EuroReview 2. Tanzquartier
Vienna: Tanzquartier 24 Hour Performance
Recently, while going through my things in preparation for moving across the country, I uncovered a small series of performance reviews I wrote while in Europe in 2015. Being that somehow I happened to pair my timing perfectly with the end of summer/early fall season - when all of the slumbering arts were beginning to wake with a fury - I stumbled upon some of the most interesting installations, spoken word and theater nights, interactive gallery events and just plain ridiculous talent and complete openness to expression through the arts. This is the second of 10 stories which I will call reviews.
Tanzquartier. Museumsquartier. Vienna, Austria. September 2015.
The event I attended in Tanzquartier (Vienna’s Contemporary Dance Centre, located in Museumsquartier) was one of the strangest performances I encountered while in Europe, and not at all what I expected.
I thought a “24 hour performance” would be a performance in a more literal sense- continuous movement, perhaps very slow at times, with dancers taking breaks and swapping out to keep it going, and a very clear performer/viewer division. However, upon entering the space, I was surprised to find bleachers and seats on both sides of the black painted and cloaked room, and upon these bleachers, amidst regular patrons like us, were several people buttering rows and rows of bread. The space was a cross between a small gymnasium, a large intimate theater room, and a surreal children’s camp where you were supposed to sit on the floor and maybe roll on a ball in ten minutes. But you weren’t quite sure.
On either side of the room and intermingled with the audience were several microphones. Every now and again, someone would say some words or present a monologue, mostly all in German. One woman spoke at great length about being a midwife, another about art and creation. And still the people buttered bread. Rows and rows of sliced bread, continuously being buttered. Other than the people buttering, you really couldn’t tell who was in charge, who was going to read next. You almost wondered if maybe you weren’t supposed to pick up the microphone. I think in part, it was this tension between “am I supposed to participate?” and “no, I am definitely not” that kept everyone on their toes, a little bit in the stomach-butterfly department, and way more engaged than otherwise. It was this tension that made the slow, quiet rests when no one was speaking just as energetically active and alive as when people were actually performing.
Both in silence and in sound, the performance definitely created a surreal, interactive space. Once you entered the room you became a part of it. Every action, every word exchanged during that time span became a part of the greater play. It was like bringing a physical room and a metaphysical name together created a liminal space in which the very act of breathing was “performed” because of the intentionality of the ritual.
Though during the hour I was there, I did not see any actual “dancing” in the traditional sense, I believe that the aim and intent of this piece was to bring awareness to the movement we engage with in every day life. Any repetitive movement can become a choreographed rhythm- much like buttering bread every morning, or shaving your face. Our engagement with life and with each other, with the flows of traffic both on the road and on the sidewalks, and even in our relationship with the flow of weather (whether it helps or hinders our plans) is a dialogue and a performance. It is our ability to navigate a given circumstance or situation in a fluid manner while remaining true to what OUR bones and brain needs (i.e., go with the flow but take time for rest.) which is the water of movement in our lives. And movement is the water in our lives. Thank you, Tanzquartier, for reminding me that awareness of movement is not limited solely to time spent at the gym or in a dance class. It is in our every intentional breath.
Dance is so much more than the division between performer and audience member. I used to think just because I was a “Visual Arts” major at my boarding high school that I could not also be a Dancer. This could not be further from the truth, and I found it refreshing and fascinating that a contemporary dance center used spatial and visual language in a way very similar to what a contemporary visual arts gallery might do to convey their message.
This was what I loved about Vienna- in a city SO rich with arts and music history, there was a definite sophistication in the way the arts play into our modern dialogue. This 24 Hour Performance was truly a prime example of the way that so many artists and performers in Vienna utilized a somewhat traditional format to present a completely modern take on a theme. It was absolutely thrilling to me that even in the city’s nightlife scene, 90% revolved around the arts, as clubs and bars were overtaken by drag queens DJ-ing records while showing clips of old movies on projectors behind them. Tall men and women in heels and dresses and a variety of makeup, gentle punks with a variety of hair colors and piercings, and balding older men in smart checked pants.
For being the city of Mozart, Vienna left a definite print on my heart in its absolute raw sensibilities of artistic expression. You could see how at any age, in any decade, the arts simply thrive here. There is something about the energy of the city - it’s electric. It makes you want to make art that informs, shocks, educates, questions, confuses, satisfies.
Finally we were allowed to eat the bread and drink some very strong schnapps. The children of the bread butterers brought them to us. We decided we had stayed long enough, and left the hall. Outside was raining something terrible. We went from there to the next art happening of the evening- a 60 Minute Dance Party a bit further uptown. (coming up next!)