There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

– Donald Rumsfeld

 I am curious what unknown Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods is venturing into with Violet that I saw at HAU 2 on October 30, 2013.  The program states that “Stuart once again ventures into the unknown.”  I would agree that she “has banished the socio-emotional issues that have coloured her previous pieces in order too concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract.”(from the program)  The other pieces I have seen by her, Replacement and Do Animals Cry, dealt a lot with social and emotional issues as far as I could tell.

Is Violet a venture into the unknown in terms of logic, tool, or aesthetic?  To concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract is not venturing into the unknown.  That realm of inquiry has been and continues to be heavily investigated.  Maybe the unknown refers to not knowing the results of a predetermined process.  As someone who also makes performance work, I am curious to know what the known knowns and the known unknowns are in this piece.  In other words, what was set(predetermined) and what was not(determined in the moment).  I am guessing that the upstage line of five dancers was known; that they would undergo solo states work was known; that the diagonal of  dancers from downstage right to upstage center stage was known; that the V shape of dancers was known; that the rolling clump of bodies was known.

I do not have an issue with elements, phrases, locations, etc. being predetermined in a piece.  But if the first sentence in the explicative text in the program talks about venturing into the unknown, I want that unknown to be defined.  Are the kinespheric processes unknown?  Are the spatial configurations that will arise unknown?  Is the sound unknown?  Or are they using known processes to discover something unknown.

However the piece is constructed and whatever the choreographer’s intentions may be, I appreciated the events on stage as they gave me a framework upon which I could lay some of my own questions about performance.  Simply put, I would say that Violet is a quintet of “balls to the wall” solos that are attempting to walk the fine line between ignoring the group and composing spatially with the group.  Watching the performance through that lens, I could think about my work with Lower Left.  The Ensemble Thinking work, as spatially clarifying and enlightening as it is, sometimes robs the dancer of a wild solo body.  The outward focus on the group’s spatial relationships can stultify the individual’s expression.  Violet, as I viewed it, is an inspirational, though not completely successful, step in the direction of co-mingling the wild low-brained body with a conscious and refined spatial awareness.  I say unsuccessful because several times I saw dancer’s “drop out” of their solo body work and shift their location to complete a line or angle in space.  Another point (and this might be a bit nit-picky) but the dancers used their right arms much more than their left arms to initiate and investigate movement.

The music by Brendan Dougherty does “produce a dense wall”.  At its loudest, which is a good chunk of the time, the music I found overwhelmed the dance.  Volume, in my opinion, is sometimes used for instant gravitas.  The dancers’ movement became insignificant beneath the weight of the sound.  At one point, a dancer screamed.  I couldn’t hear her through all the racket.  I could merely see the indication of a scream, a grimacing visage.  Quite an image if you want to use a social-emotional lens, even stronger if you add the lenses of race and gender – a white male making so much noise the scream of a small Asian female cannot be heard.  But we are in the kinetic and abstract so forget that interpretation.  Despite the volume, I enjoyed the music.

The large brown wall in the back looked like it was tacked on.  It was quite large but not large enough to envelope the theater/stage space and create a “space” within.  From where I was sitting I could not see enough of a reflection in it to give me another perspective on the events on stage.  The brown wall did, though, reflect the visible light spectrum nicely.  Everyone likes a rainbow.

In explaining the title Violet, Stuart says that “Violet is the last colour in the spectrum, before ultraviolet, before the unknown, before the imperceptible.”  Violet maybe the last color in the visible light spectrum right before ultraviolet.  But it is not before the unknown.  After ultraviolet rays are x-rays, gamma rays, and finally cosmic rays.  Granted everything after the violet is imperceptible to the human eye and therefore, in a sense, imperceptible.  Though we can sense prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays after the fact – sunburn.  But is she saying that something known but not perceptible with our five senses is actually unknown.  Is the body the ultimate arbiter of known and unknown?  If so, then why have the loud music and the brown wall?  Let’s enjoy sweaty, spinal, rolling, screaming, walking, falling, running, shaking, flinging bodies for their own sake.

She is right, though.  Violet is a great name for a rock band.  Too bad these guys got it.



by Ana Dubljevic, Dusan Brocic, Igor Koruga, Jovana Rakic Kiselcic, Ljiljana Tasic, and Marko Milic



A few thoughts and words about a performance I saw and participated in this past Saturday in Studio 5 at the Uferstudios –

From the program – the performance’s aim is create “a space and ‘community’ to discuss and question problems of the current and potential local dance scene in Belgrade…”  Another aim was “to form a temporary communicational community with the spectators”.

