From a Zen exercise to physical massacre

From a Zen exercise to physical massacre

Eing a one-man show is not only a great physical challenge.  Being solely responsible for the choreography and the artistic concept also offers a large, critical attack surface.

For years now, Austrian Simon Mayer has been facing these challenges. And for years, he seems to have been doing everything right. This was also the case with his production “Being moved,” which premiered in Austria in 2020 at Brut. Now he succeeded with it on the stage of the Akademietheater at the Impulse Dance Festival.

What is the origin of movements, what motivates people to dance, how are breath and movement connected and how can this be made visible? What sounds very theoretical and also a bit dry, however, develops completely differently on stage. At the beginning, Mayer invites the audience to take an imaginary seat on the chairs set up in a semicircle. Over the seats are dangling microphones, speakers are placed on the floor and he himself is wired to his extremities and body.

“Being Moved” (Photo: Franzi Kreis)

Every movement he will make on stage that evening will be recorded, amplified and thus made audible for all to hear: his breathing, his hand and arm movements as he sweeps through the air in a wide arc, the tread of his bare feet on the stage floor. What one normally does not consciously perceive auditorily, here becomes an audible rhythm impulse for his performance. What begins quietly soon picks up speed. The performer shifts from a calming Zen breathing exercise to a seemingly endless, dervish-like circling around his own axis. But one no longer associates anything contemplative with the soundscape, which has increased to a loud din. When the noise suddenly stops, the stage envelops itself in fog, while Mayer undresses and takes a violin bow in hand. Stroking the bow against his own body, it acquires something fetish-like, but soon mutates into a martial arts instrument, then a saber, and finally a conductor’s baton.

Mayer’s breath becomes audible in multiples and, after he has given the audience instructions to breathe along, mixes into a many-voiced chorus of breath. Once again the sound changes to a wild rumbling, snorting and hissing, a cooing and snarling, underlaid with a frightening roar. Animal sounds mix with the human and the electronic. And Mayer’s repertoire of movements also changes towards the animalistic. To the new sound change – again with human voices and audible breathing noises – Mayer now walks backwards in a circle. As if he wanted to get back to where he started. As if he wanted to undo and forget everything that had just been experienced in the threatening scenario.

But once again he amazes with a new, choreographic idea. His movements become more jagged, again fog is blown in, again he begins to dance in a circle. With a flurry of strobes and a hard, electronic rhythm, he now embodies, with his arms seemingly fixed on his back, a man exposed to physical violence. What can now be seen is reminiscent of the torture of captured soldiers, and the recorded screams also support this association.

In this state, Simon Mayer gives the impression of being in an in-between space. His body movement contrasts with a trance in which he seems to be completely immersed. The stage, the audience, one gets the impression, is forgotten in this moment. The high energy level in which the dancer finds himself is almost physically palpable.

“Being Moved” (Photo: Franzi Kreis)

As the beat dies down and the aggressive mood gives way, he once again reaches for his violin bow and begins to slide it over his wrist and sing along. Again, his footsteps are amplified with reverb – until a black ends the performance. For a few moments his breath is still audible. Then the physically extremely demanding performance is over.

In it, Mayer offers a wealth of associations, but also an incredible number of movement elements and images with a strong resonance. He calls the mixture of choreography and composition he has developed for himself “compography” – Pascal Holper is responsible for the impressive sound design. It is not a continuous story that is told in “Being moved.” Rather a stringing together of ideas, whereby a body is set in motion. The way Simon Mayer connects this chain of ideas is artistically outstandingly solved. Although it is about different topics, he succeeds in creating an incessant flow with a swirling maelstrom and rapids that lead back into calm waters. Sound-technically on the cutting edge and choreographically perfectly tailored to himself, the production is a clear example that contemporary dance is constantly evolving and can open up new, technical, and thus also dance spaces.

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Wherever it says Ivo Dimchev, there’s pure entertainment inside

Wherever it says Ivo Dimchev, there’s pure entertainment inside

Whoever has seen the performer Ivo Dimchev knows that entertainment is guaranteed in all his productions. But also that this – may it seem shallow at first glance – has an enormous depth. This leads to the fact that one can have a good time in his shows, only to come across many a hidden social criticism afterwards.

