Contemporary cynicism both reflects and brings to an irreversible conclusion the inversion of knowledge and “life”. Imediate familiarity with one or another set of rules and a minimized elaboration of their essencial contents – this is the form taken by cynicism reactive adaptation to the general intellect
Paolo Virno, The ambivalence of disenchantment
TEACHING THEORY TO FUTURE CHOREOGRAPHERS
What is theory? What is the use of theory in dance schools? Is theory an use, a mode of existence or a tool of dance studies? How do theoretical studies and dance studies co-relate? When can theory propels practice and viceversa?
Step 1. Dreaming
I dreamt with a reality where “education” was the gravity center for a multiple approach of practices and ideas altogether. In my dream I visited a center for “life worlds” to grow in dialogue with multiple languages. From abstraction to perception, form biology to poetry, from dance technique to blogging, this center was a mixture of disciplines, coding and decoding the needs and desires from masses of students, masses of singularities, eyes, fingers and mouths in ever-changing contexts to become. After my dream I decided to write something about the use of theory in art schools and specially in dance schools. I understood my urgent need to clarify what is the use of theory in art, in an epoch where thought is entangled with consumerism and theory in a discursive branch of society capable of replacing acts and facts.. Legitimation of art = theory. But how should I start?
Maybe like this:
since the 90’s (at least), there is a continuous monologue concerning performing arts. A monologue around the field of “experimental” and “conceptual” work, even “reality-based” work, constituted by upright theories and self-referential imagery about contemporary choreography. This monologue is normally fed by dance theoreticians, programmers and critics, it consolidates a certain mode of existence in “contemporary dance”, it reclaims a certain ability to decipher aesthetical formats and some precarious thin lines called “currents” or “generations”.
Where art and theory could have led a profound dialogue, there is more of a replacing “trick”, a magical operation: whereas a work of choreography appears to produce a certain theoretical environment, it happens exactly the opposite, because it is the theoretical apparatus that is producing the choreography. So, there is a coincidence between the immediate (the present time where a certain artist produces a work) and the historical status (the contextualization of the work in a certain intellectual function, in a certain place of Dance History). So, a piece represent a pre-defined status or value in the general intellect.
This magic game is operated by the theoretician (maybe someone called dramaturge who writes about the piece before it prémieres), but it can also be operated by the artist himself, who can be at the same time producer of choreography and producer of a certain theoretical big picture.
Now, the problem is not exactly that someone invents a concept to contextualize a dance or that theory is an expanded mirror of post-modern times . As Bruno Latour would have put it, our modern culture produces GODS FACTISH, “factish” being a contraction of “fétiche” with “fact” (“fait” in french). We must cultivate these gods, gods os factish. I mean that the problem is not exactly that we create concepts, this is in fact the good part of the magic trick. The problem is that theory is replacing media and dance itself. Thery is a producer of surplus, it gives the work of art a surplus that replaces its own value. So, choreography becomes market-oriented in these two senses: material value and cognitive value. And I guess, that if we look backwards maybe we can see dance schools as a step of this equation. But let’s give a step further.
Step 2. Dance and market: paix-de-deux
We: consumers and producers of symbols
We: producers and consumers of information
We: producers and consumers of sensations, emotions and futures to come
Art (or “Dance”): a mode of production programmed with the same templates of other contemporary modes of production. Production of symbols, information, sensation, emotions, futures to come.
Work: work is not exactly “work”. Work is speculation, adaptation and flexibility “to work”
Feeling: pre-programmed for fear and restlessness, from the moment we wake up, enter Google to search for this and that, we prepare our day, we consider our professional projects, or we go to dance school.
Question: Is it too Marxist to say that a dancer is a flexible producer of steps, an adaptable “machine-à-danser”, a restless provider of different aesthetics to come?