After the audience sat down on six little islands of blankets, one of the performers said that one side(or three of the islands) of the audience would play charades and the other side would receive snacks.  When someone  guessed the word or phrase, he or she was able to select a food item from a nearby cart.  The food was also for sale (capitalism, anyone?!?)  All fine and good, but she or he was not supposed to share the food with anyone else.  The non charade playing side would then select which number from a list of nine cultural-artistic programs most fit the charade word.  This process was repeated until each number of the list had been selected.  Some of the words/phrases were – United We Stand, Readiness is All, Hospitality, Mediation.

The rules about how to get food from the cart changed slightly after some round.  After I guessed the phrase, United We Stand, for example, I had to form a chain with my group to reach the cart which had been wheeled away from our seating area.  I took a cake, two plates of sandwiches, and some plastic cups.  Before I reached the cart, one of the performers wheeled the cart away even further.  A quick and inadequate description of the piece, I know.  But I do not want to recall the events for you.  You should go see the piece if you can.

This piece, as it is about the conditions in Belgrade, made me, an English speaking American, think about growing up in a non-English speaking communist environment.  The gesture used in charades to indicate that the word was English was the thumbs-down gesture.  Thumbs down can be read as indicating bad or of little value.  The gesture to indicate another language was to point behind one’s self with the thumb.  If we are to read the thumbs down as “English is bad”, do we then read the other gesture as “All other languages are backwards or in the past”?

The random allocation of resources, i.e. who gets the food, at the beginning – a simulacrum of the granting process run by cities and governments, maybe?

The rule, which was pretty quickly broken, of not being able to share food with people in your group or between groups was supposed to create some discord and feelings of inequality, I am guessing.

The changing rules of how people are supposed to get food – a vestigial remnant of the shifting governments in the Balkan region, perhaps.

Although in the program it states that the piece “can confront serious and social art issues”, the piece did not really confront me with those topics.  I could see how the topics were indicated, but the atmosphere was too comfortable for confronting serious issues.  If the seating areas were raised and separated by lights so that audience members would have to traverse through a spatial and light barrier, people might be less likely to break the rules.  If we had actually run out of time and not been able to guess the word in one round of charade, I might have felt more of an edge to the piece.  If people who did guess the word and got to pick an item from the food cart were moved to a separate area so they would have to cross the stage to share their resource, they might be less likely to share.  I wonder how the theater in Belgium will be arranged.

Due to time constraints, I was not able to stay till the end of the performance, so I do not know how it ended.

Three pieces of the Cultural-Artistic Program that I was most drawn to are the choreographed duet that was done once with round loaves of bread and another time with a different song and bananas; the accumulated line of people rocking forward and back.  It could have stayed in that line longer, in my opinion; and the simulation of people at the starting line of a foot race.

I wish I could go to Kortrjik to see how the piece develops and how the audience participates.

On Orientations | one place after

On Orientations | one place after
An Kaler
Studio 5 Uferstudios, Berlin
A little Q & A –
Why were there the evenly space strings attached to the floor upstage and the ceiling downstage?  To create an upward trajectory from upstage to downstage for the eye, maybe.  The angle of the strings relative to the front of the stage also creates a sense of movement.
Why to horizontal fluorescent tubes upstage?  Maybe to emphasis low upstage horizontality, a strong theme in the piece.  A Flavin reference, maybe.  Or are fluorescent tubes are just the current electromagnetic trend?
Why wear pants that are the same color and tone as the floor?  An attempt to make the legs blend in with the floor to negate verticality, perhaps.
The idea of this piece and the concept of the series – to explore “different notions of orientation” is one I enjoy.  I have often wondered about dance terminology (at least in English) in relation to the human form in space.  The term floor work, for example.  Floor work tends to be when the body is not vertical and the pelvis is close to or on the floor.  But unless the dancer is levitating all dancing is floor work.  Except for jumping.  But it’s impossible to jump and land without the floor.  So maybe everything is floor work except for what happens in the air.
I also appreciate that the performer never came to standing.  What percentage of dances consist of vertical or mostly vertical dancers?  90%? 95%?  Probably more. What I found disappointing was the lack of interrogation of what the body can do in a primarily horizontal position.  She didn’t explore the body itself and how it moves through its kinesphere and through space enough to challenge the idea of verticality.  Maybe this is what the phrase in the program “…conceiving of stillness as motion/emotion.”  was referring to.   But then, here again, the performer wasn’t still enough long enough to generate an emotion in me.  Attempting something that is normally seen vertically in the horizontal plane would have more strongly challenge the normative spatial orientation of verticality.  This, though, might come across as too “compare and contrast” and not poetic/artistic enough.
One statement in the program I am curious about – “Linking spatiality with temporality On Orientations | one place after…” This piece can’t link two things that are already linked.  Space and time are inexorably linked.  Maybe that statement is meant to indicate a problematizing of the space-time relationship.  This I did not see.  The stretches of stillness and the low verticality might have been Kaler’s attempt to question the space-time relationship.  Since space and time are linked, questioning one means the other is being questioned.  But the stretches of stillness in the Berlin dance scene are standard.  Unlinking space and time would be something to see!
Granted it has been almost a year since I saw Kaler’s trio at Uferstudios last summer and a while since I saw this solo, but I think both pieces have a very similar spatial trajectory.  Both pieces started downstage left, curved upstage to stage right, came downstage, back upstage and then moved towards center stage.  Is this an intentional choreographic decision to create a spatial theme for several pieces?  Is this a somatic spatial response to performing front of an audience?  I prefer the former to the latter.  I didn’t see the third piece in the series so didn’t get that data to help me understand Kaler’s spatial proclivities.  I wish I had been able to see it.

