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.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."