© 2004 by George Jackson
Late summer weather, languorous to the senses and poignant in anticipation
of raw fall rains, contrasts with the riling arts news of the day—that
Elfriede Jelinek will not travel to Stockholm for her prize. Austrians
are calling her "their" first Nobel laureate in literature since
Elias Canetti. He, however, was legally a Brit at the time of his prize
in 1981. Furthermore, Ms. Jelinek does not consider herself as theirs,
the Austrians', although she was born in the country, grew up in its capital
city of Vienna, studied ballet and music here, and pretty much worked
within the nation's borders on the oeuvre—poems, novels, film scripts,
plays—that earned her the high honor. To the chagrin of the political
right, Ms. Jelinek can in no way be construed as a homeland author or
patriot. At one time she even forbad production of her plays in the republic
whose citizen she is.
more local significance is the still incomplete succession story concerning
the top ballet job in Vienna, and in all of Austria. It was announced
during the past season (2003/4) that a change in the leadership of the
Vienna State Opera Ballet would occur for next season (2005/6). Renato
Zanella is currently in his final year as the Vienna State Opera's directorial
ballet master and head of the national ballet school. His future plans
are said to be diverse. They include management of a major annual festival,
and working with Austria's best classical dancers—the Lipizzaner
stallions of Vienna's Spanish Riding School—not in order to change
their traditional step enchainments but to adapt and vary the spatial
patterns of their dressage performances. Likely, too, he will remain involved
with Vienna's handicapped movers, whose sponsor he has been. With Mr.
Zanella definitely departing from the VSOB, the job opening was advertised.
News that the slot had been filled—and more—came in September.
Gyula Harangozo II, from Budapest, will not only replace Mr. Zanella but
fill an expanded position because of an anticipated reorganization in
the state supported dance scene. The ballet troupes of the Vienna State
Opera and of the Vienna Volksoper, separate for much of the 20th Century,
will be merged.
The announcement has a familiar, dismal ring for European dance: consolidation.
The motive is to economize, but the involved bureaucrats expect bonus
results: improved quality and even quantity. More for less. Is there anyone
who believes that?
So, it seems that Mr. Harangozo will replace not only Mr. Zanella but
also the Volksoper's Giorgio Madia, who has held his ballet mastership
for just a little over one year. What is being lost, what is being gained
in terms of persons and potential? Mr. Zanella came out of John Cranko's
Stuttgart stable and was a promising choreographer in his younger days.
During his regime, the VSOB continued to adapt its technique and style
to the so-called international standard, a long evolving process spurred
by his predecessors Elena Tchernichova and Anne Woolliams in the early
1990s. Prior to them, and as late as Gerhard Brunner's directorship with
Gerlinde Dill as principal ballet mistress in the 1980s, one could still
detect remnants of the old Vienna manner in the way the ballet at the
State Opera danced.
The Volksoper's ballet has had less continuity in recent years than even
the State Opera's. At one time it was a stronghold for the ballet-based
Vienna waltz style derived from Grete Wiesenthal's experiments. Since
then, it has gone through show biz and modern dance phases. Mr. Madia,
from Maurice Bejart's coral, is said to be a good classical teacher, choosing
his dancers from all over but with a keen eye. He's done a little choreography
which the Viennese haven't found bad. Now, though, he'll not have the
chance to make or break his reputation.
Mr. Harangozo, in his performing days, had a decent reputation as a principal
dancer and appeared both in his hometown and in Vienna. He was a product
of the Budapest school at the end of the Soviet era when Hungarian ballet
was considered to be almost as good as the Russian. However, under his
directorship for about a decade, the Budapest ballet has gradually lost
its prominence. Gone are the days when Vienna fans regularly visited nearby
Budapest for good ballet. A recent performance in Austria by the Budapesters
earned poor reviews. The future seems gloomy to Vienna's balletomanes.
Of course, Mr. Harangozo sounds optimistic.
It remains to be seen exactly how the merging of the VSOB and the Volksoper's
ballet into what is being called the Vienna Opera Ballet will be managed.
A plan for this is in preparation by Heinz-Dieter Sense, who will hold
the new post of business director and is to help Mr. Harangozo with administering
the dancing at both houses. Undoubtedly, Mr. Harangozo and his boss Ioan
Holender (overall director of the Vienna State Opera) will have their
inputs. Will the director of the Volksoper, Rudolf Berger, also have a
say? Supposedly, Mr. Harangozo is to have more independence from Mr. Holender
than his predecessors had.
