By Claudia Siefen-Leitich

Emotions run parallel to bodily processes, signify the interpretation of identified and replicated bodily states and are externally recognisable by third parties. The approach has attempted to interpret emotions in purely neuronal and physiological terms. It should be noted, however, that an original bodily process is not necessary to talk about emotions. Since the bodily state is meaningful through interpretation and imitation, the bodily state is not interpreted each and every time. Doing such a task would be tedious. Replicating, in the sense of identifying a state and thus interpreting future states according to the image of the former, only simplifies the task.

In his latest film JUST BE THERE the austrian director Caspar Pfaundler carefully prepares the viewer by noting that in this film “the viewer will hear four languages, and there will be no subtitles”. Whoever actually reads this on the lower right edge of the screen is either in excited anticipation or is already nervously slipping back and forth. But during the 93 minutes that follow, an almost tender and happy sigh will run through the audience. I know. I was there.

So we dive into two renowned dance institutions – the Vienna State Ballet and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan – which Caspar Pfaundler, who studied Theatre Studies and Art History in Vienna, accompanied for several months. The focus is on the hard working bodies in movement, the facial expressions of faces, the sound and intonation of voices, in other words, everything that is told through bodies and by bodies. We see sweat flowing, red faces, hear feets stumping, and we remain almost exclusively in the rehearsal rooms between which the film moves back and forth and through which two very different forms of the same art form become visible. Pfaundler’s direction and editing makes contemporary and classical dance visible as hard physical work.

Thus, the sparse, traditional buildings of the State Opera, through whose windows one can see the no less charged facades of Vienna’s 1st district, stand next to the modern, mirrored training rooms of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, surrounded by palm trees; thus, the music carried only by piano music, meets a hybrid mixture of traditional pieces and contemporary compositions in the second institution; we see the concentrated dialogue work of choreographer Patrick de Bana with dancers Manuel Legris and Nina Poláková in contrast to the collective work of choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung with a whole ensemble on being in movement together.

So you can go back to Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, and James, too, in the bookshelf, where William James says that bodily changes precede emotions, that emotion is nothing other than the sensation of bodily change, i.e.:

I am happy because I am laughing.

With Pfaundler, you can change that with a clear conscience to:

I am there because I dance.

Shortly after the shooting, which took place between 2018 and 2019, the contracts of many Viennese dancers were not renewed after Manuel Legris was replaced as artistic director. A circumstance to which Pfaundler refers separately in the credits.

(I was lucky to see this film on the big screen during the “Diagonale – Festival of Austrian Film” in 2022.)

JUST BE THERE by Caspar Pfaundler; 10 Parts – Zehn Ausschnitte: http://www.justbethere.at/