Bocal - a nomadic school

Interview with Boris Charmatz on education

Sarma May 2005English

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Contextual note
This interview on the project 'Bocal' was commissioned by Boris Charmatz' company Association Edna in Spring 2005. Excerpts have been published elsewhere, whilst this transcript of the interview in its entirety has been available temporarily on the websites of Association Edna and of ImPulsTanz in Vienna.

Between July 2003 and July 2004, the French choreographer Boris Charmatz and his Association Edna conducted the project Bocal. A nomadic and temporary school, Bocal sought to develop the idea of a contemporary dance school through inventing the modalities of one’s own education. Charmatz and fifteen participants embarked on a research trajectory, investigating issues of pedagogy within an artistic project outside the existing institutional school context. Negotiating the relations between formation and the arts field Charmatz turned the idea of a school inside out and aimed to inscribe Bocal in the particular context provided by a series of fourteen residencies in different European cities. The single idea to do a school project entailed questions of pedagogy and performance, of positioning and criticism, of space and context. This vast project didn’t result in a model for a school but rather in a container replete with ideas, concepts, methods and exercises, all in between performance and formation, in between art and pedagogy, in between practice and theory.

Bocal had its particularities, intricacies and also problems, of which it is impossible to give an encompassing account. Meeting with Boris Charmatz in March 2005 for a dialogue eight months after date, the question rather was: What stays? Which elements of Bocal do still/already resonate in his artistic practice? Asked for the starting point of Bocal, Charmatz not only saw a bunch of answers but also a myriad of possible answers and possible ways to phrase them. He turned the impossible point of departure into a dialogical concept, first mapped out gaps in the pedagogical field of French dance academies, then lingered over Bocal getting started, to finally share some of the “guessing strategies” and other exercises developed during the project. Where does a project start? Where does it end? A rambling dialogue in inevitable suspense, cut down and chopped up into thematic chunks to increase readability and spur the joy of browsing. In the text questions and comments are left out so that the words are only Charmatz’s, a hypothetical monologue nurtured by memory and collaboration. The white spaces in between give the last word to the phantasmal realm of the reader’s imagination, which accords with a central strategy in Bocal.

Revisiting getting started

Steve Paxton? Never heard of! “After performances I did as a dancer or choreographer, I often met students of theatre, architecture or visual arts, but almost never had the chance to meet and discuss with people from dance schools. Going back to my professional life before Bocal, I felt a gap between my own practice and the three dance academies in France, that is the Conservatories of Lyon and Paris and the National Centre for Contemporary Dance in Angers (CNDC). Emanuelle Huynh was recently appointed to lead the CNDC, which opens a new perspective, but back then, it was still a different school. This gap was frustrating, since I have been in dance schools myself, it was my way into the professional dance world. So I started wondering what it was all about. When I did meet students from the Paris Conservatory and wanted to discuss the works of artists that were important to me, they wouldn’t know their names. They hadn’t seen the performances, but they also didn’t know the names, so we didn’t share at all the same culture.
This attitude was something to fight against in Bocal. It would have been easy to claim that dance academies in France are old-fashioned, complain about it and do a different project altogether. But the gap is too startling to neglect. Over the past decade, the European dance scene has shown to be very lively, the discourse and the practice of dance changed, and whatever your aesthetical preferences are, you can’t deny that. Is it important to know Jérôme Bel or Steve Paxton to be a choreographer today? Well, as soon as you assume to be in an academy for dance, then both a wider cultural education and an active connection with the current field of performing arts should be part of your formation. When you are in college for scientific research, you can’t expect that it will come all by itself, no, you have to study and inform yourself. In a similar way, the cliché that ‘art cannot be taught’ is outdated; art education is not about autism but about a strong cultural involvement. So again, if you are in a dance academy and don’t get a strong cultural education in an active way, not only through reading books but through relating yourself, your body and your thinking to the history of dance, the current arts field and so on, then there is really a problem.”

