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ARTIST PROFILE: Interview with Daniel Linehan (by Rita Natalio)

RITA NATALIO : After the successful presentation of your last works, and an academic background in a European reference school as P.A.R.T.S., one could say Daniel Linehan is a name not to forget. You have been considered a very promising choreographer in the field of contemporary dance, your works reveal  an extreme accuracy in the use of words and movement, you produce unusual and clashing encounters of forms and languages. But what would you say about the acknowledgement and legitimation of young artists like you, how would you tell us your own version of becoming a promising choreographer ?

DANIEL LINEHAN: The ways of measuring and determining what is success differ widely, and I treat my level of success very skeptically, without being sure that it will continue. Basically, I have achieved enough success to be able to find ample opportunities for creating and performing my work, and I am very grateful for that, especially knowing that I am working in a context that is not my home. (I come from the West Coast of the United States, and I couldn’t imagine finding the same level of professional opportunities there as I have found here in Belgium and Europe).  What success means for me is that I have time and space to work on my choreography, the possibility to work deeply on my artistic research.
For me, making work is always a huge struggle between different interests that arise in myself: on the one hand, I am really fascinated by formal and abstract ways of considering performance, and on the other hand, I really want to directly inject tangible, pertinent, real-world issues into my performances. The photographs of hundreds of people in Montage for Three, and the list of every topic imaginable in Not About Everything (Islam, climate change, nuclear meltdown, economic crisis, the war in Iraq, celebrities, philosophers, etc.)...I think of these as attempts to force the people in the theater to take into account what is happening outside the theater. At the same time, I’m concerned with and spend a lot of time thinking about very dry, formal issues like repetition, change, rhythm, visual perception, etc. I have conflicting desires, the desire to deal with huge contemporary world issues and the desire to stay confined to my own hyper-specialized world, working deeply on small things and accepting my limitations. I’m just speculating, but I wonder if this conflict of desire is something that people connect with when they see my work.

RITA NATALIO: This is not about everything, Montage for 3 and Zombie Aporia – the only three pieces that I have seen from you-  are very different in their form and content but at the same time, they share common elements.  There is a clear interest in contradictory mediums or systems such as Action and Word (In This is not about everything you spin in a continuous affirmative loop as you tell us a list of what the piece is “not” about”), Photography and Performance (Montage for 3) and Music and Dance (Zombie Aporia). At the same time, all these works share a common ground – the self-referentiality to the realm of dance and creation of works of art. Can you tell us more about this two ideas: exploring contradiction in language  and exploring the art field as a self-referential system? Are they constants in your work?

DANIEL LINEHAN: I’m really driven by contradictions because I think that this is the most common thing that I encounter in the world. I’m really attuned to seeing paradoxes, not necessarily things that are absurd or that don’t make sense, but simply things that seem to be opposed to each other but which actually coincide. There seems to be huge contradictions inherent in everyday language, in the use of negation, for example. Not About Everything explored this topic: I negate everything that the piece might be about, but by listing these topics (“This is not about economic crisis, this is not about Iraq,“ etc.), I call to mind these very topics that I am negating—it seems like the performance really is about these topics, so that the power of negation in speech carries at the same time an affirmation.




I explore similar kinds of contradictions in all of my pieces, in Montage for Three, I wanted two apparently opposite forms to collide with each other (dance as a live, three-dimensional, moving form vs. photography as a dead, two-dimensional, motionless form).




My quartet, Being Together without any Voice is about four people who appear simultaneously as a unified group and also as a disparate conglomeration of atomized individuals.
Other choreographers have built a body of work that shares a certain vocabulary, or a certain way of considering the dancing body. My different works do not have this kind of thing in common, but there are other common traits that are visible in all of my works: repetition and sudden change, jump-cuts, structures that are like a list of items, a concern with meaning (not just in language, but also in gesture, physical expression, etc). I would say that my works are linked by a common choreographic structural elements, and by an open definition of what constitutes the body, but not by similar themes or similar movement vocabularies.
It might be true what you say, too, that artistic self-referentiality is a common element in my work. I don’t know if it will continue to re-surface in my work. It might come out of something that I was mentioning earlier—the fact that I can often become really fascinated by the formal concerns of dance-making, and if I go too far into these concerns, I create a loop that refers back to itself.


