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WHAT IS CHOREOGRAPHY PART 1
definition of choreography
9 september 2007
I'm just looking at the airfield of Philadelphia airport and admiring the choreographies of flying and driving vehicles …
I owe a thought or two to corpus!
What is choreography?
– the arrangement of movement in space
so the pilots of 11 september were choreographers?
– the total responsibility for a dance work
but that's choreodirection or choreo what?
Choreography is an operating manual for the possibility of being permeated by world. Ouch.
My first temptation is to answer you by saying, like David Tudor, "If you don't know, why do you ask?" But because this first phrase only has 102 characters, my second attempt is to say: choreography is whatever we decide to call choreography. But even by saying something as radical as this I still have only 245 characters. I know you expect more from me so let me try harder. I think this is a rebound question, formulated by a system that fails to accept "difference" and "strangeness" as conditions for disciplines to survive. If we, as artists, fall into this trap of watching things from the perspective (and expectative) of the audience and the market, we are just feeding the general fear people have that something new might hit them. This is halfway to paranoia, segregation and censorship, ingredients that contemporary art can't cope with. I just would like to add (in the 91 characters I have left) a quoting by André Lepecki on the subject. He says, "(…) dance, once it falls prey to a powerful apparatus of capture called ‘choreography,' loses many of its possibilities of becoming." (in: TDR/The Drama Review, 2007, 51:2 T194)
What is choreography? I have never thought about this question. To define the term, make a taxonomy, turn it into an epistemological field – it all seems utterly impertinent to me. Yet this question spills into my mail box while I'm reading Enrique Vila-Matas' excellent novel Montano's Malady, which inspires me to think it over. Vila-Matas' protagonist is a writer who is literally sick of literature: his whole reality consists of books, quotations and phrases, he dreams about writers, and even sex with his wife threatens to be intertextually motivated. Travelling to the end of the world doesn't quite help him to escape his condition, so eventually he aims to gain his life back by becoming literature, thereby preventing literature itself to die of illness or disintegration. A wonderfully perverse humanist commitment.
Now, imagine you find yourself embraced by "the ever expanding field of dance." Imagine you would be sick of choreography, know all too well what it is, incarnate it, become choreography – and go totally nuts. Imagine you can't eat meat balls in tomato sauce without thinking about Le sacre du printemps. Imagine you are spontaneously ‘visited' by the Ministry of Silly Walks when going out to buy a newspaper. Imagine you live up to the conviction that the show must go on. Imagine you are compelled to stand still for a very, very long time always when you see action movies on television or when your kids ought to be brought to school. Imagine you get invitations by consultancy companies to work as a mobility and circulation expert. Imagine you are shaking heavily always when you drink coffee and start to use this coincidence as an alibi for your peculiar behaviour. Imagine you are bombarding corpus with entries on your incessant flow of thoughts and adventures without cutting the crap, eventually turning the magazine into a self-help community for choreomaniacs. Imagine choreography is both your guardian spirit and your worst nightmare.
I'm not sure whether you would feel more at home in a theatre or on the psychiatrist's couch. I don't want to know really. So I continue to read Vila-Matas' novel and end up browsing Witold Gombrowicz' Ferdydurke: "But it was only when I started dancing myself that my thoughts took shape and turned into action, ridiculing and deriding my surroundings and throwing the bad taste into relief. I danced, and my dance, partnerless and in silence and solitude, grew so mad-brained that it frightened me."
In many ways it feels like choreography continues to engage the same cathartic processes it has always necessarily engaged with. As in all art forms this means invoking experience, whether the stimuli is an old issue asking to be processed or an inspiring action witnessed on the street yesterday. Regardless of the proximity, choreography is and can only be be a thoughtful abreaction, in the sense that we are driven to explore and transmit the issues surrounding our body and its cultural context in spatial-temporal relation. The reliving, reworking and rehashing of the moves. The trick is in being open to and recognizing the movements of this world and all entities which have affect and are effected by it. Assimilating and synthesizing all the knowledge that is produced by our movements, thereby producing a kind of graphing, not for a plain statistical output but for a learning and rehearsing of future possibilities. Or at least that's how I am feeling when thinking about choreography at the moment.
All the best.
Choreography – the word contains the confounded "(de-)scription" from which contemporary dance draws capital: do the bodies in dance (de)scribe, are they described? Choreography today on the one hand means such (philosophically well-founded) performative statements concerning the (re)presentation debate. But moreover, there is the "cho(i)r": those bodies not only within the "dance de-scription" presented on the stage, but also in the audience. In dance, theatre and performance, choreography today stakes on rhythmical, spatial, acoustic, and other sensual as well as medial and narrative dynamics which do not let the audience just look and wonder, sympathise and identify. Even on its familiar chair in the dark, the audience is touched (sometimes literally) and, similar to the ancient choir, witness and participant of a common and sometimes cathartic experience. Forsythe has nailed it: The most intriguing choreographies today are "atmospheric studies".