Songs which inspire hope and identity, awaken memories of bygone times or situations experienced, and which represent a musical piece of home. On what is it founded, our desire for tradition, green meadows, blue skies and sunshine? What are we thinking of when we hear “Schlager”, and what does it trigger in us?
Doris Stelzer’s new work let's dream developed out of dealing with – or better, confronting the „Schlager". Which values and clichés does it negotiate, and what have they got to do with us? How do people manage to put these meaningless signals so seductively that the audience is ready to fill them with content of their own?
let's dream seeks its place between the tradition of genuine folk music and the star cult of the „Schlager“, and traces the fascination which enthrals so many people. Its aim is not satire, but clarification of its inherent patterns with the means of deconstruction and appropriation. The „Schlager“ as a commercial mass phenomenon, its staging strategies of supposed empathy and the associated fan cult: Who’s swinging and swaying in time with the music, and why? And is it really “a titbit of perfect world”?
The German term “Schlager” (whose straightforward translation would be “hit”) is historically related to the popular songs of operettas and stands for a certain style of popular music, and can be best compared with the evergreen. Although the genre is hard to describe, as it has undergone many changes of connotation over the last hundred years, a Schlager can be assumed to be recognised by everyone – German speaking or not – as “a Schlager” immediately. The music is either loved or hated, and rarely meets indifference. „Schlagers“ range from sentimental love songs over folksy forms to animating party music.
Concept, Choreography Doris Stelzer (A)
Performance, Choreography Valerie Oberleithner (A), Ondřej Vidlář (CZ/BE)
Scenography Jan Machacek (A)
Lightdesign Tom Barcal (A)
Light Assistance Svetlana Schwin (RUS/DE)
Theory, Dramaturgical Input Astrid Peterle (A)
Production Assistance Reinhard Strobl (A)
Photo Bettina Frenzel
Thanks to a.pass, BMUKK, PARTS Summer Studios Residency, Tanzquartier Wien Residency, ttp WUK
Support Cultural Section of the City of Vienna and the Art
Doris Stelzer and Astrid Peterle in conversation about lasst uns träumen
Astrid Peterle: In the past you used to cast an almost microscopic gaze upon bodies, to deal with body concepts and beauty ideals, and recently with gender stereotypes; now, in lasst uns träumen (let us dream) you dedicate yourself to pop and popular folk music – what was your motivation?
Doris Stelzer: After my last piece gender jungle – wo/man I was searching for mass phenomena which medially produce gender constructions. During this, I hit upon a song from the year 2008 by a well-known Austrian pop singer which contained the line “I’ll give you a wedding dress”, and it touched me very much emotionally. Finding out that this sector lives, thrives, and continues to reproduce and stage itself – see, e.g., the public broadcasting companie’s big television shows on Saturdays – has inspired me to investigate it. Apart from that, I also discovered a change in how traditional costumes as well as their manifestations of tradition, regionality, and identity are handled, such as the new “Wiener Wiesn”.
Astrid Peterle: During the production process of your performance people often asked you what your position was regarding the “Schlager” and popular folk music, or which message you intend to convey with this performance. Was it important for you to communicate a position?
Doris Stelzer: What is important to me and what I find more interesting is putting a topic and its purposeful investigation in position, or into focus, and thus to instigate a discourse. The theme itself is at the same time simple and complicated. Simple, because the signs communicated can easily be read, and everyone has an opinion on it. Complicated, because if you look behind the scene, the values the Schlager and popular folk music are based on have multiple histories. My own position with regard to the Schlager and pop-folk is – and was during the process – one between fascination and despair. Fascination on the one hand, because many people really enjoy it, and the stars work extremely hard. Despair on the other hand, because the values are so clearly conservative, and therefore definitely political.
Astrid Peterle: Now, this theme isn’t exactly one of which one could maintain that one meets it often in the field of contemporary dance and performance. It seems to be part of the habitus of players in the contemporary art field to regard this music and the commercial apparatus behind it with contempt and a hostility bordering on disgust. Was it a challenge for you to oppose this segregation?
