A Critical Departure

Bojana Cvejić posits that the improvising dancing that Burrows and Ritsema do in their piece WDSQ is significantly different than dance improvisation. She writes that their performance is the result of a  “critical departure from dance improvisation” (Cvejić, 2015, p.160). I take the term critical departure to mean that Cvejić considers the methods and models used by Burrows and Ritsema when creating their performance are the results of a research and rehearsal process that was heading in a different direction than dance improvisation. As I have not seen the piece, I can only assess how Burrows’ and Ritsema’s dancing relates to dance improvisation by what Cvejić has written about their performance.

I would propose that Burrows and Ritsema do not achieve a critical departure from dance improvisation as a whole. Rather, it could be said that they create their performance using dance improvisation. It could be that I have misunderstood Cvejić. The critical departure that they have created might be from their own habits. Such an interpretation could be read in the following quotation:

…in WDSQ we encounter an exemplar of a creation by problem that operates in several registers: the object of an Idea of movement, the form of which seems impossible; a procedure constraining a process by conditions and rules for questioning movement, which results in the invention of a new syntax…(Cvejić, 2015, p. 159)

The use of conditions and rules to expand a dancer’s movement vocabulary, syntax, movement possibilities is a standard idea of one use of dance improvisation. Most practitioners of dance improvisation would attest to this thought.

Earlier in the chapter Exhausting Improvisation: Stutterances, Cvejić discusses a movement process Burrows and Ritsema engage in to problematize their movements. She writes that “…they issue it and abort its development at the same time” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 153). Such a process sounds very similar to Chaos of Intention. Chaos of Intention is part of Re:Wire Dancing States, a body of improvisational work initiated by choreographer Nina Martin and is continued to be developed in conjunction with her colleagues of the Lower Left Performance Collective. (Full disclosure, I am a member of the Lower Left Performance Collective).

Chaos of Intention (CoInt) could be described in a similar manner as the method of problematizing movement Cvejić writes about. CoInt requires that the dancer change, modify, or transform his movement as soon as he recognizes it as familiar in some way. By constantly tracking the movements he creates (issues) and changing them so that they do not progress (develop) as they normally would, the improvising dancer is able to expand his movement potential. A goal of CoInt could be described as attempting “…to move and yet not produce a cognizable movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 149).

“Improvisation in WDSQ begins exactly by dismantling the function of the body as the source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). This quotation relates Cvejić’s thoughts about Burrows and Ritsema’s improvising to Forsythe’s practice of improvisation. His methodology results from “extending and amplifying knowledge from and individual authoring body” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). Cvejić proposes that Burrows and Ritsema’s improvising is different because it does not make use of the dancer’s body for inspiration, but dismantles that relationship and makes use of other sources.

The use of external sources for movement inspiration and origination is also part of the Re:Wire Dance States methodology. There are several binaries that an improvising dancer can make use of as an external “source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). Big/Small and Near/Far are two such binaries.

Big/Small relates to several variables. It can relate to the range of movements through space that the dancers creates. These movements through space can be big, small or somewhere in between. Big/Small can also refer to the amount of time that an action occurs. The movement of an arm can take a big or small amount of time. Near/Far can be used to relate to the space that the dancer is in. Using this score, the improvising dancer creates and notices the distance between different objects, points, people in space. He can then change his location in space to alter these relationships, making them nearer or farther than before.

It could be argued that these two binaries make use of the body as a point of reference for movement (Near/Far) or make use of the body to move through space and time (Big/Small) and therefore do not fully remove the body as the “…source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). I would however argue that they dismantle it to an extent by pulling the dancer’s awareness out of his immediate corporeal somatic experience.

In light of the similarities to extant improvisational methods, the procedures that Burrows and Ritsema use to create their dance performance WDSQ are not a “critical departure from dance improvisation” (Cvejić, 2015, p.160). Their procedures are related and comparable to a whole host of improvisational theories and practices already in use.

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.

Contact Improvisation gets big!

In the not so distant future, within 5 years I’d say, a contact improvisation duet will happen on a stage. It will receive great accolades and fanfare. Critics and arty folks with indeterminate European accents and thick black framed glasses will talk about the brilliance of the choreographer, how cutting edge and brilliant she or he is. The choreographer will be praised for discovering new ways of movement, and entering uncharted waters of aesthetics challenging what people think of as dance.

But, the piece will not be labeled as contact. Improvised, yes, as that is becoming more the trend here in Europe on the big money stages. And the choreographer will personally not have done contact improvisation. The dancers, maybe. Probably a few classes. I doubt that a really famous and funded choreographer would know any people who are really good at contact improvisation, that bastard child of the dance art world, and would have to use ballet-gone-release dancers who can partner.

Using language riddled with isms and dead French thinkers names, this choreographer will bring the tools of CI into the brighter wider better funded stage. Using words ending with “icity” and words with “post”, “pre”, and “neo” suffixes, the choreographer will dazzle us and amaze us with a new dance frontier.

Will it be Forsythe, or Le Roy? Bel, maybe. How about Wade? Sehgal?