It’s not about wearing tights. “The European dance scene grew highly diverse during the past ten years, which brought up the question: what kind of education do we need to respond to that, to prepare for professional work within that field? I was part of several groups that discussed this issue, like Ecole and Les signataires du vingt août. We realised that in spite of the artistic developments elsewhere, the contemporary dance departments of the conservatories were becoming even more academic than ballet. To clarify this with a single example: if you wanted to do an audition for the contemporary department in Angers, you had to be dressed in traditional dance clothing, in tights! Imagine you are a visual artist with an interest in performance or in the field of body practices and say to yourself ‘Okay, I am a boy, I take the risk, I try a dance school’. Angers is supposedly a laboratory for modern dance practices, but then you hear that you have to do an audition in tights. It’s a stupid detail to be dressed in tights, not at all a good reason to leave a school aside, and yet you are suddenly reluctant to go. Just because tights say that you need to be fit, they bring up old problems of fitness and body culture and so on.
Looking abroad, we thought of P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels as a good alternative, but didn’t simply want to import a model, since P.A.R.T.S. is a unique school in a unique context. If you compare the three dance academies in France, they were all more or less similar: you have access at the same age, to the same culture, the same kind of ballet training. We need other models as well, an art school should be specific, for art is also specific. The question 'what is art?', is one of the important assets of modernism. So what is dance nowadays? What is a dancer? Not claiming that you know how to educate a dancer to become a great choreographer but exploring the doubts, turning education into a problem or a question should be a motor for doing it. Then you can look for a response to what is happening on stage, then you can work in a specific way. Suppose you are 26, studied philosophy or medicine and then you want to jump into dance or performance… Outside of at the Centre Chorégraphique de Montpellier Languedoc Roussillon and the Toulouse Centre de Développement Chorégraphique’s training, there was no school in France that offered this possibility, everyone had to make do with dispersed workshops. Both the argument to create room for outsiders and to make education specific were at the inception of Bocal.”

A phantasmal Cunningham. “Les signataires du vingt août was a group of forty dancers and researchers that discussed the conditions of practice today. The group Ecole, which still exists but doesn’t meet regularly anymore, includes kinesiologist Hubert Godard, dance historian Isabelle Launay, dance pedagogues Anne-Karine Lescop and Catherine Hassler and choreographers Mathilde Monnier, Loïc Touzé and myself. One of our “thought” experiments was ‘Let’s try to create an ideal school, what would it look like?’ Mathilde Monnier proposed to select a series of references in contemporary dance and art, like Merce Cunningham or Trisha Brown. But instead of inviting one teacher as a reference for the Cunningham technique, which would only provide a one-sided and close-minded idea, we would invite four different people around Cunningham to be able to compare the viewpoints and perceive the differences. An interesting idea, but not feasible: first, I don’t want to choose the canonical references of modern dance myself; and second, you would only be able to work on few references for practical reasons, which is again limiting.
Then we asked Mathilde Monnier why it was so important for her to work around Cunningham. Suppose I was a student, I would have liked to work with Mathilde Monnier explaining what she loves, likes, wants or takes from Cunningham’s research. Not because I like her work or because I want to dance in Monnier’s company. The thing is that she is an active artist with a contemporary practice and an interest in pedagogy, and to me as a student it seems more interesting to work with an artist around Cunningham than calling a ‘real’ teacher who would teach the ‘correct’ Cunningham technique. If Monnier’s ideas about Cunningham are in the end good or bad, historically correct or not, well I don’t know, but I want to explore her point of view, I want to know how she relates to Cunningham. Creating a direct access to the reference of modernism via reference teachers… this is another phantasmal Cunningham that I’m not interested in. Preparing Bocal, it was clear that I wanted to involve the artists themselves, and not their preferred teachers. Developing a school programme, a practice, technique and training was the very work of and within Bocal: What does it mean to train a young artist today?
You have to know that the Cunningham technique was until now the most important basis for learning contemporary dance in France. Here is another issue: you can study the principles and philosophy of Cunningham through books that you learn by heart and reproduce, but that is totally disconnected from the actual performances. As a student, I didn’t have access to Cunningham's performances, to the concrete matter. We didn’t study the performances, we had a generic historical statement that you can find in all the books and therefore cannot be criticised. Each of Cunningham’s principles that at first sounds very rigid and dry, transforms itself regularly in the work and thereby produces different viewpoints. What we practically did in school was Cunningham technique classes, we never learned a Cunningham dance from Rain Forest (1952) for example. But when you see Rain Forest, the dance is very open. I think we should always study what Cunningham himself did, the work as it appears on stage, and not only the virtuoso technique of a ballet-like company, which is only one of the many ways to enact.”

