TQW Magazin
Wera Hippesroither on In its Entirety by Philipp Gehmacher

The resonance of inner landscapes


The resonance of inner landscapes

Join the landscape – take it all in!

Panted into the microphone, this invitation by Philipp Gehmacher opens the part that comes second but is Part 1 of his piece In its Entirety, and is at the same time indicative of the mood of the entire performance. The Viennese choreographer and dancer takes the 20th anniversary of Tanzquartier and the fact that he developed a commissioned piece for the theatre’s opening as a starting point to reflect on his own body practice and to give the audience an insight into his artistic biography. Midlife – midcareer. Are we witnessing a crisis here? Apparently oscillating between private individual and stage persona, the choreographer recites poetic, sometimes rhyming text fragments in English and German, using an arm gesture as an anchor point.

“Yes, my name is Philipp Gehmacher.” In its Entirety begins with Part 2. Gehmacher stands at the edge of the stage, the auditorium is still brightly lit. Between the lecture, mic and notes in hand, and a completely empty, dark stage, dance elements that remain just as fragmentary unfold their effect. Gehmacher makes frequent pauses, the hesitant movements reflect what has been said before and inscribe it in the room. Gehmacher uses the performative quality of language to set the body in motion, thereby creating a landscape. In this space inner stirrings, emotions, ideas and anecdotes practically act like the dancer’s body. Analogous to the language spoken, the movement language is disruptive, tentative and organic – this is highlighted even further on an acoustic level with abstract sounds by Peter Kutin and Florian Kindlinger. Moments of persistence and vulnerability recur throughout the piece. Ripples run through the body, Gehmacher trembles and doubles over on the ground.

In its Entirety brings up a lot without intending to provide answers. Little by little, the empty stage is filled with biographical fragments, experiences, choreographic elements and memories that outline an artistic landscape through which Gehmacher dances. The fragments of the artist’s biography are deposited as traces and, interwoven with various physicalities, they create a specific space by performative means. Because, according to Henri Lefebvre[1], the pioneer of Marxist urban sociology, space is a social phenomenon that includes the mental level, action, perception and the body. Space is essential for our lived experiences, and just as our actions shape space, our surroundings also shape our perception.

“Lefebvre posits that space is not a container, but rather, the very fabric of social existence, a medium woven of the relationships between subjects, their actions, and their environment. Space in its traditional sense is not a pre-existing receptacle for human action, but is created by that action; space, in turn, exerts its own variety of agency, modelling the human actors who have configured it.”[2]

Gehmacher establishes this space by interlacing language, voice, gestures and movement; this space has its own agency too and acts on the dancer’s body, as evidenced by the division of the piece into two parts. Much has been deposited in the stage space in Part 2, so the space needs to expand in Part 1. Several layers of curtains open up gradually to enlarge the space of operation. The light is brighter now. Gehmacher’s movements seem happier too. From time to time he turns on his own axis and goes round in circles across the room with his arms stretched out. He has swapped the black leggings for a colourful suit – between clown and pyjamas. The exuberant body language creates a mood of childlike enthusiasm before a break occurs. Now Gehmacher stands before us in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Is this an everyday body, then? Once again, it’s the voice that sets things in motion, but its physicality has a different quality now. Gehmacher’s spoken word enters into a dialogue with Alex Franz Zehetbauer’s sung echo. The textual chain of association is accompanied by choreographic sketches of movement, creating a resonance space between word and movement. Yet Zehetbauer’s voice remains strangely disembodied. It sounds from different corners of the room without the singer being present on stage.

The different roles taken on by Gehmacher this evening can be read in terms of Lefebvre’s spatial triad. In his treatise La production de l’espace[3], published in 1974, the French sociologist divides space into three levels.[4] The triad consists of representations of space, spatial practices and spaces of representation. The three levels are conceptualised as being connected to one another by way of an interlaced structure. Representations of space (espace conçu) denote the most common spatial quality: they are concepts and ideas of space, i.e. an abstract quality on the mental level. This level has a lot to do with knowledge and power; Lefebvre cites urban planning and cartography as examples. It is about idealism. Spatial practices (espace perçu), on the other hand, are daily routines and experiences that incorporate the first level. Social conventions of space utilisation also play a role here. This level is about materialism and the physical. The third level, spaces of representation (espace vécu), describes the lived reality of people. Action and agency are associated with this level. This is where idealism and materialism interlace.

When Gehmacher enters the stage at the beginning of the performance, puts on a wig to call to mind the full hair of 20 years ago, and starts by saying “Yes, my name is Philipp Gehmacher”, this evokes expectations and conventions of theatre and refers to the abstract level of espace conçu: a space immediately forms in the minds of the audience, which consists of experiences from previous pieces by Gehmacher and certain expectations. Later, Gehmacher recounts anecdotes from the daily routine of rehearsals, the development of his body practice and its associated problems. The result is espace perçu, the space of physical practices and experiences that are closely linked to the expectations and conventions of espace conçu. The lived space that is sustained by action, espace vécu, certainly runs through the entire piece and illustrates that the three spatial levels only function as an interactive structure. In In its Entirety Gehmacher introduces various fragments of an artistic biography, exposes himself to the inner affect, lays open a fragmentary landscape. What are the parts that make up the choreographic alphabet? Can everything be traced back to the one arm gesture that holds the individual fragments together? For all that, the gesture seems like a futile attempt to capture something, to hold on to something intangible. “Reaching for more. Grasping what is not graspable. Reach out, hold on to something.”


Wera Hippesroither works at Zentrum Fokus Forschung at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in the field of publications and knowledge transfer. She currently writes her PhD thesis at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Theatre, Film and Media Studies on the subject of Performing Space: On the relationship between performance and space in site-specific performance theatre. She regularly writes theatre reviews and other contributions for various publications, including Falter, PW-Magazine, programme booklets and catalogues. Moreover, she publishes and edits specialist publications and journals, including in the Forum Modernes Theater series.

[1] Cf. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Malden 2011.
[2] Russell West-Pavlov, Space in Theory: Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze, Amsterdam 2009, p. 19.
[3] The English version is used here: The Production of Space.
[4] For an overview cf. also Stuart Elden, “‘Es gibt eine Politik des Raumes, weil Raum politisch ist.’ Henri Lefèbvre und die Produktion des Raumes”, in: An Architektur, No. 1, 2002, p. 27–35.