Seven Thirty in Tights

Seven Thirty In Tights
April 28th 2013 at Sophiensaele
“Picture the ballroom dance of the future.  Imagine this dance and its consequences are the result of an intense physical dialogue between dancers – an interaction of distinct group decisions in which all react to the impulses of the others and have to find answers in a split second.  Now imagine this dance was a political practice.” – from the program
I saw another piece by Frédéric Gies several years ago and I had the same problem with this one as I did that one.  He adds too many other elements to the stage space that the physical actions lose value or I can’t tell what he values about them.  The last performance had explicitly stated BMC exercises paired with music by Madonna and a large rug like object hanging from the ceiling upstage.  I don’t have or remember the program notes from that piece, so I can’t say what Gies’ goal was in juxtaposing those elements together.
With this piece, he wants us to picture the ballroom dance of the future.  The dance we see is a group tuning score about decision making and reacting to others, i.e. improvising.  By asking us to view a type of event that is very much of the present (group improvisation) as the ballroom dance of the future, is he saying that in the future scored group improvisation will be a rigid codified form of dance.  Looking at another form of group decision making and reacting, the contact improvisation jam, we are well on our way.  Contact Improvisation is all but a codified social dance with defined movements and roles.  But Gies and company were not engaging in contact improvisation, at least not in the normative sense of contact improvisation.  But as they were improvising and coming in and out of contact, the performers in Seven Thirty In Tights could be viewed as engaging in contact improvisation.  After all who determines the tools used in a performance – the doers or the viewers?!!?
For me this piece suffered from a flat ontology.  All elements had equal value.  The physicality didn’t change that much through out the 60 minute plus.  The dancers came in and out of manual contact, dancing alone or facing each other.  There was some change in tempo, initiated mostly by the female all dressed in red.  Well, maybe the elements didn’t have equal value, but I felt that there was so much sensorial noise generated by all the non-dance considerations of the piece, that I couldn’t help but be preoccupied by wondering about the reasons for those elements, thus lowering for the valorization of the corporeal elements.  I tried to enjoy the physical actions of the performers (and there were some well trained people performing whom I have enjoyed watching in other performances) but I couldn’t get past the neon lights, the costumes, the tape on the floor, and the program notes.
The physical practice in the piece was not of the future, so maybe the tights, the lights and the tape indicating the 4th wall are elements from the future.  But colored fluorescent tubes (a possible Flavin reference?), non-proscenium stage spaces and tights are also not of the future.  So is it then the combination of group real time spontaneous composition with the, lighting, costuming, and staging that create the ballroom dance of the future?  Or is it up to us, the viewers who have read the program to picture the dance of the future, inspired by the elements presented? (Representation, once again rears its ugly head!)
Another element of the program statement that lowered the valorization of the corporeal elements of the performance was the directive to imagine the dance as a political practice.  I felt that in order to do that more fully and in the direction that the choreographer intended I should have attended the lecture by Sylvie Tissot that took the day before I attended the performance.  Was this piece a political practice because it was more improvised than choreographed?  Was this piece a political practice because the individuals were able to make their own decisions within a larger set of considerations?  Political because tax dollars are supporting the work?  Who determines the politics – the doers or the viewers?
In summation – I did see some dancing I enjoyed[*], solo body and group, but the staging and sartorial choices were too aesthetically noisy overwhelming the dancing itself.  The program notes were too generic and could be applied to any dance, performance, or sporting event for than matter.  Maybe instead of generic, I should say open.  But for me the program notes/framing/contextualization were way too open.  Isn’t part of the artist’s job to focus our attention?