Performing the school, that is the question. “Usually, when I am invited to teach in dance schools, I can’t choose the students, I can’t choose the space, I can’t choose the duration of the course, in short I can’t choose the frame of teaching, apart from a little bit of negotiation. When I make a performance, I start with the question ‘What is a performance?’ and then choose everything, everything can be a choice and a question: duration, space, performers, relationship to the audience,… Why not do this for a school as well? For Bocal, I decided to choose all the aspects: duration, time, space, technique, training, who participates and who doesn’t, the relationship between inside and outside, what and how we would discuss or not,… everything could be a question. Bocal was a way to make a school as you make a performance, where you completely commit yourself.
Doing a performance today has a rather flexible time frame, it can be one hour or a day or only one minute. When you establish a school, you would mostly think about the next 25 years, it’s important to have a long-term perspective. But when you say it’s art, then the perspective changes as well: it might be important to have rules or not, to work in situ or not, to leave out traditional art history or not, to think nomadically or sedentarily, to think about amateurs, to consider whether you need professional teachers or whether it’s possible to teach one another… All these ideas are very common in the art world, and it can help to have a diploma to make art, but it is not required. If it comes to teaching in schools, there is perhaps a different responsibility, but I think that students educating themselves, even before obtaining a diploma, is a good model.
Technique is also a complex issue nowadays. Personally I don’t know what kind of technique you need in order to make a performance. Raimund Hoghe is an amazing performer, but what is his technique? That’s a serious question. Or take Rachid Ouramdane: how does he train? What he does is very complex, he believes that new media and technology allow him to make his dance evolve; working with video and computer is in a way how he trains. Sometimes, I practice the trumpet, which connects with my particular interest in breathing techniques, but it would be stupid to claim that you need to practice the trumpet to be a good dancer! Ten years ago, dancers would meet in La Ménagerie to train together, today some are doing yoga, some aren’t doing anything, others are reading or are working so much that they don’t need to train. Training is not as clear as it once was. Everyone invents a training that suits his artistic practice, and that’s what we did in Bocal as well: starting from the question 'what would be a personal training that serves our goals and interests?', we came to ‘invent’ our training instead of ‘taking’ training. If you assume that modern art is how we invent it, then this goes also for modern training and for a modern dance school. The way and the different mental shifts that you exercise to invent the school, this makes the school. This makes the art.”

“I am a school.” “If you ask me when Bocal started, then I can only say that Bocal was already there at the official launch and it’s still going on right now, eight months after its closure. So that’s another starting point: a school is always already there, even before the actual start of the school in July or September. It starts in fact as soon as you start talking about the school project you decide to do together. It starts even when you are three years old or still a baby; then you have already made yourself an idea about what school is supposed to be. Not that you know what a university stands for, but you hear adults talk about schools, so you connect the school experiences of your parents with the 'school' notion. Bocal didn’t have a real starting point, since the idea of a school was already inside us. But Bocal was a new school that we didn’t know yet, so there was a lot to be discovered. Claiming that ‘Bocal is a school’ or ‘Bocal is a performing group for one year’ elicits completely different preconceptions and expectations. To connect Bocal with the idea of a school brought up all kinds of memories and nightmares that have to do with obtaining your diploma or not, experiences with teachers and so on. And of course you already have ideas of knowledge, ignorance and learning. In the first exercise we did within Bocal, we were all surrounding one participant with closed eyes. While the others were touching the person in the middle, the latter had to talk about 'school'. This resulted in fifteen very different stories, which made it clear that ‘school’ is not only an objective matter but that the word itself opens an endless stream of associations.
One often thinks of school as a period in your life, which actually encompasses much more than just school: you think of mathematics and philosophy and sports, but also of fights with others, sitting on a chair for hours, your first kisses, how you perceived yourself as a boy or a girl. It’s also a period of your identity formation and sexual education. School is part of your phantasmal world, your thoughts and inner landscape. Rather than starting and finishing a school, you incorporate it, you incorporate the way it functions, you incorporate how to learn and so on. When you have children, questions of education and transmission of knowledge are present from the very beginning and inevitably connected with your own education by your parents or in school. I really think I am a school. It is a way to think of not simply doing but being a school, not of doing but of being Bocal. Just as school is not a limited period of time in your life, Bocal was not a one-year period. One could nearly say: “we were Bocal, we still are Bocal.”
Saying ‘I am a school’ also means that you are teaching yourself all the time. Your brain is always working, you are correcting yourself, you are learning. You observe other people’s behaviours, you transmit something when you are talking or when you touch someone. Perhaps this kind of transmission is not teaching in the proper sense of the word, but you share information, which will be interpreted by others. All this happens in a single gesture. The idea ‘I am a school’ says that education doesn’t have to happen in classrooms, it can happen everywhere and anytime when you have the consciousness that a school is inside you. It is a good practice of inner observation to think that you are a school and probe what is already there inside you. John Cage and others say that education is already there, that you know already a lot but don’t express it because you are told that you are not educated yet. But as soon as you think about it, you discover that you already know a lot, that there is a potential for exploration.”