“In Hell with Jesus” is his latest work, in which he is on stage with 6 other performers. In doing so, he does something that requires a great deal of courage. He presents himself as an ageing male show diva with explicit homoerotic tendencies. The setting shows him casting for his upcoming show with the flowery title “In Hell with Jesus”. Both the men and women applying have to answer various questions and each sing two songs of Dimchev’s own choosing. From the beginning he plays with the self-made position of power in a great way and manages to entertain the audience in the best way with a crazy catalogue of questions.

“In Hell with Jesus” (Photo : Krasimir Stoichkov)

His outfit with golden extended eyelashes – complemented by short shorts and a checked shirt, already shows his untouchable, fashionable accuracy – ‘ironic off’. The painted tattoos are also visually echoed in his ensemble. A small notebook helps him when he can no longer think of the ad hoc questions to ask. The answers he receives are meticulously written down there and sometimes he also wants to know from the audience how they would have decided and asks them to vote with a show of hands.

You have to rack your brains as to whether you would rather have sex with Putin or the Dalai Lama, whether you would rather be rich in Russia or famous in China, or whether you would rather be raped by a soldier or the prime minister. Nothing, but absolutely nothing, that Dimchev says is politically correct. Every single sentence goes beyond socially accepted boundaries. But he has a humorous soothing pill ready for every uproarious statement. In his long catalogue of questions, there are few examples that do not have something to do with sex. But anyone who has been to one of his shows knows that this is something like his USP on stage.

When interviewing his casts, he also lets them know each time how many have applied for the respective role before them. Once there are 135, then 545 and with a groan he has to realise that he is still far from the end of the hearings. With brute subtlety he exposes the obvious power relations in show business. He shows what the applicants stoop to, but doesn’t forget to take a selfie with them for Instagram.

But he has the most fun when he interprets one of his songs with the contestants. Love that has passed is one of his main topics, sex practices another. He always accompanies himself with a small keyboard – this time with guitar sound and always, always you can tell in these moments that he is doing what he loves best: singing. Apart from his successful moderation, it is mainly these moments that are touching and finally culminate in his halal song and a vodka drinking song and carry the audience away.

The members of his ensemble, Maria Tepavicharova, Lora Nedialkova, Yordanka Pavlova, Teodor Koychinov, Steven Achikor and Roburt Iliev are characterised by high musicality and good voices. Their professionally played mixture of devout behaviour and the attempt not to completely give up their own personalities creates a connection with the audience, who sympathise and are glad not to have to take part in this crazy casting themselves. When the performer, musician, dancer and choreographer, who comes from Bulgaria, calls one or the other back to him from the stage long after the respective casting, he casually and flippantly wipes away the idea of witnessing a casting that is actually taking place. The reference to the play within the play thus succeeds in an exemplary manner.

Ivo Dimchev captivates “In Hell with Jesus” with the caricaturing of certain mechanisms of show business, but also with the openly displayed human inadequacy that must inevitably accompany it. What is usually glossed over and hidden, dusted with glitter and streamlined, is mercilessly exposed here. Nevertheless, the packaging is so humorous and intelligent that one cannot help but be thoroughly entertained. Dimchev never fails to convince in each of his shows. Admirable.

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Jarrett meets Mitchell meets Harrell

Jarrett meets Mitchell meets Harrell

The fusion of different art movements can currently be observed nowhere as well as in contemporary dance. The Afro-American Trajal Harrell, who has been a guest several times at Impulstanz, made a guest appearance this time with his dance company, the “Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble” at the Volkstheater at this year’s festival. His cross-border choreographies are a fine example of performative art that is not satisfied with dance alone.

“The Köln Concert” is the title of the evening and refers to the music used in it – Keith Jarrett’s live recording of his improvisation concert at the Cologne Opera in 1975. Unexpectedly, sales of the recording, which was made under adverse circumstances, developed phenomenally and today “The Köln Concert” can boast the title of the best-selling solo jazz record in the world.

“The Köln Concert” (Photo: Reto Schmid)

Trajal Harrell has been called to Zurich in 2019 to add his own dance company to the Schauspielhaus. The dancer and choreographer is known for repeatedly incorporating elements of vogueing into his work. This is also readily accompanied by a fashion presentation, albeit – as in this production – in a satirised manner.