[*]When the group rotated through space along the perimeter of the performance space delineating the boundary between audience and performers.
When the group came to a long diagonal…Doris Humphrey is right!  
When in a long line the dancers changed location within the line.

A Few Thoughts on

 After Trio A
Andrea Bozic
19:30 7.12.12
Why did the female performer follow the male performer?
Why did she wear short sleeves and he long sleeves? Is that a reference to the phallus?
Why did she wear Nike and he Adidas?
Why did her shoe laces match her shirt, but this was not the case for the male performer?
Interpretation…always confusing…how are we supposed to know which elements to interpret?  And how? And if the piece is intended to be interpreted at all?
All that aside – The energies of the performers were quite different.  She approached the process of following a video of him following a video of Trio A danced by Rainer with much a much more task-oriented energy.  When I watched him I felt that he was performing personality more than following the process.  His energy was flying out to the audience instead of being channeled into the attempt to following the choreography.
But it is almost irrelevant, in my opinion, that the choreography from Trio A was used.  Any choreography would suffice.  As someone who is interested in the spectrum of deliberation in relation to choreography and improvisation and how a dancer responds to visual input, I am more interested in the process of instantaneous recreation than what the material is that is being recreated than the fact that Trio A was used.  The choreographer was asked to make a new work in relation to an historical piece and she chose Trio A.  Not a bad choice, I say, being a fan of the piece.  Also using such an iconic piece as a reference gives instant gravitas to this piece.

I am more interested in watching the body/mind of the dancer puzzle out the pathways in the moment, giving it the old college try and not commenting on it during it.  For this reason, for me Lito was more engaging, and truer to the spirit of Trio A, than Felix.

I hope you die soon

Well…how to begin?
During the last performance I saw at HAU 1, Les Petites Morts – i hope you die soon, I was inspired to write glib and non-glib responses to what I was seeing.  After writing them up and other thoughts about the work, I re-read it and read it to my wife.  She asked my why I wanted to write what I did.  I could have spent the time writing a grant.  
After going through the personal cathartic reasons, I articulated that I wrote it to practice articulating my responses articulately to other artists’ work. Apart from personal articulation practice, I believe that more dance/movement/performance artists should be publicly articulating their responses to each other’s work.  Maybe many are and I just don’t know the URLs.
When I still lived in the Bay Area in California, I was speaking with a friend about a mutual aquaintance and the difficulty she was having writing reviews.  My friend thought that because she, the mutual aquaintance, was also a dancer that she shouldn’t be writing reviews.  Why not?  Should opinions about work be reserved only for impartial non dancers?  Why shouldn’t we all be talking about the work?  I think this deference to outside opinions is dangerous.  I am not saying that non-makers should not have opinions about dance and performance, but they shouldn’t have the last word.
So, back to Les Petites Morts – i hope you die soon.   What did I think of it?  The performers, Angela  Schubot and Jared Gardinger, were very invested and engaged in their piece.  I really enjoyed the beginning.  It was a nice take on the typical contemporary dance beginning.  Instead of standing there and letting us see them and see that they are seeing us, they were laying down.  The small subtle movements, seemingly random, that resolved into symetrical and held (pre-determined?) shapes.  It allowed for the first step of blurrig the corporeal boundaries – moments of wondering whose limb was whose.  Hardly a new device, but enjoyable, nonetheless. 
The breathing that kicked in about 20 minutes into the piece at first made me very conscious of my own breath, but quickly became comical.  They sustained the breathing for too long and coupled with the exaggerated looks on their face, reminded me of zombies in a B movie.  Yes, I understood the representation of blurring boundaries between bodies and dissolving the self with the breathing – what I exhale you inhale and vice versa.  But they didn’t offer me any other opinion or extend the metaphor in a new way.  I can think of other more interesting ways of de-bordering bodies – 
fecal transplants, organ transplants, blood donations or attempting to become Siamese twins?
My reaction to this piece could also be my aversion to the topic itself.  Death and dying are much too grand, ubiquitos, (dare I say old-fashioned or classical?!?), and serious to deal with seriously.  I prefer Woody Allen’s movie Love and Death for these topics.  This might be kind of morbid but I could not get invested in a piece about death and dying knowing that there was no chance of an actual death.  This is also related to my issue with theater as opposed to dance.
It’s all pretend.

