Willi Dorner is an artist and choreographer. Lisa Rastl is a photographer. They are married and live in Vienna, Austria. Since 2006, they have been engaged in a project called Bodies in Urban Spaces, site-specific performances for groups of dancers that lead audiences on meandering processions through the streets of various cities. Along these trails, the dancers, who wear brightly colored sweatsuits, interact with features in the built environment. They use porticoes, awnings, balconies, thresholds, windows, railings, and light posts in ways that their shapes might suggest to the body, but for which these implements were certainly not intended.
The performances have some kinship to parkour, but rather than indulging in hair-raising feats of derring-do, they assume an inquisitive and critical stance: The dancers wedge themselves in gaps, hang themselves from ledges, drape themselves across steps, plaster themselves to walls, and assume other interrogatory postures that appear both uncomfortable and humorous.
Humorous, that is, to some. Others are quite offended. As Dorner explained to AN, “We are sometimes approached by people who are quite upset by what we are doing, and they get aggressive with us.” Yet others take the opportunity to grab a selfie with the odd dance troupe, rightly recognizing an opportunity to hook in Instagram likes and followers. The municipalities themselves—Bodies in Urban Spaces has run in 110 cities so far—have also taken notice and responded with varying degrees of regulation. In the beginning, the performances were not announced. Timed with festivals, they’d merely pick up what following they could attract.
Now, permissions must be obtained to avoid disciplinary actions. In the U.K., sheets must be handed out to audience members with instructions on how to move and behave. This authoritative control of what was originally a spontaneous happening is a bummer. It also proves the subversiveness of the performance and, hopefully, encourages us to think in new ways about freedom and public space.