The Viennese dance festivals’ artistic director explains how the world of Contemporary Dance is different from the visual arts but similar to the world of Frisbee, what to see at this year’s Impulstanz and how Vienna finally became cool.
For the In Love With Vienna series, personalities from the Austrian art and creative scene show us their view of the city and let us know what they love about Vienna. Before Impulstanz kicks off with a month of contemporary dance and performance program on July 14, we met up with artistic director of workshops and research and Impulstanz veteran Rio Rutzinger.
You don’t have a dance background, how did you get involved with Impulstanz?
I moved here from country-side Austria after school with 18. I was a bike messenger and a Frisbee Ultimate player in the national team. After 4-5 years I ran into Impulstanz director Karl Regensburger in my shared apartment, who I didn’t know, in an art form I had never heard of, and joined them. And it’s been 25 years. I like the parallel between Contemporary Dance and Frisbee Ultimate – its only reason to exist is that it’s international, because local scenes are way too small. So you have to connect and network and be interested in what other countries are doing. People are very mobile; everyone crashes at each other’s place. In the 90s I hosted more than 500 people from dance and Frisbee in my flat share. It was exiting, also for my neighbors.
Is there a contemporary dance scene in Vienna if Impulstanz isn’t on?
Oh yes, even though on a smaller scale. The founding generation of what is contemporary dance now from the 80s, like Tanztheater Wien, Sebastian Prantl, Elio Gervasi – they all still exist and do art. Since the 90s, when Tanzquartier was established, there are performances year round. And there have been a lot of artist-founded initiatives lately, which I’m very happy about. That’s where the scene gathers – not in the big institutions, but in the small, artist-driven spaces. I love to attend Raw Matters at Schikaneder. There’s also Arbeitsplatz Wien, or liquidloft, which is Chris Harring and his company. There’s a lot of sharing and caring for each other in the community when the institutional structure isn’t there. With dance not being tangible, being ephemeral, there never will be so much capitalization. But it’s kind of a nice problem, makes it more precious while it exists.
This year a focus of the festival is encounters between visual art and dance. So the non-commercial world of Contemporary Dance will meet very established parts of the art world, for example with a whole floor at Leopold Museum. How does it go together?
More and more artists in the dance field are interested in producing a gallery version, in a non-theatrical space. It seems museums are interested in having more live art as well. It’s a shift for dance people of course, to deal with the fact that attendants are choosing their own positions, walking around. That’s one thing I always loved about visual arts, the freedom of choosing your own pace. You remain with one work for three seconds, with another for half an hour… In theatre and dance, you’re usually captured in your seat.
It might be more accessible this way, also for people who are hesitant to see a Contemporary Dance show. Is it a difficult art form to get into?
People are afraid they won’t get it, and then don’t come. What I tell people when I bring them to a show for the first time is to go there with your senses and see if something addresses them. And if it doesn’t reach you, or you find it boring, it’s not your fault as a spectator. For me it started with being impressed by the people in Contemporary Dance. They were burning so much for something that will never get them rich and famous. It took me years to really appreciate the art form. My whole 90s were like one long night’s talk in the kitchen about Contemporary Dance. It’s like a foreign language I slowly learned.
So what should I watch as a Contemporary Dance newbie at Impulstanz?
Some people I would take to something like Ultima Vez – spectacular, with a lot of dancing, ideally to pop music, in a big theatre where they won’t be directly addressed, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Something by Rosas can be great for first-timers, there’s a strong connection between music and dance. You for example, I’d bring to an [8:tension] piece, our young choreographers series. Younger people living in cities, who are into urban processes, maybe interested in experimental film or photography… usually they feel closer to the younger work, even if they haven’t experienced dance before.
And fans of the genre who see a lot of shows, what could they watch this year that’s surprising or new?
I think they should see Soil Girl, a piece by three Norwegian women. This looks like so many things – really spooky, very designed in a way for dance standards, very aware of their appearances. Scandinavian shows usually don’t come here for tours, and we’ll have three this year, all vocal shows, which I’m all excited about.
Another aspect of the arts vs. dance focus is a workshop series where representatives from both scenes will teach together. How was the series conceived?