TanzNacht Berlin 2012

TanzNacht Berlin 2012
Insignificant Others
(Learning To Look Sideways)
An Kaler
What I read in the program: Together separately. Separately together.  How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?  Three performers share a moment on stage.  They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.  Through a series of interrupted yet connected sequences and situations a space is created in which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.
What I saw: a generic contemporary dance.  They started standing in silence.  They shifted slowly as the computer generated music with cracks, whistles and pops grew louder and louder.
Another reason I say generic is the type of movement.  Though quite articulate and adept at it, the dancers didn’t offer much in terms of kinespheric originality as they stayed with the elbow initiated limp wrist movement that is quite fashionable.
Spatially, the dancers tended to be upstage and face away from the audience.  Quite a lot of time was spent far stage left in the unlit section of the performance space.  Was this a somatic spatial response to the audience or intentionally done to contrast the two moments when the three dancers were center stage?
One thing I like to watch when I watch ice-skating is when the skaters fall.  Not out of a desire for schadenfreude, but I like to see how they react to an unscripted moment. I am guessing that Insignificant Othersis improvised or scored with landmarks and therefore mostly unscripted.  A moment that I perceived as very unscripted was when one of the dancers, mid thrash, bonked against one of the lighting supports.  Two other very unscripted moments involved two dancers almost colliding.  Did these near collisions happen because the dancers were so involved in their own processes that they became unaware of the others on stage?  Maybe this is the insignificant others bit. Ahh…and the (learning to look sideways) is that they aren’t directly relating to each other, but mostly responding to each other’s movement as opposed to other Viewpoints.  But then they do take similar shapes when standing in front of the hanging rectangles.
Compositionally this piece was coherent.  The movement ebbed and flowed.  The music got louder, quieter, and came in occasional bursts.  The lighting shifted and repeated.  There were three dancers and three rectangles.  So in that sense the piece held together.
But what didn’t work for me was the use of space by the dancers.  I didn’t see a compositional choice (except in the two times of stillness center stage) but nerves and adrenaline causing the dancers to shrink back and away from the audience.  Also, the piece was too long.  Maybe I am too American and my sitzfleisch is not so developed.  But I think it is more that I am a dancer.  After seeing people flailing about articulately for 20 minutes, my mirror neurons are full and I want to get up and join in.
Some notes –
“How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?” – Is this a rhetorical question?  How about Viewpoints, Laban, amount of sweat, sound, sight, video, photography, Ensemble Thinking, touch, pressure und so weiter?
“…which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.” – a fancy way of saying the piece is improvised
“They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.” – Another reason I say that this piece is “of the genus”.  Can’t this be said about almost any piece?  Especially the ambiguous part?
Laurent Chétouane
What I read in the program: The French director Laurent Chétouane has developed a unique language for dance.  The six choreographies, developed over the course of the last few years, speak for themselves.  Each new encounter with a dancer challenged and enriched the vocabulary of the work.  For the TANZNACHT BERLIN 2012, five of the seven dancers who worked with Chétouane during this period lend their bodies to this language and give insights into their understanding and interpretation of the collaborative works, the shared ideas and the time they spent during rehearsals.
What I saw: Six dancers, not five. One Idea of line or semi circle giving focus to a solo.  I remember one multilevel tableau instead of a line giving focus.  Mostly the solos began and the ensemble would recognize that and create a Hot Spot for the solo. (Some might recognize the Ensemble Thinking vocabulary I am using.)  Every dancer in the group had a solo before dancers went for another solo.  The two dancers in purple had the most solos and the male dancer with long hair in green had, sadly, the fewest.  Maybe he’s the new guy. 
Also saw an odd mandibular action, mostly with the two dancers in purple.  Everyone had their mouths open, and some occasionally moved their mandibles.  Several times the soloists would break out in a funny grin, causing a tittering in the audience.  These smiles were reminiscent of smiles I have seen during group faculty improvisations at festivals when everyone knows it’s headed downhill.  Maybe this use of smiles was a distillation of that phenomenon and commentary on improvisations headed south.
What kept this piece from being generic was that it stuck with the same score for the entire time and kept running through the permutations of soloist and ensemble.  Group improvisations frequently churn through so many scores, ideas, and movement themes (I have been in many of those!) and it was nice to see one that stuck to its guns, or gun, as the case maybe.  But if they were going to stick with one score, they could have been a bit more adventurous in their investigation of it and expression with it.
This piece, too, was coherent – people running through the permutations of a score.  No rabbits popping out of hats, or balloons appearing from pockets or other such non-sequitur surprises.  Though, the mandible jiggle, like the three rectangles in Kaler’s piece, why?
A note – the last soloist before they repeated at one point had her left leg out to the side and rotated it to an arabesque as she rotated right.  A beautiful moment!