The existence of two ballet companies had benefits. They provided alternate
possibilities, and at times the secondary troupe, the Volksoper's, was
more dansant than the principal one, the State Opera's. That can no longer
happen. Everything will be uniform, whether good, bad or mediocre. Artistic
prospects Mr. Harangozo has mentioned so far include acquiring ballets
by Roland Petit, Maurice Bejart and Alexei Ratmansky. He also plans to
nurture the classics. Will he retain Vienna's only old ballet, the 1888
"Die Puppenfee", which used to be a staple in Budapest too?
Unlikely that he'll follow in Mr. Brunner's steps and revive other Viennese
choreography. His own patrimony includes the Bartok ballets of the first
Gyula Harangozo (1908-1974). Stay tuned.
My two recent Vienna nights offered dance that had nothing to do with
the official ballet companies. September 29, I saw "Serapion, mon
amour" at the Odeon Theater and October 7, "Incbuator"
in the Museum Quarters's Hall G. The venues were distinctly different,
and so were the concepts of the two works. Their choreographic substance,
however, was similar in that it seemed distinctly subsidiary to concept.
"Serapion" takes place in what used to be Vienna's Grain Exchange,
an imposing 19th Century structure that was vacant for years until it
became the Odeon. The entrance, grand staircase and vestibules have been
somewhat restored but the actual exchange room, a vast chamber where the
performances take place, remains in a state of haunting dilapidation.
The work is a movement play, a fantasy about the elements of theater—space,
scenery, lighting, sound, costuming, characterizations. The production
achieved maximum effects with minimal means. Sets, apart from the grandiose
architecture of the place, consisted of a series of tall painted curtains
that moved around the room's periphery on rails. Sometimes they created
the illusion that it was not they that revolved, but the wooden grandstand
on which the audience sat.
There were eight characters who acted up and responded with dance, movement,
gesture or expression to the changing moods of the sets and lights, and
to different snatches of music and sound. One of the characters, to all
appearances an older man who looked like an impoverished poet, may have
been the person in whose imagination the other people and their worlds
were supposed to exist. He was present throughout the course of the performance
but wasn't always active, even dozing a while, whereas the the others,
four women and three men, came and went, and appeared and disappeared
into the shadows. The dream action lasted about an hour and was varied
enough not to become boring. The pacing had a lyrically quirky flow. The
piece as a whole seemed an elaboration and refinement of just the sort
of thing that might be going on in ones head while wandering through an
abandoned building alone.
At the curtain calls it turned out that the old man was a middle aged
woman, Ulrike Kaufmann, who directs the Odeon with Erwin Piplits. Together
they conceived and shaped "Serapion", presumably from material
improvised by the cast—mimes, clowns, dancers. The Odeon troupe's
style often alludes to Vienna's painting and music traditions. Of course,
the late Franz Josefian construction of the place is a constant presence.
"Incubator" was staged in a big black box of a theater located
underground. Despite its size, Hall G is claustrophobigenic because of
its sterility and submerged location. Visible in the performance were
4 persons, sound equipment (generators on side tables, speakers out on
the floor), and the lighting. On the soundtrack were sounds and pop songs.
Three of the four performers wore casual clothing of a rather colorless
sort and had grim expressions. They gestured, stood, sat, and lay down
awkwardly. It was sometimes like watching children playing at being Frankenstein's
monster, the creature assembled from spare body parts that don't fit together
seamlessly. At other times, the arm rotations, joint flexings and other
isolations seemed like part of an anatomy demonstration. Everything, even
the monochromatic lighting, sometimes dim and sometimes harsh, was in
perfect minimalist taste except the fourth performer, a woman. She tried
to do what her colleagues did but wasn't as deliberately awkward. Her
expression didn't read as mean enough. Her black outfit, though not ostentatious,
was too ensembled. Her body wasn't dancer lean.
I'm not sure how intended the fourth person's difference was. At the end
of 70 minutes of listless, barely varied game playing and demonstration,
the odd woman out went to a microphone and crooned or lipsynked a song.
The curtain calls showed that the performers could look human and even
smile. Credited for concept, space arrangement and pages of philosophizing
in the printed program was Philipp Gehmacher; choreography was by the
dancers—Clara Cornil, Mr. Gehmacher, Sabina Holzer (the more normal
looking odd person out, I think) and David Subal. Victor Duran lighted;
Peter Stamer was the dramaturg, whatever that function may be. Nothing
about this performance was Viennese. It was, though, fairly standard fare
on the current international post-modern dance and performance scene.
Volume 2, No. 38
October 12, 2004
©2004 by George Jackson
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker
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