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WHAT IS CHOREOGRAPHY PART 3
– Frans Poelstra & Robert Steijn – Andrea Amort – Boyan Manchev –
Choreography is the planning of actions in space with a view to having an audience observe these actions. If the audience is intentionally denied observation, or the action prevented from happening, it becomes meta-choreography.
First: I'm not a choreographer. To be more precise: my artistic position is not that of a choreographer. My artistic practice mostly consists of being subject and medium of choreography – that is, performer, presenter, actor. And based on the statement that choreography is the intentional aesthetic production of communicative relations in precisely set spaces for actors and observers, the synthesis of the figure "subject and medium of choreography" also contains one of the radical qualities of "choreography": namely, organising contradictions, forms of movement, fissions and the forces of acting, submission and mediation relations of human beings – i.e., lending them the moment of a divided and demanding physical and mental presence for the purpose of enjoyment and enlightenment. Thus, I am "lending" to this choreographic practice my person (my life) as a performer who publishes and exposes the basic sociality, the dependence (or interdependence) of all communication on difference and separation (designing-executing, inside-outside, observing-acting, perceiving-changing) and of active grasping and responsibility (independence) at the same time. And the ensemble of those practices and positions for me would be choreography – or its subject. Otherwise it wouldn't even be nice.
Your question is "What does choreography mean today?" Strange that you're asking me, I think, but then, why not, but to be completely candid, this question really doesn't concern me at all because I'm not interested at all in explaining to someone "what choreography means today". I've never been particularly interested in choreography – probably because I've never felt an urge to tell somebody how he or she could move through space and time according to my directions. After all, how people move has a lot to do which experiences the bodies of these people were exposed to, and I always felt that this was something very personal and accordingly had a hard time acting against my own body feeling, e.g., to jump when I rather felt like creeping under a carpet. The reason why I'm ready at all now to handle this question may also be that Fritz Ostermayer asked me whether I would like to make a little choreography for his Mouse Opera. That's very embarrassing – so embarrassing that I even had a choreographic nightmare last night. In this dream I was invited in Amsterdam, where I had studied something which called itself "new dance development"; I was actually invited to develop a choreography for some students. But I wasn't the only one who should do that, there were several choreographers – a choreographic contest, so to speak – and with the others there were lots of organised movement in space, and all that looked quite passable, those sweating bodies and the serious choreographers who did nothing else but sit there and watch and make a few remarks in between and a little half-hinted movement, a cursory gesture which then was skilfully taken up by the zealous dancers and developed further, and all that was very impressive. I sat there completely dumbstruck and anxiously because I realised that I didn't know what I would be able to offer them. Then came the moment of truth, they sat around me with expectant looks, and I had nothing, not even an idea, anything which might make them oppose the inertia of gravity. Moreover, there were other people too who wanted to watch me working, wanted to know how I was choreographing, and apart from that it was very loud in the room, the strangest sounds came from everywhere, and my discomfort grew so overwhelming that I woke up. The noises were coming from the Vienna Exit, for I live almost next to the street which later becomes the Westautobahn. That, too, a widely branching out choreography, the streets of a city and how the cars follow those streets and how the cars are being choreographed by traffic lights and traffic rules. It's good that way, and still it sometimes ends with death. Johnny once said, when he was asked to explain who or what a choreographer is: "A choreographer is somebody who lets others dance but doesn't dance himself." And with regard to Jerôme Bel he said: "That's a choreographer who doesn't dance himself but also lets nobody else dance." Today choreography is that I'm sitting here and my fingers and eyes are performing a little dance on the keyboard while my legs are crossed under the table; my back motionless and slightly bent, I'm following the choreography of letters and there are no onlookers and contrary to choreography it's now written here black on white, the writing of movement doesn't leave a trace apart from a feeling in the body, less in the onlookers than in the movers; like a little cosmonaut it gets lost in time, and what remains is fleetingness and an empty space.
Choreography is the organisation of elements in space-time, that is, the organisation of movement.
