dd/mm/yy – No. 2

31/07/2012 If I, as a dance critic, agreed or appreciated something in a performance, I would also assimilate it to my own ars poetica, as a dancer? Would I rewrite my favour with it?

01/08/2012 Could an art form extinguish another art form? May I convey my opinions through a drawing for example? Maybe the most capable communication channel is the language what I can speak fluently, like my mother tongue. What if it was the language of the oil paint, the coal pencil, the ink? According to Claudia’s exercise (to transmit anyway into a paper what I had seen and experienced during a show), today I made a hybrid graphic-istallation of Ula Sickle’s stroboscopic Light Solos. Now we should call it ’adaptation’? Did I adopt some foreign ideas to build up my personal triumph? Or is it just the emergency exit: forasmuch it’s quite abstract, the readers will be a bit more permissive with me, won’t they?

02/08/2012 I decide to see something as art (for example an IKEA jug). It depends only on my subjectivity what I call ’art’. So accordingly what’s criticism? ’Art’ as Claudia asserts? Iva gave me a previously read answer: context, context, context. We can’t escape from our subjectivity, our anticipatory knowledge. So how should I compose a forthright review? Where is the border-line between subjective and objective? Essay: a form to avoid? A form to putting in questions rather than explaining! And who is our consignee? We can write ABOUT the performance, the book, the statue etc., instead of writing FOR (the readers, the artists, the curators) – we waist too much redundant energy for the force of adequacy, don’t we? The etimology of criticism connects to the Greek verb „krisis”: to judge, to make distinctions, to measure the weight (as the ancients did with the pebbles at their voting procedures). Unfourtunately the people concentrate only on the 1st phrase. Why should I pass adjudgement? The end would be the same: bringing into discours. We would debate upon the written arguments. With an interrogator, pensive text, we could eliminate the (hard-pressed) middle step.

The consequence of performance

Yesterday it was announced that the verdict of the Pussy Riot girls’ trial will be delivered on August 17. The three women in question have been held in a Russian prison for over five months following a renegade performance of an anti-Putin prayer in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

Pussy Riot (photo via www.rt.com)

Though the sentence was at first expected to be 7 years, insiders are now reporting that it will likely be closer to 3 years long. In her closing statement on Wednesday, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova stated, “What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws upon the forms art has established.”


At this festival we have discussed the subversive possibilities of dance, performance and activism. This trial brings pushes these questions into the forefront of international media.

At the end of the day, the thing that separates the Pussy Riot’s performance from some of the more provocative shows that we’ve seen at Impulstanz is location.

If Anne Juren and Annie Dorsen chose to present Magical, a reenactment of feminist performances by Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic and Carolee Schneeman in say, the Vatican, it would likely be considered a criminal offense.


Anne Juren (photo via www.impulstanz.com)

Or if Ivo Dimchev was to approach two strangers on the street and ask them to strip naked and have fake sex for 200 Euros a pop as he does in The P Project, he’d most probably be arrested or at least slapped.


The P Project (photo via www.tehaterfrascati.nl)

Because of their presence on stage, these performances are accepted as a harmless, contextualized form of expression. Though they may have a strong impact on their audiences, the political consequences associated with these shows are minimal. The thought that one of these artists could be arrested because of their work is absurd. However, the three girls of Pussy Riot are in that exact situation.

What the Pussy Riot fiasco has so clearly demonstrated is that, with political or subversive  performance, it isn’t the content but the context that counts.

Mark Tompkins, Opening night – a vaudeville

There are several reasons why I consider Mark Tompkins Opening nighta vaudeville as one of the highlights of ImPulsTanz Vienna 2012. Or to be precise, of the performances I had a chance to see in last two weeks of the festival.

Although it is set as a low budget short history of vaudeville, (vaudeville being “the heart of American show business”) in its essence I see it as a melancholic contemplation of life, love and ageing. It made me laugh, made me cry, and it is still with me several days after I’ve seen it.

The opening scene happens backstage; Mark Tompkins in drag as an aged diva – a „mother” ironing pink evening dress. Mathieu Grenier, a son is playing rather lascivious games with a dog ( Jean-Louis Badet). Her opening statement is All the world’s a stage, and the rest of the dialog is happening between songs and speech. When they talk, we are not sure are they quoting or working their own lines. The mother has done it – the show biz life, now it is time for the son. But who is the pink dress for?

The seedy changing room turns into an equally seedy stage, mother and son transform into couple of entertainers – Mr. T. and Junior. Their acts are hilarious and done in a meter of fact manner. They do the acts but there is no magic; we see cheap costumes and ironic props, the stage man (Rodolphe Martin) takes his time in moving the set and cleaning the stage.  At first there is a minstrel duet, than oriental-Egyptian dance and magic act “featuring” Beyonce, and finally they turn into two charming, Sinatra style singers that sing love songs and tell anecdotes from tours. Again, life and show are completely intertwined.   

The end is in the same non spectacular code – the „dog“ comes back dressed in a pink dress and huge wig, with wings made of toy swards (an ancient goddess or tarot symbol?). First we see him as a shadow hovering over the performers, than he takes the center of the stage. For the finale we had There is no business like show business, by both performers.

The idea of performativity and performance, what is one of the central points in current dance theory and practice, is demystified and scaled down to the pure entertainment. It is actually refreshing to go back to basics, in an ironic but not cynical manner. Needles to say, acts were compact, directed and choreographed with the evidence of deep research and knowledge of vaudeville and performed with enviable competence.