My issue with both pieces, was not so much the performances themselves, but how they were framed.  The descriptions could fit most any piece out there.  Kaler’s was “ambiguous”, dealing with the “present moment” and “what comes next”.  Chétoune’s was about collaboration, sharing ideas, and time spent rehearsing.

If the framing doesn’t elucidate how these pieces are more than just iterations of our current genre of dance, then the pieces do not become anything more than an aesthetic experience.  Either you like it or you don’t.  Maybe that is what the creators are after – contemporary dance as entertainment.

Some thoughts on Tanz Plattform 2012 in Dresden

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate to go to Tanz Plattform 2012 in Dresden.  Tanz Plattform is an event that happens every two years.  It is like APAP in New York.  But as I have never been to APAP, I can’t be sure.  The event in Dresden was primarily for curators from festivals around Europe to see work of the who’s who of German dance.  Not sure why the who’s who needs an event like this, but that is another discussion. 

I was able to go because my school organized a trip.  €50 got me a round-trip train ticket, a hostel room and breakfast for four nights and tickets to ten shows.  Not a bad deal.  Yeah, socialism!

Of the performances happening in five theater in two different location, I was able to see (in no particular order) For Faces by Anonia Behr, Horizon(s) by Laurent Chétoune; N.N.N.N by William Forsythe; Abdrücke by Anna Konjtzky; Berlin Elsewhere by Constanza Macras; Cover Up by Mamaza; Dance For Nothing by Eszter Salamon; Revolver Besorgen by Helena Waldmann; Métamorphoses by Sasha Waltz; and Baader – Choreographie einer Radikalisierung by Christoph Winkler.

Of those performances I would categorize Abdrücke, Berlin Elsewhere, Cover Up, Revolver Besorger, and Baader as theater.  Horizon(s), N.N.N.N., Métamorphoses, Dance for Nothing, and For Faces as dance.  These categorizations are based upon the rubric that theater is dealing with, referencing or talking about ideas or events that are not present on stage and/or trying to convey an emotional state.  Granted this is not a binary, but more of a spectrum.

But definitions of theater vs. dance are not what I want to write about right now.  Again, another lengthy discussion.

What I want to write about is several sentences in the programs about these specific performances or work by one of choreographers in general:

1. “Dance is no longer representation.” – Laurent Chétouane

2.  “Chétouane makes reference to classical dance forms and formulas and dares to come out from the corner by demonstrating how dance beyond style – the dance of the future – might look” – Katja Schneider

3.  “Forsythe embarks on a search for a quality of movement that is increasingly oriented towards the dancers’ own self awareness and reciprocal observing of one another, generating an intense presence in the space.” – Gerald Siegmund

4.  “Movement without reason(s) makes the audience nervous….a clear, deep and melodious voice, sharing philosophical introspections, while the source steadily changes positions – we try to follow it all.  Yet, it is too much to process all at once, form and content at the same time.” – Katja Werner

5.  “Helena Waldmann… the Berlin-based choreographer…knows that a work is only successful when it is able to conjure up the world of illusion.”  Andrea Kachelreiß, Stuttgarter Nachrichten

     I am not sure how to respond to the first sentence by Chétouane.  Dance hasn’t been representation for decades.  Did he not get the Judson/Trio A/Merce/Brown memo?  He is described as “a French director working with texts and movement” so maybe he is not informed about what dance has happened before he started making dances.

     This seems to me a common issue in the post/non disciplinary times – people from one genre getting excited about a new tool, logic or aesthetic that is old hat for another genre.  Maybe because Chétouane is a director, which I am taking to mean he comes from the world of theater, the world of illusion and allusion, the idea that something on stage could be no longer representational is a new and exciting one.

     The second sentence, by Katja Scheider, I also think is a joke.  Dance beyond style?!?!  Dance of the future?!? Are you kidding me?  What I saw was pretty straight-up, par for the course movement for this day and age.  Does Katja mean that the dance of the future looks just as it does now?  Are we already in the future or is she saying that there is no future for dance because it will look exactly the same as it does now?  There is nothing nothing new in the world…is that it?
     The references to “classical dance forms and formulas” that I saw the grid, flocking, and mirroring.  Maybe not classical ballet formulas, if that is what Katja Schneider meant by classical, but classical post modern dance tools.  At least for grid and flocking.  Mirroring is more of an Improv 101 exercise, so maybe classical in that sense.  But maybe that is what my training affords me – seeing the grid, flocking, and mirroring.  If I am to look at the piece as a whole, and this is the second time I have seen the piece, I could say that the piece is an arc of dance history from ballet to post modern spatial scores to badly executed contact improvisation.  Maybe that is the director’s point, that the end of the future(as this piece is about the future of dance) of dance is bad contact improvisation. Well, if that is the point of the piece, then it’s brilliant.  Sheer brilliance.  Ha!

     Gerald Siegmund’s description of Forsythe’s new creative invesigations is interesting and eloquent.  Hmm…sounds an awful lot like…what is that word, umm, it was just on the tip of my tongue, what is it…oh, yeah…IMPROVISATION!  Why is that word such a dirty word?  I guess a single word wouldn’t be as poetic as an eloquent phrase.  I guess a rose by any other name doesn’t smell as sweet.
     Categories and labels aside, I have another question.  What was Forsythe’s work before this new eloquent line of inquiry?  Did his work before not use “the dancers’ own self awareness and reciprocal observing of one another”?  Were his dancers unconscious of their own movements and and unaware of each other?  Did they not know where their limbs were in space?  Did they not know who else was on stage and who on stage could see them?  Were his dancers mindless zombies doing their master’s bidding?

     On what planet does “movement without reason(s)” make the audience nervous?  Maybe Katja Werner is from the same planet that Chétouane is from, the Planet of Representation, where Judson never happened.  I thought that the crowd at Tanz Plattform Deutschland 2012 in Dresden would be ok with abstract movement.  Guess not.  But they seemed to love N.N.N.N., which was pretty abstract.  Granted the dancers looked at their hands as they moved them, creating a subject by objectifying their hands, and made cute sounds as they moved.  Maybe the looking at the vocalizing created enough “reason” so that the audience was not nervous.  They could see enough representation in the presentation of relationship between hand and eye and movement and sound, therefore they did not get nervous.
     On the Planet of Representation form and content are two different things.  Performances have content and that content is different than the form.  This leads me to another definition of theater and of dance.  Theater is that which the form and the content are different entities.  In dance the form and the content are the same entity.  In the piece Dance for Nothing by Salamon, I think that Werner is referring to the spoken text as the content and the “movement without reason(s)” as the form.  This separation is further evidence of the supremacy of theater over dance in Germany. Tanztheater, Tanztheater, Tanztheater, TanzTHEATER.  Tanz is merely the adjective to the noun, theater.
      I would postulate that the reasons Werner writes that the form(movement) and content(text) is “too much to process all at once” are that she is not a native speaker of English and she is trying to link the movements to the text in more than a spatial and temporal way.  From the beginning of the piece I did not try to connect the movement to the sounds.  I let both of them wash over me.  Even though I am a native speaker of English, I would guess that the text by John Cage is not that complicated.  The vocabulary and the topic are not that esoteric to require a super advanced command of the English language.  Most people at the festival in Dresden had very good English.
    Or maybe I was a bad audience member and did not listen closely enough to the text, did not get every word and would fail a test on what John Cage via Eszter Salamon said.  Maybe I should have strained harder to understand which movements meant Kansas, paragraph, and mind.  Maybe I should have asked why Salamon extended her fists and touched them together.  Did that movement section represent a connection of the working class in Kansas to the proletariat of Hungary?  Hmm…what would Derrida say about the fact that the performer wore sneakers?  Oh my gosh, so many signs and signifiers, so many layers…how do I interpret it all?  What does it represent?!?!

     And the final quote – “to conjure up the world of illusion”.  Once again, theater, theater, theater.  Yet the author of this work is referred to as a choreographer.  There is a fabulously trained ballet dancer prancing about pretending to be a crazy woman who has a “thirst for discovery” and is in “the depths of madness”, so I guess it’s theater because the piece is about something other than what is happening on stage.  But the creator is a choreographer and not a dancer.

     Kachelrieß writes that Waldmann’s work is a “godsend for the theater.”  Does she mean theater in the open sense of the word, as in stuff that happens in the theater?  Or does she mean theater as in not dance?  If she means theater, then this piece is a vague and wan representation of an illusion wrapped in presentation of madness and the “dignity a person needs to remain human.”  But if this piece is dance, then it is well danced dance piece of a limited and unimaginative palette.

I do not know what my overall thesis for this posting is.  Maybe that dance in Germany is more theater than dance.

I prefer my dance with a little less theater and a lot more dance.

Critique of piece I saw during the S.O.D.A. audition

In order to relate what I saw without being descriptive I will offer a short list of whats that I saw:
1. a tattoo
2. a cube
3. black tape
4. gestures
5. white tape
6. a hypodermic needle
7. blood

My feedback about the piece would be to simplify. The piece has at least three different pieces in it – Man with Cube, Man with Tape and Man with Needle. He should pick one of them and investigate it more deeply. I would suggest that he keep his manipulation of the tape to a minimum and not rearrange the tape once it is on the wall. Also I would suggest that the black tape movement section occur further downstage facing the audience. The tape is already abstract and geometric and his focal and spatial choices re-enforced that. Maybe it was his intention to replicate the impersonal nature of the tape. But what I saw was more of a coping mechanism than an artistic choice.

