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Paths through ImPulsTanz, part 2

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Not just the sights but the sounds: Lena Megyeri continues her route through Vienna’s month-long ImPulsTanz festival

Click here for Part 1 of this text

Scores of the body

Music is widely considered inseparable from dance, and yet in dance performances it often becomes degraded to background noise. Still, there are always choreographers who are more musical than others, and perhaps even liking to choreograph for music, not just to it. ImPulsTanz’s [8:tension] showcase and competition for young choreographers included some such pieces, of which I saw two.

In Diverti Menti, choreographer Maud Blandel and dancer Maya Masse translate into movement Mozart’s Divertimento K136, reworked by the Ensemble Contrechamp. ‘Divertimento’ is a musical genre that was mostly played to accompany social gatherings from the second half of the 18th century – and just as it was meant to be heard rather than listened to, so Diverti Menti is a production that must be better to perform than to watch. Masse constantly adjusts her simple steps and arm swings to the music, experimenting with speed and time. She keeps her eyes shut throughout, which means she shuts us out too in a sense: it all happens more between her and the music than between her and the audience. The dynamic only changes at the end when she finally opens her eyes and sees that the giant hourglass that stands upstage still has some sand left to run down. The ensemble plays the last movement for her to dance to again, then again and again; we watch her getting tired, and we become immediately involved – a little late, but still in time to create a great theatrical moment.

Sonatas and Interludes: Lenio Kaklea, with Orlando Bass on prepared piano

Lenio Kaklea’s performing attitude in Sonatas and Interludes is quite the opposite of Masse’s. She begins by telling us that she didn’t feel much connection to John Cage’s work when she was asked to create a work for his pieces for prepared piano – until she found out that Cage used this instrument when he worked with African-American choreographer Syvilla Fort. Kaklea decided to accept the commission to highlight Cage’s often forgotten collaboration with female choreographers, but as she announces: ‘Tonight the music is at my service.’ She keeps up this cheeky attitude during the whole show, often coming to the front of the stage to face and examine us. She constantly surprises her spectators, whether with her playful face study in front of a camera; with her choreography composed of elements of completely incompatible dance styles; with suddenly ‘losing’ almost all her clothes; or with disappearing from stage and sending out a drone to finish the show. I feel like not just the music, but the audience too is at her service.

Israel Galván, widely considered one of the best flamenco dancers in the world and a revolutionary of his genre, takes a unique approach to music and sound in his Radio Concert: he turns his own body into an instrument – or rather a whole orchestra. Galván, who has performed in complete darkness before to direct his audience’s attention to sound and rhythm, has long wanted to make a music CD recording of the sound of his dancing. He found partners for his project in ImPulsTanz and Austria’s national radio ORF, so for three nights he was allowed to perform in the broadcaster’s magnificent Kulturhaus and make a recording. He dances barefoot, in sneakers, in flamenco boots, on wood, metal, coins, stones and a foot drum, creating a devilish symphony all by himself.

Blue Quote Mark

I’m sure I will see the dance once again in my mind’s eye. After all, this is yet another way of recreating a dance.

Blue Quote Mark

If we followed his intentions we should probably close our eyes to concentrate on what we hear rather than what we see, but it’s impossible to take our eyes off him. Galván’s stage persona is an enigma, and that’s what makes it so irresistible. He says he has always been shy to dance with other performers, preferring the company of objects on stage. But on his own, he carries around such an air of confidence and determination that he easily owns any theatre hall, and not only with his easy-to-like virtuosity. I’m looking forward to hearing the recording to really be able to focus on the sound without distraction, but I’m sure that even then I will see the dance as well, once again, in my mind’s eye. After all, this is yet another way of recreating a dance.

From the beginning of her career Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has been known as an extremely musical choreographer, whether she works with commissioned music or with classical pieces, from Bach to Bartók. In her new production Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa, created for her company Rosas together with Amandine Beyer’s baroque music ensemble Gli Incogniti, she takes Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s so-called Mystery or Rosary sonatas as her starting point. The sonatas were composed around 1676 with the intention of helping a religious practice: the recitation of rosary beads. Just like the rosary, the music is divided into three sets of five: five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious sonatas. But apart from the biblical references, Biber’s music contains many allusions to dance as well: musical dance forms such as gigue, allemande or courante appear throughout. This is fertile ground for De Keersmaeker.

Mystery Sonatas is 135 minutes long without intermission; reviews have called it ‘overlong’ and an ‘endurance test’ (if it is that, then quite a few spectators who left during the show failed it); but I’m here to plead for one of the most profound experiences of my festival. It’s true: in the age of fast food, fast fashion and fast art we hardly ever dedicate this much time to anything, especially to enjoying a work of art. And especially if it doesn’t involve vagina inspection, onstage vomiting and bloody ballerinas like Florentina Holzinger’s Tanz – of similar length, though people didn’t seem to have a problem enduring it (except for the few who fainted during the show). Nowadays, you can watch movies or listen to podcasts on double speed – and many do, before quickly moving on to the next one in a constant haze of FOMO. But Biber’s sonatas, originating in a slower and probably more sane age, were meant to help focus our attention with their elaborate symbolism and rich emotional landscape, and De Keersmaeker’s contribution gives many more layers to an already complex work as the dancers’ movements react to the music.

The more you give it, the more you get out of it. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa

As is usually the case with great works of art, the more time you spend with Mystery Sonatas, the more attention you give to it, and the more you get out of it. At first, you notice steps, technique, emotion – and you can stop there, just trying to enjoy the simplicity and purity of movement and sound. Dance, music and scenery constantly offer something new, be it a shift of mood, a change of costume from sporty to airy, or the appearance of a new dancer, so that it doesn’t get monotonous. But you can also move on and meditate on structures, patterns, the fine dialogue of dancers and musicians (playing live on stage). And if you’ve figured this all out (good luck with that), maybe you have time to reflect on how and why De Keersmaeker dedicated this piece to five revolutionary Rosas: Rosa Bonheur, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks, Rosa Vergaelen and the 15-year-old climate activist Rosa who died in the Belgian floodings of 2021. 135 minutes were by far not enough for me to fully appreciate all the layers of Mystery Sonatas, and I’m sure it would reveal more of its secrets on second watch (and listen). Yes, it’s difficult, it’s demanding – but isn’t that how good art should be? 

Retrace Part 1 of this ImPulsTanz tour here:

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06.07.22–06.08.22, Vienna, Austria
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