Ballet Meets Electronica in Vienna

Ballet invokes images of lithe young women spinning and leaping in their gauzy tutus. Ballet makes one hear a swelling orchestral pit commanded by a maestro donned in tails. The farthest thing from our thoughts is thumping electronic music, which we often associate with a very different type of dance.

Gustavo Woltmann is one young dancer turned choreographer who is attempting to mix the classic dance with the new youthful form of music to create his own engaging blend.

I met Gustavo Woltmann at his studio in Vienna. He is an energetic young man, whose enthusiasm for dance, music and life radiates from him.

Briefly giving me a tour of the studio, Gustavo stops near the dressing room to point out one of the pictures on the wall. A towheaded gap toothed little toddler stands dramatically in front of The Opera in Paris, France. He describes seeing Romeo and Juliet there when he was four years old and being instantly bitten by the dance bug.
This was a picture from that red letter night.

“My desire to dance started then and just progressively became bigger and bigger. I was very young, probably four or five years old. I remember naively bragging to my schoolmates that I was going to be the next Baryshnikov and receiving some very confused looks. The other boys wanted to be astronauts or soccer players and I was dreaming of dancing the lead in Don Quixote”, Gustavo told me.

Gustavo describes his early days as a young dancer with bittersweet nostalgia. His family was forced to frequently move due to his father’s profession as a concert violinist and Gustavo was unable to peruse his dance career to the level he desired because of this. He longed to mature in a dance school where he could fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

“I think my mother and father could sense my disappointment in not being able to stay at one dance school so they put a violin in my hands.”

Gustavo’s linage is one rooted in classical music, his father and many generations prior being from Vienna, Austria. Asking an adolescent boy to play the violin instead of dance, is a “fool hearty solution” according to Gustavo.

“I found it very boring.” He puts it simply.

After finally settling back in their home town of Vienna, Gustavo Woltmann was able to discover his niche within dance as an independent choreographer. His career has been successful, he adapted a version of La Bayadere for a local company, which was received with rave reviews.

Now he is the director of an innovative new ballet titled, Cycles that has toured in Austria, Czech Republic and France. This ballet however, is not an adaptation, but a completely original piece by Gustavo.

To describe Cycles is difficult: it’s a visceral and completely unique ballet. Gustavo taken classic ballet, in it’s traditional and orthodox form and combined it with modern themes and music.

We have seen modern ballet danced to modern music, but to watch classic ballet juxtaposed with a polar opposite counter part is a bold choice made by Gustavo Woltmann.

I asked him about how he came to this decision:

“Dance is universal. People love it, kids love, old people love it. I was at a dance club in Vienna one night, watching the young people swarm the dance floor. Some of them spastically gyrated, but most of them moved beautifully, they reminded me ballet dancers. The soundtrack they danced to was club music of course, simplistic electronic percussive driven beats. The idea to meld the two came to me very suddenly and I ran home to write it all down. And here I am.”

In the formative stages of Cycles, Gustavo was reaching out to his friends and fellow dancers to assist him in bringing his dream to fruition. One of those initial reach out’s was to his good friend, Michel Rint, a local Austrian DJ who goes by the name, DJ Kvass. 

“I thought he was nuts. I’d heard of modern, contemporary ballet using stuff like Philip Glass or John Cage, but to use house music with traditional ballet? I didn’t think it could be done.”

After a year of collaboration, Michel and Gustavo were able to score the ballet. One element they had to come to an interesting compromise on, was the presence of a live DJ.

Our choreographer felt as though it would be too reminiscent of a conductor, a classic feel he was desperately trying to avoid.

Michel argued it would give electronic and techno music more respect, showing that it wasn’t just a matter of hitting play on a boom box, that a human being was responsible for the music.

Michel sits behind a pair of turntables for most of the performances now and it certainly does give the show a heightened level of entertainment.

One similarity that kept running through my mind during my interview with Gustavo at his studio was Baz Lurman’s film, Romeo and Juliet. The Shakespearian play is adapted for modern time in setting, costume and music but the original text stays the same. I mention this to Gustavo and his eyes lit up.

“That’s exactly what I want to do!”

To bring a classic art form, whether it is ballet or Shakespeare to an audience of young people is not an easy feat. In a world of quickly evolving fads and trends, asking a young person to please consider the works of an artist 100 years dead is a demand that would surely fall on deaf ears.

Gustavo has discovered a way to open up a world to a new audience through the use of his modern electronic score.

“Ballet isn’t for old ladies. Ballet is exciting and sexy and dramatic. People just have preconceived notions that they won’t get rid of. Cycles is attempting to shatter those stereotypes. Kids that go out to dance clubs and spend all night on the dance floor can relate to a ballet dancer more than they know. Cycles shows the audience that the world of ballet isn’t such a far away place. It can live anywhere.”

Feel free to contact GUSTAVO by sending him an email at
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