For its 30th anniversary, Imagetanz Festival’s motto is ‘dancing 30 years ahead’. Since 1989, the festival, organised by BRUT Wien, has always focused on local emerging choreographers. However, this year’s programme, showcasing works solely by women and queer artists, flaunts a radical desire to move into the future with the politics of representation in mind. The curated works display a broad range of performative formats, set in gallery-like spaces, classic black box theatres and even a swimming pool. Within this emphasis on plural perspectives, there was however a common underlying desire for closeness, a prevailing need to create intimacy with the audience. Three pieces in particular stand out with their up-close and personal approach to the moving body, offering equally bold and delicate relationships between audience and performers.
Opening the festival, OH MY by Berlin-based collective Henrike Iglesias, invites the audience to consider what their dream porn would look like. The performers revisit classic X-rated scenarios and offer a queer-feminist twist on the mainstream representation of intimate desires: a sexy teacher schools naughty students about the anatomy of the clitoris; two girls play with one menstrual cup. Like porn Power Puff girls, each performer wears a single colour, fur meeting latex and lingerie in a sensual fest of textiles and textures. The audience witnesses most of the material through live video projection and sound through headphones, cleverly emulating the at-home experience of watching porn on your computer. Their subversions of adult material experiment with pornography as a strategy for self-empowerment. At times furiously humping the set, or playing the damsel in distress with the sound technicians, OH MY climaxes when one of the bombshells-turned-cam-girl hilariously lip syncs Adele’s ‘Hello’ with her vagina. Making crucial political statements while remaining sexy and fun, OH MY is the definition of guilt-free pleasure.
Equally inviting, Sans-Culottes by non-binary artist Hugo/Robyn Le Brigand is a ‘solo for two butt cheeks and one anus’. With their whole upper body covered in lace and their ass bare, Le Brigand begins by re-inventing folk dances from their native Britain, centring all the ground-stomping movements around the pelvis, and covering the space with bottomless energy. In an effort to challenge the hierarchy of the body, they proceed to invert themselves, head down and ass up, flipping our perspective on their moving form. Like an upside down magic-trick, they swallow an ice popsicle with their butt, making it appear and disappear in and out of their anus. Once the tiny stalactite has wondrously vanished, we’re given a thorough anatomy lesson, as Le Brigand lies exposed at the front of the stage, contracting gluteus muscles and hamstrings, opening and closing their anus in time with the beat of PNL’s song ‘Sur Paname’. Le Brigand then throws themselves into an absurd and delicate contemporary dance routine, by which time we’re completely at ease with staring at their ass. Their obvious skills as a mover elevates this piece tremendously, propelling what could have been a shock-factor performance into an intricately choreographed and gracefully delivered statement about normalising, even celebrating, a usually heavily censored body part.
On the other end of the digestive tract, Jasmin Hoffer, Sara Lanner and Liv Schellander explore the potential of the mouth as a choreographic starting point in their collaborative work Volume. Once again, a hollow body part’s stage potential is revealed, and unexpected anatomical virtuosity ensues. As the audience enters, the three performers are spitting ping-pong balls onto the walls, the floor, and each other, crafting a playful soundscape and giving a few germaphobic audience members a taste of what’s to come. There follows a carefully orchestrated display of bodily functions, choreographed drooling, ecstatic biting and delicate teeth grinding. At times filling their mouths with clay or coloured ink, or devouring giant crinkly sheets of rice paper, the three performers have an almost animalistic way of using their faces as hands, their teeth becoming as agile as fingers, completely committed to exploring this one orifice with compelling concentration. Not unlike a trio of vomiting Jackson Pollocks, they also completely disregard good table manners and chew frantically with their mouths open, spitting all over the floor and transforming the bare studio space into a soaked and splashed laboratory. This forensic approach to choreography continues as UV lamps further reveal the traces of their palatable dances. Reminiscent of late-night TV crime scene investigations, the trio glows in the dark while they gargle in what could be both a quiet song and an agonising sigh. Perhaps they’re waiting for mouth to mouth. Either way, they manage to bring a delectable sense of curiosity to their work, balancing an almost clinical dramaturgy with drool-worthy creativity and wit.
This aspiration to investigate the body, its hidden organs and its secret desires, with such sincerity, is exciting and fresh. The generosity with which the performers share such intimate findings also reveal new possibilities for a transparent relationship between those who do and those who watch in a performance context. Thirty years on, Imagetanz succeeds in showing a wide range of options for dancing, and by supporting local female and queer voices, helps blow a breath of fresh air into the upcoming Viennese dance and performance scene. ●