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"You are gonna love me"

Sylvia Staude reports from Vienna's ImPulsTanz festival, a month-long contemporary dance extravaganza.

Miguel Gutierrez dances like a man on fire. Metaphorically speaking – and literally as well: the American dancer-choreographer lights a tea candle, lowers his underpants, assumes the bridge position above the flame, and remains there while each of his four co-performers places a book under the tea candle, elevating it and bringing it progressively closer to his bare behind. A memorable image to kick off the "Young Choreographers' Series," a forum for young talent at Vienna's ImPulsTanz festival. The wide-ranging, four week long festival - which seems to be covering an exceptionally broad stylistic spectrum this year – is just beginning. And Gutierrez is hardly alone in playing with fire.

Jérôme Bel & Association R.B. "The Show Must Go On". © Mussacchio Laniello. All photos courtesy ImPulsTanz festival.

A native of New Jersey, Gutierrez is already a fixed element of New York's performing arts scene, as suggested by his two-part retrospective "Exhibitionist" and "Difficult Bodies." In passages, this pair of jointly conceived pieces makes an impression of originality. In others, however, he seems to remain hostage to the primal scream aesthetic so en vogue in the USA of the 1960s and 70s. Repeatedly, Gutierrez fuses his voice, his shrieks, into an ear-splitting cacophony, apparently confusing volume with intensity. But he illuminates both his self-sacrificial metier and his biography with subtlety. To start, he shows a video of himself, apparently after a performance, responding to questions from the public, while he recites the answers - including all of their "ahs" and verbal stumbles - live, thereby shedding a marvellously ironic light on the ritual of the artist's interview (and on the goodwill and helplessness of the artist). But his primary theme is the dancing body and its encumbrances, and in this case, chance comes to his aid. One of the dancers in "Difficult Bodies" is in advanced pregnancy, which automatically poses ethical and aesthetic questions.

Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company. "As I Was Saying..." © Al Zanyik

At ImPulsTanz, there is a tradition of allowing everyone with an interest in dance to get into the act - one way or another. As spectators, of course, but also as participants of the "dance workshops for passionate non-dancers." Or as a dancer-choreographer just launching his or her career and eligible for a "danceWEB" scholarship, in which he or she may choose from among 150 seminars led by more than 70 instructors. The next step is to be present at the festival among the ranks of younger talent. And finally, to move up to the main program.

Ismael Ivo & Takashi Kako. "Apocalypse". © Hardy Richter.

Depending on how you look at it, this year is either particularly disparate or rich in contrasts. There is Jerome Bel's slow burning "The Show Must Go On," which startled Hamburg theatre audiences in 2002; a revival of Ismael Ivo's "Solo Apocalypse" of 1989, whose pathetic, expressive gestures most likely seemed stale even back then; there is dance berserker Benoit Lachambre and quiet minimalist Jonathan Burrows; there is the senior American avant-gardist Bill T. Jones, who ignited a controversy in 1994 when he made AIDS the theme of a dance piece ("Still/Here"); and French dancer Mathilde Monnier, who consistently delivers something new and inventive. There are also younger stars on display in Vienna, including Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, whose "d'avant" is simultaneously light-hearted and suffused with tradition, for which he and his trio studied medieval vocal techniques. Cherkaoui merges the most incredible things (and not just here) and, what do you know, they complement one another miraculously.

Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion. "Quiet Dance". © Chris Nash.

The opening week belonged to Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and her group Rosas. The Belgian performed her new piece "D'un soir un jour" - the title is an inversion of a line from Stephane Mallarme's poem "Afternoon of a Faun" - at the Burgtheater. Citations and (serious) play with them structure the evening, in particular a confrontation with Nijinsky's celebrated choreography, whose angular, relief-style idiom could hardly be more incisive (and hence recognizable). Presented additionally as "dance material" in the program booklet is Erase-E(X), in three parts, each of which "expunges" and reworks material the preceding part.

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker & Rosas. "D'un soir un jour". © Herman Sorgeloos.

Layer is superimposed upon layer, reference upon reference. The music reflects this: Keersmaeker follows Debussy's "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune" with Stravinsky's "Symphonies for Wind Instruments," which is succeeded in turn by George Benjamin's "Dance Figures," composed specially for this choreography (and directly confronting its predecessors). After the intermission, a musical inversion: Benjamin is followed by Stravinsky ("Feu d'artifice"), and then by Debussy ("Jeux"). For Keersmaeker, music has always been more than a generator of atmospheres. Its structures provide the means for reflecting on it through dance.

The evening does not, thank God, speak exclusively through citations. A melancholic-enigmatic mood hovers over it, and over the typically Keersmaekeresque gyroscopics, evoking both desire and the unattainability of its objects. More than once the dancers perform on a long table, but their dance is devoid of lightheartedness or festive cheer.

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker & Rosas. "D'un soir un jour". © Herman Sorgeloos.

At the end, "D'un soir un jour" serves the ball elegantly to the public by way of an excerpt from Michelangelo Antonioni's film "Blow Up," in the form of a jaunty tennis match without balls or rackets. At one point, the fascinated spectator receives a signal indicating that he is meant to toss back the "ball," which has landed on the lawn. And he does so. We are nothing - the choreographer seems to be saying - without your readiness to supplement our art.

In his direct and characteristically passionate way, Miguel Gutierrez formulates this notion differently: "I am perfect, and you are gonna love me, and everyone in this space is part of the damned dance."

The ImPulsTanz festival takes place in Vienna from July 13 - August 13, 2006.


The article originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on July 18, 2006.

Sylvia Staude is a literature and arts critic for the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Translation: Ian Pepper. - let's talk european