When I received the ‘Pera Aspera Ad Astra’ scholarship for Dance in 2019 in my home country Bulgaria, I was posed with the question: “What would I like to do with my scholarship?” I didn’t think twice before replying: “I would like to go to ImPulsTanz in Vienna.” My participation in the ATLAS program at the 35th edition of ImPulsTanz was an incredible journey in my perception of choreography, contemporary times and humanity.
ATLAS is a program aimed at dance artists and choreographers willing to boost their creative practice within the unique frame of ImPulsTanz. The program provides the opportunity to develop a new or an existing piece of work or research within the festival, supervised by a mentor, hold public or invitation only showings and receive valuable feedback from some of the most interesting dance makers in the world.
ATLAS consists of several modules - education, performances and individual research projects.
The scope of the individual research is entirely determined by the dance artist behind it - you can indulge in it as much or as little as you want.
Dance artists enrolled in the program have the opportunity to work with a mentor - in the 2019 edition this was the Belgian dance dramaturg Guy Cools. They also get 24/7 access to 3 studios in Vienna, the ability to attend 20 performances, 10 workshops over the scope of 4 weeks, private rooms in the same building with all other ATLAS and DanceWeb participants, full access to the festival lounge and to the two big opening and closing parties, and last but not least - a pink bike!
The pink bike is the symbol of ImPulsTanz throughout the festival and is also the engine behind it that keeps it running. It is not only the vehicle that allows you to follow your busy schedule as an ATLAS artist, it is also a sign of like-minded people you meet on their pink bikes cycling back and forth everywhere in Vienna. Tommy, the bike master at ImPulsTanz, shared the secret that these are the original pink bikes that were tailor-made for ImPulsTanz back in the year 2000. “If you think about it - Tommy says - probably at least one legendary choreographer or performer was the previous festival owner of your bike” - and most probably he is right.
One thing is inevitable as you approach ImPulsTanz and ATLAS as a whole - you need to make choices. The festival creates a unique, vibrant space for research and discussions about the essence of contemporary dance, but you need to make clear choices about how you are going to spend your limited time within this perception accelerator.
My strategy was to challenge my notions of choreography conceptually, so I mainly undertook courses in Choreography, Philosophy, Visual arts and Music. I devoted a lot of time to the curation of my personal schedule and I decided on taking courses with Damien Jalet, Aimilios Arapoglou, Jos McKain, Jonathan Burrows, Jassem Hindi, Annie Dorsen, Keith Hennessy, Michael J. Morris and Marten Spanberg.
During the festival I had the unique opportunity to join a stellar team of visual artists - Vladimir Miller, Roberto Martinez, Claudia Hill and Julian Weber into their (non) performance Unstable Nights, which took part in the Mumok Hofstallung at Museum Quartier in Vienna.
In Unstable Nights, the guests are invited not to see a performance, but rather to witness an unraveling cross-disciplinary practice that is completely different every night and contains a guest artist proposal each evening.
The definite hot topic of the festival discourse this year was ecology and the relationship between capitalist labor society and our imprint on the planet as human beings. The topic was discussed both within many of the workshops and open lectures of the festival but was also constantly brought up in non-formal interactions at the social events and the Arsenal courtyard. This gave me a clear sense of how dance artists certainly see themselves as liable towards the present and the future of the world we live in.
The biggest highlight of the festival for me was the opportunity to start working on a new piece. Time management for this proved to be essential and a lot of perseverance was needed. With classes running from 9 AM - 6 PM every day for 4 weeks and seeing a performance every night as well as socializing with other artists at the lounge, the only time for research and rehearsing proved to be during the night. My personal research during ImPulsTanz was aimed towards the topic of success and what it means to us, in the context of femininity, beauty and labour. The solo project research I showed at ImPulsTanz later developed into my new work Soft Questions, produced by the Cultural Perspectives Foundation and premiered in Bulgaria last month.
My fellow ATLAS colleagues and I named my pink bike Rachel after the old, almost washed away sticker with the same name on it. One thing is sure - these 5 weeks in constant movement on Rachel around Vienna expanded my understanding of what choreography is beyond any point of previous beliefs and allowed me to find new pathways in my choreographic thinking.