The first discipline is sitting on a bench. “Dance schools always consider technique as something which you can acquire. Technique belongs to a teacher that instructs it to someone else. You receive technique from outside and when you are good student you will learn it. But isn’t technique something which is already there but that you don’t use? Dance schools speak about ‘the technique’, but there are many techniques, just as you already have a lot of physical techniques as well. Holding a pen to write for instance, is a very strange ability and a physical technique. When sitting on a chair for hours, you develop strategies to enable it, otherwise it’s a torture for your back. The introduction of benches in the pedagogical system in the 14th century had a strong impact. It created a gap between the standing teacher and the seated pupils. Benches also teach the first discipline, which is not mathematics but how to sit on a bench for hours in silence and concentration. Even before the first class is taught, you learn how to sit in the right position and behave yourself, when to listen and when to speak… these are all physical techniques. We used Jean-François Pirson’s book Le Corps et la chaise (the body and the chair) a lot during Bocal.
In Bocal, we considered technique as something which is already there inside you, but needs to be explored. Take for instance a head spin, which is something I can’t do. But at least I can ask myself why I can’t do it, or why I think that I can’t do it. You discover different barriers. Perhaps the first task is not to try to balance on the head but to think why you didn’t try it before. Do I have a clear picture of the movement? What kind of strength would I need to do it? What is the movement I would do before getting on my head? How could I get there from my actual position? Whether you make it or not in the end, I don’t care. But that way, you for sure have to figure out what perception of the world is needed that enables the balance on the head, as well as what is inside you that makes this possible or impossible. To think beforehand or consider why you would succeed or not is a deep research technique. Perhaps you are not even interested in a certain movement, but then again: why are you not interested? Why are you not interested in circus? And is it really circus? We worked a lot with potential actions and with the potential of actions in Bocal. Perhaps that’s art: whatever topic you take, you reconstruct it, you build around it, you reconsider yourself in connection with it.”

Desperately seeking to avoid an audition. “Another start of a school is of course the selection of the students. I don’t think there is one ideal way to select people, but the words already used for it are terrible: selection, audition. To find a different term like ‘choosing’ is hard, but I would rather not ‘select’ students. If you announce an audition, you would have to deal with hundreds of applications. It’s a comfortable position for a renowned choreographer, you don’t need to prove the validity of your project; but what does this massive interest in the end mean for the project itself? Still, the selection of the people makes the school. The Paris Opera School has a severe selection procedure, which eventually pervades the whole school hierarchy over the years and leads in the end to very few people entering the ballet and maybe one that becomes a star. For sure it’s a good étoile, which may in a way prove that it was a good selection, but it doesn’t necessarily say anything about the quality of the pedagogy of the school.
The only audition I did in my life was for the Preljocaj company when I was nineteen, just to find out what an audition was about. Since then I’ve always had the chance to be engaged via other ways. I had just passed exams at the Paris Opera School so I was ready for it, went there totally comfortable and cool. When Preljocaj called me two weeks later to tell me that I was taken, I responded that I had my doubts after the audition. For me, an audition is a meeting, an opportunity to find out how a company works, how they organise training, how they deal with people, collaboration and hierarchies. I found the Preljocaj audition an interesting experience but realised that it was not the way I wanted to pursue. Preljocaj couldn’t understand this point of view, he was not interested in a meeting or ready to discuss the way I work.
Clearly, I wanted to organise the selection for Bocal students differently: I would look for people as much as they would look for me. They would choose the project as much as I would choose to work with them in this project. It was not about selecting the best people for the best school but to create a group based on the opportunities I had to meet people. So I was looking for an alternative and somewhat chaotic way to organise the choice of the people. Before Bocal, I talked to everybody I met in bars, in the streets, on the train, I spread handwritten notes with the message to call me. I didn’t have a programme or clear expectations in advance, so interest could spring from very different things connected with schools. I didn’t know yet what Bocal would be like, so I was working on myself, opening doors and considering how I look at people. I was more in trouble than the people I would meet, since I was desperately looking for people but refused to make an official announcement.
When I met interested people, I didn’t ask them to show what they were able to do. No, we did things together. I also told them that it would be difficult, that there was a frame, but that there wouldn’t necessarily be a clear schedule in advance. A lot would have to be organized by ourselves and each of us would be responsible for the singular interest he/she should find in Bocal. That discouraged some potential students, for the others it was clear that we all took a risk. This procedure also took a lot of time, since it involved extra personal meetings to discuss things seriously. In the end, it was exactly the opposite of an audition were you are in front of a group: I wanted a one-to-one relationship. A selection that was not a selection but really subjective. What was important was not certain quota, but the personal background of the people. Some of the Bocalists had a double education, for instance at once dancer and doctor or history student. Some had never taken a single dance class but had an interesting background in writing or visual arts. Only because Bocal was not an official school but a temporary artistic project was it possible to make this kind of selection and do what I wanted.”

