Dance of folk

Austrian choreographer Simon Meyer presents ‘Sons of Sissy’.

Simon Meyer (photo credit: RANIA MOSLAM)
Simon Meyer
(photo credit: RANIA MOSLAM)
Like so many girls and boys around the world, Simon Meyer was introduced to movement and choreography by means of traditional folk dance.
Growing up in Austria, yodeling and traditional dance were common practices, and Meyer found himself naturally drawn into the ranks of a local folk dance troupe. From his time executing swift sequences of footwork and formations, Meyer, about to turn 33 years old, moved on to contemporary dance and choreography. However, it is his roots that inspired the extensive research and creation process of Sons of Sissy, a group work that will open the annual Diver Festival next week.
“I started with folk dance and yodeling very early. I was in this culture. I forgot about it for many years; but then, when I arrived in Brussels at P.A.R.T.S., I rediscovered it. There were a lot of other students who did folk dances like Bollywood and tango, and they were taken very seriously. But whenever I would start doing Austrian folk dances, people would laugh,” Meyer recounts from Switzerland, where he was presenting a new group work for five dancers.
Faced with giggles and bafflement, Meyer began to wonder about the place of folk dance in society and why his nation’s movement practices rendered such an opposite response to those of others.
“It was not so popular, and I started to question why this was and why the humor factor was there. I like humor, but there is something very deep in this ritual, even though people don’t practice it that way. I got interested in folk dance in Austria and outside, and I found it has to do with rituals, costumes, and that what is considered Austrian folk music is not only Austrian but also has similarities with others from way before, going back to biblical rituals,” he explains.
The deeper he dug, the more universal the themes became.
“There are specific forms, circular movements, jumping and hitting thighs that I saw over and over in folk dances from around the world. A scholar from the Netherlands did research on yodeling and found that it exists all over the world. I began to see that all these nationalistic and patriotic behaviors about folk dance and rituals are not really valid anymore.
Folk dance was very much misused by all the Nazi propaganda. It has nothing to do with country or borders or identification of a race but much more something that we all share, that we all come from,” he elaborates.
Sons of Sissy followed a solo that Meyer presented last year at the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam called Sunbengsitting. The work is performed by a cast of four and includes choreographic composition, as well as live music. For about half of the piece, the entire cast is naked.
“In the solo and in Sons of Sissy, I wanted to create a much more universal folk dance rather than presenting something from my country, my region. The same goes for the costumes… I was thinking a lot about what to wear in these performances. Somehow, I didn’t want to be representative of a certain region with the costumes. I was thinking of what costume could fit best to something we all share.
And I thought nudity, to be naked, is the only universal traditional costume that we have. It is the connection between all us humans.
The human traditional costume.
That’s why we chose to be naked for half the piece, and the costume designer created something that is like that,” he says.
Of course, nudity and folk dance do not usually meet one another.
We are accustomed to see the colorful and intricate costumes of each region paraded around by the dancers. However, here we receive none of the pomp and all the circumstance. The nude element is one that cannot be denied or ignored and often is the first thing audiences comment on with Sons of Sissy.
“You get all kind of reactions,” laughs Meyer. “There are places where people don’t react at all because they’re used to seeing contemporary dance pieces, and lately they all are naked. I performed these two pieces on my brother’s farm in my hometown in Austria, which is in the country. I was naked on stage in front of my grandmother, neighbors, parents – all the people who watched me grow up. That made me a little bit more nervous. Also, the folk dance group that I was part of were present in the audience, as well as another group that taught me traditional whiplashing. They were really confronted with it. There are people who really try to protect the traditions. What they think they’re doing is protecting the tradition, but what they’re doing is preventing it from progressing. It is folk dance. It comes from folk, and the folk is always changing,” he says.
Simon Meyer will present ‘Sons of Sissy’ on August 31 at Habait Theater in Jaffa.
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