Entranced in multitasking

Eszter Salamon presented 'Dance for Nothing' at Tanz im August 2010 in Berlin

Corpus 12 Sep 2010English

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“I will need two minutes to change myself, but then you are invited for a discussion. Or if you want or need to leave, that’s fine too.” Eszter Salamon’s words at the end of her Dance for Nothing, presented at the Halle in Berlin during the festival Tanz im August, echoes John Cage’s invitation at the beginning of his Lecture on Nothing (1949), pushing thoughts around in order to have them stumble into a discussion. Salamon does not voice or re-enact Cage’s answers though, her aftertalk has a somewhat different aim, which, as she said, she is still figuring out. The discussion will go on for about an hour, with everyone present asking questions and giving answers, or sharing comments or their experience of the performance. Yet, isn’t an aftertalk after a dance performance first and foremost an occasion for the performer to come out in person, and for the audience to witness the artist think, speak, or just be, outside of the work’s grasp?

“I will need two minutes to change myself.” Two minutes to change clothes, sure, but what else? Two minutes for Eszter Salamon to liberate herself from her persona on stage, from her being entranced in the “schizophrenic experience” of a scored body – to then actually just enter a different set of rules, those of everyday life, in which the power of the symbolical order mostly goes by unnoticed? As Cage writes: “Structure without / life is / dead. But / Life without / structure is un- / seen / .” Still, “I will need two minutes to change myself.” A spectator remarks that she, Eszter Salamon, has been there all the time throughout the performance, that her open gaze and clear address of every single spectator was a trace or index of her, Eszter Salamon, as a person – a thread to hold on to, perhaps pointing forward in time and leading to that very discussion after the short break of two minutes. Now, we’ll have to follow this trace backwards into Dance for Nothing, into the heart of what Salamon called a “trance of multitasking.”

Perpetual transformation

Upon entering the performance space, a former sports hall with a wooden floor, the spectators placed alongside the four sides of a square, Eszter Salamon says hello and announces that Dance for Nothing will last for about 43 minutes, that the music she is listening to while dancing is John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, and that, if anyone has any questions, they are invited to ask them after the lecture. While listening to Cage via earphones, she voices his music, speaking his lecture and its imposed rhythm at a slow, steady pace, simply doubling the words and “the rubato which one uses in everyday speech.” As she listens and speaks, she dances, and she looks at the spectators. The dance, too, has a steady pace, though a different one than the speech, just like it unfolds independently from the lecture’s content. Cage: “What I am calling / poetry is / often called / content. / I myself have / called it / form / . It is the conti- / nuity of a / piece of music.”

A set of tasks or principles motivates Salamon to improvise and keep her body in perpetual transformation. Her movements are often initiated by her hands or arms, touching upon a gestural quality, to then descend into the whole body to inspire a slow pulse, a rhythm extended into changing postures and spatial positioning. Since the dance is abstract, avoids repetition and embarks upon a pathway for its own sake, it is hard to describe, though it is clear in every instant that Salamon works her way through a series of tasks. There are several aspects to this: her body appears to be scripted, it exudes form; the dance prompts Salamon to embody a peculiar kind of self-distancing, yet devoid of irony; and Salamon negotiates structure, an effort that is never overstated, but tangible in her concentration. And all the while Salamon continuously voices Cage’s lecture, while her addressing every single spectator places her firmly in the theatre’s here and now – and the spectators as well, calling them back from being carried away by Cage’s words. This complex “trance of multitasking”, with an execution that pairs a constant decision-making with formal precision, a seemingly relaxed presence and an open gaze, is no less than impressive.


At one point during Dance for Nothing, Eszter Salamon closed her eyes briefly while rolling on the floor, right after a passage in which she made rubbing gestures on her face. It was not the only “pause” that occurred; several moments suspended the choreography’s tight structure for an instant. Salamon stopped voicing Cage’s lecture when it repeats a passage about the feeling of getting nowhere thirteen times, with small variations of perspective commuting between “I” and “we”. She leaves it to the spectator to imagine the lecture’s repetition and its resonances in the very space of the theatre. Elsewhere Salamon takes off her shoes and socks, later to put them on again, resuming her dancing in between. At the end she stops her dance before the music’s ending. Or a smaller instance still, yet no less deliberate: a brief pause to take a sip of water, to then resume speech after a few seconds only. Cage again: “We really do need a / structure / , / so we can see / we are nowhere / .” If Cage’s lecture is on nothing and Salamon’s dance for nothing, where is it geared to? Just like the words help the silences, the pauses create a frame that directs the attention towards the whole situation, towards the production of meaning in that very moment. Where does the dance take place after all?

It is not the first time Eszter Salamon works with scores, with a body that is scripted, percolating with language, or ventriloquizing – think of her recent collaborations with Christine De Smedt, such as Dance #1: Driftworks (2008) or Transformers (2009), which embody the paradox that identity and community always come from outside. Yet Dance for Nothing leaves explicit reflections on expressionism behind by severing the dance from the music/text; the insistent form empties out any trace of message or drama. Negotiations with the symbolical order – through the score as its instance – are approached on a formal level, in the careful attempts to master the “trance of multitasking”. But imagination and agency reside as much in the interstices, the brief pauses that seemingly inadvertently provide slots for emergence or happenstance – and again leave it to the spectators to push the thought, or not.

Oh yes, about that one moment she closed her eyes, Salamon afterwards said: “I thought: it’s okay.”