Immersed in the smell of dance. “One of the starting points of Bocal was the decision not to invite ‘real’ teachers. Instead, we would extract our lessons from watching performances, from books, video, audio archives and other documentation. So the act of looking at performances became part of our school. This attention to performances has been part of my story with dance all the way. You often point out what you studied, in which techniques you are trained and so on, but that’s only part of the thing. For me personally, the most important incentive to start dancing was to see a performance by Jean-Claude Galotta when I was still very young. I saw people of about 45 years old eating sandwiches in a train station in Paris and performing among the people waiting for the trains. That was the very start for me, although I have been in the Paris Opera School as well. Watching performances or Tarkovsky's films, reading poetry or discovering the world of choreographer Dominique Bagouet: all these experiences were as important for my education as ballet classes.
The idea of bringing the cultural field inside Bocal prompted us to go to the ImPulsTanz festival in Vienna in July 2003, our first residency. We found ourselves in the middle of an array of workshops with more than 50 different teachers, each night we would see one or two performances. Some of the Bocalists had seen very few performances in their lives or would take their very first dance class: Vienna promised total immersion, we’d be really surrounded by a smell of dance, although it’s a limited smell. You might not find your ideal teacher amongst the 90 invited teachers. Or you have to jump from class to class all the time, divide your time between butoh, classical ballet and African dance, so you make a cocktail of techniques whereas it might be better for you to pursue only one track or invent your own practice through particular choices. Is it more impressive or productive to take workshops or to see performances? Perhaps the most interesting performance happens during a workshop: what does that mean? How not to get bored with seeing one performance a day, or to get sick of taking classes with 50 different teachers and 3000 dance students without one theoretical class? That’s a fact in Vienna.
Still, were we only in physical practice? Not at all. Of course, dance is a physical practice, but when you pay attention to the words teachers use, to the discussions before and after, then you discover a lot more: the way speech is used in physical practices was one of our focal points. There is talking and discourse everywhere: instructions in a yoga class, parabolas and metaphors in the African dance class of Elsa Wolliaston, but words are also in the dressing rooms, in the corridors and so on. The way a teacher uses language in a particular way to teach makes him or her also move in certain way. Teaching through oral explanation while doing a movement, you may go deeper into a movement, understand it better, sometimes even perform it better. The way teachers talk to a group, the way they don’t talk, the way they teach themselves through explanation and demonstration: we were observing teachers to find out how their use of speech would inform their own minds and bodies. How does the talking spur the movement? What movement comes with the talking? How does the talking transform the movement and the gesture? How is it possible that a teacher seated on a chair is able to make thirty people shake in one second? How does that happen? What is the contract between the teacher and the students? So seeing performances, taking workshops, observing workshops, observing teaching and the aesthetics of pedagogy as if it were a performance: that was all part of our education.”

Conjectural choreographies

How to educate a young artist today? “How to educate a young artist today? That was the theme of a round table we did in Vienna after a few weeks of watching performances and taking workshops. The result was striking, not just as an exercise or a class, but as an event inside Bocal. It was a performance organised by ourselves and for ourselves, in which we all had a precise part. Everyone of us had to speak in the name of a teacher or an artist from the festival, like Svi Gotheiner, Elsa Wolliaston or Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. There was a risk of irony in it, but our aim was not to fool about with faking icons or trying to catch their behaviours. Some of the teachers were not even known at all. We were looking for a way to connect ourselves to the work of others. In a visual arts school, you work with Marcel Duchamp, whose work and ready-mades are still present, also texts and radio documents. Any teacher can talk about Duchamp. In dance, we privilege a direct relationship with the artist for a learning process, but then how can you explore the world of the late Dominique Bagouet? Do you just leave him aside out of a lack of contact, or do you try to guess and smell something of his universe? At the round table, the teachers were not present, we had worked rather little with them, sometimes not at all. This absence or removal of contact didn’t withhold us from working. We can find in ourselves resources to work around the ideas of Duchamp, or Elsa Wolliaston as much as him. The round table was a performance organised to make us move, to make us think, to make a torsion in our own brains. We were taking so many classes in Vienna that the question 'how to digest them?' became urgent. What do you retain from it?
Suppose that you took only one class of African dance with Elsa Wolliaston, then what do you think she would answer to the question: How to educate a young artist today? You could say that you don’t know. But if you start from the one simple exercise you know, there is already a lot to be discovered. In one class, there is a whole aesthetic world, there are philosophical statements, each one is faced with the question 'What do I or don't I want to do with it?' One class is never enough, as one sentence of Nietzsche is not enough to discover his work; but it is a starting point for reconstructing a universe, which is inevitably a phantasmal work in progress, it prompts you to think, guess and smell what is behind that one gesture. What is the philosophy or ideology behind it? What does the movement say? How is the movement taught? How is the relationship between men and women organised? You have to make it your own, that’s a good way to build your education. If you approach the class of Wolliaston as a tourist with an exotic interest, then you stay where you are and Wolliaston stays were she is. But if you try to find out what she would answer to the question, you start to guess, you try to teach African dance, and in the end you are really taking it and thinking about it, you are moving in a foreign world which is that of Elsa Wolliaston. It’s not her real world and it’s not real African dance, but it’s a very good point of departure for a learning process. How to take in the observation of one single class and start working with it for yourself? It’s a deep exercise.”

