Correspondence from Kate Mattingly


Sanctuary I moved to Europe six months ago, with an article written by Gia Kourlas about the lack of a dance capital today still fresh in my mind. The longer I live abroad, the more I see the truth in her words. Perhaps the proximity of different countries, the easy accessibility of a flight to Brussels to see one show, and a trip to Munich the following week to see another choreographer, makes it all the more evident that there are multiple centers or capitals for dance and performance. A visit to Vienna last month deepened my thinking about centers. I was there to teach at Tanzquartier, an organization that supports training, performance and research. I was impressed by the multifaceted, long-term approach, plus its interior spaces reminded me of the refurbished Dance Theater Workshop – state-of-the art studios that can be converted into showing venues, spacious offices, and a library with computers, DVD and video equipment, plus print and media holdings. Established in 2001 Tanzquartier is a relatively recent addition to the scene in Vienna, but it has a unique investment in the future for both artists and audiences. It provides venues for those “emerging” and “acclaimed” categories (euphemisms?). When I saw Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s performance of zero degrees over the weekend, I found out that they attracted an audience of 1480 over two nights, including the president of Austria. But equally significant, Tanzquartier gives opportunities for young artists to present work and offers space for creative processes. I got to thinking: how do we define a city as a dance capital or a center for contemporary performance? What are we measuring: audience numbers? innovation? profit? popularity? support for new artists? I think of Tanzquartier as a center because it’s a place of stability and possibility. Similar to a dancer’s concept of the body’s center, there’s a strong core which makes freedom and risk possible. Tanzquartier has set up presenting structures for choreographers with varying sizes of audience, offers platforms for discussion and investigation, and equally important, inhabits a site for innovation. The physical location of Tanzquartier and MuseumsQuartier creates an oasis, an alternative to the adjacent commercial district of Maria Hilfer Strasse. It’s a site that invites visitors interested in imagination, communication, ideas that link humanity. After classes (I was teaching Ballet to contemporary dancers), I could walk 100 feet and be within an exhibit of painting, photography or sculpture, surrounded by people interested in the arts (strange that I cannot think of another city with such proximity of museums, performance spaces, research facilities and studios). In one afternoon, I could see an exhibit of works by Erwin Wurm (brilliant, irreverent, funny) at the MUMOK, and then notice how the performance by Oleg Soulimenko that evening explored similar ideas with humor and juxtaposition, using the body, time and space. In Halle G (where I saw Oleg Soulimenklo’s “Elegy for the Brave, Dislocation”), Tanzquartier presents performances from September to May. So far I have seen Yvonne Rainer (in November 2006), Victoria from Brussels (in February 2007) and Akram Khan with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The programming presents a spectrum of approaches and nationalities. To return to this question of centers: every city has its own history and its own relationship with the arts. Each performance I see speaks about the place where it was made, the acceptance or rejection of ideas that surround its form. It is neither possible to mark one place as the capital or most important site to see what’s happening nor is it possible to say one theater or one festival represents the totality of artists or ideas residing in a city. Each venue offers a different view of the field, subject to its director’s predilections, and together, like a jewel, these facets or venues speak to the unique characteristics of the city’s arts. Together MuseumsQuartier and Tanzquartier link different sources of inspiration for artists and patrons. They cross the disciplines and expand potential audience for performance. All of our research about funding and the arts points to the importance of integrated disciplines and broader audiences. This is a place that has accomplished that. Working within its structure I felt like I was in a sanctuary: a place that is conducive to innovation, preserves ideas and connects people.
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Kate Mattingly

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