At Rakete festival, Lau Lukkarila spells… Trouble.

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Rakete Festival 2019: from Mama to Mother Earth

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At Rakete festival, Lau Lukkarila spells… Trouble. Photo © Vik Bayer
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Claire Lefèvre
At the intersections between the personal and the panoramic – a new generation of dance artists at the Rakete Festival, Vienna

Tanzquartier’s Rakete Festival invites a new generation of local and international choreographers and performers to present their work in Vienna. In this second edition, intersectionality seems to have played a crucial role in inspiring the upcoming artists: undercutting perspectives on gender with political takes on identity, each of the pieces reflected to some extent on the place of the makers within a bigger picture.

On a cosmic scale, The next five hundred thousand years of movement by Viennese artist Karin Pauer proposes a Darwinist approach to choreography, repeating movements over and over again until they evolve and transform. Whether as spooning shrimps or faceless cyborgs, Pauer and Agnieszka Dmochowska are constantly moving and reshaping, while a soundtrack blasts an infinite thread of overlapping questions about the universe and its future.


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Karin Pauer and Agnieszka Dmochowska in The Next 500 years.
Karin Pauer and Agnieszka Dmochowska in The Next 500 years. Photo © t-m-i-l

Zooming in towards Europe, Mohamed Toukabri questions his place as an in-betweener, influenced by his Tunisian upbringing and his life in Belgium, in the solo The Upside-Down Man (The son of the road). Mixing contemporary dance, breakdance and ballet, as well as story-telling he charmingly shares the struggles he encountered as a migrant with an Arabic background who ‘did not escape war or oppression but rather was a seeker of knowledge’. Toukabri shares intimate anecdotes and family heirlooms, displays touching home videos and shows off his head-spinning skills in a patchwork of slightly naïve yet disarmingly earnest experiences.


Mohamed Toukabri’s The Upside-Down Man

Under Cover, by the Iranian maker Ulduz Ahmadzadeh</strong>, also tackles the perception of ‘oriental’ bodies, focusing especially on Muslim women. But she moves away from a solely autobiographical take to unveil a much more intricate understanding of the power structures which are ultimately linked to perceptions of individuality. At times wearing a clear plastic veil that shows each breath as a steamy cloud, devouring bloody pomegranates or smashing tea glasses with her bare hands, she uncovers a multi-sensory experience of what her reality might be like.


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Breastfeedind her own mother Sophia Süßmilch eviscerates clichés, one artsy stereotype at a time – while Freud was probably turning in his grave

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Besides these socio-political takes on heritage, there were also plenty of tender homages to one’s roots, acknowledging the role of family – especially mothers – in the artists’ legacy. Toukabri’s work featured a striking video of his mother, her long grey hair free-flowing in the wind, while Pauer invited her mother to join her on stage as a dancer. Sophia Süßmilch took it a step further, breastfeeding her own actual mother in one of the many tongue-in-cheek chapters of her work If you think you are a performance artist but you’re really just a meme in which she eviscerated clichés, one artsy stereotype at a time – while Freud was probably turning in his grave.

If these works showed a unique take on the relationship between the maker and the world, two other pieces were especially striking in how they wove the personal with the political, the concrete with the imaginary, walking the line between intimacy and awareness of existing in a global context.

In new skin, Belgian maker Hannah De Meyer masters the art of switching between microscopic and cosmic scales. Her voice is the first thing to enter the space. ‘Hi restless souls, how are you doing tonight?’ she asks, before infusing the empty room with mouthy noises and wild stories, titillating our minds to imagine an entire universe unfolding before our eyes, or rather within our eardrums. She moves with delicate yet minimal intricacy, sometimes a quirky dinosaur, sometimes flowing seaweed, but always as a support to the voice, almost as if she were her own background dancer. She describes phantasmagoric landscapes with rigorous accuracy, taking us on a tour of an imaginary planet, a fanciful museum, and to the moon. She remembers hypothetical ancestors as well as the infinite love of her own grandfather. She embodies a cosmonaut, and seconds later is a foetus, threading whimsical links between the universe and her mother’s womb. A story about her grandmother’s compassionate plea for her to take a rest meets an imaginary horror scene with limbs floating in a dark cave. This constant alteration of perspectives keeps this minimalist work both vivid and otherworldly. When De Meyer finally spells her desire ‘to be born, as a woman, with a mouth, that goddamn speaks!’ the impact of these words, on top of all those she has carefully accumulated in the last hour, sweeps over us like a wave, and thus new skin manages to be both thoroughly grounded and out of this world.


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She embodies a cosmonaut, and seconds later is a foetus, threading whimsical links between the universe and her mother's womb

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Also unique and otherwordly, Trouble by Vienna-based Lau Lukkarila is a hybrid solo that uses deconstructed language and wild dances as well as humour and vulnerability to criticise the power structures of white supremacist heteropatriarchy. This ambitious exploration takes place in a floor-to-ceiling white studio space, punctuated by a handful of orange coloured objects. Lukkarila enters carrying an orange tent like an extension of their skeleton, dressed in black hoodie and shorts to reveal only their legs, hands, nose and mouth: a fragmented body of sorts. As the sound of Prodigy’s ‘Poison’ rattles the room, Lukkarila shakes and stirs the tent, caressing its nylon body before entering and rocking it from the inside, animating its shape in a punchy dance where struggle meets power. Following this compelling introduction is a conscientiously crafted collection of metaphorical sensory images. Lukkarila’s hooded character offers us a sip of bleach, before gently using the plastic bottle as a drum, while they remind us ‘sometimes, sugar, you just need someone else’ in a goosebumps inducing song. They re-enter the tent, change their outfit and birth themselves out as a coral-coloured wild child before smoking up the room for a joyous solo dance party. They whip their body with a water-soaked orange towel over a background of melodramatic music, in an ecstatic display of pleasure and pain; and share a video of an inkless tattoo session, where needles and scars meet intimate eroticism. This constant shift between emotional states creates a unique impression of complexity, an understanding that one is part of a contradictory and layered bigger picture. Introspection becomes desirable, and political statements have never looked so intimate. The writer and activist Toni Cade Bambara taught us that ‘the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible’, and in Trouble, Lau Lukkarila manages to do just that.

From Mama to Mother Earth, Rakete offered a truly wide and refreshing take on the usually self-involved tendency underlying solos and identity-based works. Bringing awareness to unique biographies while also staying in touch with the rest of the world, the curated pieces were a promising insight into a new generation of makers who seemed unafraid to tackle the big, even cosmic challenges that we – as a species and as an art scene – are bound to face in the very real and very near future. 


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Tanzquartier Vienna, Austria. 3–11 May 2019.