Much and little and yet more than enough of everything

Much and little and yet more than enough of everything

Michaela Preiner

Foto: (© )


July 2022

On the opening weekend, the Festival Impulstanz showed "Dances for an actress" by Jérôme Bel and "Vollmond. A Piece by Pina Bausch". If you take these two productions as a taste of what may be to come, you can justifiably look forward to the next Dance Weeks in Vienna.

“Full Moon. A Play by Pina Bausch”

Unterferent they could not have been – but also not more complementary. “Full Moon” – shown on the big stage of the Burgtheater, performed by the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – came up with a lot of “theatre magic”. The piece, which premiered 16 years ago, requires a total of 12 dancers, stage equipment that can make it rain and also has the possibility of flooding part of the stage floor. Bausch starts with a sultry summer night atmosphere in which young men and women interact with each other in a constant succession of short scenes. In the process, one or two sentences are dropped in the direction of the audience, usually spiced with a fine pinch of humour.

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“Full Moon” (Photo: ©

The choreography, like the costumes, is gender-dualistic. While the men, predominantly in long trousers and with bare upper bodies, demonstrate their strength in a dance-like to acrobatic way, the typical Bausch repertoire of movements can be seen in the women with hip-length hair and softly flowing dresses. Oscillating between gestures of the desired establishment of contact and those in which the withdrawal into one’s own inner self is always clearly recognisable, alternate here. The visualisation of emotional states occurs much more frequently with female dancers than with their male colleagues. Intersexual encounters are often marked by moments of tension. Loving and hating each other, not being able to let go of each other and punishing the other with contempt are visualised just as much as moments in which the women dominate the men. Right up to instructions on how a woman’s bra must be unclasped as quickly as possible so as not to disturb the tingling moment of erotic anticipation.

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“Full Moon” (Photo: ©

Despite an intense choreographic work that demands extremes from the ensemble, there is, however, another silent and motionless actor on stage who equally captures the audience’s attention. This is a mighty boulder that is undercut by a body of water. Particularly in the second part after the intermission, the water streams down on the stage almost incessantly like a continuous rain and at one point even becomes the unrestricted stage star. Scooped up in buckets by the men in piecework, it is hurled by them in powerful blasts from all sides against the boulder. The optical stimulus that results can well be described as “water fireworks” without opening up a contradiction. For the explosive cascades of water visually resemble those of rockets which, once exploded, pelt towards the earth in a fine rain of fire. This visually powerful scene has addictive character and burns itself into the memory just as much as the soaking wet costumes of the dancers and together they form an indelible pair of recognition.

“Dances for an actress”

While Bausch worked with an extremely high technical effort in her piece, “Dances for an actress” gets by with the power consumption of a hoover running for 1 hour. At least that is how the Belgian actress Jolente De Keersmaeker, sister of the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who is also a frequent guest in Vienna with her choreographies, told it. Jolente was persuaded by Jérôme Bel to create a dance piece. It should be clear to anyone who has seen Bel’s work that this is no ordinary piece. Perfection and beautiful appearances – all that Bel does not demand from his artists. On the contrary, he demands a great deal of courage for imperfection and for revealing both their skills and their failures to the audience. The French choreographer is something of a pioneer in his guild. He rethinks what moves society in a way that is suitable for the stage and, in doing so, questions what socio-politically relevant themes could mean for performance practice.

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“Dances for an actress” (Photo: Herman Sorgeloos)

A current example is the widespread refusal to print programme booklets. For ecological reasons, these are currently being saved at performances around the globe, see also “Wiener Festwochen” – Bel found her own method of nevertheless giving the audience a little insight into the events in advance. Through an oral introduction by Jolante herself, who told the audience what was normally printed, including the list of sponsors and partners. Inevitably, this was accompanied by a huge dash of humour, a hallmark, but also a subtle hint that this practice popping up at the moment is probably not really the last word in wisdom for Bel either.

After this prologue, triggered by the general ecological disaster we cannot escape at the moment, the dancing actress presented a longer scene in which she gave samples of her classical ballet repertoire. She drew on a body of movement she had developed during her ballet classes between the ages of 6 and 14. That this time must not have been fun for her is still apparent today. The individual dance steps are executed with great concentration, jumps are only performed in such a way that there is no risk of injury and a body control that makes dancing not fun but rather an agonising experience – all this can be taken as proof why Jolante did not take up the profession of a dancer.

From these first impressions, she spans a wide range of different improvisations by various choreographic and dance greats of the 20th century. She begins with a Chopin Prelude, originally choreographed and danced by Isadora Duncan. Using this example, she also demonstrates one of the methods dancers use to memorise movement sequences. The verbalisation of movement sequences is still a common means of remembering step and movement sequences today.

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“Dances for an actress” (Photo: Herman Sorgeloos)

The change to a Pina Bausch improvisation, based on her work “Café Müller” from 1978, is initiated by her silently taking off her clothes. The immersion in that fragile figure, dancing naked in front of the audience to the sounds of Henry Purcell’s “Didos lament”, is one of the most impressive moments of the entire performance. The way the fragility of the human body and its soul become visible and tangible at the same time unfolds an incredible emotional magic. What a big difference to the pompous “Full Moon” piece by the same choreographer. If one wanted to vividly explain that technical commitment does not have to correlate with the emotional movement of the audience – these two pieces would be textbook examples of this.

What a great, great idea to replace this Bausch choreography with Rihanna’s song “Diamond”. Equipped with a pulsating rhythm and a life-affirming drive, the music alone sweeps the audience away in just a few moments. The still naked body now has absolutely nothing of fragility about it, but radiates pure life energy, unbridled joie de vivre and pure dance power. So much so that one would like to dance along.

After an intensive study of mimicry, dedicated to the Butho grandmaster Ono Kazuo, in which the performer can show her enormously strong mimic expressiveness, she ends up in contemporary dance performance. For this, sitting on stage with a laptop on her lap, she describes a YouTube video, the content of which she only reproduces verbatim. However, “Dances for an actress” would not be a production by Jérôme Bel if he did not himself respond with much humour to the purely verbally-reflective dance rendition with the upcoming “John Travolta number”. The way Jolente De Keersmaeker slowly begins to dance along with the famous “Saturday Night Fever scene” during her description, steadily getting into it, is simply stunningly funny.

The fact that she adds a self-designed choreography to Renaissance music with a strong, repetitive rhythm and southern flair rounds off the performance in a successful and once again highly intelligent way. How strong is the contrast that Keersmaeker expresses with her classical ballet rehearsal at the beginning and her own powerful and lustful choreography at the end of “Dances for an actress”! With this own choreography, she has visibly reached a point where you can believe that dancing is something that she also enjoys, and that it even seems to be in her blood. Through its ingenious protagonist Jolente De Keersmaeker, Bel’s piece reveals what is actually a profoundly simple insight: dancing is a human means of expression that everyone is allowed and encouraged to shape according to their own needs. Whether you want to reproduce a given choreography exactly, dance an improvisation on it or implement your own ideas – everything is possible, everything is desired, nothing is forbidden. What a wonderful insight even for people who have been working with this medium for decades. Merci Jolente and chapeau Jérôme.
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