Sea glitter and fire crackling

Sea glitter and fire crackling

According to Greek mythology, Dido, who came from Phoenician royalty, was the founder of Carthage. She fled her homeland to escape her brother and, by acting intelligently, obtained enough land in the new land where she had arrived with followers and ships to build Carthage. Described as a tall, beautiful, wise and untouchable queen, she fell in love, through the intervention of the gods, with Aeneas, who, having fled Troy, asked her for the right to stay. The love story, which ends tragically, has been adapted many times in literature and found its way into some 90 operas. Henry Purcell created “Dido and Aeneas“, from which ‘Dido’s Lament‘ gave rise to one of the most famous and beautiful mourning arias in operatic history.

Turkish dancer and choreographer Korhan Basaran made a guest appearance at the wortwiege festival “Europe in Scene“, this time subtitled “Sea change”. He presented his dance piece “Dido” in which he himself slips into the role of the woman loved and then abandoned by Aeneas. The gods demand of Aeneas to leave Dido alone in Carthage to sail across the sea with his people in order to found a city himself, namely Rome. This breaks the heart of the once proud woman. Basaran condenses the action to the last moments of Dido’s life, after she has been abandoned by Aeneas, and makes visible all the emotions that heartbreak can bring. In Dido’s inner monologue, he concentrates on the existential emotions that arise at the moment of abandonment. Small paper boats, folded by the audience under his guidance at the beginning of the performance and placed on the stage floor, make it clear: it is the sea that has brought the two lovers together, but ultimately also separates them again. Underpinned with musical layers by composer Tolga Yayalar, Purcell’s Dido Lament resonates from the start. If at first it is only the harmony sequence, transposed into electronic sounds, that can be heard delicately, at the end Dido herself will sing along the refrain of this lament loudly and emotionally fiercely moved. Yayalar also created the auditory perceptions of the horn of a large steamer, the chirping of birds, ominous-sounding demon noises, and the cracking and crackling of burning wood. Ataman Girisken also contributes significantly to the success of the production with his visuals. Depending on the mood, he bathes the space in glittering blue and white wave refractions, provides it with a twinkling starry sky, transforms it into a dark cave or triggers frightening moments when Dido meets her death at the stake. Red tongues of fire blaze until the figure of Dido lying on the ground visually dissolves. The billowing conflagration that follows also remains palpable in its abstractly designed undulations, which at the same time seem incredibly aesthetic.


Korhan Basaran’s Dido is wracked by painful convulsions, but also reveals that defensiveness that results from wounded pride. An expressive facial expression makes every single emotional emotion visible. Be it despair, fear, hope or disgust. The tall figure in a long skirt, the upper part of the body clad only in a shirt, conveys in a contemporary way the image of Dido that has been handed down in tradition. But Basaran also slips into Aeneas, who, lantern in hand, affirms to Dido that it is not his will but that of the gods why he must leave her. It is the brilliantly crafted melange of his expressive dance, the selected text passages from Virgil and Christopher Marlowe that he recites, the atmospheric visuals as well as the music that create a harmonious, emotionally gripping stage event. With Basaran’s interpretation of Dido, he continues to write a tradition that has captivated countless generations to date and, judging by the audience reaction, continues to emotionally grip them today.

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Evolution and its physical legacy

Evolution and its physical legacy

“Bones and stones” are two nouns that radiate anything but warmth and security and that one does not necessarily immediately associate with each other. And yet, as Claudia Bosse points out in her latest work, they are inextricably linked. “Bones and Stones” had its world premiere in Hall G of the MuseumsQuartier and – according to the theatre-maker – is soon to move to the great outdoors. This makes sense, because the theme of the performance is the relationship of man to his bony inner life, but also to nature with its stony formations and evolution from the formation of the earth to the present day.

