TQW Magazin
Evelyn Annuß on Ophelia’s Got Talent by Florentina Holzinger

Liquid Queering


Liquid Queering

Evelyn Annuß on Ophelia’s Got Talent by Florentina Holzinger


Liquid Queering

Seizing the stage box like a tankship from all sides… Exploring fluid visual manifestations and encounters of emergence and submergence virtually defying gravity – under gated conditions though… First performed in September 2022 at Berlin Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and now shown by Tanzquartier Wien at Volkstheater Wien, Florentina Holzinger’s latest work, Ophelia’s Got Talent, examines an other, i.e., liquid form of chorality: a form of vague referencing, in ever new, flexible configurations of bodies. Holzinger’s work thereby indicates that choruses have been environmental figures all along.[1] They refuse to stay in focus. Their theatrical manifestations are more closely related to dance than to an aesthetics of visual representation, i.e., of central perspectivity. Accordingly, Holzinger’s naked motley crew doesn’t refer to the genealogy of a single figure. Instead, they may allegorically hint at the question of genus.

The way this queer assemblage appears on stage is reminiscent of the “liquidarity”[2] of temporary, apersonal modes of relating. It reminds us of “vague belongings”: of possible non-genealogical alliances beyond binary, nuclear-family heteronormativity as well as of the signature of post-disciplinary modes of relationality in late-capitalist “liquid modernity”. Earlier Holzinger productions had been read as deconstructive due to their overt references to ballet – i.e., as undoing the disciplinary movement regime of a formerly hegemonic high culture and its concomitant misogyny. Ophelia’s Got Talent however decidedly quotes “minor”, spectacular performance genres. It thus accentuates unpredictable, singular presentations of virtuosity in their own right – i.e., genres which make room for potentially other modes of relating.

Within an aquatic stage apparatus, holding three pools of water, Ophelia’s Got Talent experiments with vague, oblique forms of relating. The framings of collectively danced and constantly dissolving body configurations, that “wildly” quote all sorts of things, become liquefied while they can be viewed from different angles. Nikola Knežević’s triptych-like stage set with two video screens for clipped live transmissions defies the visual legacy of the “peep box”. It calls for allegorical contemplations of spectacularly “failed” appearances on the increasingly wrecked stage. While single naked bodies initially perform competitively one after the other in a kind of casting show, the action gradually shifts from centre stage to the multi-level aquariumscape behind and becomes choral. Busby-Berkeley-like top shots or close-up affection-images (taken by Melody Alia’s hand-held camera) on the screens provide anamorphic shifts of the audience’s stage view. In this multi-perspective setting, Ophelia’s Got Talent brings into play that “other” theatre that was discarded in favor of a bourgeois understanding of the stage and veristic representations to the supposed lower genres of “minor” spectacles: to the carnival, the circus, the freak, strip or drag show…[3] Today, this “other” theatre lives forth in live streams of acrobatic acts like the aerial pole dance taken from America’s Got Talent at the beginning of Holzinger’s performance piece – or as “mermaiding” on social media, i.e., water ballet-like underwater cosplay by apnoea divers and their sometimes eco-activist looting of imaginary aqua femininity.[4] Ophelia’s Got Talent brings this “other” theatre up to date. It evokes a theatre not governed by representational embodiment – a theatre determined by a broader notion of “Darstellung”, i.e., of presentation rather than representation. This form of an “other” theatre is more closely related to dance than still life.[5] Holzinger uses it to seize the stage box, translating her form quotation into all kinds of diving and swimming exercises.

In her work, liquefied relationality is associated with a certain breath-taking virtuosity of moving “female*” bodies. Their repertoire of reckless stunts, pain performances and self-inflicted injuries exposes the singularity of differing physical faculty and presents a quite brutal art of self-governing. Chorally danced, the handling of gender-specific imagery and narratives of trauma in Ophelia’s Got Talent suggests corresponding bodily sedimentations of abuse and also their potential to trigger aggressive physical responses. However, the fictionalized autobiographical fabulations, which repeatedly interrupt and freeze the action in this dance-and-dive theatre, are quasi-serial narratives of violence – neither expressive nor just individual. These “dragging narratives” are entangled with serial allusions to mermaids and beautiful corpses of the drowned. They quote feminized figurations of human dissolution into the environment – the romantic corollary of the industrial revolution reflecting the “Anthropocene”.


