Monday, 3rd January 2011


Time Codes Dance Festival
25-27 October, 2010
Munich, Germany


tanz_house Festival
28-29 October, 2010
Salzburg, Austria
Abigail Sebaly

Although the Oktoberfest hoopla dominates Munich’s reputation, the Time Codes Dance Festival showed a city that is also eager to embrace contemporary dance.  The festival’s opening night event was a multimedia happening coordinated by Richard Siegal (The Bakery).  The event took place at the Muffathalle, in what seemed to be a converted mill or turbine plant.  The ceilings were soaring and there was plenty of room for performers, audience, musicians, and even a bar.  Among the acts, there were men in traditional lederhosen dueling with a troupe of men in more contemporary garb, a group of women dancing with wine jugs balanced on their heads, hip hoppers, rollerskaters, singers, and projections flashing away on a scrim.  It was a movable feast, with the audience doing as much moving as the performers.

At the Gasteig, Raimund Hoghe presented a lecture demonstration on his work.  My interest in Hoghe was piqued after his choreography was featured as part of the 2010 DDF. Throughout the lecture, I was sorely wishing for instant German fluency (as I often wish that my brain had a meta translator, capable of recalibrating to wherever I am…).  But the movement sections were thought provoking.  At one point he demonstrated a segment wearing a dress and heels.  In another vignette, he transported glasses of milk around an empty stage.  His movements were both absorbing and mystifying; it was impossible to guess Hoghe’s next move.

At the Schwere Reiter, a new breed of Deja Donne performers presented Not Made for Flying.  I loved the Schwere Reiter performance space, with its whitewashed walls and high sloped roof.  A temporary seating bank was set up, and I sat in the first row.  Deja Donne founders Simone Sandroni and Lenka Flori worked with a group of Munich student dancers and Deja Donne dancers over a concentrated residency period to create the piece. Gravity and weight were common themes; through text and movement, the dancers mused how their movements would appear on planets with more or less gravity than Earth’s.  Although the cast was young, they had a mature presence.  I am excited to see what will come from Deja Donne next.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to hop over to Salzburg, which was also having a dance festival at the same time as Time Codes.  Salzburg is only about 2 hours from Munich via train, and you go through country that looks fit for a Ricola commercial.  Salzburg has a new performance complex, ARGEkultur Saal, at one end of the city.  The night I arrived at the tanz_house Festival, I went to a performance by Beda Percht and the Cataracts.  The piece was completely in German, and included a woman sewing a pillow with a sewing machine, a man reading from a German translation about explorer Ernest Shackleton’s explorations in Antarctica, and another women creating a map-like mandala out of stones.

On my second day in Salzburg, it snowed for the first time of the season. Amid the slush and intermittent whiteouts, I trekked up to the Capuchin monastery, which offered an expansive view of the city.  The monastery juts up against an extensive series of walking trails.  Because of the snow, these paths were mostly deserted, and I walked in the magical quiet until cold fingers and toes started to take over.

Thanks to the likes of Mozart, Salzburg is an eternally musical town, and it’s hard not to miss the many concert posters, people walking around with instrument cases, and the numerous music schools.  With a few hours to kill (read: needing a place to plop down!)  I wandered into a student solo clarinet concert at the Universitat Mozarteum, put on by kids who will no doubt one day be populating Europe’s most famous orchestras.

On my final evening in town, I saw Roberto Olivan‘s Bodhi Project perform a piece about female identity.

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Monday, 3rd January 2011


December Dance Festival
11-16 December, 2010
Brugge, Belgium
Abigail Sebaly

On the heels of the Ice Hot Nordic Dance Platform, I headed directly from Sweden to Belgium (thank you again, Ryanair!) and stayed for a week of performances as part of the December Dance Festival.  Samme Raeymaekers, Artistic Coordinator for the Concertgebouw Brugge, explained that the festival is curated in an alternating fashion; one year a guest curator is chosen to select the festival’s content (past curators include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker).  In alternate years, the festival highlights artists from a particular geographical region.  2010 was a regional year, with a focus on Central Europe.

The first piece that I saw was Within, by Milan Tomášik, who is also a member of the Les SlovaKs collective.  The lighting for the piece was particularly beautiful in the way it bordered and structured an otherwise empty stage.  Tomášik’s movements were thoughtful and I was drawn to his delicate hand gestures.  This piece was performed in what appeared to be a “pop up” black box space backstage of the Stadsschouwburg.  The towering height of backstage rafters added to the intensity of the piece.

That same night, Sasha Waltz & Guests were on the main stage at the Concertgebouw Brugge.  The set for the piece Impromptus consisted of two overlapping platforms, angled at such a steep rake that the dancers seemed liable to tumble at any minute.  At one point they covered themselves in richly colored powder, and then later got these pigments wet, creating runnels of deep browns, reds, and oranges which bled down the steep raked surface.  A pianist and singer provided a bonus of a live performance of Schubert’s Impromptus.

