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WHO IS DENISE STUTZ? (by Rita Natalio)
Who is Denise Stutz? Until 2011, Denise Stutz was a Brazilian choreographer I could remember the name by heart, apart from Lia Rodrigues.  But knowing her name or learning her works by video was not exactly a big help for constructing a perception. In fact, Brazilian dance was for me a “white square painted in a white ground”. Denise Stutz was a complex issue, as a pair of glasses can be a complex machine for a giant Cyclope, or a micro-difference can return the Same without special lens for unfolding thoughts. My two eyes, in the way of putting Brazil and Denise in the same island (they where synonyms for me), could not stop asking the wrong questions, mixing names, as if a country or a choreographer could only be described through one-eyed figures having as a reference a “centrist” chorus line of western dance history.

When I moved to Brazil in 2012, I realized I had to stop asking for names and remember the myth of Atlas, the burden of the planet, or the question addressed to the whole geography in the back of a single human  - the cosmographical glass that tries to understand the resonance between things side by side, instead of trying to explain them. I went to see dance shows in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and I saw my first work by Denise Stutz in Teatro Cacilda Becker.  On stage, Denise came alone with a chair, a woman choreographer who spoke to me:

my name is Denise, I was born in Belo Horizonte, my grandparents were Russian, my father American, my mother Brazilian. I passed my childhood in the US , so when I come to Brazil I didn’t speak Portuguese. I went to study in a school were nobody could understand me and since then I ask myself: how can I get near?

I met Stutz’s autobiographical work “( 3 solos in 1 tempo“) right after moving to Brazil from my hometown Lisbon, where I had lost my sense of belonging after the detonation of the European Crisis.  Her questions about memory seemed familiar enough and foreign enough. They triggered my own memories. My Arabic-Portuguese-European ascendance contributed for a feeling of “unheimlich”, the uncanny, as Freud tried to describe human nature in the beginning of 1900’s . 
Somehow, I could find in Brazil, in its cultural melting pot, pairs of similarities and unattended oppositions. Denise Stutz’s family, half Brazilian, half Russian, half American…. what kind of memory were We constructing together? Me and her together could represent a huge terrestrial scope, for Russia to North Africa, from Europe to America. Denise became to me, on stage, the human figure of the Echo, a terrestrial becoming of Many, she was I, multiplication.

“How can I get near”, she asked (me). My thoughts were: I am too Brechtian, I am an art critic, I am the founder of distance in performance art. How can I get near of both of us at the same time?


In “3 solos in 1 tempo”, Denise tells the audience about her life through her dance history. Her solo is already a story, a joint composition of her last three solos around memory and dance, which she decided to put together with the use of a fresh dramaturgy of private story telling, intimate dialogue (with the audience) and dance demonstration mini-solos.

Who is Denise Stutz the dancer? She moves alone on stage, she tells me her story, how did she find dance and the reason to become a dancer, her expressionist foundations, her letters to Jan Ritsema and Thomas Lemmen about politics and fragility.  Somewhere I forget her, and I go on with my story: 

- since I moved from Lisbon in 2012 and went to study in Sao Paulo, I got to know Brazilian dance departments where I can study dance without really leaving Europe, because Brazil can be strongly European when it comes to art history, aesthetics, politics, and philosophy. I question myself If I still like dance, what is dance for me, if not for political and philosophical questions, what can I become with my writing. I realize that “reading and writing” become my own fragile weapons, a private jet to international desolate landscapes where I can stop thinking about my passional relationship to dance, and go further on the surfaces of the world. I remember when I heard Denise on stage, my questions towards authorship, historical linearity started to change, this seemed enough to listen to her:

In the eighties I met contemporary choreographers. They were very intelligent and they would speak about things I didn’t know, they were avant-garde! They taught me that a dancer doesn’t necessarily feel, a dancer can THINK. I felt divided between emotion and reason.   Do I think or do I feel? I think, therefore I don’t feel? I learned with them different way to dance, I leaned to think about my dance.

Hearing Denise made me think about my reference choreographers like Vera Mantero, Meg Stuart, Pina Bausch. But I was not sure of whom Denise was mentioning: who could be the contemporary choreographers of a Brazilian dancer in the Eighties? Maybe the same people? Or was she addressing the North American post-modern dance? Maybe Wuppertal? Suzanne Linke?

Her gentle voice could made me rest near her river, but I was not sure what ocean we were facing. For sure, she was nor referring to Candomblé influences, but at the same time who could say she was not mentioning Afro-Brazilian choreographers? For sure, she was talking about a crucial point in her life where she had to abandon her modernist formation  and start to perceive dance as movement. And “Modern Art“, I think I know what it means. I know what it means? Who could say I know what I know? Is Modernism Brazilian,  is Modernism North American, European, Global? Maybe none of them, and all of them at the same time. Walter Benjamin could be a good help for imagining how technical reproductibility also affected hand-made (body made) professions like the profession of a ballerina.

The modernist ballerina can be recognized in many countries of the world?Maybe I know who is Denise the dancer, the dancer as the figure. But there is also a ground, a social political cultural even religious ground, and my perception as a viewer is more in the limit between figure and ground. I read maybe too much Merleau Ponty,  maybe because I also read too much Roy Wagner, his talk with the coyote about anthropology:



“We come to a point where the difference between organic and

inorganic SYMMETRIES disappears – the vanishing point between what

the old anthropologists used to call ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ All ‘cultures’

merge with one another – as you say, holographically – and so, in fact, do all ‘natures’.”



 The anthropologist wants to be the figure as well as the ground. And so, in fact, the figure-ground reversal itself honestly believes it is an


 I remember then Denise saying:

I want to use this moment to transform this place into another place, to create with You a new space.  


This made search for this image – the reversal of the figure and ground (“Species of Spaces“, Georges Perec)


Denise says:

Me and you. You and me in this space, now. You, me, me you. Me and you. I want to discuss our relationship. And for me it’s easier to discuss a relationship dancing. 

When denise addresses the audience, she gives the audience the name YOU, she is calling YOU to dance. YOU is a group of people who can accept a dance in the name of affect. YOU is also the silent other who can use autobiographical storytelling to launch a airplane into the pregnant world of metadialogues.

I really don’t know how to end this text but somehow I think I know who is Denise Stutz. 



 Rita Natálio