9 (2006), Nr.3/September


L’art philosophique

Letter to Ismael Ivo, ImPulsTanz/Wien. 14680 Zeichen.


Wien, August 2006

Dear Mr. Ivo!


I feel the need to a write you a letter because this is the form, it seems to me, to be the best to gve response. Let me tell you that I enjoyed this year’s (07/13 through 08/13) ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research a lot. To begin with I came to enroll a dancing course for the first time in my life. Being not very remote from what Impulstanz so friendly calls the Golden Age I was surprised even by myself to consider myself a dancing student since I have not been doing more than absoloving the adolescent standard and latin dance course (Tanzleistungsabzeichen in Bronze) and more lately aerobic training at a fitness club. I do not conceal particular practical and theoretical interest in dance along rock and techno music.


Let me first of all give you a short report of my personal experience as a student. I booked Contemporary Technique/Basics Beginner with Ted Stoffer, one of the various „Workshops in Contemporary Dance and Body Work for all levels from beginners to professional dancers“ as the booklet has it. It was a pleasure throughout. Ted started with taking time in carefully committing us and our names to his memory. Then, after some stretching exercises not unlike „yoga“ on the floor and in standing position - by the way good home exercises as well - , were following some non-locomotive chaotic movements. Another time span on one of the five days of the course was devoted to „sending“ the body including attempts to let fall our bodies. Additionally Ted gave a short introduction into the four basic dance categories. At at least three lessons we developed short and even at times ballet-like choreographic sequences that gave rise to some of us with more advanced skills - to their relief - to apply some traditional dance vocabulary like the chassé. Also, a case was made by Ted with doing a move with suspense. Finally the sequences were danced in three groups allowing for watching, self-reflecting and spending applause by the remaining two groups standing at the boarder of the dance floor. Ted always kept a high degree of attention with giving short comments on deficiencies directed sometimes to a singular person without mentioning her or his name in order to cause the others ponder the point to themselves. One of the most impressive exercises for me was lying on the floor, starting with moving a toe of the right foot, including into the „uncontrolled“ spontaneous movement step by step the other toes of the foot, the foot, the shank, the thigh and so on with, then, „constructing“ the left side the same way. One time I shortly watched how the other students did and thought what an amazing impression all the surprisingly different movements by the students would make on Ted. Let me not forget to mention the contact improvisation portion Ted made us do on the basis of movements partners of a pair consecutively made.


One thing stroke me as particularly important. For the most time Ted Stoffer did not use music. This gave the lessons a welcome body awareness touch. And when there was beautiful and less rhythmical, slow old style jazz songs or some advanced down beat electronic music - both of them played not loudly - it was not used with rhythmic purposes. Of course, as known to me as a spectator of performances contemporary dance has little to do with rhythm. This is something I would not have believed back in the rock days when I stuck to Frank Zappa’s definition „dance is what your body does when struck by music“ (dance to his and his band’s Tell Me You Love Me). Therefore not using music gives way to a kind of bodily autonomy, say for instance to your body’s own „rhythms“ or, more generally put, times. But then it becomes obvious that rhythm cannot be the primary parameter of dance. It may not be a parameter at all. Even music is only one of not necessary layers of dance performance as much of contemporary dance shows. Of course, the tranquility of Impulstanz workshops as well as of the whole camp also needs to be considered from a pragmatic point of view. You cannot teach when you don’t have attentive students. And you cannot teach when you don’t go to the elements with for instance exclusively focusing on motional and even non-motional body awareness.


Hence the difficulties to define dance today. Germaine Prudhommeau says that dance is a creation of arbitrary movements with the goal in itself (danse, in: Étienne Souriau, Vocabulaire d’esthetique, ed. by Anne Souriau, Paris: Quadrige/Presses universitaires de France 1990, 540-542). Gabriele Brandstetter holds that dance is the formation/Gestaltung of space by means of movement with rhythm and expression (Tanz, in: Wolfhart Henckmann/Konrad Lotter (ed.), Lexikon der Ästhetik, = bsr 466, München: C. H. Beck 2004, 361f.). And Roger W. Müller Farguell 2005 states that dance is a bodily linguistic, mostly rhythmically and musically induced movement (Tanz, in: Karlheinz Barck/Martin Fontius/Dieter Schlenstedt/Burkhart Steinwachs/Friedrich Wolfzettel (ed.): Ästhetische Grundbegriffe. Historisches Wörterbuch in sieben Bänden, vol. 6: Tanz - Zeitalter/Epoche, Stuttgart/Weimar: J. B. Metzler 2005, 1-15). Whereas Prudhommeau and Brandstetter take dance as art for granted - what else should it be? - Müller Farguell dispenses with the artistic and aesthetic context and, strictly spoken, only takes body language to be essential for (our) movements in order to speak of dance.