What will the performance look like? “Besides taking classes and workshops, we saw 31 performances in one month and we visited museums and exhibitions in Vienna. How do you not get bored too easily? In order to survive this daily looking practice, I proposed to organise a ‘prediction’. A prediction means that you will see a performance the next day and you spend time predicting what this performance will be like by using movement and speech. Before we went off into describing performances that we had not seen yet, we first had to discuss what a prediction is, we had to find out its interest, we were even guessing and analysing what the exercise would be like. Is it possible to predict what will happen especially in the case of an improvisation or a premiere? Or, when you predict what will happen, wouldn’t you destroy the performance in advance? Doesn’t the ideal spectator enter a performance with an open mind and a neutral point of view?
Still, you have expectations anyway: if you pay a 40 euro admission fee, then you don’t want to see Meg Stuart improvise alone in a factory. There are lots of things that you know in advance: the title, the rumours, the programme text, some pictures perhaps, someone might have shared an opinion with you, you might have seen the company before. In fact you know already a lot, and formulating your preconceptions makes you become a highly active viewer afterwards. You are obliged to formulate what you like and don’t like, what you know in terms of meaning, what you know about the theatre and the kind of audience… it’s really interesting to work on that. Strangely enough, what you describe very often happens afterwards. Because what you predict are sometimes stereotypes that can easily match a performance. Also because you see what you want to see: predictions probably tell you more about the way you are structured than about the way a performance is. In the first place, you are working on yourself in a prediction, not only on the artist or his work.
Then there is this enormous electricity when you enter the performance. You are waiting for things you said before to come, to realise you were describing the truth. When there are ten people predicting, then there is always one of the described possibilities that hits the truth. But the words you use never really match the acts that you perceive during a performance. You see much more, a performance is a different world than a text. It tells you a lot about the process of looking at a performance, both the preconceptions and what you see during the performance. There are also different ways to describe, different points of attention; so in a group, you realise that everyone connects differently with a performance. A kinesiologist might talk about the gestures, a designer might focus more on the set. It would be interesting to reverse the common situation of an artist’s talk after the performance and organise predictions with an audience. Discuss what you expect and describe what it will be like. Is it important that an artist can surprise you or not? In case an artist does exactly what you described, is that a failure? What is the kind of pleasure you have when you are looking at a performance? I don’t have an answer for everybody to all this, but it’s a way to think, to ask questions and to discuss.”

How to describe a movement with movement? “In Brest, during the festival Les Antipodes, we extended the exercise of predicting performances to the whole festival program. We were moving while predicting a performance, which yielded different movement qualities. We could do the movement we thought the performers would do, but we could also describe through movements the choreography of an entire company, the set and the light design. Predicting a performance through movements brought in different gestures and a different physicality, which is not only the physicality of the movements you predict, but also the physicality of trying to predict. To predict, to think about what will happen, to guess, to look for something – this is a peculiar mental state, and it awakens a specific physicality. The result was a layering of movements: description of a set, description of a space, description of movements and the movement that comes with the mental space. All this provides you with a rather large performance area for yourself. It was both a learning and performing process for ourselves. Predictions have a strong potential: they give you physical training, oral training, you can become more precise in the description, work on how you describe a movement, how you speak a movement, how you do a movement. After three hours of working, you get an ability to really move the way you think the performers would move. You project yourself and get trained after a while in doing something you hadn’t expected getting into.”


What do you think I will teach you? “A last guessing exercise we did in Bocal when we organised workshops was to ask: What do you think I will teach you? We tried to bring the predictions into the workshops. We organised performing workshops and asked the students we invited what they expected. Then we asked them to do what they expected. So you invite people for a Bocal workshop during one day and then you ask them what they think the workshop will be like. First they would say they don’t know, but then everybody has an idea, makes associations with Bocal, the idea of an ‘experimental project about dance education’ or the workshop title, so there is a starting point to work with. That’s how we transmitted the predictions into workshops.”