Harrell refers to Keith Jarrett as “his composer”, someone he knew immediately on first hearing that he wanted to dance to and work with this music. Interestingly, he doesn’t leave the evening to him alone, but prefaces it with four songs by Joni Mitchell. If Harrell speaks of Jarrett as “his” composer, he also dubs Mitchell as “his” singer. Combining the music of both in one piece was therefore an obvious choice for him. And so he realised the idea of using Mitchell as an “opening act”.

“The Köln Concert” (Photo: Reto Schmid)

Even before the audience has completely taken their seats, Harrell stands at the right edge of the stage, a flowered summer dress hanging over his black outfit. From the very first moment he makes it clear: there will be no gender attributions of the conventional kind on this evening. And the choreographer skilfully follows through with this concept. As the first song plays, he begins to dance with slow, soft, repetitive movements, standing on the spot. One by one, the dancers come on stage and sit down on one of seven piano stools. Harrell himself also takes a seat. As if they wanted to get into the right mood for what was to come, they warm up by sitting on the stools, arms swinging and legs moving up and down. What immediately attracts attention are the different costumes, which are really put in the spotlight at the beginning of Keith Jarrett’s interpretation. For this, the ensemble struts towards the audience one after the other, as if on catwalks. Each and every one of them stops at the front edge of the stage, poses with standing and playing leg and gracefully walks off again on tiptoe – as if in high-heeled shoes.

This scene will be repeated later and clearly shows two aspects. Firstly, the dancers present themselves as a homogeneous troupe. As a community that follows an overall choreography. On the other hand, however, they are left with so much individuality that they can also be perceived as independent personalities. “Look who I am” – this unspoken announcement spills imaginatively over the edge of the stage – “look how beautiful my body is and what I’m wearing here!” The costumes are by Trajal Harrell, as are the choice of music and the setting. Some of the avant-garde fashion on display here appears as if it has not been properly donned. Dresses are sometimes just held in front of the body, tops seem to be just thrown over and are worn once over the shoulder, then again as an open skirt. “What you see here may look like a fashion show, but it is not” – again, an unspoken, rather subversive statement imposes itself. After the weird fashion defilee is over, the ensemble comes on stage a second time, one after the other. Now they wear individual black dresses with sophisticated, softly flowing cuts. These are cleverly executed so that the dancers’ bodies remain clearly visible. The different skin colours, the different physiques, all this can be consciously perceived and is also deliberately staged. The great diversity of the group is striking.

Each and everyone now gets a solo, while the rest sits transfixed on the piano stools. But the dancers never touch each other, lifting figures or contact improvisation seem to be foreign words. Harrell’s choreography, in which there is not a single physical contact between the dancing and posing people, refers to the time when Corona rules simply forbade such contact. Again and again, those who are not dancing sadly lower their heads in their seats. Others stare into the distance or expressionlessly into the audience.

Strongly remembered is Songhay Toldon, who dances a seemingly drunken faun. Whenever he stops for a moment, he presents himself as an admonishing saint with a corresponding hand gesture, his index finger extended upwards. Nojan Bodas Mair acts with veritable drag queen leanings and moves his lips as if he were singing along to Jarrett’s music playback. He immerses himself in every sequence with such exuberant facial expressions, swinging arms and graceful steps that his high energy level fills the entire room to the last row. His shiny white skin makes him look like an ancient statue whenever he poses motionless. Harrell staggers incessantly during his solo, as if he might fall at any moment, and accompanies Jarrett’s never-ending cascade of trills with his hand movements.
that you think you can visualise every single note. Titilayo Adebayo’s body is caught in the vibrations that pass through her as her long dreadlocks swirl in space, while Ondrej Vidlar moves with graceful swaying hips, lasciviously lifting his dress. The androgynous appearance of Maria Ferreira Silva and the striking divergence between model attitude and powerful, masculine appearance of Thibault Lac make it clear how broad the possibilities of expression are that are used here to one and the same music.

“The Köln Concert” by Trajal Harrell is also interesting in terms of audience acceptance. After all, many of those who watch this dance performance received a special jazz connection through Keith Jarrett when they were young. This may well have served as a calculation for full houses, but nevertheless does not show the slightest skin gout. Harrell’s choreography is neither smarmy nor chumming up. Rather, it expands Jarrett’s composition with interesting levels of experience that allow for a new perspective.

