Alexandra Bachzetsis

In her first institutional solo presentation, dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Alexandra Bachzetsis redefined the term show in the museum context. “SHOW” consisted of five evenings of performance spread across four weeks in the Oberlichtsaal of the Kunsthalle, which was transformed into a stage equipped with basic features like theater lights, props, and bleachers. During regular opening hours, the stage remained empty or was used for rehearsals that visitors were free to attend. Two smaller side rooms that served as backstage for the performers during the shows were also on display. One was equipped with a pole, a mirror wall, a CD player, and an animated pole-dancing instruction video; in the other, Bachzetsis’s first performance piece, Perfect, 2001, was screened on a monitor—the only one of her sixteen works so far presented here in a documentary format.

“SHOW” started with two performances of Dream Season, 2008, Bachzetsis’s latest work, which was conceived for both theater and museum contexts. It is a multimedia dance play that mimics the soap-opera format in three episodes and incorporates references to Dallas, The O.C., Desperate Housewives, and Sartre’s Huis Clos. Five stereotypical protagonists—an unsatisfied wife (Bachzetsis), her daughter by a previous partner, an imperious husband, a Latino employee, and his young, love-seeking sister—are caught up in an endless game of desire, seduction, jealousy, power, and abuse. There are always two levels of reality happening simultaneously onstage—that which is performed, and that which you see on a pair of monitors—creating dreamlike sequences in which fact and fantasy intersect and identities conflate. Mock title sequences choreographed with theme music mark the beginning and end of each episode, mixing emotion with commercialism.

Similarly physical yet also sharply analytical is the solo Gold, 2004. Squatting in front of a camera, the artist, in golden bikini, stilettos, gold chains, and body oil, exaggeratedly performs aggressively sexual moves while picking up one sheet after another from a stack of papers and crumpling each one. After the last sheet is discarded, she turns off the camera, puts the DVD of her just-completed performance in the player, lights a sparkler, and leaves. In the second part, the filmed performance is screened frontally from above to a riveting dance track, revealing the sheets to bear scribbled lyrics of songs like Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” Kelis’s “Milk Shake,” and Khia’s “My Neck My Back,” stressing the clichés of hip-hop and R&B as they shift between female power and pornography.

In her joyfully critical work, Bachzetsis not only extracts, uses, and reverses the signature motifs and production formats of the mainstream entertainment industry (television soaps, Hollywood movies, music videos, fashion shows, pole dancing, and striptease) through the contrasting aesthetics of avant-garde theater and modern dance—she does it all in high heels. Showdance, 2004, is a parade of fourteen self-conscious women (mostly friends and amateur dancers) who embody different types of female seduction, from Lolita to femme fatale, first individually and then in ensemble, in a distinct choreography to a DJ set while the audience is served champagne—a hedonistic celebration of womanhood, self-determined exhibitionism, and DIY glamour that culminates in a dance party where performers and audience mix. Handwerk (Handiwork), 2008, on the other hand, consciously frustrated voyeuristic expectations. Huddled in one of the small backstage areas, the audience witnesses dancers practicing on a pole, following a series of instructions (shown as a video of drawings, with pages turned by a hand) more acrobatic than seductive, while the stage and paid-for seats remain empty.

Eva Scharrer