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.


Somatic – Compositional

Now – Future
Need – Want
Have to React – Want to React
Body – Space
Kinesphere – Spatial
Sensing Self –Sensing Space
Reaction to Self – Reaction to Other
For Self – For Other
Solo – Group
Self – Other
I – We
Compensating – Creating
Reacting to Change – Creating Change
Following – Leading
Habitual – Non-habitual
Unconscious – Conscious
Automatic – Forced
Exothermic – Endothermic
Anatomical – Cerebral
Poetic – Formulaic
Inner – Outer
Process – Product
Observational – Generative
Subject – Object
Instinctual – Cognitive
Fast – Slow
Evolving – Abrupt

a list of binaries generated during my third semester of my MA SODA at the HZT in Berlin


Something I wrote on the subway today about improvised performance, especially in relation to my project as part of my third semester studies at SODA – 

Improvised Ensemble Performance intentionally has such a limited palette in relation to props, music, set etc. as each of those elements and the unnamed ones are all ways that we can distract ourselves from our existence.  Think of cell phones, portable music and video sources on planes, trains and automobiles.  We use those forms to pull us away from ourselves, intentionally or not. But consciously using the limited (yet infinite!) palette of shape, space and time, we are drawing our own attention to the barest form of our existence. We will not distract you, the audience, from your experience with sound, set, drama, overt story, magic, the space of appearance etc.  We invite you, maybe challenge you, to experience what is happening before you.

3 of the Roses Framing Statement

Repetition as a theme for investigation presented itself to me during the Erasmus Intensive.  Kirsi Monni, head of the Helsinki program, during her presentation said that there is no repetition in Trio A.  At the end of her talk I said that there is a lot of repetition in Trio A and showed several examples.  Maybe I was being pedantic.  One man’s pedanticalness is another man’s accuracy.  Yes, Trio A could be said to have no repetition as there are no long sections of movement that repeat, but if the time frame that one uses to examine all of the choreography of Trio A is short, several instances of repetition do appear.  The arm swings in the beginning, the toe taps, the ear flaps.  These repetitions are just within the kinesphere of the performer.  If we look at other performance elements we see a lot of repetition.  The performer is always the same person.  The costume never changes.  The performer repeatedly does not look at the audience.  One of the performance instructions for Trio A is to keep the same speed throughout the piece – if you start slow, stay slow; start fast, stay fast.  In other words, repeat the velocity.  Keeping vocally silent is another form of repetition in Trio A.  How many ways of repeating exist in Trio A?  How many ways of repeating exist in any choreography or performance?

One hallmark of contemporary dance could be said to be the continual search for the new.  The new way to move, the new sounds, the new taboo to break, the new way to engage the audience, to frustrate, to excite, or aggravate them.

I am sure that we have all heard “Oh, that’s been done” in relation to a performance.  But if that, whatever that is, has been done, then Gertrude Stein is wrong.  A rose is not a rose.  But if a rose is a rose is a rose does mean that there is no such thing as repetition because the context is changing then nothing has ever been done before and we can stop worrying about newness.  Or maybe something similar has been done.  And for some folks that similarity is too close for comfort.  Enough change has not been instilled into the second rose to be different enough to be something new.

The human body can sense a 1% drop in water levels triggering a thirst response.  Maybe in art there is a similar response.  The change from one rose to the next needs to be greater than 1% to be registered.  Or maybe 10%.  I read once that humans can detect temperature change in a space only after the initial temperature drops 10%.  How to measure this percentage necessary between roses I do not know.

Taking a very wide “zoom lens of attention” to performance in general, we could say that 90+% of performance is a repetition of something else.  We sit here, performers there and we watch.  Humans on one side of a box watching humans on the other side of the box.  Zoom in and change the lights, change the framing statement, change the performers etc. and each piece is wildly different.

Emperor Penguins, the ones that stand with eggs on their feet all winter while their mates eat and then switch roles.  To me they all look alike.  I can’t tell them apart.  They are just repetitions of each other.  But penguins can certainly tell each other apart.  Maybe if I took more time, trained my eye and zoomed my lens of attention in, I could see beyond the repetition and see the variety.  Maybe Stein should have said a penguin is a penguin is a penguin is a penguin…

Coming back to my research.  Some of you saw the piece I presented during the Erasmus presentation – a repetition of a spiral initiated by my right foot.  Using that initiation repeatedly and by changing the physical context around that repetition I was able to craft my trajectory through space.  The physical context I changed by altering where on my body(hands, pelvis, shoulders, quads etc) I increased or decreased pressure into the floor; how large or small I made the angle between my legs; how tight or open I made the spiral by varying when in the spiral my upper body followed the initiation of my lower body.  All these elements within the repetition led to change.

Recently, I have been more interested in repetition within the body’s kinesphere than in repetitive actions that relate to the space or repetitive actions that are used to create a physical remainder.  Examples of those kinds of work are Bruce Nauman’s Square Dance or Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1967).  One of the second years repeated Nauman’s Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square in December.  If traveling through space does happen during my kinespheric repetition, that is fine, but not the goal.  One ah ha! moment I had about physical repetition and looking back on it now, seems quite obvious, is the relationship to time.  Repetition of an action is not time dependent.  The repetitions can happen rapidly and evenly spaced in time or the time between actions could be quite long and the action happen only twice.

