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Austrian’s Simon Mayer disrupts traditional Alpine folk music, dance and more in Sons of Sissy April 4-6. Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar talks to Digital Marketing Coordinator Lindsay Curtis about the artist, that title, and what it’s all about:
LC: Who is Simon Mayer?
MZ: Simon is a musician, performer, and choreographer. He grew up on a farm in rural Austria before going to the Vienna State Opera Ballet school. Following a brief career as ballet dancer, he went on to pursue contemporary dance at the world-renowned PARTS in Brussels and danced for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s ROSAS and Wim Vandekeybus – the living legends of European contemporary dance – before starting to choreograph. He has been a festival circuit hit for several years now, and I am very pleased to present his work for the first time in Canada.
LC: What is interesting about his choreographic approach?
MZ: What stands out is his way of questioning art, life, tradition: he takes folk traditions and experiments wildly and openly with them. The key word is deconstruction: stripping and rebuilding and doing it in daring and intelligent ways. In Sons of Sissy, Simon literally strips the traditions of Alpine folk dances and music – down to the bone.
LC: Tell us about Sons of Sissy.
MZ: It’s a wonderful show with hilarious moments, but underneath there is so much depth and skill at work, and many layers of meaning. It’s a musical and theatrical piece, as much as dance – the four male performers dance, sing, and play assorted instruments. They deconstruct traditional Austrian folk dances and music in an attempt to liberate the form (and themselves) from conservatism and convention. At the same time, they disrupt the rigid male role models that are tied to those traditions. While the piece is inspired by one particular culture and by dominant male stereotypes, I think it speaks to all of our vulnerabilities. These men learn to laugh about themselves and the traditions they are expected to uphold, and the work traces their efforts to recreate themselves as free individuals.
LC: Sons of Sissy is quite a title, what is its significance?
MZ: In our culture the word ‘sissy’ is used to describe a gentle or ‘soft’ man, a man outside of society’s masculine norm, often in a derogatory way – reflecting the very conventions of masculinity the piece rebels against. It also refers to 19th century Austrian Empress Elisabeth, who was nicknamed Sisi and was known for fighting against the rigid protocols of the Habsburg court, having had a relatively informal upbringing; she was also a trend setter and very vain! During the show, Simon and his team use some Austrian songs which have specific references to sons and assert the traditional understanding of masculinity.
LC: What is the role of music in the piece?
MZ: Music and sound is integral to the work: we have violins, bass, accordion; and the mountain songs. There’s the rhythm of the traditional Schuhplattler dance, where the dancers slap their legs with their hands. Sounds are produced by cowbells and an incense kettle; they even use a Goassl, a 4-metre long whip traditionally used to chase away evil spirits. Then there is also the most natural of sounds, the breath itself. Simon is a successful musician with his own band, Rising Halfmoon, and has done everything from traditional music to heavy metal!
LC: We see there’s a nudity advisory…
MZ: If you are offended by nudity on stage, this is not for you – the dancers are naked for a significant portion of the piece, although nothing indecent occurs! The nudity makes the performers appear more vulnerable than ever, as they strip away their male bravado, their masculine shields. The hits of the Schuhplattler dance leave visible red traces on the body and we see their fragility being exposed.
LC: What does this work say about tradition in the contemporary world?
MZ: You could argue that all contemporary work questions the traditional. However, this work speaks so strongly because the artists understand their traditions – while they use humour to reference and question these, they do not mocking them. To move forward we have to understand where we come from.
LC: Why did you decide to bring this show to Vancouver?
MZ: It is one of those pieces that makes you realize the boundless potential of contemporary dance, and art’s genuine, sincere power to touch us and reveal life. If you are a risk-taker, and an adventurous soul who enjoys a good laugh and seeks theatrical catharsis, Sons of Sissy is definitely for you!
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections series
Simon Mayer – Sons of Sissy
April 4-6, 2019 at 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver
Photo Credits: Arne Hauge, Rania Moslam
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