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ImPulsTanz: Charging station for contemporary dance

Vienna International Dance Festival

This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for the Apro.kr – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.


Impulstanz Opening 2010 ©MartaLamovsek


For the past 27 years, ImPulsTanz, the Vienna International Dance Festival, has uninterruptedly been creating and multiplying prospects for dance professional to work together.  Each summer, thousands of dancers, choreographers and teachers from the different parts of the world, momentarily melt in a five-week gathering in the Austrian capital.  The brainchild of cultural manager, Karl Regensburger [i]and choreographer, Ismael Ivo[ii], ImPulsTanz first came to life in 1984 with the duo’s vision of giving contemporary dance a voice in Vienna. Starting off with twenty workshops conducted led by six dance educators that included the likes of Joe Alegado, Germaine Acogny, the combustion of dance energy rapidly escalated and led to the establishment of one of Europe’s biggest contemporary dance festival in 1988.  Within less than a decade, ImPulsTanz expanded further by setting up a scholarship programme focused on exchange of ideas and knowledge called danceWEB.  Since 1996, danceWEB has been offering an intensive training programme for up and coming selected dance professionals originating from the different parts of the world. Facilitated by renowned artists in a vibrant festival environment in the summer, invited participants are given the opportunity to experience learning by having a direct contact with people and most importantly the sensibilities that come with it.

Going through the list of artists that have made a mark at this festival is like crossing over the turn of dance history from the 20th to 21st century.  ImPulsTanz is proud to have presented and established long standing relationships with dance luminaries like Trisha Brown Company[iii], Cie. Marie Chouinard[iv], Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez[v], Merce Cunningham Dance Company[vi], Mathilde Monnier[vii], Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker & Rosas[viii], La La La Human Steps[ix], Jirí Kylián & Nederlands Dans Theater[x], Lloyd Newson / DV8 Physical Theatre[xi], Les Ballets C. De La B[xii]., Le Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris[xiii], Cie. Josef Nadj[xiv], Cie. Jan Fabre[xv], Raimund Hoghe[xvi], Cie. Jérôme Bel[xvii], Emio Greco / PC[xviii], Cie. Maguy Marin[xix], William Forsythe & Ballet Frankfurt[xx], Milli Bitterli[xxi], Salva Sanchis[xxii], Mark Tompkins[xxiii], Ismael Ivo, Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods[xxiv], Cie. Willi Dorner[xxv], Christine Gaigg_2nd Nature Dance Group[xxvi], Jonathan Burrows[xxvii], Akram Khan Company[xxviii], Needcompany,[xxix] David Zambrano & Guests[xxx], Xavier Le Roy[xxxi], Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company,[xxxii] Benoît Lachambre[xxxiii], Vera Mantero[xxxiv], Saskia Hölbling[xxxv], Alain Buffard[xxxvi], The Peeping Tom Collective[xxxvii], Tanz Company Gervasi[xxxviii], liquid loft / Chris Haring[xxxix] and Philipp Gehmacher[xl].   This impressive list just makes one think that there is much to learn about contemporary dance and its continuous development. ImPulsTanz offers more than forty productions in ten theatres with over 50,000 spectators and about 80 teachers for 200 workshops accommodating 3,000 students annually.


Ultima Vez “Monkey Sandwich”, © Danny Willems


With such a huge network and following, the artistic team of ImPulsTanz develops the programming based on the live performances that they manage to see.  As the nature of contemporary dance grows organically, not to mention the process by which the festival was enlarged, the works selected each year follows an open procedure.  Less like a medical operation but more an artistically driven impulse, the programming reflects a strong and distinct ImPulsTanz characteristic of gearing towards the proverbial cutting edge.

ImPulsTanz’ main program can be segmented in three categories: performances by the crème de la crème of contemporary dance; the workshops led by dance luminaries; and [8:tension] – Young Choreographers’ Series. So here, the festival offers the stage to both the established and the upcoming while orchestrating their chance yet intensive meetings channeled through the workshop series. Not only will the new generation of aspiring choreographers and dancers witness the performances of their idols on stage, they get to work together in the studios.  In this way, the festival can claim a two-way traffic system where the more mature artists can also retrace their steps by looking into the energetic and passionate young dance makers – and find renewed inspirations.

