The opening scene in a recently produced television series; a man and a woman in a classy bar somewhere between date, job interview and pure violence. “Say it…” and pause, and this time he spits it out, yet whispering, “Say it…” Longer pause and cut to her who, like a contemporary Faust says it: “I want to be a gladiator in a suit.” From there on an endless stream of corruption, lies, distrust, infidelity etc. signed Washington and the Oval office. But fuck the White House what’s interesting here is the gladiator in a suit, and how this sentence from here on is the shit, and perhaps it’s more right than we think – have we all turned into gladiators however our suits differ from the executive version to some artistic, entrepreneurial similar. Cuz after all what a gladiators is, is nothing more than a mercenary who annihilates whatever comes in his way, the gladiator has excluded trust from his vocabulary and is absolutely alone. Everybody including himself is his enemy and any kind of weakness is a no no. Yet the gladiator has no freedom. He is another’s property, a defeated loser whose only freedom is to not be dead. Not be dead because, as once defeated, once brought out of his context he has been robbed of his life. The gladiator doesn’t have a life, he exists or is undead, for the gladiator life is not good or bad, it is just is.
A favorite part with gladiators is that the illusory freedom they strive for without exception have only two, which is one, motif; to be reunited with his woman and his country. How freakin’ conservative, can’t he at least long for America, to join an activist movement or become an artist. Nope, woman and mother land.
So not only is the gladiator a self-centered killing machine whom spares nobody, he is also a conservative nuclear family supportive, heteronormative, nationalist who just want to live a traditional simple life. Now, who the hell want’s such a guy at home, or even as a neighbor? I don’t even dare imagine doing the boogie woogie with a guy with such a resume? This is the dude who fucks using his partner as a mirror, that slams in signature move after signature move, and even better to make himself come.
“I’m a performer” is an identity hashtag I’ve come across more and more frequently. To talk about yourself as a dancer today appears to be totally and utterly out of the questions. No way, a dancer. A dancer, or it’s connotations, is somebody that signs up to identifiable and general abilities. Somebody that joins a troupe consisting of similarly exchangeable individuals, or perhaps not even individuals but laborers. The dancer is a worker that is hired to execute certain defined tasks, somebody who gossips in the dressing room and insists on, so called, company class and between jobs pride him- or herself of going to communal class. The dancer is anonymous and trained, a soldier in the army of other homogenized moving bodies, a dancer is somebody to who the practice is superior to the self. Who goes home being a private person after a days done deed.
If the dancer is a soldier, however with or not specific expertise such a as Cunningham technique or being a marksman is always anonymous and so to say synonymous with the people, the performer appears to be exactly the opposite. The performer is certainly no actor, fuck no – the performer is in no way a neutral conveyer brought to life buy some puppet master dramatist. The performer is excessively individual and somebody whose skills are incompatible with any general or common abilities of skills. The performer might engage in general techniques but if so on a level that is hitherto inexperienced. No no, the performer define his or her skills himself. They are not idiosynchrasies but produced, made or created abilities. Some of those abilities might look like whatever being a reasonable contortionist, looking really funny, having a tragic face or whatever but others, the more delicate ones, have more to do with less tangible stuff like presence, having a certain quality, having a specific ethnic background, the ability to be absent minded or withdrawn, or being too energetic. Central to the performer is that the skills whatever they are are immeasurable, they are performance based full stop. The performer operates outsides the domain of measure or comparison and hence outside quality. The performance cannot be divided from the individual or the self, and in a way every show, every performance is the performer. The performer only makes, only performs solo even when incorporated in a larger context. The performer is never in the bigger picture, but is the picture. In fact, the performer doesn’t need anything at all – no directions, no costume, preparation, set design, choreography no nuttin – he or she can just go on stage and be the performer and that’s more than enough. And mind you, if you didn’t find the performer amazing it is your fault, you simply aren’t emancipated enough from a spectacle inhabited by dancers, actors, choreography or drama, or whatever any kind of structure.
The performer don’t do character as little as he is executing any kind of choreography. Pas de tout, no no – the performer never auditions, needs no training, he is the performer somewhat like Frodo or Harry Potter [I love to reference Potter] – the performer is the chosen one, and he doesn’t need to fuckin practice. Once chosen always chosen, and as the chosen one he does everything ad hoc, informally or must even because any prescriptive organization implies a threat to the performer who then open for the possibility to rely on some or other thing. Indeed, if the dancers is somebody who relies on an interventionist state [the choreographer], the performer believes in a minimal state who only provides opportunities to more “I am a performer…”
The performer is obviously superior to the dancer but also to the choreographer. When the choreographer needs structures, rehearsals, studio time you name it, the performer just has it, it’s in there without petty needs like whatever. The performer proper doesn’t rehearse, he is just do it – and whatever comes out is always amazing because it’s the performer. It’s specific beyond special, it’s like smart beyond smart, conscious beyond consciousness, it’s hip beyond Williamsburg and relies only and exclusively on the self.
“I am a performer…” might at first instance read as an emancipated dancer, now free from the safe belonging of a community of shared techniques etc. But on second glace isn’t “I’m a performer…” to an equal extent harmonizing with our present political mainstream. If the dancer is a worker the performer is an individualized entrepreneur, somebody who doesn’t sell a recognizable expertise but instead sell himself as subject and the only thing he works on is the enhancement of and availability of the subject. What the dancer sells is hard skills whereas the performer sells only soft skills, might that simply be being charming or mystical. So if the dancer is a worker then it appears that the performer operates in perfect synchronization with neo-liberal governance. Moreover, when the dancer sells what I do as commodity, the perform has himself become commodity, he sells what he is, and what he is of course an endless negotiation, an endless availability vis á vis a performative subject, i.e. markets. No wonder the performer is categorically against company class and instead is all in favor of yoga in whatever form, preferable some Kundalini version, always practiced individually. In fact the performer is somebody that insists on haveing unlimited time for a care of the self, but in no respect over a Foucauldian perspective, but instead care of the self has turned into the project myself as commodity. The performer is at the end of the day a wet dream for neo-liberalism, a model citizen as he or she is selling activity, there is no product only pure exchange.
We are obviously not arguing for the return of the dancer, no way. Those times are gone, the time of the dance company as factory is over. We are not interested in some sort of re-industrialization of the body, yet we despise the word embodiment and performativity at large. Yet, are there alternative options then to be a gladiator in a suit, are there other approaches that might just not high five with the dark side of contemporary political imagination.