According to which considerations this organisation is undertaken, who and how many participate in it, or whether the elements organise themselves theoretically is completely open. The elements, too, can be everything: not only bodies but also thoughts, whole people, sounds, a dog, a few stones, a tree, a piece of cardboard, history, and so on.
And space-time, too, is not only what happens in the framework of a stage piece, an average of 65 minutes, on the stage measuring about 12x14 metres. For every space at the same time is a spiritual space with an infinite number of windows and doors.
As soon as anything at all moves on the stage, a whole complex of perceptions, feelings, associations and world is moving along with it.
Choreography also is showing in which construction of world we undertake this organisation. At the outset I lent this construction from Einstein's theory of relativity. Of course, all other existing universal world explanations or – if one doesn't want those – all known possible philosophical models which show how something may function and be seen, are possible as a basis as well as every individual's personal world consciousness.
In my opinion, a very successful choreography shows that we also shape this construction of world including its philosophical basis with just that choreography; that we are just building a piece of world.
So, theoretically everything seems open, but what makes sense in what context? The performance only works when the choreography is understood, too.
The picture of Mona Lisa may not make much sense hanging in the jungle where it is not perceived by insects and a few mammals, except for this example. Even as stolen art, hidden in a milliardaire's basement, the context remains quite confined and may generate little exchange and communication.
In the context of topicality, of tradition, of fashion or of the recently developed avantgarde discourse, a specific language is used which evokes a creation of theatre reality. By this I mean the reality evoked by the work and its reflexion in a common moment. Naturally, this is no singular reality but a multitude of realities exceeding the number of reflexions. In this context the art work functions as an unlimited entity which doesn't only exist at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain materiality, but in the complexity of any thinkable connection.
Choreography also is the choreography of connection, for choreography is only one element beside others, all of which together create the connection.
Choreography feeds on this connection and simultaneously refers to it. With elements which – already existing, warmed up, found again – pass more or less interesting recycling processes. There always are the factors of variation, of combination, of selection, of recognition, of development through various processes.
One might think that analytical methods of organisation would be decisive for art. But as much as one endeavours to formulate those – mostly according to their development by artists -, they leave out the all-decisive, but indeterminable factor: Why art is art and nothing else, and for what reason an artist chooses his individual art form. An art which according to its nature escapes any final explanation and definition, which cannot be described adequately by anything else except by involvement in and dealing with it, and still is necessary to understand the rest of the world anew.
Up to now, no one could explain to me what art is, nor could I myself who seems to be an artist do so – apart from doing it, this art. I know that it is important, and I know that I don't want to do anything else. And I observe that even before one has formulated the explanation, art has changed again.
In all the context of scientific analysis, from which the likewise hard-to-grasp artist cannot easily be excluded, his genius, jumble, creativity, personality, need to create, courage, understanding, vulnerability, knowledge, imagination, selflessness, intelligence, conviction etc. are all factors which may seem to us like virtues and qualities of the next-to-last century; but believe me, all great artists have all this and much more. Most of all they know everything and often nothing, but there comes a time when they know exactly what they want, even if nobody else understands it yet.
Exactly this rather personal motivation and processing of world seems to me to be the most important factor of all. Sometimes this is brought to the issue or comes up as a secret hinted at. But even the most remote construction of a work cannot really make me believe that the meaning of a thing doesn't have anything to to with the purely personal perception and individual processing of the artist.
Of course, if one delves deeper there will be some traumata an more harmless childhood impressions which move us to individuyl forms of organisation, thematic preferences, characteristic or characterless qualities. Further guidelines are achieved with much effort or worked out for oneself. In the more interesting case, newly developed for every production.
For my part, in between I like being the idiot who knows nothing. It may be risky to stand in the studio sometimes not knowing who one is, but at least I know then what to expect from myself.
By example of a work of mine, "Schreibstück", whose 19th version was premiered in September in Australia, one can observe the relationing of dancers and choreographers with a simple canon structure and specific themes to be treated. A position regarding something becomes transparent and constitutive. A person which takes a position regarding that which at that moment constitutes it, instead of regarding the person as a mere performer. Just a few choreographers overruled those specifications, which they might well do.