I have also been investigating repetition in relation to words by using Context Free Grammar language generators to create texts.  From what I understand they generate a type of Mad Libs that are then filled with vocabularies of a certain genre.  One such generator for physics I came across is snarxiv and is described as “a random high-energy the­ory paper gen­er­a­tor incor­po­rat­ing all the lat­est trends, entropic rea­son­ing, and excit­ing mod­uli spaces.”  Another text generator I came across,  is The Postmodernism Generator.

Could I create a sensible piece of writing using “senseless” repetition?  I selected chunks of text from the Postmodernism Generator at random, hitting refresh to generate more texts and created a “Frankenstein” text.  With a little word substitution here and some rewriting there, I tried to breathe life into this text.  I repeated words throughout the text hoping that their repetition would create enough of a through-line to create meaning. While I do not think that if looked at with a wide zoom lens the Frankenstein text I created has meaning, there are some interesting nuggets in it.  It is possible that the whole text is coherent and I do not have the ability to understand it.

These nuggets, if they already existed in the texts of Lacan, Eco, Lyotard, or Derrida, are now available to me without their original context, thus allowing me to craft my own meaning out of them.  The original context is not interfering with my perception of them.

In my attempts at repetition I invariably created change.  This change, to draw a geographic metaphor, can be catastrophic or gradual.  Gradual change in geology is just as it sounds, gradual.  The Himalayan mountains grow about 5 mm a year. For us 5mm is nothing but for a bacterium that 5mm might as well be the Himalayas.  The opposite view of gradual change or gradualism is catastrophism – sudden, huge events that radically altered the face of the earth, creating mountains and valleys in moments.  From a human perspective, the recent events in Fukushima, Japan were huge and devastating.  For the Earth, a mere hiccup.

A similar idea in evolutionary biology is phyletic gradualism(slow, gradual but continuous change) versus punctuated equilibrium (rapid change with longer moments of stability).  An example of rapid change in evolution in species is the Cambrian explosion.  This “rapid” change lasted 70-80 million years.  An incomprehensible time frame for humans, but only 2% of the age of the Earth.

The change created by my repetitions can be viewed as gradual or catastrophic.  While holding a static pose, I might fall slowly due to my hands and feet sliding out from under me because of increased perspiration.  I might have fallen abruptly due to muscle fatigue.  The distal and proximal initiations might have changed abruptly or evolved slowly.

Two artists whose work resonates with me are Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin, artists whose work involves a lot of repetition.  I first encountered LeWitt’s work several years ago when Kelly suggested that I look at a piece of his called Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes.  When I looked at it I saw something very similar to a sculptural project I was working on.  I was trying to figure out all the possible variations of the minimum number of lines needed to indicate a cube.  I was working at the time with 16 gauge two inch square steel tubing.  The pictures I saw of LeWitt’s piece were just what I had been drawing.  I first saw Martin’s work at the Dia:Beacon in Beacon, NY in 2006.

In reading about them I came across some words about and by LeWitt and Martin.  I will share just a few here with you.  I find that these words are a distillation of how I tend to look at or make work.  Jannis Kounellis said of LeWitt “His fundamental square, I believe, has as its target the iconographic excesses…”  Agnes Martin in her poem The Untroubled Mind writes – “…this is a return to classicism/Classicism is not about people/and this work is not about the world…Classicists are people that look out with their back to the world…it’s as unsubjective as possible…The classic is cool/a classical period/it is cool because it is impersonal/the detached and impersonal”

The works I presented to you I consider to be works in progress.  I do not have a definite answer why.  I feel that I know what tools or processes I have created – the physical scores, the texts – and am confident that they can take me some where.  I just do not know where yet.  Each of these tools has as its generative source a form repetition – the first, repetition of thought; the second, repetition of intention; the third, repetition of process.  What I do know is that I am interested in repetition as a means to target iconographic excesses and to create work that is not about the world, trying to make something as unsubjective as possible and through the repetition wash away past experience. 

To repeat Lisa repeating Ric repeating Deborah Hay –

What I am really trying to do is just be here in my body, in this costume, doing this movement and not have what you think this movement is from your past experience interfere with your seeing now.


click here to see 3 of the Roses, my final presentation for the second semester of my MA SODA program.

A bunch of blind spiders creeping around

Having a diverse cohort has its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that people from different backgrounds can see my work in a new light from a different perspective and offer me feedback from that perspective. A disadvantage is that they do not know as much as I do about my tools/genre, as I know little about theirs.

By having such surface knowledge about their media, I am not able to push them more in their direction. Yes, I can offer “lay” opinions in their work and shift their progress(maybe) but if we all are continually helping shift each other, will we be able to get anywhere or will we just cover the same ground erratically?

A bunch of blind spiders creeping around the same dusty shoe box?  Milling about getting nowhere…

Does this continual redirection prevent us from progressing forward in relation to ourselves not just in relation to the opinion of an outsider?