This taken as a sign for the recent state of dance we have already one of the reasons for today’s increasing need of dance education - dance is not an art and thereby available not only to those who want to gain and improve the capabilities to practice dance as an art. So apart from contemporary dance as a creative art demonstrated with ImPulsTanz Festival dance is an equally artistic and recreational activity. This circumstance necessitates a more pervasive analysis of the layers of dance. Given that dance is body movement as a mastered language we got to do with a complex process involving choreography or, better, choreutics (to take Rudolf Laban’s term, but used in the widest sense of the body’s space), contact/connection/communication, acrobatics, body building, movement therapy, expression, pantomime, and sports.


I will not give you trouble here with treating dance theoretically at greater lenghth. Let me just offer to think about two potentials of ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research. First the possibility to steer agaist today’s predominant commercialized active and passive sports. Sports is where sweat is, at least potentially - so it is with dance. Just remember the Expressions show and the somersault seen there. Sports and dance - what are the links? Think of the tournament Standard and Latin dances. Think of (water) callisthenics and ice dancing at Olympic games (dance under restricted material and technical conditions). Think of those people who had done that and finally went pro - as one used to say - to circus or ice dance shows. The genre as an art has now reappeared with enterprises like Circus Roncalli. Please do not forget that Hip Hop, Body Work, Jazz dance have included in gyms. Here it not just the fitness and recreational sports aspect, but the aim of fulfilling choreutic, communicational, body building, movement therapeutic, expressive, and even pantomime and acrobatic needs of a lot of people who do not only treat their bodies for pure fitness. This paragraph gives the opportunity to make ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research a suggestion. When in Vienna fitness studios Hip Hop and so called Jazz is an unjust minority, so why not counter to the these studios’ dance incorporation strategies with developing a model of dancing to today’s variety of aerobics. Much disclaimed aerobics certainly is dancing method from which the skating step of later techno music should emerge in the nineties. The advantage: attracting all the dance floor people dancing to not just techno, but house, drum & bass, booty music as well. So why not offering a workshop of this kind?


Secondly I cannot refrain from referring to acrobatics.

Hoping, as we all do, to once become an acrobate reader and writer ourselves, I noticed with the somersault mentioned that the Hip Hop dancers also go beyond the limits of „usual“ dance with for instance breakdancing. The abnormal pose or movement - with purely visual attraction and astonishment instead of aesthetic spectation - was, as you know, introduced in classical ballett by Italian virtuosi effectuating innovations in choreography. Before, acrobatics was used to train the body in order to gain and demonstrate suppleness. What fascinates us up to this day is the surpassing of our everyday balance, of the physical laws of nature in order to get an apparition of the supernatural. This aspect of dance has been taken away in part by stuntman abilities and special cases of pantomime like Kung Fu fighting. Finally remember that „going on tiptoe“ - a kind of dance’s „logo“ for quite some time - is exactly what the ancient Greek ákrobatéoo means. So what about including into the program a course concerning an acrobatics of the bodies and of the usage of things like juggling - for beginners, an for more advanced levels?


Let me come to one of the basic conditions for the success of ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research - besides the wonderful curatorial and organisational work you, Rio Rutzinger, Michael Zellinger and your team achieves. I do not need to draw your attention to the fact that the success of Impulstanz is to some extent due - despite some remoteness to the inner city - to the characteristics of Burgtheater-Probebühne & Art-for-Art-Werkstätten in Arsenal, Objekt 19, at Ghegastrasse, that very specific site in Vienna’s third district. In and around the huge halls usually used for producing scenery for the Bundestheater season - months September through June - there is no noise. Nowadays without surrounding walls the former urban military camp still has broad meadows and little car traffic. Therefore silence here has very distinct non-martial and non-industrial connotations. The non-industrial aspect of the camp imposes powerfully with all the huge hall machinery stopped or laid down as if a moment ago and only partially removed behind the curtains (if there are any) and the apartment wall size mirrors for the more traditional dance forms. The long corridor linking halls A to E make us walk in appropriate speed, especially when the wheather is hot as it used to be this year. Then, all the grace and serenity of the site begin to irradiate. The discontinuation of labor - a visible moment of post-industrial society as one might say - only gives way to a kind of leisure that sets in motion work on another re-creational and bodily spiritual level. The non-martial aspect of the camp is revealed to anybody involved here especially in times when a new bitter war reminds us of our lucky peaceful situation. Our times do not speak much of utopia. Yet here I felt that this dancing community realized by way of learning could be such a utopia, an apparition of a society to come. Only for this reason I am a bit skeptical seeing martial arts included to some degree like Martin Gruber entertains it with the Suzuki method shown quite impressively at Impressions, the opening teachers’ presentation on the first day. Of course I have no doubts about the peaceful intentions of Mr. Gruber as well as I am aware of the increasingly strong technical import to contemporary dance performance nowadays.


