Vienna Diary

By Julie McLachlan

I planned my trip to Vienna not really knowing what to expect at ImpulsTanz. All I knew was that this was an incredible chance to push myself outside of my very comfy comfort zone and be thrown into a foreign culture and a new dance community.

Since graduating from York University I have collaborated with other dance artists to present work in the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fresh Blood. I currently work as a dance teacher specializing in teaching young dancers gymnastics and acrobatic skills. And I continue to train and work as an emerging dance performer and choreographer in Toronto. Being out of school for almost three years now, I have found it hard to maintain the balance between my working life and my dance life. Too many times I have put my dance life on the back burner while my work life becomes the main priority. I knew I needed a break to immerse myself full time into a dance environment where I could be challenged technically and stimulated creatively and artistically. I could have done an intensive workshop closer to home to achieve this but I wanted to get myself as far away from familiar territory as possible.

Many Canadian dancers flock to ImpulsTanz every summer because there is no festival in North America that has the number of internationally renowned teachers, dance companies and dance artists congregating for five intensive weeks. In that time, there are multiple performances daily, ImpulsTanz parties every night, discussions, seminars and unique workshops covering all areas of dance. ImpulsTanz offers something unique for every single dancer regardless of level, age and ability. The festival gives Canadian dancers a chance to network with other artists from all over the world, be introduced to amazing dance companies and choreographers and gain knowledge of dance outside North America. In my short stay in Vienna, I made life-long friends and refreshed my vision of who I am as an artist, performer and teacher. Even so, I only got a taste of what ImpulsTanz has to offer.

Since I had planned this trip so far in advance, it felt almost like a dream when I first arrived in Vienna. My host made me feel right at home when he greeted me at the arrival gate holding a sign with my name in large bold letters. He then took me on a very comprehensive car tour of the city followed by a classic Viennese dinner. Living with locals is by far the best way to truly experience a new city and grasp the culture. The generosity of my Viennese hosts and their friends was incredible. I didn’t come empty handed. I brought them a gift of good old Canadian maple syrup along with a Canadian mug! A bit clichéd I know, but they actually seemed excited about the maple syrup. During my first three days in Vienna, I settled into my new room (a couch in the living room), got to know my two Austrian roommates, and was a tourist in Vienna before the craziness of ImpulsTanz began.

On the Sunday before the workshops, there were opening speeches where all the teachers of the first week gave a brief description of their courses. As soon as I arrived at the Arsenal (ImpulsTanz headquarters), I could feel a buzz in the air and a ball of excitement/nerves in the pit of my stomach. It felt like first-day-of-school nerves. I arrived early to pick up my workshop package and explore the venue. There are ten studios in total, each immensely spacious with angled floor-to-ceiling windows where the sunlight pours in. Walking from studio to studio I was just itching to get started! The opening speeches were very interesting, informative and a great introduction to ImpulsTanz. It was very inspiring to see a room full of artists all there for the same reason - to celebrate the joy of movement. Young/old, professional/beginner, able/disabled - ImpulsTanz offers workshops for everyone with absolutely no barriers. With 100 performances from over fifty artists and companies showcasing their newest works, 214 workshops from more than 100 teachers excited to share their knowledge, and more than 3000 students coming from all over the world, ImpulsTanz is one of the largest dance festivals in Europe. Just sitting in the studio listening to the speeches, I was overwhelmed by the thought of how much there is to see and do in this festival. I did not want to miss anything during my short stay in Vienna.

My first week of workshops was a complete whirlwind! I found out quickly how overly ambitious I was signing up for three two-hour workshops back to back, leaving little to no breaks in-between. That week I literally ate, slept and danced! But that was what I came all the way to ImpulsTanz for so I had to pull my big girl socks up and attack each workshop as best I could. My morning class was called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ballet” and was taught by Elizabeth Ward. It was a fun twist on classical ballet as we did barre to unconventional music, improvised using ballet vocabulary, and touched on some human anatomy and tension release exercises. This class wasn’t too intense but was the perfect way to get my body moving and ready for my other two workshops. My second workshop was by far the most intense, the most challenging physically and mentally, and yet the most rewarding. Taught by Laura Aris, this workshop covered partnering tools related to dance vocabulary used by Wim Vendekeybus’ Ultima Vez. Aris always began the class with basic partnering exercises and games that encouraged us to trust, communicate with, and eventually take more risks with our partners. We then quickly moved on to learn long combinations. These made the class feel more like a repertory than a technique class. These long combinations were very intricate and physically demanding yet full of underlining meanings and supported by passionate music such as Hearts a Mess by Gotye. In every class we spent at least forty-five minutes truly dancing and performing these beautiful phrases of movement. While the movement was a lot of fun to dance, it didn’t come without its price. This class was the main cause of all my bumps, bruises and extremely sore muscles! I repeatedly walked into my partnering class not sure how I was going to survive it but always left with such a sense of accomplishment. After quickly re-nourishing my body with the delicious food offered at the ImpulsTanz Arsenal, I was off to my third and last workshop of the day, Get Down! taught by New Zealand-born dancer, teacher and choreographer Susanne Bentley. In this workshop we learned how to move at ground level by being able to absorb the floor with every aspect of our bodies. Moving on the floor felt very unnatural to me and, like my second workshop, it was sometimes a challenge to push through the class as new bruises and floor burns appeared every day. I had many “ah ha” moments though. Bentley was so wonderful at breaking down every movement that eventually, as the week progressed, moving on the floor became just a little easier. My first week was an overload of so many new ideas and concepts that, by the end of each day, I was tired not only physically but mentally as well.

I quickly realized that just one week at ImpulsTanz was not enough time for me. So I arranged to come back to Vienna after two weeks in Spain in order to attend the last week of the festival. Luckily, my hosts weren’t completely sick of me and once again allowed me to take over their living room. In such a short time, Vienna had become like my European home base so when I arrived back from Spain, it felt like coming home from a vacation. When picking my workshops for the last week, I decided to have a calmer week and only chose two workshops, “Release Technique” taught by Brussels-based Angelique Wilkie and Limón technique taught by Juilliard faculty member Risa Steinberg, a former Limón company dancer herself. This choice allowed me more time to observe the other workshops at the Arsenal, attend some of the ImpulsTanz performances, and be able to connect with other dancers at the ImpulsTanz café while sipping on a Mélange (a proper Viennese coffee with milk). In my “Release Technique” class, we worked on moving through space as organically as possible, by using our weight and our relationship with the floor and by executing each movement with minimal muscular effort. Each exercise was the combination of freedom of movement and focussing on shaping the space with our bodies to execute each movement with power and intention. Similar to “Release Technique”, Limón technique is all about weight and suspension. I was very comfortable and familiar with it (having studied Limón at York) so could dive even deeper into each exercise. Risa Steinberg made an effort to memorize every single student’s name and to connect personally with each and every student. Obsessed with proper technique, Steinberg stressed the importance of dancing in a healthy, safe way in order to dance more efficiently while preventing injury.

Photo by Pascal Clavette
My experience at ImpulsTanz was amazing, inspiring, and exceeded my imagination. It felt so good to return to a lifestyle of living and breathing dance all day every day. I did my best to soak up every experience on offer at ImpulsTanz, from the beautiful venue to the wonderful friends I’ve made to the passionate teachers who wanted to share their tools and secrets. I’m already brainstorming a way to attend ImpulsTanz next summer, this time for the entire five weeks. I’m returning to Toronto a more open-minded dancer with a love and passion for dance that will never stop growing and deepening.

Learn more >> impulstanz.de

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