Circuit training of an athletic orchestra
They mean business. Once again, Miet Warlop makes her ensemble drench with sweat. There’s not even the tiniest patch of jersey that isn’t completely soaked at the end of One Song. Hair, T-shirts, everything is drenched. Watching these people used to extreme exertion for an hour is exhausting even for the spectators from getting worked up themselves, because the accomplished effort spills over. Belgian artist Miet Warlop uses sport as a performative method in a remarkably obvious way on stage.
Even in her very first piece entitled De Sportband (2005), summoning up all their strength, 20 performers competed against the clock. Ghost Writer and the Broken Hand Break, which was shown as an Austrian premiere at Tanzquartier in October 2020, was also highly dynamic: three performers were continually spinning in circles like dervishes for a total of 45 minutes. The current piece, One Song, which celebrates its Austrian premiere in Vienna in November in a collaboration between Tanzquartier Wien and Wien Modern, also features a repetitive-loop dramaturgy.
A group of athletes gather in front of the stand as if for circuit training. They proudly wear their surnames on the backs of their T-shirts, just like Rocky Balboa once did: Lenaerts, Slabbinck and Tanghe. After a warm-up, they gradually take their places at the gymnastic apparatuses, where they also start playing musical instruments. The idea is to perform a pop song as a band, timed by a metronome, with the gymnastic apparatuses substantially “co-massaging” the music.
For example, the double bass player lies on his back on a mat with the giant violin between his legs and plucks his bars, perpetually putting his abdominal muscles to use. A violinist balances on a balance beam while playing, a singer keeps singing while resolutely running on the treadmill, and the keyboardist has to use a springboard for each touch of the keys in time to reach the keyboard mounted high above him.
The drummer, on the other hand, finds the parts of his drum kit scattered across the room, so he has his feet as well as his hands full.
One Song is part of the series Histoire(s) du Théâtre IV, which was launched by Milo Rau at NTGent and examines the significance of theatre. Feeling one’s way towards an answer, one soon arrives at the process of searching itself. Because in a loop or in a repetition of song verses (composed by Maarten Van Cauwenberghe) that stay the same or change only slightly, the minimal alterations in the playing, the gestures, the sound are all the more apparent, thus creating a perpetuum mobile, an image of not giving up.
Like an infinite ritual in ever new loops, the performers execute this witty score of a love song to the point of utter exhaustion. Cheered on by hardcore fans in the stand at the back, who are tiring themselves out just as much as the actual performers in their enthusiasm. Wrapped in thick fan scarves, they are just as drenched in sweat at the end of their ecstasy as the athletes themselves.
So, above all, One Song is about the collective and about collective creation, but also about the dichotomous connection between producing and receiving, i.e. all the elements that act in concert for a common cause. A sports commentator also plays a central role. Somehow presiding over the event, she acts as a presenter using a megaphone, and at one point she even manipulates the rhythm of the metronome. She introduces the stage in a relaxed stadium voice and bursts into a thoroughly contagious fit of laughter in the process.
An even more enigmatic figure is a solo cheerleader who lends his support to the endeavour both enthusiastically and boisterously, as he keeps rearranging words on plaster boards at the back in a Sisyphean manner. They could be combined to form the sentence “You will never know”. And perhaps that isn’t far off the mark, because despite the stringency and rigorous athletic circularity, Miet Warlop opens up rooms for innovation, the inexplicable and unpredictable, which makes watching and listening an exciting experience throughout.
Margarete Affenzeller, born in 1971 in Freistadt/Upper Austria, is a theatre editor living in Vienna. With degrees in German studies, history and theatre studies, she has worked in the culture section of Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard since 1997, in the role of editor since 2008.