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Review 1, 4-1: Drifting
From Breuss/Suppan and Gehmacher, Art for Artists' Sake
By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2003 Tara Zahra
VIENNA -- The Tanzquartier
Wien offered two premieres from emerging Austrian choreographers
this past month, united in their commitment to naked ingredients:
shapes, space, lines, body parts. Rose Breuss/Wolfgang Suppan and
Philipp Gehmacher both invite you to step inside a process rather
than watch a performance. They almost militantly insist that you
pay attention to the their process, by stripping their work of traditional
production accessories: content, narratives, costumes, harmonious
accompaniment, sets. Take away the distractions, and the audience
will honor movement for movement's sake, or so the theory goes.
Yet the choreography presented this month walks a fine line between
"art for arts' sake" and "art for artists' sake."
Reflection on process
and theory is necessary in any field, and deserves support. The
lines between process, production, and performance are also arbitrary.
This is a valuable insight which Suppan, Bruess, and Gehmacher convey
effectively in their work. Efforts to educate audiences about process
are also welcome. Yet this staunch refusal of performance also represents
a retreat into a closed conversation with other artists, a reluctance
to engage with those who don't speak a highly technical language.
It is perhaps not coincidental that this turn inward seems so noticeable
here in Vienna: the cultural historian Carl Schorske famously argued
that the great innovations of cultural modernism in fin-de-siecle
Vienna were produced through precisely such a turn inward, as Viennese
liberals disillusioned with politics "retreated" into the cultural
realm and the psyche. A century later, artists like Gehmacher and
Breuss seem to be burrowing even deeper -- more than retreating
into art, they have retreated into conversations about art.
was inspired by the intention to bring musicians and dancers together
to create and think "simultaneously but independently from one another."
Thus twelve musicians and twelve dancers, clad in black, shared
the stage. The dancers did indeed "drift" in and out of geometric
patterns, very, very, independently of a 5-part experimental electric
and orchestral composition by Wolfgang Suppan. The musical composition,
with its lack of harmonies, seemed far more radical than the choreography
by Rose Breuss, which was built around a fairly traditional movement
vocabulary. Yet there were some successful moments: Breuss made
full use of her space, calling the audience's attention to many
different levels and dimensions of what the Germans call "Raum."
The effect was that of a geometric painting, in which splashes of
color slowly moved from one place to another. The dancers often
appeared to be working completely independently of one another,
such that the moments of synchronization were pleasant surprises,
reminders of a higher order. In an interesting partnering sequence,
one couple performed in a lit box behind the musicians, as if in
a third dimension, while another couple downstage mirrored them
and then slowly "drifted" into independent choreography. The musicians
also ultimately "drifted" into the dance and then out again, in
a sequence of well rehearsed walking and crouching. I was disappointed
that we didn't have the same chance to see dancers "drift" into
Philip Gehmacher's "Mountains
are Mountains" stripped dance even further to its barest elements:
no costumes, no set, very little music. The choreography was a form
of "charades" without answers, signs without meaning -- tiny movements,
one body part at a time, one body part leading the next. "Music"
and dance indeed worked in harmony in this piece, but the music
was mostly sounds and text. Through the juxtaposition of isolated,
minute movements, everyday speech and noises took on the cadence
and rhythm of a song, each syllable a note. The dancers seemed free
to retreat into their own psyche, united only by a consistent style
-- five people trapped in a world in which body parts move in isolation.
At times the accompaniment sounded vaguely like a broken radio,
and the dancers too gave the impression of broken machines, up to
the last moment: a mechanical, dispassionate, wind-up kiss between
two of the dancers -- repeated three times.
"Drift" and "Mountains"
were both clearly works of structured improvisation. Yet there seemed
to be very little play in the process on display. Both were conversations
between artists, and among artists-- and very serious conversations
at that. It is admirable of the Tanzquartier to support such dialogues.
But perhaps, like a child at a grownups' dinner party, I am impatient
-- I want to know where the conversation is going, and when I can
invite my friends. I am not sure I want to watch it simply drift
(and ramble) on into the night.
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