Bosse works with six women ranging in age from 24 to 75, most of whom move naked among the audience during the two-and-a-half-hour performance. You are allowed to wander along with the ensemble or move further away from it. Which position you take is up to you, also how and when you want to change it. In fact, however, most people follow the direction, which makes full use of the space and constantly shifts the focus of the actions. The darkness of the hall and the partial lighting on small “volcanoes” marked with bricks, as well as the first appearance of the women, transports one to a time long before man as a species himself ruled the earth. Equipped with small bones, extensions of toes and fingers, the women act as beings who still have much animalism about and within them. They will remain mute – with exceptions – until the end, but their habitus will change permanently.

After the little ankles have been recognised and shaken off like annoying appendages, one embarks together with the performers on the retelling of human development, starting from prehistory up to the present. It is a narrative without words, with many stops. Those that are easy to grasp and others that leave more room for interpretation.

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“Bones & Stones” – Claudia Bosse – Tanzqaurtier (Photo: Markus Gradwohl)

There masses of bodies are presented as a sculpture placed on the floor, in which life gradually begins to stir. Memories of the artist couple Prince Gholam were evoked as well as works by Mette Ingvartsen. Dancing and aesthetics from the visual arts are skilfully balanced here. Shortly after the women have separated from each other and are now acting as individuals, dressed in long plastic aprons, their smiling faces change. The strongly tightened expulsion from paradise, which the humane beings were still allowed to experience unreflectively, with a smile on their lips, is followed by an action with veritable contempt for humanity. Those who collapse on the ground are roughly dragged away from the surrounding crowd by their arms or legs. With kicks, the extremities of the lifeless bodies are brought into position so that they can be dragged behind them without obstacles. A text accompanies the brutal act by pointing out that it is the bones of the bodies that leave traces on the ground. This draws attention to the physicality of women. But not to those stereotypes that are usually paid attention to in women – their faces, their breasts, their hips. Rather, it is now the skeleton that suddenly acquires a strong moment of attraction. This is reinforced by a scene in which most of the audience looks at the sitting and standing women from behind. Slow movements with stretches to the left and right from their centre illustrate the flexibility of their spine and also skilfully bring into focus the shaping of their shoulder blades.

Again and again, questions about one’s own physical constitution arise as one follows the performance. Where do we come from, what do we carry within us that was already there thousands and millions of years ago? How does this special way of seeing change the way we look at ourselves, but also the way we look at others? What role do we play as part of nature on this earth?

Dionysian moments with live sung and spoken fragments of sound and language push the imagined wheel of time forward by millennia shortly afterwards, leaving it somewhere between industrialisation and Wagner’s Grail myth. The sound of sweaty hammering on large chunks of stone merges with a powerful female voice repeating the sentence “reality exists of processes rather than material object” several times. The sound layer – ingeniously produced in many facets by Günther Auer from the beginning – becomes denser and reaches ecstatic proportions, also through the vocal accompaniment.

In the silence that follows, the oldest performer, equipped with two shopping bags, crosses the room and finally pours the contents – brightly polished pig bones – onto the floor. One by one, the women pick some out of the small pile and carry them to other places in the room to rearrange them. In time, the archaeological gaze with which the bones are put together to form new shapes spills over to the audience. The reference to the danger and fragility of nature is not omitted. Cylindrical glass containers containing small biospheres convey the impression of preserved nature in a dystopian future. They symbolise a remnant of what the earth was once made of.

It would not be a work by Claudia Bosse if she did not explicitly deal with the medium of theatre in it. And she does so with a grand finale. In it, she evokes an image of a sleeping woman in a place created like a circus, which places everything that could be seen before in the realm of dreams.

With Anna Biczók, Myrthe Bokelmann, Anita Kaya, Carla Rihl, Marcela San Pedro and Christa Zuna-Kratky, the ensemble was homogeneous but also diverse. The clever, all-female cast made it possible to avoid raising questions about male and female identity, rivalry, attraction and repulsion, which meant concentrating on the human in itself. One can look forward to the continuation in the outdoor space.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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”.

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“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.

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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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