TANZ at the Battersea Arts Centre
“The thought and discipline that goes into making a show like Tanz is on conspicuous display throughout”
Audience members for Tanz are warned ahead of time of “the explicit nudity, self-harming body acts, blood and needles, strobe (lighting) and loud music”, and these are warnings that should be taken seriously. If anything, they understate what you are about to see in this extraordinary work by choreographer Florentina Holzinger and her all female company of dancers and circus performers. That said, Tanz is all about pushing limitations and boundaries. If that’s what interests you about live performance, then don’t miss this show. Tanz is a remarkable work by a ground breaking artist who has serious things to say about power relationships between bodies, and ourselves. About what bodies can endure, and, for that matter, what audiences can endure as well. All performances are relaxed at the Battersea Arts Centre for this show, so by all means take advantage of the opportunity if you need it.
Holzinger came late to the world of dance, and soon realized that she had not begun her training early enough to achieve the physical training needed to succeed as a classical ballet dancer. There’s a reason dancers typically embark on their training as children, as they are aiming for a particular “look” to the body, as well as flexibility. The realization of the uncompromising, even tyrannical demands upon the body in dance, is one of the central insights that informs Holzinger’s work. That, and a deeply ironic look at how we represent ourselves through our bodies in life, and in art. She turns those realizations into a series of ever more outrageous, taboo breaking, parodies of dance, all dressed up as circus acts. Though perhaps undressed would be a better description, since nudity is a key component of all this insight. Holzinger turns the gaze of everyone present on the power dynamics between teacher and student, choreographer (traditionally overwhelmingly male), and dancer (mostly female), performer and audience. In Tanz (the German word for dance), everything that we might have held sacred about our bodies and how to use them, is held up for ruthless dissection on stage. I am not speaking metaphorically here.
In Tanz, the audience is made to see bodies as vulnerable, but paradoxically, invulnerable. There are moments when a stunt appears to go wrong—such as a motorcycle accident on stage—but these moments are anomalies. We see that dance is inherently destructive, beginning with the rehearsal process. Holzinger and her company force us to acknowledge the real cost of the pursuit of the performer’s art. How better to show this than through a series of ever more boundary breaking circus acts? Acts involving motorcycles, broomsticks, and hair-raising stunts of being raised by your hair, and suspended on hooks, to name just a few. Enduring pain is the point, and the company dares us to look away each time they find new ways to explore the limits of what the human body can withstand. But again, all this endurance is not just for show. Holzinger explodes the myth that dance is just beautiful bodies performing on stage for the audience’s pleasure. That pleasure comes at a price, and she and her company reflect, in a very ironic way, the price of that pleasure.
The thought and discipline that goes into making a show like Tanz is on conspicuous display throughout. There are no wings to hide the machinery, and a curtain is seldom used. We see the discipline in the movements of the performers. Many, but not all, have classical dance backgrounds. Florentina Holzinger, Renée Copraij, Lucifire, Lydia Darling, Annina Machaz, Netti Nüganen, Suzn Pasyon, Veronica Thompson, Claire Philippart, Sophie Duncan and Frida Franceschini bring a truly diverse collection of looks and talents to the company. There’s an equally disciplined approach to the complicated mechanics involving trapeze wires and harnesses to ensure the performers’ safety, if not their comfort. The music, sound effects and lighting effects all contribute to the intense and heightened experience that is Tanz.
It is safe to say that during Tanz, you will, at some point, find out what your boundaries are. It might not be an enjoyable experience, but it will send you home with much to think about. It has the power to change the way you see the world, and your place in it. And if Tanz does fail to connect as an intense experience— well, that’s just one more way for the audience to sit and think about what we’re actually doing—and supporting—when we sit in our seats, enjoying a show.
Reviewed on 1st November 2022
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Eva Würdinger
Previously reviewed at this venue: