From a Zen exercise to physical massacre

From a Zen exercise to physical massacre

Michaela Preiner

Foto: (Franzi Kreis )


August 2022

Simon Mayer combines high-tech equipment with a purely human-based choreography. Although he explores new techniques excessively, his piece "Being moved" conveys a lot of depth.

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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