Chris Haring’s Liquid Loft company in Stand-Alones (polyphony)


New directions home? ImPulsTanz 2019

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Chris Haring’s Liquid Loft company in Stand-Alones (polyphony). Photo © Michael Loizenbauer
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Lena Megyeri reflects on the crisis of objective in contemporary dance at Vienna's contemporary dance festival.

There’s a scene in twin sisters Kristina and Sadé Alleyne’s performance A Night’s Game where one of the girls lies face down on the floor, while the other one unsuccessfully tries to grab her attention by clapping, doing athletic moves and other stunts. During my week at Vienna’s ImPulsTanz, I often felt like that unresponsive sister – unable to be moved by what I experienced.

Contemporary dance’s audience is small and well defined, and spectators are mostly seasoned and savvy theatre-goers. So maybe it’s no wonder that I often feel like I’ve seen it all before. Of course, not everyone is as picky as I am, judging by the standing ovation at every one of the five shows that I watched at ImPulsTanz this year. But to me, the question still remains: Where is dance trying to go?

Commotion in the museum: Amanda Piña’s Danza y Frontera.
Commotion in the museum: Amanda Piña’s Danza y Frontera. Photo © Emilia Milewska

All of the above doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to enjoy or appreciate some of the productions, or elements of them. For example, Amanda Piña and her company nadaproductions would have surely kept me on the edge of my seat – if I’d had a seat. Instead, I was standing in one of the exhibition rooms of Mumok (Museum of Modern Art), watching the museum version of their show Danza y Frontera. This year, ImPulsTanz teamed up with museums to create co-productions (yes, this has also been done quite often now, even by the Viennese festival itself). Part of nadaproductions’ Endangered Human Movements series, Danza y Frontera is based on a dance that has its roots in an ancient pre-Hispanic dance form that was later used by the Spanish Crown to depict the conquest of Mexico. Nowadays, this dance is mixed with pop dance moves and re-enacted in border areas of Mexico plagued by violence related to narco trafficking, militarization and cheap labour industries.

Piña’s black-clad dancers create an atmosphere full of tension and threat, facing the audience with their hypnotic back-and-forth waving moves, their shoulders leaning forward, constantly alert, ready to attack. One by one or in small groups they slowly progress from the back of the room up to the audience, then disappear to put on new pieces of costumes or accessories before appearing again. As their costumes become more colourful (traditional clothes or t-shirts decorated with the Mexican flag appear), their movements open up and are spiced with elements of folk dance and street dance battles. Suddenly, Christian Müller’s partially live soundscape is interrupted by a scary and loud percussion solo, accompanied by a manic group dance to finish the performance and leave the audience with a sense of shocked relief.

Another show that took place in a museum setting was Stand-Alones (polyphony) by one of Austria’s most popular contemporary dance companies, Liquid Loft, founded by Chris Haring in 2005. Taking place in eight separately accessible, empty rooms in the Leopold Museum, Stand-Alones is a series of acoustically interwoven solos. In the building that exhibits some of the most important works of Vienna Modernism and has the world’s biggest collection of the works of Egon Schiele, Haring and his co-creators seem to be most inspired by the latter painter’s vision. In short scenes set to background noises, text fragments or music, the dancers evoke the once-scandalous Schiele with grotesque, distorted facial expressions and disfigured body postures. Movements and sounds are often repetitive and compulsive, paired with piercing, somewhat desperate looks. But compared to Schiele’s paintings, Haring and his company’s exploration is too direct, too obvious, and the solos are too much alike, quickly running out of new impulses to offer.

Lisbeth Gruwez: The Sea Within

The Sea Within is Belgian choreographer Lisbeth Gruwez’s first creation that she doesn’t dance in. Instead, she lets ten female dancers take centre stage. With loose hair and wearing simple undies and t-shirts, the women explore their own movements before building up into a group like a waving sea, demonstrating the force of nature that is female energy, to a minimalistic but atmospheric score by Maarten Van Cauwenberghe. Though a bit overlong and sometimes languid, I appreciated the high-quality dancing and choreography in this show. And yet, I felt like something was missing to make the piece really stand out and show the power not just of women but also of dance.

Seeing eye to eye? Alleyne Sisters in A Night’s Game.
Seeing eye to eye? Alleyne Sisters in A Night’s Game. Photo © Lidia Crisa

Kristina and Sadé Alleyne of Alleyne Dance, who joined Akram Khan Company at the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, have formally trained as athletes and were members of hip hop companies as well. They’ve been running Alleyne Dance for five years now and A Night’s Game has been on tour since 2016. This is an enigmatic piece about incarceration and fighting inner demons presented in the Alleyne sisters’ athletic yet poetic body language. In Sadé’s opening solo, centred around a chair, there’s a lot of strength and softness, despair as well as determination, qualities that are traceable throughout the piece. And while it sometimes loses momentum and could do with a good dramaturge (particularly in clarifying the relationship between the sisters’ onstage characters), A Night’s Game has some powerful moments and shows that the Alleyne women already have a distinct choreographic style.

José Agudo’s The SIlk Road, with Kenny Wing Tao

José Agudo started his career as a flamenco dancer before moving on to contemporary dance and working with some important companies, most notably as a dancer and choreographic assistant for several of Akram Khan’s shows. While working with Khan, he studied the Indian traditional dance form kathak and realised it had a lot in common with flamenco (a by now familiar connection to make). Silk Road is Agudo’s take on the subject, in the form of two solos (one flamenco, one kathak) and a contemporary duet with Kenny Wing Tao Ho. The flamenco and kathak solos, created respectively by guest choreographers Rafael Amargo and Nahid Siddiqui, are little introductions to the two dance styles. Agudo is missing some of the sharpness and dynamism typical to the Indian dance form, but we cannot be too harsh here: just like classical ballet, this is a style you have to learn from early childhood to really master it. Agudo comes into his own during the contemporary duet. While integrating stylistic features of kathak and flamenco, he creates a fluid and pleasant body language in a kind of spiritual setting that is more of a respectful duel than a duet between two men. Musicians Bernhard Schimpelsberger and Giuliano Modarelli deserve special mention for creating the acoustic link between Spain and Asia throughout the night. And while (thanks to costume designer Kimie Nakano) they look like they’ve just come from an Akram Khan piece, what they create is original and unique. 

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Vienna, Austria.
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