Quotation: What are the principal qualities demanded of wage laborers today? (…)These qualifications are not products of industrial discipline so much as results of a socialization that has its center of gravity outside of the workplace, a socialization punctuated by discontinuous and modular experiences, by fashion, by the interpretation of the media, and by the indecipherable ars combinatoria of the metropolis intertwining itself in sequences of fleeting opportunities. (PAOLO VIRNO)
Dance School: a preparation for the we-market, the first place for learning to be aware of “fleeting opportunities”. What is a good dance school, according to the we-market? A school that provides flexible multi-varied techniques, adaptation to different choreographic languages, free speculation on different codes and configuration of techniques, language and knowledge. What is the role of theory in the school of the we-market? A substitute. From anatomy to philosophy and art theory, theoretical studies are used to re-place the value of choreography. The value of the dancer – producer of steps – is re-placed by the sum of connections of each step and element he can produce to pre-established concepts and contexts. The relation between dance and knowledge is then inverted. Here is set the foundation from cynicism, if you take Paolo Virno as an inspiration, that cynicism is produced by the inversion between knowledge and life.
Step 3. Hearing other voices
Pavle Heidler is a Croatian dancer and choreographer who graduated from P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) on June 24, 2012. He is insterested in subtleties of language, its mechanics so to speak; the way it works on establishing a non-narrative narrative, a sort of alternative to linear thinking, tt wishes to propose a different hierarchy in which common agreement according to norm is not a priority.
I talked with Pavle about the use of Theory in PARTS and he gave me this testimony:
At the moment I live in Zabreg ,but I’m not based here, I moved to Stockholm. Since I finished Parts in July 2012 I have been doing my own work and working with other people, and writing some articles, journalist writing and essays on dance. The first things I remarked about the place of theory in Parts ,is that PARTS is very concerned as a dance school, with the use of the brain. It is concerned with how we think, whether is thinking choreography, dance as theory, or the body as an instrument. I mean, you get a lot about anatomy, alignment, functionality of muscle work. You get used to having “to think” as opposed to “just dancing”. It is weird to make this opposition but in my previous formation, I was taught, how I should look, or how I should feel because I was suppose to “express “my emotions and for me it was never enough.
He described me the theoretical seminars in PARTS, the most interesting subjects and provocations he received during his formation
In the training cycle, we got a lot of dance history. I understand it very important to understand our context, and even aesthetically where things come from. Specially because, in the training cycle in PARTS, we take ballet classes as well as contemporary classes, and it’s important to now how to, historically, position yourself. After that, we had also a class in anatomy, part practical and part theoretical. Then it got more abstract: we had sociology, philosophy, dance theory, which is very different from dance history because we don’t study choreographers for their achievements but for their methodologies, why certain environments and certain choreographers did certain choices and how these choices affected dance making today.
We had also a course in gender studies, Rudi Laermans gave us the possibility to decide what we wanted to study and we decided for this class, because I guess nowadays, in performance arts, this subject got very important for all of us. We discussed a lot of Judith Buttler and the ideia of “performativity” of gender. We had classes with Rudi Laermans and Bojana Cjevic.
Also, we had two courses on visual arts , one of them with Cristophe Vavelet. In fact, we had teachers that weren’t just choreographers, like visual artists, conceptual artists. This takes me back to my previous idea, that the study of different subjects in theory let us organize thinking in another way, to get a taste of that multiplicity.
Cecilia Lisa Eliceche was born in Bahia Blanca, Argentina where she started her training in ballet and contemporary dance at the local dance conservatory. In 2006 she moved to Brussels to attend the Training and Research Cycles at PARTS. In November 2008 she went to NY as an exchange student at Movement Research and to collaborate in the creation of DD Dorvillier. In recent years, in the search for a way of expressing her political concerns. Currently she is working as a freelance dancer in AD4TNA by Eleanor Bauer and Visions of Beauty by Hetaher Kravas. In parallel she is developing her own work.
Cecilia told me about the mechanics of PARTS, she shared with me another vision on the options and seminars’ program, not so positive as Pavle. Even though, she referred the importance of Rudy Laermens, the way he shacked her habits of thinking. But, in other hand, she was quite reactive to the use of fashionable theories and fashionable authors in the dance filed, like Deleuze:
“I am resisting Deleuze. I never did a big effort to understand him. All dancers should study and like Deleuze. But me, I only read woman authors. I am trying to read from Hannah Arendt to the Cyborg Manifesto, I am resisting to “understanding” Deleuze. I think he is too fashionalble, everyone is supposed to know or like him, but I believe it is just a trend.”
