Long live Beethoven!

Afterwords: Cie Heddy Maalem, Black Spring

DerStandard.at / ImPulsTanz.com 21 Jul 2002English

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Contextual note
This text is part of the project Afterwords, curated by Jeroen Peeters for the festival ImPulsTanz Vienna in summer 2002. Every night, three critics in residence shared their impressions and thoughts on the performances immediately after having seen them, in an act of instantaneous writing. During the process of writing, these comments were projected in the theatre lobby and later that night made available on the websites http://www.impulstanz.com and http://derstandard.at.
A selection of the texts by Jeroen Peeters is available on Sarma, in a slightly edited version, sometimes with a postscript. Two essays elucidate the project Afterwords and reflect on its poetical and political implications. To retrieve the material, search under: ‘Afterwords’.

Five black men in shorts, further naked, dancing in a dry and controlled way on a string quartet by Beethoven. Their dance is based on simple movements as running, a few rhythmical patterns. It includes even one tableau, as classical as odd, where the five are touching each other carefully, pointing hands to knees and so on. An image juxtaposed to a piece of music that doesn't match, but it is proposed in such a serious way, one doesn't even take it as grotesque. The audience loves it, applause!

Back to the opening scene. The performers are dressing themselves in a suit, as to go to work. It is also a figure of discipline, of culture, of colonisation perhaps. Repeated to different kinds of music, making a fashion show out of it. Not as in Bel's ‘The Show Must Go On’ though, this time the clothes are not from H&M - it's as a mixture of used things.

Dressing, discipline on different levels, beyond a game with exchangeable identities. The running appears in a camp. A rhythmical group dance in a military outfit. African dance? If you are willing to pay for it. (...)

The "Roll over Beethoven" described above is not a mere juxtaposition, it accumulates several images and meanings connected to details in the dance that have been exposed before in different contexts. A polysemy at once joyful and bitter, at least strongly political, slowly increasing and spreading out, confusing but not always as tangible. Therefore we still have Beethoven, who might get infected at his turn.


Postscript November 2002: This Afterwords text focuses on one particular incident that happened during the performance and made it particularly meaningful in the context of Vienna. Near the end, after the described scene on music of Beethoven, there was a spontaneous applause. The incessant longing for spectacle that characterises the Viennese audience and its total denial of the highly political aspects of Heddy Maalem’s performance struck me as hyperviolent. The music of Beethoven, one of the most important Austrian composers, became a performative figure of Vienna’s romantic and uncritical approach to art nowadays.

In this case, writing a text on the spot for an audience of readers that all shared the same performance before, thus also their own performance as audience, delivered an interesting opportunity for critical writing. Although the text hardly has an autonomous quality or value as critique apart from this context, I decided to republish it in this selection for the reason mentioned.