Apart from the huge aggregation of performances and workshops, ImPulsTanz also hosts tremendous social events including parties, public performances, exhibitions, jamming, dance movies, talks, residencies and even book presentations. Funded by the Culture Office City of Vienna, Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture and the Cultural Programme of the European Commission, the festival maintains steady partnerships with Theater an der Wien, Burgtheater, Volkstheater, Schauspielhaus, MuseumsQuartier and many other festivals, institutions and dance artists alike to maintain its extensive international programming — 27 years and still counting, and expanding.

8:tension, Discovering the young and yet to be known Vanini Belarmino interviews Christa Spatt, Artistic Director of 8:tension ImPulsTanz, Vienna International Dance Festival

Vanini: What is 8:tension?  Why such a name?

Christa: 8:tension is a performance series that ImPulstanz launched in 2001. The name just came because we choose 8 projects a year. It’s a catchy name reflecting the number of projects.

Vanini: When did you start working as Artistic Director and what role do you play in the development of 8:tension?

Christa: I started working for 8:tension in 2004. Since then, I have been super busy trying to get to know what young choreographers are doing. I am   constantly researching, dealing with all sorts of young makers.

Vanini: And how is 8:tension defining “young makers”?

Christa: It is not so much about age – but rather where are you in your development. We do not have a specific limit age wise.  There are some people who come out of school and start making. There are some dancers who start making at the later part of the lives.  Thus, a young maker is defined on that basis of his/her development as an artist. Usually, those who are selected are on average working on their 2nd or third piece.

Vanini: What are the criteria for selection?

Christa: It’s hard to formulate criteria. Works are different from one another: performance; installation; conversation with an audience and so on. When you have criteria – it is somewhat limiting.  Young artists are always developing new forms, developing new genres. I am interested in experimental work.  I want to see in a work that somebody was thoroughly searching for questions rather than giving answers. Sometimes there is also boldness if you try to do something old fashioned.  I am looking for stubborn and artistic minds.

Vanini:  So by stubborn does this include those who just wish to be different to shock the audiences or try out something radical?

Christa: Not necessarily. Sometimes young makers are interested in being radical but without deep motivation. They do it because they feel the necessity to do it. What’s the motivation? Radically different from what? Why do you want to make it different? Is it artistic or political convention? I don’t understand why they do that.

Vanini: So do you present only new works?

Christa: We do not have a budget to co-produce so we present existing works and very rarely a premiere. Nonetheless, we offer the possibility for residency. They can use in 2 weeks studio spaces and attend the workshop programme.  The motivation to do it like this is to let them get to know other artists in the festival.  We think it’s important to have the possibility to see each other’s work and to connect to the local scene.


“Morning Glory,” Cie. Marie Chouinard © Jean- Francois Gratton


Vanini: What does it mean when you take on “trendsetting/young choreographers? What are the challenges you are facing with this one?

Christa: The challenge is to try to empty myself as the artistic director. I don’t follow a theme.  I try to be as open as possible when looking at a work to actually see – not to IMPOSE a theme -we can sell — that we can contribute.   But instead take a look at what’s being made.  It always comes out from what I see then allow myself to be inspired.

Vanini: Could you share the initial steps you take in emptying yourself?

Christa: I try to give a chance to projects that are developed outside the centres.   I don’t only go the obvious festival to have a broad understanding of what’s happening. I’m not running after the hype meaning the selection of works does not necessarily have to be programmed by other festivals. I’m looking at projects that have not been programmed by others. I’m trying to look at the artist’s work – not to allow factors i.e. which famous company or school, he or she comes from.  I am trying to see the intention of the work, what they are trying to do –and not to let myself be distracted by anything else.

Vanini: How do you manage to look at all the proposals or see different works? Do you have a big team? Do you travel a lot?

Christa: I’m always running behind. Three people run the artistic team. We try to keep our structure really small. Travelling is a question of budget.  I sometimes travel for the main programme of ImPulsTanz apart from 8:tension. I had one trip this year to Africa and New York.

Vanini:  Did you ever wonder what it was like at the early beginnings of the festival?

Christa: It’s hard to imagine how they did it back then with less information coming in.

Vanini: What wish do you have for the growth of the festival?

Christa: I hope I will be able to keep it as open bringing all kinds of work that are interesting to Vienna and be able find an audience. ImPulsTanz has an audience that is so daring and we hope to enlarge their interest. We chose this as one of our main tasks of not only to be satisfied with specialised audiences, instead offer a wide range of programming attracting audiences.  It is crucial to have mixed audiences while trying to balance the programme. You can see performances at the festival going in the direction of a rock concert with a crowd of thousands, yet you can find one on one performances or 10 people or in a private flat. We consciously recognize the importance of these variations.

