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Review: Tanz at The Art Centre for Rising

Review by Thomas Gregory

I suspect that most people will end up hearing about Tanz in the most superficial of ways, told of one of the least interesting moments in the production. Yes, the naked women do urinate into buckets, but honestly, you could almost miss it happening, considering everything else going on.

Austrian performer, Florentina Holzinger, is sometimes described as “The Tarantino of Dance”, and the sobriquet fits well past the fact that her works are visceral and confronting. While at first you may be compelled by the blood (both real and fake), the nudity (which only offers titillation in the opening scenes) and the wild physicality of the piece, there is also a deep appreciation of the history of performance art, and Holzinger draws from all of it.

Tanz (the German word for “Dance”) is a deconstructed ballet adhering to the structure and narrative of a ballet. The creators describe it as challenging “the idea of self-optimisation in the name of art and beauty.” Its key message is simple and clear - respect for the feminine form should go well beyond the visual, and there is something to be celebrated in its strength as a machine that can be bent to the will of the owner.

For a theatre nerd like myself, Tanz is a cornucopia of forms and genres. Greek choruses, Commedia dell'arte, Absurdism, and even the Grand Guignol can be found within its construction, but it is far from the traditional theatre. Its dancers come from modern dance, ballet, and even the circus, while moments in the performance utilise illusions, mentalism, choreographed stunt work, and even body suspension (don’t look it up, enjoy the experience). The performance involves live filmography, prosthetics, liquids, fire, sometimes quite elaborate costuming, and a set that will be difficult to forget.

There is a carefully crafted story, motifs of fairy tales and witches interwoven with the experience of contemporary ballet students and the expectations of how women should prepare their bodies for society.

Nearly a dozen performers take to the stage, each with their own stories told simultaneously. When not the focus of a scene, their story is still being told on the sidelines; it would honestly take multiple shows to see everything that happens and truly appreciate how it is all interwoven, but the audience never seems to miss something integral to the night's enjoyment.

While each individual impacted me, a rare experience for a cast this size, it is integral to mention the “star” of the night, Beatrice Cordua. Cordua, whose history of provocative performance is over half a century long, plays the “wizened” ballet instructor, the antagonist protagonist, and representation of all that is wrong with society. At eighty years old, it is fair not to expect her to be strung from the ceiling like other performers, but she is still treated to a brutality few adults would accept happening to them on stage. Her arc from the in-control instructor to a frightened woman in the forest is brilliant, and her eventual fate is real, if not what we might desire.

To speak of the wonders of each performer would lead to a piece too long for our editor to ever accept, but it is sufficient to say that they are all awe-inspiring examples of strength, control, and humility.

While perhaps not for those with a delicate constitution or the sensitive moral conservative, I urge everyone to see this show while they still can. Tanz is, without exaggeration, the best performance I have experienced in decades as an audience member, and I fear it will be some time until we have the honour of experiencing Florentina Holzinger’s work in Melbourne again.

Image Supplied


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