Impulsive Dance Review

The once hailed crowd-pleaser faces financial woes and with stale direction needs to return to its roots

On The Town | Steve Jones | September 2009

Roughly a hundred viewers, some old, some young, some European, some North American, some in wheelchairs, some elegantly, some casually dressed, spontaneously form a rough circle. They crouch, sit or stand in a cool, pale green room with parquet floor, hung with paintings of interiors from the 16th to the 19th century, among them a Vermeer, a de Hooch, a Tenier, and a ter Borch.

A musician, equipped with baritone, alto and soprano saxophones, presses a button on his notebook; one hears bells and the sound of a ticking clock. A dark-skinned, heavy-set, black-haired dancer with white sideburns, dressed in the same way as the musician: in white shirt with floral inlays, black trousers with red and gold stripes on the inside legs and black sandals lumbers to the center of the circle, stretches his arms out, his palms flat, as if he were about to be crucified by the critics, and begins. His movements are heavy, slow and ungainly. Indeed when he prances from one side of the room to the other he borders on the ridiculous.

This was how the ImPulsTanz 2009 began. Sadly, the famed dance festival did not get much better, leaving many asking a question that has been repeated with ever greater urgency: Given that Claus Peymann only lasted thirteen years as the director of the Burgtheater and Klaus Bachler only ten, are Karl Regensburger’s twenty five years at the head of ImPulsTanz just a few years too long? Should he seriously consider, if only for reasons of health, retirement and not let his creation wither on the vine?

That he has alienated many through his choleric temper is not to be denied. That the festival has come into serious financial difficulties as a result is profoundly regrettable. One can’t help but think that perhaps Regensburger should think about handing over responsibility to somebody younger and fitter.

Certainly there is an ample supply of well-qualified candidates for the job. The festival has grown bloated and ossified over the years, but unlike most institutions, sadly not more professional.

There was a general air of incompetence: The computer problems, the false directions given to members of the audience, the rudeness of the director himself, the general lackadaisical attitude of those involved have not got better. Indeed, if anything they have gotten a good deal worse. Now, even those foolish enough to buy tickets are made to feel like common criminals.

Of course there were positive things about the festival. The undoubted high point was Savion (a Basque derivation of Xavier and pronounced say-vion) Glover’s open air performance in the main courtyard of the Museumsquartier on a glorious summer evening. Savion Glover was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1973, started dancing at the age of seven, and attained stardom soon after. Not only has he succeeded in "funktifying" step-dancing, he has revolutionized our very ideas about it. He has transformed this essentially minimalist form from one being concerned with "hands and legs flying" to one about "self-expression". He has done so by returning to the basics, to rhythm. The expectations were high.

It was billed as "Savion Glover and friends," but rather than an empty phrase one had the sense, as the troupe hummed, sang, clicked fingers, clapped hands, shook their arms and legs, got their shoes and lap top out, smiled and laughed, that the sense of amity was by no means feigned.

And once they ascended the stage, with its drum-kit, HIMI lights and speakers, a sense of togetherness, of respect for one another, and above all delight in what they were doing together found its expression in an extraordinary performance. If the performance in the Kunsthistorisches Museum had been marked by a dysfunctional relationship between dance and music, this one was marked by a perfect harmony between the two.

If those that listened but did not see were dissatisfied, they did not understand that the music complemented the dance and vice versa. What all too few among the audience or critics had the privilege of seeing was a lively dialogue not merely between sax, piano, drums and bass, but a fascinating dialogue between dance and music itself.

With his dreadlocks tied in a bunch, in black T-shirt and black, silken Bermuda shorts, cool, laid back, Savion Glover, sweat dripping off his brow, often turned to the sax player to his left and the bass player to his right as he moved. As he danced and smiled, his loose limbs all in motion, as if his whole body were floating off the ground, with his characteristic speed, skill, energy, discipline and extraordinary stamina, he seemed to be communicating more to both than words could ever possibly express.

As he switched from a fast rhythm to a slow one and back again, threw his arms up like a rag doll, turned quickly then slowly, he clearly was enjoying himself.  He was not alone. The multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-aged audience grew more and more excited and more and more enthusiastic. And when he exclaimed, after the performance was over, that the evening had been "fun," no one seriously doubted him.

If the performance by Savion Glover was the high point, the festival reached its nadir with the truly appalling Superamas entitled "_Factory2 –‘Youdream’ In Process Comedy" – supposedly about "excessive TV watching" and the "true depths of the stage".

If there were any depths involved, then they were those of bad taste. "Factory2" had little if anything to do with a performance – though this reviewer asks whether the Superamas ever have anything to do with serious performance. And why, given this fact, are they invited back to the festival year after depressing year?

The crowd of eager fans (mostly dancers) crowded excitedly into the elegant space of the Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz, with its subdued marble-like surfaces, ornate ceiling, carved wooden doors, statues, busts, inlaid mirrors and emblems of imperial rule.

It did not take long though for the excitement to dissipate and the mood to change to one of contempt and indifference.

"This is bullshit," said one Ukranian girl with a thick accent. Unhappily she was right. Very soon the crowd thinned and left. Who would stay to watch three cheerleaders in red tops and white skirts run into the room with a motley crowd of extras dressed in red, white and black, originally in a circle, then drawing back and starting to chant, while a pair of men appear to fight leaving one lying on the ground as the crowd moves back.

This banal scene was repeated with mind-blowing monotony. One dancer from New York was driven to despair, such that she even wondered why she danced at all.

Things were not always so bad and one must remember how good the festival once was. ImPulsTanz needs to learn from Savion Glover and to get back to basics. It needs to cut down its bloated bureaucracy, scale down the range of performances and return to its radical, cutting-edge roots.

And it should not, as is often lamented, be a foreign entity in this city. It needs to plow its excessive and ill-spent resources into young and independent dance companies striving for survival in Vienna. Above all, it should be about dance and not "B)&%#@."

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