What is “live documentation”? “When Bocalist David Miguel arrived in Paris, he saw an announcement for a DV8 audition and proposed to do this with Bocal. None of us hoped to be selected by DV8, but you could never know and to do an audition would be an interesting experience anyway. It turned out to be a nightmare. The way we were treated as dancers, the way it was organised, the long waiting queues, the legal situation and the papers that had to be signed, the power games that were played during the ballet classes, the way participants were eliminated… it was totally enraging. There was hardly any opportunity to learn something, to have an interesting experience or a little insight into DV8’s world. Only two Bocalists could stay a bit longer and learnt two simple movements, that was it. I was waiting outside as rescue service, wondering how to deal with the situation. How could we digest this experience and turn it into something interesting? We spent two days of work on this question and developed a method of live documentation.
Everyone is a living document, which you can compare with an audio, video or photographic document. All the movements you do in your life are in a way shaping your body; the shape of your body is the result of all the movements you ever made. How can you present a live document of the audition? What could a live document be? A mixture of an oral description, an analysis and comments. A re-enactment of what you did and the specific physicality of that. A presentation of the physicality of all the people in the audition, including the participants, the people that scream at you and the dancers that caused a little riot. There are the two movements you learned during the audition, but also the movements you wanted or expected to do. Different layers of speech, movement and action in order to present a live document to an audience and work with a poor and sad experience to turn it into something interesting. And it brought up all kinds of questions about the necessity of auditions for contemporary artistic work, which became part of the document as well.
A few weeks after the festival in Brest, some Bocalists were invited to go back to attend a series of events. Upon their return at Pantin’s Centre national de la danse, we asked them to give us a live documentation of the event. Since we had missed all of it, they represented the whole festival by enacting eight performances in the studio. How do you represent a performance? How can you make a summary of a performance? What is an oral or physical analysis of a performance? What is description or depiction? How can you appropriate and incorporate what you saw, the gestures, the light, the costumes, the dramaturgies? How can you bring the programme texts into your representation? Texts, programmes and pictures are always an important part of a festival. How do you represent a set if you don’t have one? How can you create yourself a living baggage of performances? Once you have seen a Ko Morubushi performance, it is inside you and you can use that, you can make something out of it: a text, a speech, a small dance, an imitation, a joke… there are different ways to connect yourself to it. How can you transmit what you have seen, once a performance is over? How can you transmit your analysis, your way of connecting to it?”

Travelling the library

Books in the studio. “The opportunity to connect Bocal with the National Dance Centre (CND) in Paris stems from my research and creation residency there since 2002. Since we decided not to invite teachers for Bocal, an alternative was to work on books and documents. The CND will host in the near future the biggest dance library and archive in Europe, but at the start of Bocal, the media and documentation centre wasn’t ready yet. Our choice was to replace it by a travelling library, which we could take with us on all the residencies. The travelling library contained both a selection of new books and works contributed by Bocalists to share and read together. Just reading the book titles gave you already an idea of the domain we were aiming to explore: the field of dance, arts, pedagogy, aesthetics and sociology. The books were used a lot during Bocal, to build a culture around it was important for us. We had recurrent discussions on Laban and dance history. The Ignorant Schoolmaster by Jacques Rancière incited our reflection: it’s a parable around the idea that anybody can teach you writing, even if that person himself cannot write. If you know how to compare things and to encourage correct results, then you are able to teach. This means that a school can also happen in a family context or elsewhere: the idea of a school outside the school was an interest of research we shared in Bocal. There was poetry by Christophe Tarkos and Ghérasim Lucas, statements on education by Robert Filliou and John Cage and many more things.
Reading was a nice and simple way to enter research. In dance schools, the library is not always actively consulted, books are certainly not used in such a lively way as we did. We tried to bring books into the studio and invent exercises with it, so training got mixed with the act of reading. This came from the banal observation that you are working all day long in the studio as a dancer and when you come home you’re too tired to read. As if reading and dancing would not go together. Why not reverse this situation and bring the reading into the daily practice?”