To be a Latin American was a way to Cecilia understand certain mechanisms in PARTS connected with western-patterns, and Eurocentric perspectives in dance, theory and history:
“PARTS is Eurocentric and chauvinistic. Apart from Bojana Cjevic all teachers in PARTS are white heterosexual men! Now there is one gay teacher! (she laughes) For instance, in our classes, there was really a separation between students. Nobody chooses theory classes apart form French people or people that speak good English. But in 1st cycle, where theory classes are obligatory, everyone form outside of Europe is sleeping in the back of the class: Brazil, Chorea, Japan, African. And all the rest, the white, the “frenchie”, the godchild of the director of Festival d’Automne in the front! (laughes)“
And she gaves some other examples of her experience:
“When our class got to present work in Congo we didn’t get a single class on Congo history and the colonial relationship between Congo and Belgian, which is absolutely perverse. And everyone was so excited that we were going to Congo, and we had to choose in one day if we wanted to go or not….we had decide whether we wanted to do Drumming, a piece by Anne Therese de Keersmaeker! (laughes) We didn’t present our work, we didn’t exchange…nothing“
Step 4. What is the use of theory?
After knowing more about PARTS, I tried to understand what is perspective that Cecilia and Pavle have of their formation and the use they give to studies in theory in their work as dancers.
Cecilia: “For me, theory is essential. I feel very inspired by what I read. Since I started doing my own work, I read a lot of things. The reason I like contemporary dance and contemporary art is because it is this heterotopic place where we can play with meaning, and resist the fixation of norm . It’s really the place for thinking, and particularly in dance, with the body, it becomes so relevant to understand where do you come in terms of history but also theories that form the tradition, Western culture, even ballet. To understand how did the logic of Westerns thought has been formed.“
Pavle Haidler: “The first thing I’m interested is that theory can make me and my art processes slower and to me careful about my choices and subjects. I’m more now more up to try different thing so I can be more specific about what I want do or say. It helps to organize my work as well, to dialogue with others that already worked in certain subjects. The way I articulate things chances according with what I know. I am very influenced by gender studies, Judith Butler notion of performativity and where does performance comes from, meaning its social layers. And then I am also interested in a physical, anatomical, neurological discourse and how does the social influences the biological. What is the different between real and fiction, I don’t choose what I want to read, I stumble upon thins. I read philosophy, science and a lot of fiction, novels, even sci-fi novels. I grew up with Harry Porter, I love magic! I’m reading now an essay on Ernst Bloch who wrote about the notion of “utopia” in a Marxist perspective, and a lot of vocabulary I don’t know it, because I never read Marx nor the Capital. I know about it but I never studied the texts. So, this is also a way to use theory to open up my brain and challenge my thinking, how much I understand and I try to test how much of theory if fiction because I don’t’ completely understand it. So, I try to reflect on organization of information, institutions and social constructions, the way we behave according to a certain knowledge and rules that are sometimes more fictions, or “as” fictional as fiction!“
Step 5: Alternatives
After hearing Cecilia and Pavle, I try to elaborate a new ground, a school where proliferation of techniques and theory is not directly channeled for inverted equations between theory and practice (cynicism), and power and knowledge (remembering the example of Cecilia on Congo).
Step 6. Dance to the sound of my song
We are anti-cynical and trans-Congolese. Our house is more of a hand-made boat, a snow ball, a tent-school of practical theories and theoretical practices. Can we think about a relationship that is not dominant, but producer of an unstable awareness? Why shouldn’t philosophy be used as a choreographic practice? Can we improvise in a studio with Bergson’s “Matter and Memory”? Can we produce sounds with Bruno Latour’s book in our hands? Can we replace our “techniques formation” by temporary repetitions and variations? Can we stop looking for The Author, The Status, The Market, The Money, The one? God was dead with Nietzsche, the Author was dead with Post-Structuralism, and Post-Modern Theory – fat greasy theory – must be burned and ecologically transformed. The place of theory can never be an island of backup defenses, or a reason ta a certain body and affect to be valuable. Because, as Latour and Isabelle Stengers would have put it, our knowledge and practices are part of our “cosmology”. There are no bricks or stones in concepts that are harder or better than our dances. There is an ecology of practices to think, between dance and theory. Dance needs to exist as a practice and not as a practice filtered by theory. Theory cannot “convert” choreography. Theory can only open our minds to uncanny speculation. No results are necessary. Art is no result. A school in no producer.