Vanini: What possibilities are there for international collaborations or co-productions? For instance, if an agency in South Korea would be interested in going beyond sending dancers for the workshops but wish to develop a cooperative production, what should they do?

Christa: Send us the information about what they are doing. Say “ I’m working on this production and maybe there is a little clip online – a general information.

About the Writer: Vanini Belarmino is an independent producer, curator and cultural journalist. She is the Founder and Managing Director of Belarmino&Partners, an international project management consultancy for arts and culture established in Berlin, Germany in 2008, with business operations set-up in Singapore in April 2011.  < http://www.belarminopartners.com



Notes and Relevant Links:

[i] Karl Regensburger< http://www.europarl.europa.eu/hearings/20051128/cult/cv_regensburger_en.pdf

[ii] Ismael Ivo< http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?539


 [iii] Trisha Brown Company< http://www.trishabrowncompany.org/


[iv] Cie. Marie Chouinard< http://www.mariechouinard.com/


[v] Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez< http://www.ultimavez.com/


[vi] Merce Cunningham Dance Company< http://www.merce.org/


[vii] Mathilde Monnier< http://www.mathildemonnier.com/


[viii] Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker & Rosas< http://www.rosas.be/


[ix] La La La Human Steps< http://www.lalalahumansteps.com/new/


[x] Jirí Kylián & Nederlands Dans Theater< http://www.ndt.nl/


[xi] Lloyd Newson / DV8 Physical Theatre< http://www.dv8.co.uk/about_dv8/lloyd_newson


[xii] Les Ballets C. De La B< www.lesballetscdela.be/en/


[xiii] Le Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris< http://www.operadeparis.fr/cns11/live/onp/L_Opera/le_Ballet/index.php?lang=fr


[xiv] Cie. Josef Nadj< http://www.josefnadj.com/


[xv] Cie. Jan Fabre< http://www.troubleyn.be/


[xvi] Raimund Hoghe< http://www.raimundhoghe.com/


[xvii] Cie. Jérôme Bel< http://www.jeromebel.fr/eng/index.asp


[xviii] Emio Greco / PC< http://www.ickamsterdam.com/a-173/introduction/


[xix] Cie. Maguy Marin< http://www.compagnie-maguy-marin.fr/parcours-maguy-marin


[xx] William Forsythe & Ballet Frankfurt< http://www.theforsythecompany.com/


[xxi] Milli Bitterli< http://www.artificialhorizon.at/about-2/


[xxii] Salva Sanchis< http://www.kunst-werk.be/en/Salva_Sanchis/Biography/


[xxiii] Mark Tompkins< http://www.idamarktompkins.com/?q=en/marktompkins


[xxiv] Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods< http://www.damagedgoods.be/


[xxv] Cie. Willi Dorner< http://www.ciewdorner.at/index.php?page=start


[xxvi] Christine Gaigg_2nd Nature Dance Group< http://www.2ndnature.at/index.php?id=122


[xxvii] Jonathan Burrows< http://www.jonathanburrows.info/


[xxviii] Akram Khan Company< http://www.akramkhancompany.net/


[xxix] Needcompany< http://www.needcompany.org/cgi-bin/www_edit/projects/nc/scripts/nc.cgi?a=x


[xxx] David Zambrano & Guests< http://www.davidzambrano.org/?tag=amsterdam


[xxxi] Xavier Le Roy< http://www.xavierleroy.com/


[xxxii] Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company< http://www.billtjones.org/


[xxxiii] Benoît Lachambre< http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benoît_Lachambre


[xxxiv] Vera Mantero< http://www.nxtstp.eu/vera-mantero


[xxxv] Saskia Hölbling< http://www.dans.kias.at/about/saskia_hoelbling/


[xxxvi] Alain Buffard < http://www.alainbuffard.eu/bio.php?lang=eng&table=bio_eng

[xxxvii] The Peeping Tom Collective< http://www.peepingtom.be/en/info


[xxxviii] Tanz Company Gervasi< http://gervasi.at/


[xxxix] liquid loft / Chris Haring< http://www.liquidloft.at/


[xl] Philipp Gehmacher< http://www.philippgehmacher.net/#/onview/news/update-396

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