The Impulstanz festival sweeps you off your feet with the best of choreography’s past, present and future

When you add a pinch of ballet, a drop of jazz, a dash of creative freedom and ably dismantle the linear principals of classicism, a new spirit is born: contemporary dance.

© Thoeun-Veassna Contemporary dance expressively combines modern, lyrical and classical styles.

Constantly playing with new forms of expression and often pushing the very limits of physicality, it may be the black sheep of the performing arts, but its vibrancy and urgency are undeniable, taking human motion in strange, but usually exhilarating, directions that tread the fine line between art and society. There are few places where this sense of experimentation is more evident and accessible as Impulstanz, Vienna’s esteemed playground for dancers, choreographers and musicians. From the Staatsoper to the Arsenal, Odeon and even the classic Wiener Würstelstand, each summer the inner districts celebrate contemporary dance and music, drawing more than 30,000 onlookers from around the globe.

© Pierre Grosbois Dancers crawl and contort their bodies at this year’s 35th installation of the Impulstanz festival

Neither of the co-founders, Austrian culture manager Karl Regensburger and Ismael Ivo, a Brazilian dancer and choreographer, foresaw that their small-scale gathering at the Vienna Physical Education Institute would transcend international borders and become a major stage of the European contemporary dance 35 years later. Back in 1984, Regensburger had simply invited six dancer and choreographer friends from around the world to enjoy two weeks of workshops. Despite its prestige, the founders have fought to preserve that sense of inclusiveness, offering practical education programs, artist talks and conferences; all while its research organization pioneers new trends in the field of dance.

THE GRAND REAWAKENING

 

This year, performers will seek to spark public discourse around the theme “Ghosts From the Past and Future,” showcasing modern adaptations of tried-and-tested pieces. “Giving a choreographer who created one of these classic works years ago the opportunity to re-stage them today with young dancers may also give that choreographer a good opportunity to review the work anew,” Regensburger said in an interview with the Performing Arts Network in Japan.

The festival opens with a bang, featuring Canadian artist Dave St.Pierre and his heart-rending 2016 solo piece Néant Void in its Austrian premiere. St. Pierre’s captivating material tells stories of humanity scourged by a darker side, expressed in a raw, rough and vulgar hybrid between dance, theater and performance. Symbolically lit by dim projections and clouded limelights, it’s a painstaking portrayal of inner turmoil as reason and insanity struggle for supremacy.


© Ingrid Florin Dave St. Pierre delivers a moving performance as he takes the centre of the stage.

At the Burgtheater, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her internationally renowned dance company, Rosas, return to “organize movements in time and space,” as she summed up her craft in an interview at Carriage works in Sydney, Australia. A recipient of the Austrian medal for the Arts and Sciences, Keersmaeker’s close relationship with Vienna dates back to the 1980s, with Impulstanz alone seeing 25 performances. This time, she’ll breathe new life into Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites with her latest, Mitten wir im Leben sind: A solo performer moves in intricate flow with the delicate melodies, alternating between soft gestures and percussive swings alongside the world-famous French cellist, Jean-Guihen Queyras, to create an intimate dialogue about life and death.

Freeing the spirits of the present, the popular 8:tension Series showcase for young, cutting-edge choreographers returns with new movers and shakers like New York-based Shamel Pitts, whose Black Velvet provokes social identity with two indiscernible, androgynous bodies harmonically drifting across the stage in a continuous flow of pushes and shoves.

CARE TO DANCE?

In addition, Impulstanz is collaborating with the Mumok’s current exhibit on visual artists in music. Among the highlights is Stockholm-based choreographer Ofelia Jarl Ortega’s world premiere of B.B., an exploration of the extremes of objectification in a hypersexualized world through expressionless movement that picks up where her works Forever(2017) and Shredder(2018) left off.

The award-winning Austrian choreographer Florentina Holzinger will rouse ghosts of the past with her reimagining of the legendary George Balanchine’s Apollo: Holzinger deconstructs the 1928 neoclassical ballet by featuring six female dancers – with the male figure representing the Greek sun god Apollo conspicuously absent. It brings a fresh perspective on female standards of beauty, while laying bare the paradoxes of sexual harassment within the industry. In addition, Holzinger will also team with the Argentinian choreographer Cecilia Bengolea to turn the Odeon theatre into a utopian jungle, where dancers mutate into Kafkaesque hybrids of man and beetle in Insect Train, a ballet on the relationship between human and nature.


© Cecilia Bengolea Dancers perform “Insect Train” dressed as giant beetles in a dialogue between human and nature.

Dance is not always a solitary pursuit. As performances can leave you feeling swept off your feet, Impulstanz runs over 200 programs (the most in Europe) such as music X dance, where notable choreographers encourage you to give dance a spin. The open atmosphere welcomes children, teenagers, the disabled and over 55s to Workshops ranging from gentle yoga to kickboxing and even screaming. Whether it’s finding your kinetic voice with seasoned choreographers like Ivo Dimchev, and Francesca Harper Tompkins or exploring non-Western tradition at Terence Lewis’ Indo-contemporary dance workshop and expressive African dance with Ismael Ivo, everyone can bust a move.

When the day ends, performers and dancers get into the footloose spirit of celebration, as the Impusltanz festival lounge at the Burgtheater Vestibül opens its doors nightly at 22:00. Live concerts and DJ sets will leave you dancing through the night.

Unruly and anarchic, the mad scientist’s laboratory that is Impulstanz succinctly disproves any allegations of elitism and inaccessibility toward contemporary dance. Crackling with energy, Impulstanz invites everyone to observe, or even test the boundaries of, modern dance. After all, pushing the limits can expand the horizon.