Technically, TANZ follows all the rules of the romantic ballet: there’s a wicked witch, flying fairies, magic spells and pantomime storytelling. But in Florentina Holzinger’s version, the sylphides are less ghostly princesses than flesh-eating zombies. Pissing in buckets and riding flying motorbikes, the cast of eight women, aged from 20 to 80, radically challenges classical dance’s fascist obsession with perfection and diaphanous beauty.
The first act focuses on training. Beatrice Cordua (the first ballerina to dance The Rite of Spring naked, in John Neumeier’s 1972 version) instructs her disciplined students on ‘how to govern their bodies’ while a live camera zooms in on their naked figures to give a pornographic perspective on their flexing muscles and stretching flesh. The teacher goes from passionate pedagogue to ecstatic cult leader, feverishly scrutinising the dancers’ bodies, fetishising pointed toes and pointy nipples in a scene that climaxes with a lined-up vagina inspection during which she drools over their exposed anatomy. The dancers then put on bloody pointe shoes and practise ‘how to be light’, until one of the sylphides is suspended by a hook in her ballet-bun, and pulled by her hair all the way to the ceiling.
The second act, following the romantic-era binary structure, veers towards the fantastic, taking us from the studio to a haunted forest. A choir of ghosts meets a big bad wolf, green lighting and copious amounts of fake blood. The live camera magnifies every gruesome detail: it fixates on Cordua’s bloody crotch while she births a rat out of her pussy; later, the camera chases her around, Blair Witch Project style. We reach peak chimerical when the performer Lucifire’s back is pierced with hooks and she’s hung by her skin, breathtakingly swinging on a rope with a broom between her legs, like a hardcore pin-up witch. Or a human piñata.
In TANZ, beauty and gore cohabit, successfully capturing the intensity of ballet as an art form while also radically questioning its legacy, and catapulting dance into an entirely new realm.