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A recurring sacrifice in new guise

A recurring sacrifice in new guise

As always, Masilo works with her own ensemble, but this time she does not use Stravinsky’s music for her ballet. Rather, it is three musicians and a singer who create an arc between African musical styles and jazzy sounds with their own compositions. This work was already shown in Vienna in 2021 at the Impuls Dance Festival, but now this year it will be on the stage of the Burgtheater.

Right at the beginning, Masilo herself appears bare-chested to delicate bell ringing, wind noises and a lovely African chant. The young, delicate woman and her choreography stand in contrast to that of her ensemble, which comes on stage shortly afterwards with cheerful dance steps. It is – as soon becomes clear – a kind of village community. They clap and stomp together, but also sing. The solo of one of the dancers is accompanied by a narration, the sad content of which can only be guessed at due to the language barrier. Masilo has studied the musical and dance heritage of Botswana and incorporated these influences into her work. Tlale Makhene, Leroy Mapholo and Nathi Shongwe created a musical framework that ranges from strong rhythms to lyrical vocal passages by Ann Masina and is emotionally expressive. Rhythm instruments, a violin and a keyboard were used.

A universal story is told about fitting into a society, but also about exploitation and even assaults by men who inflict violence on women. As in Sacre du Printemps, the young girl danced by Dada Masilo, who has been outside society from the beginning, loses her life. With long-stemmed, white calla blossoms, she is paid her last respects at the end by the community, which now also appears with bare torsos.

Photo: John Hogg

The fusion of contemporary dance styles and the Botswana dance influences, the musical setting and arguably the easily graspable story earned Dada Masilo a standing ovation.

Still, the key question remains: In the eyes of the choreographer, what has actually changed in terms of sacrifice in the course of social change during the last century? Are we really still capable of sacrificing young women today, and if so, for what? The final musical tribute is paid to Dada Masilo by Ann Masina. She soothingly lulls the young woman into a deathly sleep without supporting her rebellion and helping her to stay alive. A deeply sad ending that one is probably only prepared to accept in this way in the context of a dance performance with historical references.

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Disappeared impulse givers

Disappeared impulse givers

Sonatas and Interludes” – the title of the performance comes from those John Cage compositions for which he quickly became famous. He used a sophisticated and precisely specified preparation scheme to create new and at the same time reproducible sounds on the piano with the help of screws, bolts, rubber, felt or plastic elements. These compositions, created between 1946 and 1948, have so far only been associated with the name Cage. Almost no one knows that he also worked with various dancers and choreographers who contributed significantly to this development.

Lenio Kaklea explained at the beginning of her performance that she initially had no pleasure in interpreting a Cage work. After all, his name was so well known that it no longer needed a special stage presence to draw attention to this work. It was only when she discovered during her research that it was four women who had a direct influence on Cage’s work during this particular creative period that a pleasurable opportunity opened up for her to devote herself to this subject.

Cage had been experimenting with preparing a piano since 1938. But it was only between 1946 and 48 that he created his work “Sonatas and Interludes”, which is considered a milestone in music history. In 1942, the dancer Syvilla Fort asked him to compose a piece for a performance. As the stage was very small, Cage could only compose for a piano and not, as originally intended, a piece for extended ensemble with percussion. In order to give the music “Bacchanal” an African touch and above all to bring the rhythm to the fore, he began to prepare it. He also created original compositions for Pearl Primus and Valerie Bettie in 1942 – “Our spring will come” for Primus and “And the earth shall bear again” for Bettie. In 1944 he created “Suite of four dances” for Hanya Holm.

Lenio Kaklea focussed her work on these four dancers and gradually – by taking off different pieces of clothing from a motorbike outfit – also showed different, choreographic approaches. In doing so, she referred to such in her movement repertoire that can be seen in short, historical film footage of the dancers.

Like a special movement by Syvilla Fort, in which she lifts one leg while walking and makes a circular movement with it before putting it back on the floor. Pearl Primus developed a sequence of movements in which she dropped to the floor in rapid succession, only to immediately spring back up smoothly. Walking, almost waddling, with legs outstretched without bending the knees is found in film footage by Valerie Bettis. Without directly adopting the choreographies, the individual parts nevertheless receive a very special, concise visualisation through a processing of the historical material.