RITA NATALIO: How would you describe the nature of your research? What do you consider essential preoccupations and elements in your work?

DANIEL LINEHAN: I am working with different forms of juxtaposition, placing opposing elements next to each other in time, or simultaneously at the same time. A lot of choreography is about flow and continuity, making edges and transitions smooth or soft. I am working against this tendency.  If choreography is about movement, then it would be about continuity, but for me, choreography is about the body, something that is full of oppositions and disconnected multitudes. Of course my work involves a lot of movement, but I focus more on the idea of change than the idea of movement. I actively try to prevent my pieces from seeming like a unity; I always divide them explicitly into chapters, parts, segments. I don’t show audiences how two things are connected; I merely place two things next to each other, and so the audience must work to establish the connections and associations between the different parts of my performances. I think of the body not only in visual terms, but I think of the body as something which includes a voice, emotions, ideas, sexuality, history, signs, actions, abstractions, etc. In each of my works, different aspects of the body come more into the foreground, (gesture and image in Montage for Three, the voice in Zombie Aporia) but the body is definitely the lens through which I view these concepts. In Zombie Aporia, for example, we try to treat the voice in a physical, bodily way.


RITA NATALIO: Tell us about your latest new project
 Human-extended? Once again, what is the “contradiction” between human and technology that you are interested in?

DANIEL LINEAHN: In Human-extended (working title!), I’m further developing a section from Zombie Aporia in which I was projecting an image of the choreography from the point of view of a camera worn on the body during a rehearsal of that choreography. To say it more simply: the audience can see what I am seeing while I am dancing, or rather, they can see what I saw when I was dancing earlier, while making a video recording. This short section of Zombie Aporia was a solo, but the next piece will involve three dancers.
I don’t necessarily see a contradiction between human and technology; the use of technology is rather one of the things that defines being human. I am instead interested in the contradiction between the present unique-ness of the live performance and the repetitive past that gave the performance its structure. Somehow, I want to find a way to bring this aspect of the past into the performance. It is not supposed to be about self-reference, or reference to the creation process, but rather about the extent to which the past determines the future and the possibility for openness in the future. The contradiction is not so much between human and technology as between a human and a structure, and the inevitability of deviation from a pre-determined structure, in this case a choreographic structure.

RITA NATALIO: What is for you the aim and importance of a network like DÉPARTS, a network devoted to young and emergent dance makers in Europe?

DANIEL LINEHAN: As an emerging artist myself, as someone who is trying to think experimentally and push dance to do things that it doesn’t normally do, I am of course on the side of other young emerging artists. Young emerging dance makers tend to be very passionate and excited about their ideas, but they enter the dance field without much knowledge about how to navigate the field and find opportunities, and they need organizations that can help them find the time and space and the funding that is necessary to dig deeply into their research. Organizations like DÉPARTS are helping young artists find the opportunities to bring their ideas and projects to fruition, and this kind of support is so necessary at this early stage in their careers.
After going to school at PARTS, I had built up some connections in Brussels and Flanders, but not as many connections outside of Belgium. It is also important that DÉPARTS can help artists establish dialogues with dance scenes across Europe, outside of their local dance communities. It was through the DÉPARTS program, for example, that I received support from the Centre de développement chorégraphique in Toulouse.
When I hear of budget changes in certain countries that preserve the funding for large established dance institutions, and cut the funding for younger emerging artists, I fear that dance as an art form will start to become stagnant, that it will lose the new, experimental ideas that are necessary in order to keep contemporary dance moving forward. Not that I wish for an opposite funding structure that favors only young artists and removes funding from an older generation. One problem in the U.S. is that many grants are labeled as “emerging artist“ grants, and mid-career artists can actually have a more difficult time in finding funding, which makes it seem like there is absolutely no sustainability in pursuing choreography as a profession. Obviously, there needs to be a balance, in which artists can find funding and opportunities at every stage of their development.