They Might Call You A Madman

4 Sep

So you consider yourself a politically engaged artist?

You apply for subsidy from the art council, you produce one larger scale production, next to some intervention-like production each year. You work as a choreographer and hire dancers that you announce as co-creators, and from who you demand undivided devotion. They are after all collaborators, which means no day off. In the studio, where you always work (perhaps even your own space), the reigning atmosphere is sharing, but after the premiere it is only you who answers to interested programmers, meets up for a coffee with the director of the local venue and decides what performance pictures should be available on the webpage. It is only you who shows up for the after talk and you make sure that the local programmers don’t develop any relation to your dancers, that of course all are doing their own work (obviously insignificant).

The contemporary choreographer is a master in manipulating the distribution of power and responsibility in ways that make working conditions unbearable and conflict impossible. Luckily the dancer is smart enough not to object. It’s at least a job.
How do you manipulate your colleagues, what illusions do you propose in order to make yourself invincible, although you have no idea what you are working on?

How many times have you proposed to dancers and others an open experimental process, and how many times have you when it is three or so weeks left to the premiere announced, that the experimental period is now over and that it is time that You make a piece… The formulation is usually not that direct, but it’s my firm belief that it happens to every second production. No, more often!

“-We are working collectively”, another of these sentences destroyed in the same way as an overused “I love you” become evidence of the opposite. You’re not working collectively, you tell yourself you are but in fact you are just postponing the fearful moment of taking a decision. You are working collectively because you are a coward! No, in fact you are two cowards, that’s the first one, the second the fact that even though you are (or not as we have seen) working collectively you desperately want the result to look like a conventional, however special, dance performance. How embarrassingly vain. If the result of a collective process is compatible with a “dance piece” the process has not been collective, but simply a conventional one with another name.

You understand yourself as a political choreographer? Obviously every utterance into the world is in some or other way political, but what exactly is your politics?

Questions, you emphasize are important in your work, but did you ever question the possibility of stopping. Questions in contemporary choreography are never more fundamental than: “-How are you?”

You say you work with text, but have forgotten who wrote it. You say you work with text (D&G in dance is similar to text) in order to justify that you have no idea. You take an active position in respect of post-colonial discourse but forgot his (sic.) name, Spiva… something, no?

You consider yourself a politically active artist? You make political work? Somebody comes on stage wearing a burqa, somebody sings a song in Persian or screams in Hebrew. That doesn’t make you more or less political, you are just miming, reproducing images from the everyday which in the theatre become totally and completely irrelevant, and curiosities for your standard middle class audience.

In the after talk, to which only you show up, you talk about your Turkish performers as them or they. They are so this and that, and instead of having anything to say about the ideological and political subtext to your work you – with a self-acknowledging laughter – tell anecdotes that after polishing the surface a bit come out as patronizing exotication. Your work is as political as the art council that supports you.

You consider yourself a political artist? You make performances that you tour to international festivals? You spend your entire subsidy on production, six months rehearsal period, residencies and research labs.

You arrive at the airport where the pickup is waiting. You shake hands with the director or some assistant, receive your per diem and after gaining Internet access announce that you have to start set up… Yes, that’s what you get paid for, being busy, so at least pretend. Until next evening you and sometimes your dancers are occupied with curtains, video projectors and slow motion technical teams. We spend the next many hours in a black box without windows worrying about the strength of the video projector. You are still a political choreographer busy with human injustice, and you think that the seventy minutes of your performance can first, convince the audience member that his 18€ was well spent, and second, persuade the same dude that your political position, opinion, production is so strong that he will change his mind? I think this is rather unlikely.

And afterwards, I see you in the foyer chatting with local colleagues and friends. No, you never talk to your dancers in such a situation, that’s very inefficient and by the way you are not friends, they are your subordinates. In fact the amount of time you spend on talking to a person is directly linked to how much money he or she can put into you upcoming project.

If the audience reactions were only so good the director tells you with an excusing tone of voice that he has a really early flight tomorrow morning, but that that you will meet in April in Utrecht. “-Yeah yeah, we perform in Bettina’s festival” you say, implicitly saying: “-I’m available.” If the audience had been positive you go for dinner with the director and too many other people that the depth of the conversation at best reaches gossip. Half past midnight we are all back at the hotel answering a few mails, before watching half a downloaded film.
Perhaps you repeat the ritual the day after, otherwise you have a flight back home or to the next city. The pick up to the airport, you and the team complain a bit about being tired, check in, all is fine. And you call yourself a politically active artist?

Stop it, if you have any ambitions in respect of politics stop working. Take a few years off and consider exactly what your politics is? How you work, with who, what fictions you use to convince your environment, what sweet talk you apply to satisfy programmers and the council? Do you really think Alain Platel has anything to do with transvestites, do you think Constanza Makras gives a flying fuck about immigrants, do you think Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker really bothers about global climate change (the company is still flying), and do you think William Forsythe is in depth concerned about human rights. No, they aren’t, no they don’t care, if they were really convinced how does it happen that they only make one show or project concerned with this or that, and how does it happen that their political engagement always coincides with concerns expressed in Time Magazine.

If you want your work as process and practice reflect political or ideological concerns get ready, it will not be successful because if you want to work differently what will come out will not be the same. And you know, how this business works, if it doesn’t look like dance you don’t exist.
If you have any political ambitions leave the stage, step down, fire your dancers and go to work. Don’t apply for residencies, terminate your black box addiction, get rid of your manager, stop going to Brussels, forget to return e-mails, change side of the street, don’t pay the rent to your studio, pick fights for no reason, get angry, stop cleaning up, fuck any strategic outlining.

Do one thing, yes do one thing: Refuse to give up! Every insurrection starts there, with the refusal to give up. Many might call you a madman but remember the refusal to give up contaminate, and tomorrow there’s gonna be a whole lot of madmen.


4 Responses to “They Might Call You A Madman”

  1. rasmus September 5, 2010 at 18:21 #

    Wohhoooo! From “arrive at the airport..” and on, jeez this is a great and absolutely epic description of the insignificance of a political standpoint in this field. Or maybe any standpoint at all. Ahhh, but yes, then what? (please don´t answer that though). Tack, söndagen är räddad vilket inte är självklart efter 6 timmar styrelsemöte med DcRiks. pphhiou

  2. Dmitry September 7, 2010 at 00:23 #

    it’s true: this world is full of hypocrisy

  3. Anna Dwight September 7, 2010 at 21:37 #

    it’s funny how you give always instructions ‘do this, don’t do this’

    you dictate

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