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Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited).

Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
January 21-26, 2003
Reviewed by George Jackson

Art has been plentiful throughout Vienna's history, as have symbols of sexuality. Why, then, has one brief period in the life of that city--around the year 1900--become a fixation for people? Books have been written, exhibits organized, events dramatized. Perhaps the answer has to do with us. Illness and hunger were still present, yet new, science-based remedies promised treatment for age-old maladies. Social constraints and censorship existed, but were lax. Art, thought, sensuality, and health, however, conspired to create an early, intense example of modern life. To capture the atmosphere, Martha Clarke created her mood play Vienna: Lusthaus in 1986. Now, Clarke has gone back to that place and time and brought us Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited).

Parts of the piece are old, parts new. A few current cast members were in the original too. The concept is similar--evoking the essence of that Vienna--and so are the means: speech and silence, movement and dance, costumes and nudity, light and darkness. There are remarkable moments. Two women, nude, are seated on the floor. Leaning into each other as we look over their shoulders, they suddenly bend backward and, to a bit of a waltz, seem about to float off together. It is as if the music seizes them and starts to sweep them along like clouds caught in a wind. In another vignette, a woman seated properly, perpendicularly, on a bench, begins to tilt at an angle. As her legs leave the floor and her torso leans to the side, both she and the bench seem to levitate a little above the floor. THAT SUCH SURREAL EVENTS ARISE OUT OF REALISTIC SITUATIONS WITHOUT ASTONISHING THE CHARACTERS ONSTAGE EFFECTIVELY ERASES ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING AWAKE AND DREAMING.

The production, though, has its problems. Too many of the thirty-two scenes now have a similar dynamic. If memory serves, each scene of the original had a distinct, apt rhythm. The solo in which a man thrusts his hands and arms into boots and proceeds to treat them like the feet and legs of a lover is now delivered in such a way that it gets laughs. It used to be exciting, even a bit frightening.

Two of the cast members, Rob Besserer (who was in the original) and George de la Pena (who wasn't) made strong impressions in former days. This prompted a little melancholy among viewers who remembered them as they had been. A younger dancer, Momchil Mladenov, a Bulgarian whose recent debut here was with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, looked in his uniform very much the part of a romantic Hapsburg officer. Naked, he could have stepped from one of Egon Schiele's gaunt self-portraits. The women--in various stages of dress and undress--had the elongated hourglass curves Gustav Klimt favored in his paintings. There's definitely more nudity in the present production. The role of the older woman, which used to be the late Lotte Goslar's, is now taken by Elzbieta Czyzewska, whose German was difficult to understand.

More varied pacing might give each scene the specificity it needs and dispel a too generically Viennese ambience that comes close to stereotyping.
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Title Annotation:Martha Clarke has recreated her mood play Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)
Author:Jackson, George
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:May 1, 2003
Previous Article:Twyla Tharp Dance.
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