“Lenio Kaklea” (Photo: Marc Domage)

The fact that the female part of Cage’s work has been completely forgotten, that the dancers have been in his shadow from the beginning, is also shown by Kaklea with a very reduced and yet strongly expressive performance with Orlando Bass. The two walk across the stage as a couple, but always in such a way that the man comes to stand in front of the woman in such a way that you can hardly see her, if at all. No matter how they stop, Bass covers Kaklea with his figure as far as possible. Several times she tries to catch a glimpse of the audience from her position behind him. This covering game continues until, when Bass is back at the instrument, she finally makes herself small under the piano to finally leave the stage altogether.

On the one hand, Kaklea succeeds in making the different personalities of the four women perceptible, but also their own dancing part. But she also clearly shows their disappearance and the sole position of Cage as an important composer. She makes it clear that to this day the evaluation of his innovations is centred exclusively on his person. With her intelligent, subtle and at the same time highly aesthetic choreography, however, she succeeds in creating a change of perspective that encourages us to take a much closer look at the invisible women surrounding Cage. This page offers a little insight.

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Brutal Romanticism

Brutal Romanticism

Shortly before the pandemic, Florentine Holzinger presented her piece “Dance. A Sylphidic Reverie in Stunts.” at the TQW. Beatrice Cordua, the German prima ballerina who was the first to dance naked under John Neumeier’s choreography in “Sacre de Printemps”, was also present. Now, 3 years after Holzinger’s premiere, the production was performed again at the Volkstheater as part of the<a href=”;et_pb_searchform_submit=et_search_proccess&amp;et_pb_include_posts=yes&amp;et_pb_include_pages=yes” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Impuls-Tanz-Festival</a>. And once again Cordua was on stage, naked – like all her other young colleagues, who were asked by the former prima ballerina to take off their clothes as well.

<img class=”size-full wp-image-46156″ src=”” alt=”” width=”1200″ height=”801″ /> DANCE. A sylph-like reverie in stunts (Photo: © Eva Würdinger)

At the beginning and at the end, the audience witnessed a working process at the barre, which is common in classical ballet. The only difference was that Cordua expertly commented on the movements and constantly praised her small group. Between the opening and closing scenes, however, there was a dramaturgical development introduced by the figure of a contemporary witch, dressed only in a leather jacket and riding a hoover.

Holzinger left the footsteps of romantic ballet – including an interactive audience interlude – and not only performed acrobatic numbers at lofty heights on motorbikes suspended from ropes. She formed her ensemble into a witchy group that was ultimately about pure survival including murder and manslaughter. Parallel to the wild hustle and bustle, a young woman was pierced in the back of the stage – made visible by life projections – so that she could then be fixed by carabiners, pulled up into the air by her own body weight, her own flesh. The embodiment of a contemporary sylph was – due to the subtitle of the production – obvious.

“All our lives we try to rise from the ground” – Cordua explained to her students as part of the graceful ballet exercises. This aspiration was given a whole new dimension by the female stunt on display. This statement was directly related to the destructive intervention on the body of the pierced woman, who then dangled on ropes in front of the audience. The brutality that was shown here is probably just as painful in a more subtle form in pointe dancing. In all those practice sessions in which the foot and leg muscles have to be painstakingly accustomed to walking on their toes, tripping, dancing and jumping. What is ultimately supposed to look floating can only be achieved by painful trimming of the body.

<img class=”size-full wp-image-46164″ src=”” alt=”” width=”1200″ height=”801″ /> DANCE. A sylph-like reverie in stunts (Photo: © Eva Würdinger)

In an interview, excerpts of which can be read in the programme, Holzinger stated that it was important for her to be able to really trust her own body as a strength and weapon. Strength and power was also what she demanded of herself and her dancers and performers. And not only physically, but also mentally. The fact that she had the women who stood on stage with her and herself appear as witches – as much as this was in the context of ballet and opera pieces of the 19th century – also allows this choice to be questioned. After all, it serves clichés that send shivers down the spines not only of emancipated women.

But other questions also arise in the context of the performance. Art producers always bear responsibility. Not only for themselves, but above all for their ensemble and ultimately for the audience. It can be assumed that all those who performed with Florentine Holzinger in this production did so on a voluntary basis. But where does voluntariness begin when, especially in the usually precarious employment field of contemporary dance, every participation in a show is seen as a chance to be able to finance oneself for the coming months? It is to be hoped that the strengthening of the female body image, indeed the empowerment that comes with this choreography for the ensemble, is sustainable and has an effect beyond the stage performances.

Standing ovations made it clear that Holzinger had fully met the taste of the audience.

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