Is it interesting to read while warming up? “Is it interesting to do warm up and reading exercises? That’s a typical Bocal start: we always tried to foresee, analyse and discuss in advance what we would do. Is it too easy to say that you need to do headwork and physical work together? Well, it’s also a good concentration exercise, difficult to succeed. When you come back afterwards to a normal state of reading or warming up, you will do it more fluently. Compare it with Demosthenes who practised speaking with pebbles in his mouth, which made him articulate better afterwards. That’s the kind of things we discussed before getting started, also with Bocalists who didn’t like to read or didn’t know what a physical warm up actually stands for.
Reading is in the Western world mainly thought of as an individual practice: you read alone in your room or office, even in a library you would read alone. Dance on the other hand has always been a collective practice, at least in the schools. In the Paris Opera School, I never had a private class, which is reserved for rich people. When you study music, you have individual classes within the school, but not when you study dance. This collective practice has its qualities as a social event, but it entails also group effects that you would rather avoid. Think of timid children, of a single boy inside a group of girls, of the best student who is always in the front. To create a meeting between the practices of reading and warming up was a way to find out more about this. Since the warm up in dance is usually collective and the reading usually private, we could make an interesting mixture of these elements.
Normally, reading happens in a context that allows maximum comfort: you are reading on a bed or in your office in an armchair… a space and furniture comfortable enough so that you forget that you need to move. One exercise we did was to take out all the furniture of reading; we would spend time reading in the studio with only the floor left, no cushions or anything. After a while you start to discover strategies to hold your book. Strategies of holding a book are very interesting little choreographies. The positioning of the hand, the body postures. Can you sustain a position or not? How many different postures do you use? It’s a behavioural study.”

The book is your ground. “Then we invented little warm up exercises while reading. You just stand up and think that the book may move. Just like in the Alexander technique, you adjust your look and your neck in the right way to read the text. As soon as you try to move the book a little bit and take enough time for that, you find out that you won’t lose the text. You can move and at the same time very clearly continue reading. Out of this principle, we developed duets: one is reading a book, the other is slowly moving the book. In the end, you invent trajectories to bring the reader to the ground and up again, continuously moving. It allows you to study how your look is connected to your spine, what you can do or not, to what extent you can be precise with it, what kind of landscape it creates. On this basis, we developed increasingly complex exercises.
Another exercise was to consider the book to be your ground. Literally, so you put the book on the floor and get on top of it, touching only the book. And then you start reading the book without touching the floor. Obviously it’s easier with a large book to find ways to read it while being on top of it. But after stretching and looking for the right balance and precision in the movements, you discover hundreds of possible postures to do this exercise, which combines many elements: physicality, balance, concentration, consciousness, what you can and what you can't read, problems of the neck and of the look. It’s no less than a modern dance exercise. And you are reading at the same time, maybe only ten or twenty pages and you might not very well remember everything, but it’s something. After the warm up, you are ready to enter the workshop and spit out the experience, you are physically warm and have reading baggage. To share the knowledge of our reading warm up and reading sessions, we were moving in duo with one asking the other questions about the reading.
Once you have the basis, you can do whatever dance exercise, add a book to it and see how it’s possible. How much space is there to improvise when you are in contact with a book? How do bodies enter into contact while thinking about something else? You are reading and trying to organise this, so establishing contact is only a secondary effect. In a workshop we gave in Vienna, we started with a simple version: one dancer warms up, the other whispers the text in his ear. The one who whispers has to follow the other one closely, so it’s again another exercise, with someone adding strange movements in order to follow the warm up of someone else. For the audience, we invented a choreography in the space with snatches of text. We used text printed in various dimensions, glued these pieces of paper on a stripe and installed it in the space, taping it on the floor, the ceiling and the walls, so that people had to follow a line of text in different and complex ways. It was a simple way of getting visitors to move while reading texts that we considered to be important, such as the statements on education by John Cage and Robert Filliou, information on the strikes in France, texts on kinesiology. Reading with movement for everybody.”

Reading while moving. “Usually when you train, you create a very simple space, you’re just stretching and that’s all. In that sense, the space of training is opposed to the customary spaces of daily life or human activity, where you always do several things at once: you are cooking and keeping an eye on your child, or you cross the street, look at the passing cars and answer the phone. In Bocal, we tried to make the training space more complex and to combine warming up with reading was a way to achieve this: you make one single class, but with sixteen different readers, sixteen different books, different movements, different ways to approach each other. And yet, you are the only one who knows whether you have an interesting reading or not, whether you have a memory of it afterwards or not. You are the only one responsible for what you are doing, so if you fake the reading, it’s your problem. You are your own teacher: you are the one to observe your activities, find the right balance, see what you can digest and what is too much. At first when we started with reading exercises, everybody had headaches, problems to move and so on. But after two weeks, we could all do it easily, it’s just another technique that you can learn and experiment with.
The idea of reading in movement is connected with many problems we come across here in the West. People working all day in the office with a computer have back problems for instance. We thought we could organise dance classes for people working with computer or for readers. It’s a simple idea but isn’t it great to say that the best dance class happens at the computer? When you welcome people with different professional backgrounds and activities into the studio for a workshop, you invent very different exercises. The notion of multitasking or being connected to several things at the same time is close to improvisation: there is the space and you have your own ways to use it, but you need to have an awareness of what is going on around you. Reading while moving is an exercise that equals the complexity of what is happening on stage nowadays.”