2014 Summer Study Guide: A Week in Vienna
Inside David Zambrano's ImPulsTanz workshop
I stood in a circle with 33 strangers, anxiously awaiting my turn. A propulsive playlist—track after track of funk, house, tango, hip-hop, soul—blasted through the cavernous studio. The game was simple: Two dancers entered the circle and improvised until the next two spontaneously entered. My turn would come whenever I made eye contact with a fellow student; we’d dance our way into the middle and create a duet on the spot.
If you don’t have a ton of improvisation experience, this can be an intimidating exercise. But I hadn’t traveled all the way to Austria to surround myself with safe, familiar situations. The nervous rush I felt upon finally entering the circle, finding my way moment by moment: That’s why I was here.
The game was part of “Improvisation for Performers,” a workshop taught by David Zambrano at ImPulsTanz, where, for one week last summer, I was a participant. Founded 30 years ago by arts producer Karl Regensburger and Brazilian choreographer Ismael Ivo, the month-long dance extravaganza is known for its rigorous workshops—in everything from Limón technique to voguing—as well as its progressive performances, an integral part of Vienna’s vibrant summer nightlife. The student body is breathtakingly international; within just a couple of days, I had met dancers from Poland, India, Norway, Spain and Brazil. Whether you stay for the full month or just a week (tuition runs roughly EUR 130–145 per workshop; scholarships are available), the festival can keep your body and mind engaged at all hours of the day.
As a New Yorker who takes class with just a couple of trusted teachers, I jumped at the chance to study with the festival’s international faculty, many of whom are known throughout the world but rarely teach in the U.S. In addition to class with Zambrano, who is based in Amsterdam, I signed up for “Body Reflection/Many States of Being” with the Québécois choreographer Benoît Lachambre and “Foundations of House” with the Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised house dance veteran Brahms “Bravo” LaFortune. (Bravo teaches regularly in Manhattan, but I couldn’t resist.) All told, I was in for seven daily hours of dancing.
Above: Brussels and New Zealand-based Susanne Bentley leads a contemporary class.
Finding the workshops on the first day was a challenge in itself. ImPulsTanz’s enormous studios are housed in one of 25 imposing buildings at the Arsenal, a sprawling nineteenth-century military complex. After a few wrong turns, I made it to my morning class with Lachambre. A kind of open-ended kinesthetic meditation, the class began most days on the floor, with all 30-or-so students lying on mats. A wiry, guru-like figure, his long gray hair pulled back into a bun, Lachambre offered up images like “shining sit bones,” “sacrum like fins of a ray fish,” “lizard self” and “double helixes around the femurs” to help us tap deep, subtle layers of physicality, as we incrementally found our way to a standing improvisation. “Good warm-up for the day. Felt heavy, grounded,” I wrote in my notebook after the first class.
Without Lachambre’s gentle introduction to standing on two feet, I might not have felt prepared for the organized madness that was Improvisation for Performers. Of the three classes, this one pushed me most beyond what I thought I could do. It required an immediate, unwavering trust of others and oneself, a willingness to go to crazy, quirky, ugly places.
A sparkplug of a teacher (and a renowned performer himself), Zambrano substituted the term “improvisation” with “spontaneous choreography” to get us thinking compositionally about improvising—the shifts in dynamic, speed, mood, structure that make an improviser worth watching. We explored those concepts in pairs, small groups and as an entire class, following his spare yet pointed instructions for each exercise: Keep your eyes closed and feet planted in one position; or, think about opposing forces, like gathering and sending, arriving and departing, heaven and hell; or, do something you are really good at and something you know you can’t do. Zambrano had no trouble singling people out to make a point. “What does hell look like?” he asked us one day and called on student after student to demonstrate. From those whose first attempts were too meek, he demanded more: “Another hell, another hell,” he barked, until the student arrived at something more authentically hellish.
Above: A workshop in the style of Belgian company, Ultima Vez, taught by Laura Arís Alvarez.
The mood was lighter over in “Foundations of House.” At the beginning of the week, Bravo, a towering man with a tough-love approach to teaching, told us that bringing house dance into the classroom was like caging a wild animal in the zoo: “You have to create the right environment,” he said. For house, which evolved in the clubs of Chicago and New York in the 1980s, that meant simulating, as much as possible, a wild dance party, which involves its own kind of improvisation. Sometimes Bravo, not unlike Zambrano, would ask us to circle up and ad-lib in front of the group, using what we’d learned that day. By the end of the week, I had no reservations at all.
Rent a Bike. Biking is one of the best ways to get around Vienna. ImPulsTanz rents out its signature pink and blue bikes, emblazoned with the festival logo. (EUR 7 per day.)
Bring Your Lunch. ImPulsTanz has an outdoor café with fresh, delicious food, but if you’re on a tight budget, buy groceries and pack your own lunch.
Give Yourself a Break. As exhausting as ImPulsTanz can be, its outdoor amenities—a wading pool, wooden benches decked out in colorful cushions—give you space to relax after class.
Go All the Way. For serious students looking for professional development, the DanceWEB scholarship program gives you the most in-depth ImPulsTanz experience. Learn more about it and the 2014 festival at impulstanz.org.
Photos by Karolina Miernik, Courtesy ImPulsTanz.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
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Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.
New York City is getting an embarrassment of riches this week—riches of the Emerald, Diamonds and Rubies variety. The Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and New York City Ballet will be sharing the stage at Lincoln Center to present George Balanchine's Jewels in celebration of the iconic ballet's 50th anniversary.
One of the many stars we're excited to see is Olga Smirnova, our June 2014 cover girl, who will be performing the lead in "Diamonds" as well as the role of Bianca in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew next week.
I have always been extremely dramatic. I think "extremely" might even be an understatement. As a child, I was constantly in costume. Never clothes. Always a costume.
When I was 8 we moved into a new house, and took a home video to send to my dad's family. My siblings were performing a song for the camera. I desperately wanted to join them, but they got annoyed and said no. In the video I run out of the room crying hysterically, and you can hear my dad saying, "It's okay, Sam, you can dance for the camera later."
This is followed by about 45 minutes of me dancing. Music changes, style changes, costume changes, the works. Dance was, and still is, the best way I know how to express myself.