- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

No Austrian dance company has visited here in more than 30 years, but that is about to change. Tomorrow “Beyond the Waltz,” a small festival with big ideas, begins a nine-day celebration sponsored by the Austrian Embassy.

Two years in planning, the modest venture has wide-ranging, ambitious goals.

“Beyond the Waltz” opens with a program that provides historic perspective: new dances by five contemporary choreographers paying tribute to an early 20th century innovator, Hanna Berger.

Recently, Austria has seen a dance explosion and two Vienna-based companies — led by Bernd R. Bienert and Willi Dorner — are bringing full evening programs as well. Altogether 15 dancers, choreographers, speakers and support staff are arriving from Vienna for the festival.

In addition, says the embassy’s cultural attache, Margareta Ploder, “We wanted to encourage dialogue and exchange, not just present a showcase of Austrian companies. That’s why we invited two Washington-based choreographers, Nejla Yatkin and Dana Tai Soon Burgess, to present evenings of their work as well.”

Most performances will take place in the new Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theater (4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW) at 7:30 p.m. Performances are free and open to the public, but reservations are required. (To reserve seats, call 202/895-6776; for a complete schedule and further information log onto www.acfdc.org.)

Washington-based dance critic and historian George Jackson, who grew up in Vienna, played an important role in the program’s planning.

Although she is clearly a dance fan — as is Ambassador Eva Nowotny, who danced in her youth and will open the festival — Mrs. Ploder says Mr. Jackson’s knowledge of both the American and Austrian dance scene was invaluable to them in their planning. To aid in the dialogue, he will also moderate the discussions scheduled after each performance.

Mrs. Ploder also credits the input of Austrian dance historian Andrea Amort, who initiated the historic opening program and will narrate it.

Mr. Bienert’s company, which performs Friday, has its roots in classical ballet but takes off from there with works that include video and collaborations with visual artists, architects, composers and writers. He has created “Hippolyto,” a world premiere, for the occasion.

Mr. Dorner, whose approach has been described as “highly intellectual and deliciously witty,” brings two recent works to his program Nov. 6 at the Greenberg and Nov. 8 at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

The two Washington choreographers will present their work on separate programs. Miss Yatkin on Wednesday at the Greenberg includes a dance set to a poem by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Mr. Burgess, appearing at the embassy Nov. 7, has created a premiere for the occasion to the music of Mozart and dedicated it to the Austrian Embassy.

The embassy has been active in presenting classical and contemporary music, but this project was a new experience.

“We have never tried anything on this scale before,” Mrs. Ploder says. “When we conceived the festival we thought we would do it at the embassy. That was very naive — we found there’s a huge difference between presenting musicians and a dance company.”

If this festival is a success, the embassy would consider repeating it in a year or two, she says. Other embassies are eyeing it as a possible model. Who knows where this dance may lead?

WHAT: Austrian Dance Festival “Beyond the Waltz”

WHEN: Tomorrow through Nov. 8

WHERE: Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW, the Austrian Embassy and the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage

TICKETS: Free, but reservations are required

PHONE: 202/895-6776

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