Les SlovaKs collective performed at the MaZ performance space in Sint Andres, just west of the city center.  It was nice to venture away from the crush of Brugge’s Christmas market visitors and check out this less mobbed part of town.  Les SlovaKs’ Journey Home left many audience members smiling.  In spite of their diverse physical proportions and movement styles, the five Les SlovaKs cast members seemed like brothers contributing to a common purpose. Simon Thierrée, a dynamic musician, sat on stage throughout the piece playing various instruments, and at one point he even joined in singing a Slovak song with the rest of the cast.

On my last night, I saw Josef Nadj‘s Cherry-Brandy, a dark piece that used Anton Chekov’s Swan Song, among other sources, as its inspiration.  The piece had an extensive array of props, projections, and bodies in silhouette.  At times, the performers began to resemble the 2-D black paper cutouts more than actual people.

Because the festival’s performances were mainly at night, I occupied my days with activities like going to an exhibition of Van Eyck and other old Dutch masters at the Groeninge Museum.  And of course things often turn to food in a region that is known for its chocolate, frites, and waffles, among many other yummies.  I went to a chocolate museum and saw a live demonstration of pralines being prepared.  Apparently the integrity of Belgian chocolate is so high because it uses only cocoa butter, whereas chocolate from other sources may use cheaper palm or vegetable oils (Hershey’s, be afraid…).

Brugge is lucky to have gems like the December Dance Festival, which make it a significant stop on the culture map.

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Monday, 3rd January 2011


Budapest Autumn Festival
October 8-13, 2010
Budapest, Hungary
Abigail Sebaly

In mid October, I headed out on my first journey under DDF’s auspices to the Budapest Autumn Festival.  Laurie’s eyes got particularly bright when she talked about her own travels to the city, so I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy the experience.

First, a bit of setting: I stayed in an apartment on the Pest side of the Danube (or the Duna, as it is referred to in Hungary).  Most of the Autumn Festival’s activities took place in various venues in this area of the city.  Many of the buildings in the Pest side of town are soaring with long windows, beautiful external detail work, and hidden courtyards.  At night, it was a treat to peer up at the windows, where there might be silhouetted figures smoking on ledges, or glimpses of high-ceilinged interiors.  Budapest also has one of the most efficient transport systems that I’ve ever experienced, so getting between festival events usually meant only a short walk to a tram or train.

Laurie connected me with several of the masterminds behind the festival, including Gergely Tello of the Workshop Foundation.  I first met Gergely and his wife after a screening of international dance film shorts, and he continued to be a generous and knowledgeable host (and translator!) throughout my stay.   After the film shorts screening, I also saw Louise Lecavalier and her company perform at TRAFÓ, a multidisciplinary arts center.  Lecavalier, formerly of La La La Human Steps, has formed her own ensemble in Montreal and is actively commissioning and performing new works.  She is an incredible force on stage.  After the show, I had the pleasure of meeting up with her other dancers and touring team over a meal of hearty Hungarian chicken soup.

The following night, I saw Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui‘s D’Avant at the Madách Színház.  The set for the evening-length work looked like a life-size version of the game Mousetrap, with all manner of scaffolding, ladders, ropes, poles and trap doors that give away.  When a harmony of acapella voices started to sing what sounded like Gregorian chants, I looked around for the musicians, but it was actually Larbi and his fellow performers.  They kept up the vocals throughout the whole work, once even giving Bonnie Tyler her due with a random rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  I was moved by Larbi’s work, and the rest of the audience was too, as their applause fell into synchronous claps through many curtain calls.

My final show of the festival was also particularly memorable.  I started the evening with a shuttle bus ride to the Artus Contemporary Art Space on the Buda side of the river.  The Artus collective leases space in an old textile (?) factory.  There are two formal performance spaces, one of huge bowling alley-esque proportions and the other more modest and heated. But this performance occurred in the unrefurbished part of the building, a maze of concrete rooms, paint peeling, dusty, bare, and echoey.  At the outset of the show, we viewers were offered coats and blankets to ward off the cold, and then artist Cilla Nagy lead us on a site specific journey, inhabiting various rooms with short performance vignettes.  At one point she brought us into a low ceilinged room whose only light came from the blue flame of a gas heater.  The room was covered in dried leaves, which scratched and crunched and filled the room with a strong, earthy, autumnal smell.  It was both haunting and comforting as we stared into the blue-flamed darkness, and I felt very aware of the singularity of the moment.

Budapest in autumn glows.  I happened to hit a week that was still somewhat warm, so when I visited the famed Gellert thermal baths, I was still able to swim in one of the outdoor pools.  It felt a little surreal to be in a pool with leaves falling and autumn clearly in full swing.  Another meaningful experience was visiting the Kerepesi Cemetary near the main train station.  It’s a bit off the beaten path, but an ideal (and free!) place to get away from the city’s bustle.  Some of Hungary’s notable citizens are buried there, and walking around the many elaborate tombs and monuments was like visiting a sculpture garden.

Budapest has many festivals throughout the year, but the Budapest Autumn Festival captures the city at a particularly beautiful time.

A parting image:  Michael Jackson, immortalized in a life-size marzipan sculpture at the Szabo Marzipan Museum in Szentendre, not far from Budapest.

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