different from us, it’s like watching another species live out their lives and feelings. This alienation creates an interesting distance and encourages scientific observation. At one point, Michael Munoz’s wig flew off in a powerful duet and we could see him for the next fifteen minutes as himself: the impression was enitrely different. If the dancers looked more human, the emotional text would be far more powerful as we could identify with them as individuals and not conceive them as a group.

Much of the dance is pairings. Sometimes two women will live an intimate relationship, sometimes a man and a woman, sometimes two men. There is a very disturbing near rape scene of a woman trapped in her frame. Upper Room Part One takes a very violent look at human emotions. Vesna Petkovic’s dark Serbian songs echo and lead the action. That most of us are not able to understand the words is intentional: Upper Room Part One is about emotional text and not about literal metaphor.

Dianne Gray Bostjan Ivanjsic
Dianne Gray – Bostjan Ivanjsic

Towards the half hour mark, Swiss dancer Sarah Schoch makes a very dramatic entry in a long red dress and a baroque coiffure. Moving with abandon, Schoch reveled in her moment in the light, kicking her long legs high. Her intervention was a delight in itself but I didn’t entirely understand its place in an otherwise very disciplined exploration of the frame metaphor.

Sarah Schoch Lady in Red
Sarah Schoch – Lady in Red

Another highlight is the solo by and duets including Bostjan Ivanjsic whose physique is in magnificent form. When Ivanjsic is center stage he dominates the other dancers who struggle to keep up with his presence. On the other side, after the summer pause, Michál Zábavík has returned with a spare tire more suited to a sedentary man ten years his senior.

Bostjan Ivanjsic in good form Graz
Bostjan Ivanjsic in good form with Laura Fischer

Among the premiere audience, some suggested that part one with the frames could make an entire evening of dance. I’d agree with that. One might be able to cut the score back to minimalist elements, leaving most of the explicit text behind.

When we reenter the theater the dancers have taken our place and Vesna Petkovic is enthroned on a mountain of pillows. We surround her as she sings. Five minutes later, the dancers being to guide us back to our places one by one. The confusion and role reversal here is very powerful. I wondered why Toulon chose not to develop the switch further by creating multiple circles of action from which spectators could move from one to the other before sending us back to our seats.

Once we are back in our places, the dancers each take a pillow to caress.

Part two is an exhiliarating voyage through violence and tenderness. But by the time it windes down after forty odd minutes, the work with pillows feels like it has run its course by the time. Pillows have been used as a giant bed, as sleeping companions, as hurled weapons, as instruments to suffocate friends, as dance partners. After watching part two you will never doubt the importance of pillows in our lives.

You don’t perceive it as you watch the show, but dancing with pillows limits the range and precision of dance. A pillow is an object constantly changing form and weight balance. Unlike the frames which are stiff and certain contexts with which a dancer can work carefully.

Sarah Schoch and Laura Fischer face off with pillows

The pillow piece feels more like a great fun experiment than the normally deep work of Toulon. There is some very good work with focused light in the hands of the dancer. Dianne Gray is particularly adept in lighting the other dancers dramatically while managing to stay low to the ground and move smoothly with the action. Newcomer Challyce Brogdon danced near my place and danced with discipline and flair as did compatriot New York native Serge Desroches. There is a particularly charming catfight between Areti Palouki and Agnès Girard.

Near the end, Vesna Petkovic breaks out in Fran Landesman’s 1959 Beat classic “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men”. While the duet between Serge Desroches and Ruo Chen Wang is powerful, the change of musical language grates after a full evening of song in Serbian.

Upper Room opened exactly one month after rehearsals started. The normal period of development for an evening lenth work is anywhere between six weeks and three months. With Upper Room, you feel that you are watching a work in progress. All the elements have been found but not worked through to the end. It’s like a half-finished sculpture where you can see the grand lines of the form, but the expression has not been finished.

My hope is that Toulon if he revisits to Upper Room will return to the frame metaphor and the very groundwork he has done for a one act evening length piece. He could retitle it very simply “Frames”. While the pillows piece was more fun and valid as a technical experiment, it remains more a divertissement than a work of art.

Upper Room can be seen 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29 September and closes 2 October 2011 at Jakoministrasse 3/5 in Graz. On October 19, in the same space the single evening Tanz Nite 2 will take place.

Toulon and the Oper Graz ballet will be creating a ballet of on Henry Purcell’s majestic baroque opera of Dido and Aeneas in May. Purcell’s music will be performed live so this is not an occasion to miss.

Photos except Pillows, Pillows, Pillows by Werner Kmetitsch
Video & Pillows, Pillows, Pillows by Alec Kinnear

Emio Greco: Double Points: Hell at ImPulsTanz 2011

August 22nd, 2011 § 0

The Odeon is one of the most magnificent performance spaces anywhere in the world. A dance company need only take the Odeon down to sandy bricks and Corinthian columns to create an atmosphere of impending wonder.

Emio Greco when he brough Double Points: Hell to ImPulsTanz went one step further. He opened up not just the main theatre space but the wings. The performance space was massive. He chose to use the light pushing in from side windows and skylights as the principal lighting. Starting time very strang though: 19:30, too late for the daylight to really dominate the lighting, too early for artificial lights to work their magic.

The absence of coherent lighting weakened the spell Greco tried to cast with his two dancers Sawami Fukuoka and Dereck Cayla (in an role originally created by Greco on himself). On the other hand, the deep klang soundscapes resonate (uncredited).

Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka
Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka and Dereck Cayla
Photo Floriaan Ganzevoort

Cayla is clad all in black stocking, as a shadow. One cannot even see mouth or eyes. To open Double Points: Hell, Kayla offers a kind of neo classical frenzied solo. Anticipation is high.

What follows are solos by Sawami Fukuoka and sequences where she is shadowed by Cayla. Sometimes she seem coherent, other times she seems to rave. She pulls at her clothing, flaunts her sexuality. Fukuoka’s initial oriental doll charm falls away entirely when she rips the black wig off her head and reveals the shaved head of psychiatric patient.

Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka Emio Greco
Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka Emio Greco
Photo Anna van Kooij

Fukuoka is the incarnation of a girlfriend gone wrong, a woman gone mad.

Yet strangely her monologues in Japanese failed to touch any emotional chord. I just felt a distance from someone with whom one would not want to share a space. Later when Fukuoka and Cayla dance an extended duet to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Double Points: HELL hints at taking wings again.

Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka 2
Double Points Hell Sawami Fukuoka 2
Photo Anna van Kooij

Yet somehow the night I saw Double Points: HELL even that duet remained relatively flat emotionally. Something happening to two strangers, a good idea unfulfilled, a promise not kept.

The existential questions about sexuality and violence which Double Points: HELL strives to raise remain unanswered and for me unilluminated. The whole piece seems a strong concept (similar to the Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort) in neither original nor virtuouso execution.

Double Points: HELL is only forty minutes long and there are passable steps hence as a spectator you don’t have the time to be bored. In the end, I felt just lightly disappointed and somewhat empty leaving the miniature. Much of the general applause felt perfunctory in honor of Fukuoka’s effort and Greco’s reputation rather than an overwhelming spontaneous combustion. But the applause rang on long enough that I might be wrong.