The water beings acquiring a momentum of their own in Ophelia’s Got Talent do not serve to depict “naked women on stage reclaiming patriarchal fantasies”, as a common empowerment interpretation claims. Rather, these figures reflect a specific way of “becoming environmental” translated into dance theatre. Chorally performed they apostrophize contemporary violent “troubles” beyond gender. At any rate, Holzinger’s physical parameter is rather age than binary juxtapositions of feminine and masculine imagery. In earlier productions, the dancing, abled bodies stood out against the one of Beatrice Cordua – an 80-year-old former ballerina.[6] In Ophelia’s Got Talent, a few prepubescent kids – the “Last Generation” – take on a comparable choral role…

Relatedly, the collective copulation of Holzinger’s crew with a hijacked helicopter poses the generational question as a question of genus. The following birth scene of a lighter, shown on screen, and the water beings later playing around with fire somewhat unenthusiastically by the increasingly yucky pool – could be read as an antidote to the feel-good reception of Donna Haraway. Ophelia’s Got Talent ironically alludes to Haraway’s feminist 1980s Cyborg Manifesto and its afterlife in fabulations about symbiontic hybrids of all kinds of earth-born “critters” in view of the current species extinction (Staying with the Trouble).[7] With reference to feminist eco-discourses, Holzinger investigates the relations of aesthetics, biopolitics and planetary “troubles” through fluid-environmental forms of movement. Perhaps it is precisely the friendly harmlessness of the participating children that lends this queer chorality its self-reflexive quality – since the kids indicate that Ophelia’s Got Talent is aware of its situatedness in a gated “peep-box” aquarium.



[1] On the figure of the chorus cf. Ulrike Haß, Kraftfeld Chor. Aischylos Sophokles Kleist Beckett Jelinek, Berlin 2019; Sebastian Kirsch, Chor-Denken. Sorge, Wahrheit, Technik, Munich 2020.
[2] Taking the queer club culture as an example, Luis-Manuel Garcia uses the term liquidarity to outline how people emerge and submerge on the dance floor without making lasting connections: cf. Luis-Manuel Garcia, Liquidarity, 2014, youtube.com/watch?v=hlJBs_zf5HE (last access: 24.04.2023); Garcia, Liquidarity: Vague Belongings on the Dance Floor, 2020, lmgmblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/liquidarity/ (last access: 24.04.2023). On situating the liquid in the context of a diagnosis of the times cf. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Malden 2000, and his subsequent publications.
[3] Cf. Rudolf Münz, Das “andere” Theater. Studien über ein deutschsprachiges teatro dell’arte der Lessingzeit, Berlin 1979.
[4] On the eco-activist version of mermaiding cf. Tracy C. Davis, Megan Dunn, Sara Malou Strandvad, “Skills and strategies of activist mermaids: from pretty to powerful pictures”, in Text and Performance Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 3–4, 2021, p. 262–282.
[5] On forms of “minor mimesis” cf. most recently Friedrich Balke, Elisa Linseisen (eds.), Mimesis Expanded. Die Ausweitung der mimetischen Zone, Paderborn 2022.
[6] On dance, physical ability and governmentality cf. Stefan Apostolou-Hölscher, Vermögende Körper. Zeitgenössischer Tanz zwischen Ästhetik und Biopolitik, Bielefeld 2015.
[7] Cf. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, New York/London, 1991 [1985], p. 149–181; Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures, New York 2016.



Evelyn Annuß is a theatre and literary scholar and teaches as professor of Gender Studies at mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. She is currently working on a book on Dirty Dragging – a project about global perspectives on mimetic practices. Her research focuses include choral manifestations in the arts, in politics and on the streets: Chorische Figurationen (The Germanic Review, Special Issue, co-edited with Sebastian Kirsch and Fatima Naqvi, 2023); Volksschule des Theaters. Nationalsozialistische Massenspiele (2019).