Tanznacht in Vienna

The aim of the large one-night dance festival is inclusiveness: Do international directors and dancers meet expectations?

Agata Maszkiewicz torn by fellow dancers in Anne Juren’s Komposition, the season opener for this year’s Tanznacht | Photo: Alec Kinnear

If nothing else, the season opening at Tanzquartier was extremely ambitious. Ten different performance venues at the TQW Studios, Halle G, Jungl, museumsquartier21, and finally the courtyard of MQ. Erste Tanznacht Wien was the official coming-out of the new Tanzquartier director Walter Heun, former artistic director of Tanztendenz München (1987 to 1993) and Luzerntanz (1999 to 2004) and current artistic director of Dance Platform Germany (1994 to present).

Lodged in the heart of Museumsquartier, Tanzquartier Wien has the lion’s share of Wien Kultur’s budget to support dance, enjoying a grant of €2.9 million from total dance funding of €6.5 million. In comparison the summer dance festival ImPulsTanz receives just €1.55 million.

Beginning in the early evening, there were over twenty different performances at ten venues, a cross-section of almost everything we’ve seen in TQW in the last five years. Meant to be more inclusive than exclusive, it was a chance for the new director to work with all the resident choreographers and performance hangers-on of TQW, increasingly a kind of insiders club for performances attended by friends and other artists.

The trend is not always reassuring: with each passing year, there has been less choreography and more conceptual work. So, the Viennese dance world wonders: will new director Heun be able to break this tendency to insularity, or will he himself become absorbed into it?

We visited seven different shows at Erste Tanznacht Wien. For the moment, there is little indication of change.

Willie Dorner is still interested in stacking human bodies. His excellent “bodies in urban spaces” which has traveled widely in the last three years, and has finally arrived here. The new shapes and movements were somehow subtler than what he showed in the street, but the street is more exciting. There, one must chase the performance. Still, the exercise remains interesting, but one wishes this direction could perhaps have evolved more in the last few years.

The live dance demo by the troupe “toxic dreams” was juvenile and interactive, with people learning to dance among their peers with the help of a video projector.

The feature show was Oleg Soulimenko’s “Elegy for the Brave,” treating the loss of youth and the gaining of consciousness. Oleg has his performers play with distorted voices à la Chris Haring. There is a lot of talk, lots of movement but little dance.

As Generation-X turns middle aged, Soulimenko’s final lament rang true:

“Until I was thirty-six, fucking was the most important thing in my life. Now art is in the first place.”

What made the piece was the focus and energy of performance from Soulimenko and Magdalena Chowaniec. The third performer Alexander Deutinger – the only Austrian – was more cipher than personality.

Soulimenko performs his rather charming circus stunt composed of a headstand on a motorcycle helmet, which ends with a crash to the ground.

Paul Weniger and Elastique hit the stage immediately after with a drone industrial roar, which was so loud it nearly blew us out of the hall. The intensity was impressive but one’s eardrums counted the minutes.

Easily the most impressive piece of the evening was the extract from Anne Juren’s co-creation “Komposition,” in which she performed with Marianne Baillot, Alix Eynadi, Agata Maszkiewicz: Four women gather together to just stroke one another. There is a light wind blowing which ruffles their hair ever so softly, as softly as their hands move against one another. The women wear fencing attire, suggesting the combative nature of tenderness, the elements of danger and sportive combat in love-making.

The work is unbelievably tender. The first section is how I imagine women wish to be touched by their partners, man or woman. The second section is explicitly sexual, rough handling of one another’s genitals and anus, a shocking contrast, the way men often grab a woman or one another. The lifts were beautiful and fit into what Wille Dorner had shown us, leaving one longing to see the full piece.

The next piece took us into a back studio and the extreme limits of dance performance. Finnish performer Satu Herrala and landscape architect Verena Holzgethan let rolls of masking tape fill up the room; the best moment is when eight rolls of tape drop suddenly from the ceiling.

After this shock, the two performers attend to make the tape into a living sculpture.  Finally, they come back and wrap up their masking tape jungle accompanied by soothing the electronic sounds of Hannes Köcher and beautiful light fragments from Klaus Rink.

Enclosure/study #3/ was executed with great seriousness, with gorgeous shapes and forms and atmosphere, making an everyday object into a high-aesthetic form.

But TQW is not the right venue. It’s an installation, not a dance.

From here the evening took a turn downhill, with a surprisingly flat performance from the Superamas in gorilla suits, telling us their stories through dance. Someone comes from Brazil, someone comes from Poland, the announcer is a sleazy French guy in lounge clothes.

Guess what? Dressed up in gorilla costumes, a dancer can’t do much. The one highlight was an energetic belly dance with just a gorilla mask. Delightful kitsch. But as a whole, “Nobel Prize in Dance” seemed just another silly stunt.

Fanny Brunner and Hans Jürgen Hauptmann brought another stunt in their skit dreizehnterjanuar. Lady bodybuilder is fought over by male bodybuilder and an old Penner (bum) with greasy hair to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It sounds like more fun than it actually was. Someone surely finds all this deconstructionist mockery of dance extremely engaging.

The finale was an extended parody in concert from by Superama bopper Magdalena Chowaniec, who performed in at least three full shows that night. Magdalena assumes the persona of Mariamagdalena, lead signer of The MOb.

Chowaniec reminds one of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, in image and in singing style. I remember the original “Heart of Glass” even now from teenage years. Hopefully, Chowaniec hasn’t inherited Harry’s drug problems by osmosis, although her antics are crazy enough to believe it. She bites her microphone, does slam leaps from the stage, sings and screams and hollers and flings herself all over the stage. Her supporting musicians (Erich Horn, Joe Albrecht, Dorian Cantele) make a solid effort, particularly, the guitarist, but it cannot be compared with Chowaniec’s frenzy.

Why someone wants to pretend to be a rockstar remains a mystery. On the other hand, the performance was good enough, the parody taking on a second life as genuine rock entertainment.

Whatever its flaws, as an event, the whole evening was a success. Lots of fun with lounges and bars all over. The director of TQW reveals in his speech what TanzQuartier has become: more comedy skits and installations than dance.

Erste Tanznacht Wien underlined just how far TQW has to go to become a serious home for dance again.

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