A friend introduced artist Tino Sehgal to us, with the idea to have him mentor danceweb, which is our scholarship program. He used to be a choreographer, he is a very polarizing figure in the art world; someone who I know would be frank and challenge us and big institutions alike, so I was very interested. When we met for the first time, it was really hilarious. Tino called us his “Bayern München”, because the dancers he wants to use for his projects are always busy with Impulstanz in the summer. So maybe he joined us out of revenge (laughs). Tino wanted to establish a stronger dialogue between visual art and dance, and proposed to involve himself in the workshops more. He felt he had opened that door [between visual art and dance] with his work, and now wants to give more people the chance to walk through. There will be 40 workshops in the series. Some are even “blind dates”, where the tutors from the art and dance world have never met before. I’m very curious how it will work out. I think what can happen in these 40 encounters can be a game changer, in a small way, for those scenes merging. In terms of audience interest, and also in terms of the practice – it can challenge your own thinking and processes. I think it could really make a difference.
There will be another collaboration, with modern art museum mumok. The idea was to have artists interact with artworks from the exhibition Painting 2.0…
Not in a Franz West sense of directly interacting with it, or right in front of it, but they can get inspired by it. Many artists that are exhibited in there are peers to the artists we bring, we feel, having made art in the same period. I think to put that in relation is an interesting thing. I’m curious what Peaches and Keith Hennesy will do, what they will react with. There will also be guided tours with our artists through the exhibition, where they pick three favorite works and explain why they connect with it. They can speak about it in a very different language than e.g. an art historian would.
You must get asked by all the visiting performers, workshop teachers and dance students – what to see in Vienna?
There are some spots I find special, like the Cemetery of the Nameless – also getting there might be interesting, and you’ll go to districts you wouldn’t normally see as a tourist. But we have so much program, we usually keep them busy until midnight. I mainly get asked where to eat, and I usually send them to a Würstelstand (sausage stand), the only thing that’s still definitely open.
Are there any restaurants or bars you can recommend for not-as-busy visitors?
There’s Die Marktwirtschaft, which opened half a year ago. It’s like a food market. They sell books; they have good wine, very good cheese, a small restaurant… There’s Wratschko, a low-key restaurant I have always liked for the people who go there. Every cool bar used to have this air of Berlin, but I feel there has been an emancipation and places have developed a flavor of their own, of a contemporary Vienna. Maybe Möbel, filled with art school students and designs, which is almost bourgeois nowadays. Phil, which is a bit boutique, or Erich… Funny, all the places that come to mind have a bit of sweetness, or kitsch.
After about 30 years in Vienna, are there things that still surprise you?
Sure. It was so un-cool for so long. And then, in the early 90s, Kruder & Dorfmeister and the whole Downbeat scene emerged and made Vienna cool. Suddenly it was OK for kids to come with their parents, who wanted to see art history, and go to clubs. It was beautiful, also because it wasn’t constructed, wasn’t a cultural politics decisions, it just happened. And it put Vienna on the map for electronic music. Today, it’s exciting for me to have artist-run spaces and see more initiatives aside from the big institutions, see things that challenge the architecture and history of spaces. It’s fun to see a Tote Hosen punk concert at time-honored Burgtheater.
What’s your favorite way to relax in the city?
Usually by the water, at the Danube, especially on summer nights. I like to have a wide, unobstructed view. For short breaks, I go to Gelateria Romana. Or to a museum in the fall – wide spaces, not too many visitors, a certain silence, but not quite a church. I enjoy it as a free space.
Is there something missing in Vienna?
The seaside. There are many things that are great about Vienna – a size that is still manageable by bike, to be able to get out of the city within 20 minutes and breathe different air. It’s big enough to have a certain anonymity, but small enough to be comfortable. But there’s a variety of many things, of scenes, of food, that I miss in Vienna, compared to a larger metropolis. And I wish people would be less judgmental about life choices and sexual choices here.
What’s the sound of Vienna?
That whining sound! In a linguistic sense it’s in the dialect… but also in the mentality. And to me, the sound of electronic music from Vienna, like Bulbul and Sofa Surfers – the generation of musicians I grew up with.
How does Vienna move?
What’s a good souvenir from Vienna?
I sometimes bring honey from bees living on roof of Secession. You can’t buy it anywhere, but you can go there and beg the beekeepers to give you some! And for my lesbian friends in New York I always bring Ritter Sport chocolates that say „extra dick“. It just means that there’s extra chocolate in German, but they find it hilarious!
Impulstanz takes place from 14 July – 17 August 2016. Check out the full program here.