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Flash Review 3, 10-15: Granted Space
Bitterle Plays Games; King Fakes it

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2002 Tara Zahra

VIENNA -- The premiere of two works by local choreographers Thursday at the Tanzquartier/Halle G offered a glimpse of a Viennese modern dance community rising to the stature of a new world class performance space. Appropriately, "Franz Tanzt in Wien" by Matti Bitterle and "Fake Space" by Liz King were both self-consciously about dance as process. Yet we learned far more about the choices facing contemporary choreographers through the contrast between these two works then from either of them as a self-contained unit.

Bitterle's Franz Tanzt in Wien featured 6 dancers and a massive striped floor, which gave the stage the appearance of a video game screen. True to the setting, the piece began with a blast of electronic music, dancers pressed flat to their colored runways, squirming toward each other under strobe lights like an army of wayward wind-up toys. The theme of play dominated the work: the performers played through improvisation, an end rather than a means in this work. They also played the old fashioned way, using games like duck duck goose and tag to explore group dynamics.

Bitterle and her dancers were self-consciously interested in how one movement, one formation, could morph into another through the will of an individual or the laws of gravity and physics. Watching the piece was therefore a little like watching a magician make balloon animals: what appeared to be a duck was suddenly a giraffe or an elephant. At times these transitions delighted and surprised, but this method also runs the risk of becoming a series of one-liners. Ultimately Bitterle's creation tested the goodwill of the audience a bit more than it could afford to -- one too many self-indulgently long silences, one too many rabbits pulled out of hats. As a work that was largely about young people with strong bodies, laughing and playing, it relied on the audience's desire to join the party. Yet in the end I felt more like a benevolent parent, supervising the playground, than a participant-observer.

With Liz King's "Fake Space" the lines between audience and dancer were redrawn. King also works collaboratively and uses improvisation. Yet the rough drafts and sketches disappear in the final work, which appeared to be the confident vision of one, rather than the process of six. Accompanied by spoken text from Paul Auster's "The Invention of Solitude," projections of various environmental spaces, and several inflatable orange chairs, the performers confronted us with the drama of individuals alone in space. King's question seemed to be: How do the physical spaces in which we find ourselves constitute the space of the imagination and emotions? This work may have excluded the audience from the process of dance creation, but it nevertheless took the intelligence of that audience very seriously.

King and her dancers also drew attention with their strong technical skills in a section of simultaneous solos. Although they utilized a melange of modern dance vocabularies, it was equally clear that these dancers had mastered the rules and grammars of each of technique before decisively breaking those rules. Text, music and visuals worked to create a dramatic and effective mood, but sometimes the video screen seemed more like an alternative to the choreography than its complement ("Don't like dance? Try the movie!"). Fortunately for modern dance in Vienna, King doesn't need high-tech back-up; she has the vision to say more with less.

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