Doris Stelzer: I consider myself a contemporary artist, and therefore I deal with current issues and trends, to which Schlager and pop-folk belong. As mentioned before, motivation generally comes from my interest in a topic which I consider hot enough to deal with it, which ideally results in a piece. We have met with segregation and scepticism, and it encouraged us even more to take the matter seriously, and not to get stuck in persiflage, which apparently is very close. A counter question: Is the Schlager as a form of entertainment really so far removed from contemporary dance as we would like it to be?
Astrid Peterle: How did you delve into the topic? In the performance you are using, e.g., musical “readymades”.
Doris Stelzer: Getting into it and dealing with it took place on different levels: Concert visits in a national as well as an international context were obligatory. A meet-and-greet with stars, and on the legendary fan march many encounters with international fans and anti-fans. Theoretical studies in the sociological and music-ethnographic fields, and investigating the history of the Schlager – the term goes back even to the time of the operetta, and in the course of history and music history went through several stages. Together with Ondřej and Valerie, we studied, discussed, and physically processed lots of visual materials (official videos of concert and TV recordings as well as many fan videos and privately collected stuff). The materials came from the areas of star representation, fan reaction, and the adjacent field of values and references we defined. A strong physical starting point was “Schunkeln” (swaying back and forth to the beat) in its various dynamic stages from blissful, comforting swaying to mobilising party-schunkeln. The employment of music readymades in the performance originates in a consequent musical question: What does one add to or subtract from a Schlager, or how should one change it?
Astrid Peterle: You once said during rehearsal that “Love always goes!” In your opinion, what’s the difference between the theme of love in Schlager and pop-folk and in pop music? If one translates some lyrics of venerated pop classics into German, they aren’t so very much different from Hansi Hinterseer’s as one would surmise.
Doris Stelzer: Yes, I remember. That was when we talked about the Flemish Schlager, and about nature and the yearning for mountains, and the non-extant mountains in the Benelux countries. And “love” as a theme of songs of course works or is transported in all cultural contexts. Naturally there are differences, e.g., in Schlager love is always defined by heterosexual couples. Even if the texts appear to be similar, it takes more to make a Schlager. Here I’m following the ethnomusicologist Julio Mendivil – a Schlager is accepted by the Schlager audience when it moves within a certain bandwidth of criteria. This includes music, text, and first of all the person presenting it, who communicate certain values through its character and acting, mainly in order to be able to build up and maintain a certain fan culture.
Astrid Peterle: Talking about Hansi Hinterseer – he was a special source of inspiration for you?
Doris Stelzer: I dealt with Hansi Hinterseer mainly in the framework of my post-graduate course at a.pass in Belgium. I investigated his media person, his songs, his presence and actions regarding his fans, as well as his biography there. Then I put the lot of it in context with my own biography and identity, and then again in an international interdisciplinary context. I think I “failed” not just once. Then, while we were working on lasst uns träumen we expanded the circle and studied other pertinent examples: Andrea Berg, Stefanie Hertel & Stefan Mross, Helene Fischer and various child stars, individually or as couples.
Astrid Peterle: Is the joy Hinterseer fans experience during a concert any different from that of Rammstein or PJ Harvey fans?
Doris Stelzer: I don’t know. But I believe that there is a big difference in the way the joy is celebrated, and in the expectations regarding a concert. One rather attends a Rammstein concert in orcer to see the band and its stage show live. Schlager fans are aware that there is playback – which increases the familiar recognition value. At a Schlager concert one doesn’t want to be surprised so much. By the way, Schlager fans also are aware that there is no ideal world – but they are ready and willing to dream.
Astrid Peterle: With his performance Who is next? shown at Tanzquartier Janez Janša also thematised the restrictions art inflicts upon itself – what may be shown and what may not. Does lasst uns träumen take up the cudgels on behalf of the Schlager and pop-folk music in contemporary choreography?
Doris Stelzer: I believe that there are – and should be – no real no-gos in contemporary choreography any more. Maybe at first glance some topics are more accessible than others – lasst uns träumen rather is a plea not to search for one’s themes in ever the same areas, but to deal with apparent no-gos, too. It was a very exciting examination, but I’m also looking forward very much to address myself to something new.