I confess, recently I have developed an addiction to television series about lawyers, prosecutors and the games of politics. Oh yes, they are all Washington, dirty intrigues and betrayal. I love em, and perhaps there is some sort of envy going on. Who am I. I’m concerned with dance, I’ve goddamn devoted my life to jumping around and flapping mine and others’ arms and legs. Thinking about it, obsessing about it, spending time in studios and going to shows. That’s my petty little business. Of course, I’m envious, what are the dirty games of dance and choreography in comparison to Washington, an affair with the president or a lawsuit that will bring the world to a new place. I also want to have secret meetings and an entourage of muscle men with earpieces, and what do I have… a blog. Nice work dude.
But I have learned something checking out these series. The importance of rules [OMG did I just write that, sounds like I’m not about to be the most sexy Dad]. A lawyer can be on more than one side, sometimes a prosecutor sometimes the defendant, the situation is always binary how would it be otherwise? What otherwise would be is a freakin’ sauce of confusion where everybody is everything at the same time. Not a good series. Perhaps this is more adequately what I envy, the clarity of positions and what a position is about to perform, produce or do.
There seems to in general exist two reasons for definition. One that is about pinning something down in order to produce a defined and clear territory. Say like a nation defines itself. This is a rather boring and stabilizing mode of definition. Definition as a means to produce essence. A second version implies to define in order to understand the circumstances for something, with the opportunity to transform. Without definition transformation and change appears to be a difficult quest if not down right impossible. Without definitions and with that location it becomes impossible to orientate. The moment space becomes properly smooth every location is every location all the time and at the same time. Movement becomes arbitrary or whatever, navigation becomes endlessly open and folds back on itself. Something like contemporary democracy, so open and negotiated nothing can happen.
In respect of definition we might say that the first version refers to pre-capitalist societies operating in respect of a sovereign, or why not is inhabited by stable subjectivities that is formed around some sort of nucleus. The second version instead adheres to capitalism, where expansion is key and the reformulation of territory is essential. Obviously then occupied by a subjectivity that is constantly remodeled and reiterated. Definition of the second type in other words implies dynamism, flexibility, has transformation and movement built into it self.
Lately I have been engaged in conversations where dance appears to be incorporated in some general notion of performance. Institutions are today making room for performance in their programs, a curator is announced to be in charge about performance and it seems that those people know what performance is? But what is it? Is it everything time based or is it just some things that are, time and based. And if so how long is time and how based must time be? I don’t get it? You know what, it seems that performance today is everything that is not something else. Everything that isn’t something else is stuffed into the performance department, and that’s supposedly good since the moment it is located it is no longer a problem.
Fuck that, there is hell uf a difference between just for example performance art, socially engaged art, lectures, concerts, choreography, dance, performance, Tino Sehgal, social dancing, community work and what have we. Dance is non of the other, but specific and particular all the way.
Fine, and somebody says but isn’t it better to be inclusive and allowing. “Be generous dude”, I hear somebody shout from the audience. But what happens if we time based folks are all sauced together, for one we will have to fight for the same market shares. A bigger share might be, but tell ya I’m rather working with small means than being part and parcel with performance collectives and community activist. Those are all doing great work, or at least some of them and their engagements are super duper, but we are arguing for diametrically different things to completely different ends. I am as little a performance artist as the prosecutor is a defendant, or freakin’ victim. I’m a choreographer that is occupied with organizing [among other things] dances. Performance artists probably also consider that they are organizing but the modes of organization is sort of as different as a painter organizing a canvas and a composer organizing sound. I’m often times involved in organizing people, both dancers and audiences, but never, or definitely not in any quantifiable way, in order to make their lives more agreeable, bring somebody out of some sort of social injustice, or even inform them about this or that in or justice. To mess choreography up with socially responsible performance related art is like considering that philosophy is another word for self-help. Philosophy is there to make life more of a living hell, to make it even more problematic and so is choreography, not to mention concert dance.
But let’s take a step back. First of all choreography and dance is not one and the same. Dance is fundamentally a dynamics of expression, it’s an activity, something that we do. Choreography on the other hand is not an expression, it is a fields of knowledge consisting of an open cluster of procedures that is not causal to any expression but that can be used to generate differentiation in a multiplicity of ways. Choreography is not the art of making dances, but a specific mode of approaching production that can generate dance but that is equally applicable to other means of expression. Dance is next to being a sense of expression also a field of knowledge but it is certainly not the same or even an overlapping field vis á vis choreography.
Dance and performance is neither identical or even similar. Yes, we speak about dance performances but that doesn’t mean that they automatically become performances. Dance is a means to express more or less visible structures. But what about improvisation, same thing there it is about the expression of movement as such not a matter of expressing one self, or for that matter something else such as a political injustice. Dance takes as its starting point abstraction, concerning form but also when it comes to the personal. Dance is not about you or me, it is about movement for no other reason than movement.
Performance, and in particular performance art, on the other hand is – and life is obviously not black and white – about expressing oneself often in congruence with something else may that be political, social, cultural or whatever. Performance is not about the expression of structures or organization, it is not about the pleasure of “empty” form [may that sound conservative], but about producing a voice, about content and rarely about form. Of course performance necessarily has or gains form, but here form is always subordinate to the production of a voice. And of course it works the other way around, but in the case of dance the voice produced is not first of that of the dancer, or rather the voice produced is that of organization and structuring itself.
To make things even worse. We tend to consider performance art to belong to spaces without proscenium, to some sentimental notion of loft that later on became the gallery or the museum. Dance on the other hand seems connected, probably because its dirty background in ballet, to theatre stages. But turn it around, choreography is a matter of structuring form much in the same way as abstract painting, contemporary sculpture or even installation. Choreography is a matter of scoring, of forms of writing. Performance also with the added art is rather about utilizing strategies that conceal or obscure structures much in the same way as theatre does. When I go to watch conventional theatre [i.e. all theatre] I’m interested in the story or the ability of the actor to perform a trustworthy portrait of whoever Uncle Vanya. I’m certainly not there to observe the structures of the drama and celebrate Chekhov’s structural elegance, whatever that excellence might be. Theatre and performance is art forms that are predominantly concerned with strategy, when choreography and dance is exited about structures and organization.
Definitions are often bad news, but we also need them, not in order to exclude but to figure our different modes of addressing the world and to offer grounds to express these modes of address. It is our responsibility as artists to define what we are up to, not in order to set up boundaries to others but in order not to claim as ours everything that appears not to be fully booked or sold out. Definition in this sense implies a generous gesture that allows others to play, to venture and expand, performance, socially engaged practices, dance and choreography included.