When looking back through history, it seems that the most poignant, intense moments linger just before the outbreak of war. Martha Clarke, choreographer and theatrical visionary, recognize this trend and has expounded upon pre-war society in her production “Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited).” In her dramatic depiction of pre-World War I Vienna, Clarke unveils the subconscious thoughts of a society on the brink of collapse.
This weekend, audiences will experience the decadent and dismal world of Vienna in the early 20th century. The drama takes place in the Lusthaus, a sort of pleasure pavilion, in Vienna’s great Prater Park. With women dressed in scant Victorian undergarments and men decked out in full military uniform, Clarke presents the extremes of this society.
What distinguishes this piece from other theatrical productions is the lack of continuous interactive dialogue. Instead, Clarke lures us into a dream-like haze, through fragments of text, classical music, subtle gestures and expressive dance. This collaboration of art forms allows audience members to submerge themselves in this surreal world; a hallucination of our own fears and pleasures. What Clarke seeks to evoke is a sense of what is stirred up beneath ones’ conscious thoughts during this period of self-indulgence.
A trademark of this production is the fragmented monologues that filter through the performance. Playwright Charles Mee, co-creator of the production, incorporates historical texts including diary entries of the Hapsburg imperial family. Mee also layers in pieces of letters that Sigmund Freud wrote to his wife. “Vienna: Lusthaus (revisted)” takes place during the time when Freud published his theories about the human mind and its dream state. This provides the central focus of Clarke’s production: What was really going on the minds of these Europeans, living a life of frivolity amidst surrounding moral decay?
The original “Vienna: Lusthaus” premiered in 1986, in an off-Broadway church. Steeped in intense sexuality, the play sparked immediate controversy. However, it soon became established as one of the most courageous, honest pieces of dance-theater ever created. Now, seventeen years since its conception, Clarke brings to Ann Arbor a newly-developed, equally provocative “Vienna: Lusthaus (revisted).”
In addition to the performance, a roundtable discussion with Martha Clarke will be held at the Museum of Art this Saturday at 1 p.m.