And what about ‘dance’?

Undertraining 2011
Undertraining. On a contemporary dance, Dijon: 2011, pp. 230-6

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The scenographic and dramaturgic contexts are not established in juxtaposition to the actual dancing. In this sense, it is not what you commonly refer to as ‘context’. Lighting and music do not merely ‘colour’ a dance that remains otherwise whole and itself. The ‘context’ is not something surrounding the dance, a mere adjunct, and even less a way of accessorising the movement. Rather, it alters the meaning as it is located within. In this way, working on lighting and sound also entails a kind of physicality. Dance is not ‘exposed’ to the various visual and sound elements that make up a show, nor is it a case of ‘collaboration’ with such elements: both terms presuppose there being clear boundaries between artistic disciplines.

Con forts fleuve is the largely unconscious fruit or legacy of the six previous years’ work and it would clearly never have come into being had there been no À bras le corps, Les Disparates, Aatt enen tionon, herses (une lente introduction) and had we not continued, over the years, to present all these shows. To a certain extent all of the above can be considered responses to other works. For instance, Les Disparates was created in reaction to Hervé Robbe’s Factory, a landmark piece for me, that staged a well-oiled articulation of Richard Deacon’s visual art with bodies in motion. This ‘constructive dialogue’ prompted Dimitri Chamblas and myself to assert a non-fusional kind of work made up of tension and distance, somewhere in between a Toni Grand sculpture and a dance. The lighting illuminated this co-presence via three very distinct artistic choices: a ‘global’ choice with front immobile lighting dealing impartially with both the dancer and the sculpture then a ‘subtle' choice, affording the possibility of distinguishing the two and making manifest the translucent void of Toni Grand’s sculpture; and finally, an alternative choice, playing on the backlighting and the rhythmics created by the dancing. That is: a crude ‘display’, then a ‘revolution’ of the materiality of the sculpture whose opalescence enabled a more halftone, subtle dance, to then close with a festive ‘alternative’ in which the sculpture remains the definitive counterpoint.

The light object in Aatt enen tionon is paradoxical: although brutally present it only softly illuminates the bodies. The general performance is forty minutes long yet the 'dance' itself only lasts twenty-five minutes and is performed during a ‘gap' in the music. The temporality in herses (une lente introduction) stems from a critical reflection on Helmut Lachenmann's work established in collaboration with Olivier Renouf. The piece is split into four different phases. It begins in silence (after the spectators have witnessed two technicians turning on twenty or so ghetto-blasters laid on the floor, at the centre of the performance area, on or under the spectators’ seats). Lachenmann’s Air, for a large orchestra and percussion solo is then played in full through loud-speakers suspended to form a square above the spectators and evidently part of the concert’s quality is lost here. At the end of the piece of music the ghetto-blasters switch on, one after the other, and simultaneously diffuse ten or so compositions written by Lachenmann between 1969 and 1986. Some of the pieces play on several decks and thus shift in space and time while others seem reluctant to move. Thanks to this dynamic each spectator has a unique auditory experience depending on their particular location. There is no such thing as an ideal vantage point here, each area offers a singular point of view and a singular auditory experience. On first seeing herses, Lachenmann - who had no prior knowledge of what we were planning to do with his music - compared this overview of fifteen years of work to how a sculptor might feel going into their studio and reviewing all their works as a whole. At the end of this struggle structured by manhandled music, we desert the auditorium because it is impossible to dance alongside Lachenmann’s music if you have any respect for it. It is a music of concrete actions and it must thus also be watched to be heard. At the end of the show, when the dancers have already exited the stage, Jérôme Pernoo is alone on stage and plays Pression, for a single cello, live and in full. The dance spectators sometimes find this sudden void disconcerting.

How do you go about integrating an element that has not been created specifically for the show and which therefore disrupts it one way or another? For example, John Giorno’s texts in Con forts fleuve, Helmut Lachenmann’s music in herses or PJ Harvey’s music in Aatt enen tionon, a sculpture by Toni Grand in Les Disparates or the nudity in Aatt enen tionon and herses. How do you integrate it yet at the same time maintain a kind of disruptive frictionalisation? You might understand the show as being built ‘around’ the nudity element, around Giorno’s texts, Lachenmann’s music, or Toni Grand’s sculpture or, instead, you might consider that we construct ‘our’ nudity, ‘our’ text, ‘our’ music. If the observer focuses their gaze solely on the body movement, they are in danger of overlooking the lighting and sound dimension of the show. You might not perceive how the physical work traverses the contemporary artistic practices and how the lighting, the sound and the visual and textual elements are dealt with physically. However, managing a piece that is both anchored in work on movement and mindful of the totality of the show is no straightforward matter.

The film Goshogaoka (1997) by visual artist Sharon Lockhart is a true study of how to organise physical presence, while, on the surface, everything seems to deny it. In collaboration with choreographer Stephen Galloway (Frankfurt Ballet), Sharon Lockhart films young female Japanese basketball players going about their training exercises. On first impressions, what they are doing seems extremely Stakhanovistic, and determined - they are trying to master juggling. However, due to the repetitiveness, and within this very excess (because they miss the ball, their bodies are weary, because Sharon Lockhart films in a way that directs the gaze towards the fact that the players are running the length of the court, that they are conscientiously massaging themselves, etc.), their bodies start to speak in an almost unconscious way, to enter into a game reminiscent of dance work and which exceeds the task initially set. You can therefore offer a kinaesthetic and choreographic reading of this basketball training session, constructed through the eyes of the filmmaker. She might object to this interpretation, but that is beside the point. As far as the field historically defined as ‘dance’ is concerned, you could also claim that this is not ‘dance’, and yet... This dimension exists because the work could not have been carried out without a ‘dancing’ perspective: the image is dealt with through an exploration of corporeality. This image work activates perception in the same way a contemporary dancer could. We should celebrate the fact that it is possible to work on video, architecture and so on, within or as an offshoot of the dance field. When people ask whether Con forts fleuve can still be considered to be dealing with ‘dance’, we tend to answer that the piece deals exclusively with dance. It is precisely focusing on the experience of movement that will allow a dancer’s work to resound with the corporeality of a musician, actor, audio director, visual artist, filmmaker, lighting technician or architect.

That such questioning operates through different media is in fact of little importance. You leave behind the issue of institutional identification and labelling - ‘this is dance’, ‘this is not dance’ (... and because it is not ‘dance’ you can therefore forget about receiving any funding via this status, or being booked in the ‘dance’ category...). You do not intrinsically need a body to dance. The label ‘dance’ benefits from being extended to a variety of projects. Beyond issues of genre or artistic field, we have ended up, like a great deal of other people, considering practice in the dance context as a specific sensory treatment of the environment. It is no longer defined by a particular kind of choreographic writing, vocabulary or way of mobilising bodies on stage, or by a particular style and figures. The breaks and shifts that have marked the history of 20th-century dance have also been brought about through new forms of kinaesthetic knowledge, a renewed interest in all that a body can do, and all that it does to us. However, it is not entirely satisfactory to present contemporary dance as the art form that navigates between all the other arts, like a wandering practice. Everything is not everywhere.