What impressed me a lot - besides the basically peaceful mood - was Ted’s ability of never criticizing and only offering or inviting us to do something. That made it all the more convincing, that is, by means of showing steps, movements, tricks and verbally giving suggestions. He may have done so for us beginners and may keep it differently with professionals. But at least to me it made sense with regards to the seemingly infinite possibilities of moving and expressing the body and communicating it. I felt free, something that will not come as a surprise since I stepped at least one centimeter beyond my bodily, technical, expressional and communicational restrictions.


Freedom is a word written in capital letters at ImPulsTanz as you were right to stress in hosting the opening Impressions show and the concluding Expressions show. Freedom also and here means the huge variety of dancing styles and techniques in the ImPulsTanz Workshops + Research courses. It is amazing indeed that a whole structure is offered, not just courses - besides what may be noticed as the main point of ImPulsTanz for the public, i.e. the ImPulsTanz Festival performance program. I simply render what was offered as methods, techniques, styles: workshops for body work (Feldenkrais, Alexander, Pilates, yoga, gyrokinesis, and myoreflex methods), classical/modern/contemporary technique, ethnical dance & jazz & hip hop, improvisation & composition (including the „materials“ voice, body sounds and touch), age and ability diversification (courses for the ages of 3-5, 4-7, 6-8, 7-12, 9-12, 10-13, 12-15, 55-100 and for people with restricted abilities); research done in coaching projects, the so called ProSeries and the choreographers’ venture (I learn this year offered as a co-production with International Festival for the first time with Mårten Spångberg). Besides these topics I was deeply impressed by the high standards of teaching and inconsequence learning - not just learning, but also exercizing, training, the rehearsal, the audition (unlike sports competition), the dress rehearsal (at the festival), the (improvisation) jam, the teaching demonstration. I cannot imagine another art with such a manifold culture of learning.


I am of course very remote to give qualified judgments on the Workshops + Research offered, for I made only little use of my right to watch as a silent visitor (which I regret). All I can say is that I got strong impressions by all the teachers of the afternoons of the week I participated in my workshop. Accidental or not, I watched Erin Cornell’s outburst of expression, Niels Robitzki’s and Vanessa Andrada’s perfection and motivation, Andrew Harwood’s all over presence and distinctive device, your own musically persistent and pervasive body lecturing, Joe Alegado’s elementary as well as elegant movement-complex demonstration, Janet Panetta’s most charming personal and exemplary authority using educationally the digital camera, Iñaki Azpillaga’s patient and experienced colleagueship and Kurt Mossetter’s discrete surgery-like interventions.


If I am not wrong, I saw Mathilde Monnier - the lady so consciously taking the microphone out of your hand when being interviewed by yourself at Impressions - was not too good to participate in the extra contact improvisation jam offered and announced by Andrew Harwood at the Impressions show. For more than two hours I watched that dancing. The doors of Studio 2 were wide open, through the huge back door a beautiful old tree visible. Wothout music advanced dance students and dancers approached oe another, at the beginning pairs, later on also little groups, the dynamics of movement speed and intensity changing with the progress of time, slightly, yet perceivably different moods over the two our long ongoing encounter. At any point of time a new challenge for me watching, for one never can see everything at once, got to decide which group or person you focus on ...


Another kind of freedom I experienced was that of discourse, of speech, of research: to be practiced at ImPulsTanz courses, before and after. Our class also was a good one in that respect, and Ted did not shy at discussing and responding to our questions. I could not come to the two Tuesday discussion panels that you offered. As with me there could have been some more opportunities for talks reflecting experiences on behalf of the students as well as teachers. There is a lot to tell and it should be communicated that dance is not just a mute body thing. I take it the same line is that ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research encourages to watch. This runs into principally turning courses into events open to the public - of course with running the risk that what may be seen by silent visitors who finally do not participate is published and re-published in one way or the other. Also there is obviously some need by students for expressing response to the performances of the ImPulsTanz festival. This response could be made public on the pertinent weblog of the magnificent website of ImPulsTanz. But beyond this somebody fortunately printed the comments out and hung it up at the beginning of the corridor linking halls A to E of ImPulsTanz Workshops and Research. This may also be a hint at the potential that the students who are a significant part of the audiences of the festival are happy to share their opinions on what happens downtown.


Concedingly this letter has become a bit long. Yet I cannot close without mentioning that Ted said that anything is dance from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night. That means, if I may interpret him, any movement may be dance like anything may be art as Marcel Duchamp put it or anybody may be an artist as Joseph Beuys claimed. If any movement may be art then what does follow from this assumption for ImPulsTanz?


Sincerely yours,


Peter Mahr



Peter Mahr © 2006


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