Black tape plus movement plus white tape plus the downstage space plus low level movement plus text plus needle plus blood. Eight dimensions in all. Is this piece, then, about the progression towards the multidimensional, the ultra dimensional he said he was seeking? I do not know. I can not say whether or not this piece worked as I do not know what he was trying to achieve. I can say whether or not I liked the piece. I did not. But whether or not I liked it is of little importance. I can say what it made me think of. The use of the cube made me think of Donald Judd. The black tape pictographs on the white wall made me think of Lawrence Wiener and Robert Motherwell. The piercing of the skin made me think of Chris Burden and Marina Abramovic.

Any of these references, though, is at best a stretch and more present in my perception of the performance than in Riccardo’s presentation of the piece. This brings up the question of what does an audience need to know about the work. Do we need to know what the artist knows? Do we need to have the same frame of reference? Do we need those references to get out of the piece what the artist put into the piece? Is it important for the viewers to get what the artist is saying? Or is the artist creating something for us the respond to with our own references?

Despite not liking it, I feel that of the pieces I saw yesterday this piece had the richest vocabulary to be investigated. And I intend on taking his Man with Tape piece and investigating it further.

Critique for SODA application

Below is a reworked critique of a dance piece I saw in 2009. This was part of my application for the SODA program here in Berlin. Here is the “original

Accords by Thomas Hauert/Zoo, which I saw last summer during Tanz im August, consisted of sections delineated by performers entering or exiting the stage through the spaces between the back panels. The movements within these sections were governed by either the simultaneous initiating and halting of movement, flocking, or awkward partnering. Flocking is when people move in a clump changing spacing/facing with no discernible leader. Awkward partnering is skilled bodies coming in contact in an improvised manner consciously eschewing the Contact Improvisation movement paradigm.
As someone who performs and teaches the tool of improvisation, I appreciated the clarity in this improvised performance. It is very satisfying to see an improvised piece by people who have been working together for more than just a handful of rehearsals. All to often, improvised performances have three rehearsals. During the first one, half of the group doesn’t show and the half who are there just talk. For the second rehearsal 80% of the cast is there and some dancing actually happens. The third rehearsal is on stage in front of the audience, i.e., the performance. In Accords, the hours sweating together in the studio came through during the performance. I saw no moments of searching or moments of awkwardness when performers are in between inspirations.
Dance improvisation is a nascent art form. Because of this, there are many assumptions about improvisation and its uses. The three main assumptions about improvisation are that it is not supposed to be rehearsed, be well produced, or have a point. Also due to the newness of it, improvisation based work is in a vicious cycle. The work is underfunded, therefore the work cannot be well rehearsed and produced. The work is not rehearsed, so the quality is not consistent. The quality is not consistent so producers and curators do not want to show the work. The work is not shown, so artists making improvised work can’t get funding. They can’t get funding so they can’t rehearse. The cycle continues.
Thomas Hauert, it seems, has been able to break this cycle and to get beyond two of the three main assumptions about improvisation. His piece Accords is well rehearsed and has a high level of production value. The lighting was not left over from the previous performance. The costuming, consisting of black mesh body suits over primary colored pants and shirts, was not thrown together right before the performance. The set, more than just a black box, was simple — black, one meter wide panels, each the height of the stage. The panels, which covered the back wall, were wide enough apart for the performers to slip between them. At times acting as either a visual backdrop or an obstacle course for the movement, the set was well integrated into the performance.
Where Hauert failed was topic. His piece had all the production value of a choreographed piece, but not the point of a choreographed piece. An improvised piece can have just as much of a point as a choreographed one. What was Hauert trying to reveal to the audience besides the tool of improvisation? Is it the means or the end? If improvisation is what he was trying to show the audience, he succeeded. We saw people improvising. But listening skills and group awareness in and of themselves do not make a good piece. If all it takes to make a good piece using improvisation is good listening skills then any sequence of memorized movement is good choreography. This, we know, is not the case. Even if improvisation itself were the topic of the piece, nothing was developed strongly enough to become the point of the piece. The dancers did not work flocking, group timing or any of the tools I recognized for such an extended period of time to take it to a new level.
Maybe Hauert intended to provide the audience with an enjoyable visual and auditory experience for 90 minutes. As an artist using similar tools, I want to see the tools create something besides themselves.