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Menske, Ultima Vez Menske, Ultima Vez
photo Martin Firket
DANCE KEEPS VIENNA BUSY FOR FIVE LONG SUMMER WEEKS, EVERY CORNER OF THE CITY DOTTED WITH GLOWING BALLOONS, ENDLESS OPEN-AIR PARTIES AND GRACIOUS BOYS AND GIRLS ON PINK IMPULSTANZ BIKES. EUROPE’S PREMIER DANCE FESTIVAL, IMPULSTANZ IS AN ARTISTS’ BUSINESS, NOT ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE TAXPAYER, ITS INDEPENDENCE VISIBLE NOT ONLY IN THE MERCIFUL ABSENCE OF POLITICIANS’ ADDRESSES, BUT, PRIMARILY, IN THE CENTRAL ROLE THAT EDUCATION, DISCUSSION AND RESEARCH HAVE IN THE PROGRAM.

Established in 1984 by Karl Regenburger and Ismael Ivo as a vehicle for development of contemporary dance in Austria, ImPulsTanz introduced its performance component in 1988, and now boasts over 200 dance workshops, an extensive scholarship program, a young critics’ forum and this year’s first Prix Jardin d’Europe for emerging choreographers.

European dance, however, is not an unequivocal affair. With walls between performance art, theatre and dance long breached, many an overseas visitor is seen stumbling baffled out of a performance: ‘Can this be called dance at all?!’ Much of the focus (despite the enormous individual differences between choreographers) is on disrupting and dismantling the relationship between the performing body and the world at large. Instead of what André Lepecki calls the “anatomical self-experimentation” of modern dance, complicit with modernity’s restless drive towards mobility, its kinetic excess, the Viennese dancer refuses to be a “dazzling dumb-mobile”, rebels through stillness and speech, ugliness and failure. In a time when the body has become the central fixation of Western politics—detained, surveilled, displaced, dutifully exposed or wrapped in shame, focus of ethnic hatred and identity anxieties—contemporary dance in Europe strikes me as unmistakably political.

ultima vez

Even the standing room only tickets have sold out, and the raging mass of disappointed kids looks like they may start a riot: the atmosphere before Ultima Vez’s performance is akin to a rock concert. Choreographer superstar Wim Vandekeybus’s company has toured the world with their trademark vocabulary of acrobatic, extreme, often violent movement, soaked in multimedia and energetic music. Menske (meaning approximately ‘little human’), their latest work, has all the typical flaws and qualities of classic Vandekeybus. On the conservative end of political intervention, Menske is an explosive concoction of brash statements about the state of the world today, a sequence of rapidly revolving scenes of conflicting logic: intimist, blockbuster, desperate, hysterical. The broad impression is not so much of a sociological portrait, but of a very personal anguish being exorcised right in front of us, as if Vandekeybus is constantly switching format in search of eloquence. Visually, it is stunning, filmic: a slum society falling apart through guerrilla warfare, in which girls handily assume the role of living, moving weapons. A woman descends into madness in an oneiric hospital, led by a costumed and masked group sharpening knives in rhythmic unison. A traumatised figure wanders the city ruins dictating a lamenting letter to invisible ‘Pablo.’ Men hoist a woman on a pole her whole body flapping like a flag. “It’s too much!” intrudes a stage hand, “Too much smoke, too much noise, too much everything!” And the scene responsively changes to a quiet soliloquy. At which point, however, does pure mimesis become complicit with the physical and psychological violence it strives to condemn? Unable to find its way out of visual shock, Menske never resolves into anything more than a loud admission of powerlessness.

robyn orlin

South African Robyn Orlin’s work is political in the broadest sense: in dialogue with culture, history and identity in the post-apartheid, attentive to the politics of representation, she regularly brings the untouchable on stage and unleashes it on the audience. Her Dressed to kill...killed to dress... is neither subtle nor immediately likeable. It is, in turns, in-your-face, obnoxious, sentimental, playing for cheap laughs, gaudy; and yet enormously compelling and rather smart. We are invited to judge in a ‘swenking’ competition, a lovingly presented South African quirk: the fashion competitions of migrant workers in Johannesburg, sometimes with prizes in money, watches or even livestock. Personal style is displayed in a softly graceful sequence of movements: wrist to ankle, tie to watch, jackets flung over the shoulder. This mesmerising dance is coupled with video presentation of each swenka’s real-life world: workplace, family, the street, the city. Meanwhile, glimpses of newspaper headlines announce “Hidden Cost of Power Cuts.” Familiarising an exotic strangeness to the point of banality, then making it strange again is no small feat for an hour-long performance. Descending into mayhem of images, Dressed to kill... becomes first a confrontingly trivial dissertation on consumerism (MC Rafael Linares sighing, “Hugo Boss! Prada! Gucci!”), but then warps into a devastating picture of blind narcissism and cultural loss: the suits deconstructed into war costumes in ominous pink, music violently blaring, the ensemble breaking into the audience to hysterically demand a winner. It is neither cute nor quaint anymore.

Gustavia, La Ribot & Mathilde Monnier Gustavia, La Ribot & Mathilde Monnier
photo Marc Coudrais
mathilde monnier & la ribot

The most extraordinary performance, however, is Mathilde Monnier and La Ribot’s Gustavia, a sharp and intelligent exploration of female identity abused through physical violence, prejudice, the imperative of silence, prescribed emotions. “After these tears are shed”, Monnier announces weeping, “all feminine in me will be gone.” On a cocoon-like stage, wrapped in black cloth, intimate and chokingly oppressive, unfolds a bleakly literal, demystified burlesque in which highly sexualised women humourlessly step into pails, fall, receive slapstick blows. Monnier, repeatedly hit in the face with a gigantic plank, collapses and obediently rises again, frail and unsteady in high heels and a skin-tight leotard. In the triumphant final scene, the two performers populate the stage with a menagerie of strange and familiar creatures, employing only a torrent of words and growingly frantic gesticulation: “a woman has ears with trees inside!”; “a woman has thighs cut with a chicken here!”; “a woman has small breasts which fit inside her bra!”; “a woman sews her hymen to get married!”; “a woman in the dark.” Hysterical laughter and horror collide to great effect, and political side-taking never smothers superbly executed formal inquiry. Nothing is superfluous in Gustavia, which proves that it is possible to be topical without falling into cliché.


2008 ImPulsTanz: Menske, direction, choreography, design Wim Vandekeybus, music Daan, creation, performance, script Ultima Vez, artistic assistance, dramaturgy, Greet Van Poeck, Museums Quartier Halle E, July 21, 23; Dressed to kill… killed to dress…, choreography Robyn Orlin, performance City Theater & Dance Group, video Nadine Hutton, Akademietheater, July 11, 13; Gustavia, choreography, performance Mathilde Monnier & La Ribot, lighting design Eric Wurtz, Akademietheater, July 15-18, ImPulsTanz, Vienna, July 10-Aug 10, www.impulstanz.com

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 38

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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