‘Impromptus’ - Sasha Waltz and Guests
Edinburgh Playhouse, 16th August 2005
Sasha Waltz is known for breaking boundaries with her normal hard-edged tanztheater style. She breaks them with ‘Impromtus’ too, but here, in a work more rather more lyrical than her previous pieces, it’s the boundaries of space she has concerned herself with.
All the action takes place on a set comprising two overlapping rhomboid-shaped stages, tilted towards the audience but at different angles. A third stands vertically at the rear. The whole thing looks like a section from some cubist painting. It is wonderfully abstract and can be taken to represent pretty much what ever you want it to. It does however really emphasise the feeling of space, especially as the dancers often exit directly upstage, as if the stage never ends.
The work was danced to four Schubert lieder (songs) and five piano pieces from 1827 performed live and beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Judith Simonis and played by pianist Cristina Marton. Given how well the music compliments the dance it’s perhaps surprisingly this is Waltz’s first piece using classical music.
Like the music, ‘Impromptus’ seems more a grouping of ideas around a theme rather than a single work. Although each section appears to form an almost independent scene, the transitions are never jarring, Waltz moving us seamlessly from one to the next.
While much of the movement appears to be abstract, the dancers constantly work with and acknowledge each other. At times there was a feeling that it was all about human emotion and relationships but at others it seemed to be about nothing; totally abstract.
The five piano pieces were called ‘Impromptus’ by Schubert’s publisher, who wanted to convey a sense of improvisation or spontaneity. Waltz has used them to create a piece that often does give exactly that impression. The dance is never predictable. You may think you know what is going to happen next but she is always likely to surprise you.
The dancers walk and run across the set, jumping between the sections of the stage. Sometimes they are alone, sometimes they duet, sometimes all in one group, making sculptural shapes or being lifted high off the floor. Sometimes they walk bit sometimes they run, as if being swept along by the music, maybe suddenly going into reverse.
There are moments of surprise and gentle humour. In one section the seven dancers seem to be following each other in some sort of game. One suddenly realises they are being followed, stops and looks round. Another close behind looks suitably sheepish, like some child caught doing something they shouldn’t, before going their own way once more.
Elsewhere, a pool appears as if by magic and two women bathe. You expect that the usual nudity is coming (why do so many choreographers feel that is a necessity?) but no. Waltz surprises us and, after splashing water they modestly wrap themselves in towels and leave.
Humour is perhaps most apparent in the ‘wellington boot’ section. Two dancers appear wearing wellingtons half full of water. It’s all very simple but all very effective as they walk around the stage or sit on the edge of the set swinging their legs, sploshing away, making their own form of water music.
In the one dark section paint is used on the dancers’ bodies. The water is then poured on it, making it run from their feet down the sloping set. Is this macabre, some metaphor for death nearing (Schubert was ill and close to death when the music was composed) or simply another game?
‘Impromptus’ held the attention incredibly. The seventy minutes passed by in what seemed like seconds, the dancers and musicians quite rightly receiving a great ovation at the end. European contemporary dance has a bit of a reputation, sometimes deserved, for being inaccessible. Waltz’s choreography here proves that is not always the case.
It was just all this ambiguity that was great about ‘Impromptus’. To me it was about relationships and using space, but someone else might think totally differently. It could be about anything or nothing, totally abstract. It definitely was a combination of all the arts, beautiful music, superb design and great dance. Perhaps that’s what made it so enjoyable.