Relax, and Go with the Flow: The Dance of Right-Wing Populism

Swing: Dance to the Right premiered at Werk X weeks after a coalition government was formed in Austria between the conservatives and the right-wing populist party. With eerie smoothness and ease, Nicholas van Diepen’s dancing moves perfectly embody the self-complacency that has driven the recent turn to the right in Austrian and European politics.

I’ve been on my seat for some time, but I don’t know if the show has started or not. A man in a slim-fit suit (Martin Hemmer) gives out ballot papers and pencils, and asks us to mark what we would like to see:

 
BALLOT PAPER OF THE AKTIONSTHEATER ENSEMBLE

◯ More nice music

◯ Some dancing

◯ More funny stuff

◯ Something sad

◯ A bit of cheekiness

◯ Something progressive

◯ Nothing too complicated

 

The sham becomes apparent when the man in the suit picks one of the ballots and gives it to the musician (Andreas Dauböck), throwing all the rest away. I am glad someone asks if we can keep the pencils, as they are quite good. But we are politely told that unfortunately that won’t be possible.

A relaxed swing beat starts playing and three more people come onto the stage, all wearing black suits. Nicholas van Diepen starts dancing and the rest follows. He explains to us how his body moves and how great it feels. He says there is just a gentle stir at the beginning, and that all the rest seems to follow smoothly. You barely notice how, just let go, move on with the flow, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a group choreography.

swing05

Swing: Dance to the Right asks: Why and how did this turn to the right take place in our society? We’ve been there all the time, but somehow didn’t see it coming until it was too late. Did we simply dance along as the change started creeping in different spheres of our lives? If not, why didn’t we do anything about it? Are we like indifferent spectators, who think that the events that take place on the stage have nothing to do with us? Will this political tide go away as imperceptibly as it came? Or will it lead to further atomisation and polarisation in our society? In which case, is it really already „too late“? Or can we still do something to counteract the rise of racism and neo-nationalism around us? And maybe also more deeply: is this very „we“ addressed by aktionstheater ensemble —the left-wingers and well-meaning social liberals— already too isolated and marginalised to have any significant political understanding or influence over these processes?

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There is no finger-pointing in the text or in the performance. No specific group of people is singled out and held responsible for the turn to the right taking place in our society. Through dance and poetry, the director Martin Gruber and the aktionstheater ensemble explore the subtle and seemingly trivial ways in which xenophobic and misogynistic beliefs and actions are fostered and spread. Racism and sexism are exposed throughout the play, but at its core stand the complex dynamics of solitude and narcissism that fuels them.

At the end of the play, a half-naked actress (Isabella Jeschke) tells the audience in tears that some penguins —no one knows why— walk away from the group, where all stand together to keep each other warm. Their bodies get cold and numb as they stand on the ice on their own, and they slowly die a solitary, painless death. Without providing easy solutions, Swing: Dance to the Right tries to understand why human beings sometimes decide to isolate themselves, making strangers out of their fellow beings.


Summary: An entertaining, earnest exploration of the current political trends in Austria and Europe, with unsettling choreographies and simple poetry.


SWING: DANCE TO THE RIGHT
A production of aktionstheater ensemble in cooperation with Spielboden Dornbirn and WERK X
Future performances: Sat 13.01., Mon 22.01., Tue 23.01., and Wed 24.01.

Conception and Stage Management: Martin Gruber
Text: Martin Gruber, Elias Hirschl and aktionstheater ensemble
Dramaturgy: Martin Ojster
Assistant Director: Florian Haderer
Music: Andreas Dauböck
Video: Bella Angora
Video Collaboration: Sarah Mistura
Actors: Michaela Bilgeri, Susanne Brandt, Isabella Jeschke, Nicolaas van Diepen, Martin Hemmer


Photos: © Gerhard Breitwieser
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