In "Funktionen", the following project, the performing person can command all constitutive factors from the outset, and may determine all these elements and parameters. The creator not only refers to them but is also called to reflect the basic principles and to influence them creatively. The most important choreographic means here naturally is communication, for without language, and with this I mean any exchange of information by means of signs, no decisions can be made about the basic principles.
Frans says: "We are not so busy with that question, we are busy making work. And in a way we are more busy with the people who are busy with that question. For example in our new piece 'feminine delight'. I guess we like to tell stories about people who make choreography." Robert says: "You are right, as always, but I want to add this: I think it is still making choreography what we do. Because we make constructions of movement on stage. On stage we move with our bodies through our thoughts, opinions, desires, dreams and fears. We never go for a fixed interpretation, always sliding through different perspectives. We do not like stagnation. And choreography is an art-form that battles every form of stagnation. It is an art-form, that propagandizes movement, change in every moment we live (on stage). And yes, we are even more interested in the flexibility of the mind to move all the time, then only the body itself. But does it really exist – the body only, is the body not always the physicality and the mind together? I like to see us as the choreographers of the mind … what do you say?" Frans says: "Mmmm, sounds great, let's go for it! Free your mind – become a choreographer!"
What do we have to understand by "choreography" today? Formed, intentional movement which is in a state of tension with respect to space and time, and in a very broad sense has to do with a rhythmical movens. Not dramaturgy (which is added), not improvisation, even if it is structured improvisation. However, it has to be mentioned that the meaning of terms changes. During the last decades, improvisational and performative elements have not just increasingly become implemented in production methods; they increasingly have become part or even main part of performances. The visibly energetic and its shaping, that which has characterised Western ballet, but also contemporary European and North American stage forms in the 20th century, at least in experimental dance currently is not in the foreground. Creation is ruled by statement, the establishment of form lags behind, the threshold to other genres of art fluctuates and sometimes is fruitful. In the flow of history, which has to be known, continuous re-definition is imperative.
"What does choreography mean today?" – It is clear that we cannot provide any more substantialist or formalist answers to the question "what is choreography". On the other hand, to just describe some amalgam of practices, which supposedly compose the volume of the notion "choreography" today, would be a tautological operation. The only possible perspective to reflect on the proposed question seems then to be the functional one. In a functional perspective the question "What does choreography mean today?" could be spelled as following: What is choreography doing today? Why? What does this doing stand for?
The philosopher's duty is to work with concepts. He has then to take the risk of proposing a conceptual answer, so short that it has to be necessarily formalised.
Choreography is an operation of singularisation, that is of invention-production of singularity, or of a singular form of life. This operation involves the planes of perceptive and reflexive (e)motion and power. The agents of the operation of singularisation could be identified as producers, performers, spectators and institutional agents. These positions are structural and not substantial: they could be indiscernible at any moment of the operation of singularisation.
It is common today to speak of the political tasks of choreography. We should avoid though understanding this statement only in the sense of representing in critical perspective political matter (for instance, the spectacular critique of media spectacularity or the representation of irrepresentable violence and pain), because the logic of representation is the inherent logic of the politics of sovereignty. More than that, choreography has a proto-political potential, that is to say a potential to oppose the politics of sovereignty. If theatre, the arch-political art, which presents, according to a logic of substance and individuals, the redistribution of the common by which sovereignty is instituted (and in which even today its grounds remains mythical), choreo-graphy operates with the tekhnai of singularisation in the void of the common as with pure forces. The body appears in this void not as a conglomeration of signs or as a substantial organic power, as the topos of the immanent excess of life; it takes place as a multiple operation of (dis)organisation of its tekhnai, that is of singularisation-operation, through which the space of the common is re-composed. The actual meaning of choreography is then thinkable also as a counter-operation of transformation of the standardised modes of production of subjectivity, that is to say of codification and commoditisation of body, perception, reflection and emotion in the polit-economical circuit of the global perverted capitalism, which attempts to reduce the horizon of the world to the overexploited space of the globe.