What propel this performance into a “melancholic meditation” are Mr T. and Junior. Junior is young, flamboyant, luxurious in movement, voice and charm. His body is soft, his voice is velvet, his hair is dark. Whatever he does, he does it with the excess of youth, with the true commitment to life. There is no distance; there is nothing between him and the performance. Mark Tompkins is senior. He looks like he had far too many black coffees and cigarettes, but he doesn’t regret it. He does all the acts up to his maximum, but, what comes out of it is a comment, not the actual act.

This relationship between younger and older performer, their differences and attitude towards performing, and their interaction, made this performance a memorable one.  The question of mortality, of the youth and innocence gone, were summed up in a discreet gesture of Mark Tompkins asking Mathieu Grenier to release his voice even further out. The gesture is saying – the stage is yours now, enjoy it, while it lasts.


Session 2: 4 5 2012 The New Internet: SYSTEM AND EMERGENCE

Ideas Intro

Gregory Bateson


History of the Internet


self organization


Systems theory


Systems exercise

Bottom up architectures








Web 2.0

Tim Bernners-Lee

For Wednesday

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Manuel Legris & Guests (29/07/2012)-a comment on Kylian’s offering…

Kylian’s stimuls for the choreography: Jean Honore Fragonard’s ‘The Bolt’ c1778.


“Il faut qu’une porte …” gala of contemporary ballet

courtesy of the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris and the Vienna State Ballet with choreography by Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, Angelin Preljocaj.


Jiri Kylian’s contribution to the Gala lifts its narrative from the image depicted in the eighteenth century painting, “Le Verrou” (The Bolt) by Jean-Honore Fragonard. The image, of a male figure securing (or unlocking?) the imposing wooden door to a bedroom characterised by the era it depicts. His right arm is outstretched and his upper body pressed against the imposing, dark wooden threshold whilst embraced by his female counterpart, echoing his silhouette. This tableau is a frequent reference within Kylian’s choreography and is developed through a series of momentary encounters or collisions between the couple which emulate the softer shades of their complex story.  The set frames the duo from a distance at first and then steadily travels forwards, bringing the audience closer to the scene in the same way that Fragonard positions the viewer closely to the bodies in the image. The stage and set design reiterate the flat planes that characterise the painting and have been meticulously constructed so as to imitate the setting in “Le Verrou”. “Il faut qu’une Porte” delves into the ambiguity of the subject matter of The Bolt in its dramatic portrayal of the antagonistic relationship between the couple. The movement is inherently balletic and playfully tender (a disappointing response for a painting which is filled with such dynamic contrast).  Whilst the action sustains a constant flow, whether a subtle glance or a denser balletic phrase, its texture fails to reflect the disparity between the soft pastel colours and the depth and danger of the crimson red curtain which envelops the scene. With such literal enactment of the image in the set and costume one would expect some of the drama that underlies this image to seep through into the movement vocabulary for greater effect.

The carefully choreographed moments of contact are filled with tactical touch and spirited momentum which takes a welcome departure from the otherwise voyeuristic nature of the pas de deux, which becomes repetitive and false as the work progresses. Legris and Dupont perform for one another taking swirling and circular pathways through the dark colours and connotations of the space in an energetic and committed manner. Their elevated steps are bird like and executed with beautiful and distinct discipline as they repeat their pathway from stage right to left passing the chair, the door and the imposing bed; re-living a memory.  To an extent this choreographic choice provides the viewer with detail of the lustful emotions and visceral connection between the pair in this scene, although a more virile and less mimetic performance would have endorsed this notion more successfully. The genre of the work lives up to  expectation and whilst this was not the most passionate interpretation of “Le Verrou” I would have imagined, the close of the curtain and the fading image of the wistful, charismatic transference of an apple between the duo leaves me satisfied that Kylian’s story is one of curiosity.


Nothing gets lost. Notes on some beliefs within dance and its history

In much of contemporary dance discourse, the idea prevails that dance is basically about absence. Dance is never present, as it only ever vanishes. I myself have since long been insisting that dance is essentially the spectacle of its own disappearance.
However, a question remains unanswered which would aim at the reverse side of the eternal vanishing, the absence of the work, the fleeting nature of performance. I am referring to an element of dance’s being which I call “the intention”.
Dance comes into being for many reasons – social circumstance, physical condition, aesthetic trends among them. But there is always something that precedes the actual dancing, something that incites someone to do a dance. It is an intention. Call it a will. A wish. A libido. Anyway it is something that is highly subjective but finds its manifestation, its form because of its inscription in a system and a framework that are before the dance is. While the dance itself may be “lost” once it is danced, the intention lingers.
In fact, the heated debate about archival practices in dance and performance, the documentation on choreographic ways of work – or else, work on choreographic artefacts – and the possibilities to revisit past performance have shown that it is essentially around this feature that realities can emerge. “La sauvegarde d’une intention” is the title of an essay by French archivist Laurent Sebillotte, “safeguarding an intention”. [Archive des Tanzes oder Eine Intention bewahren. In Janine Schulze (ed.) Are 100 objects enough to represent the dance? Zur Archivierbarkeit von Tanz. München: epodium 2010, pp. 84 – 97].
The question is in which ways the famous “traces” of performances can illuminate the work itself – the work which is cohering to its intention. Writing on dance, in this context, might be considered as nothing but making perennial the dance’s intention. And it would allow for transporting intentions to ever new present tenses.

The show on “Danses libres” by Chaignaud / Bengolea et al. is quite speaking in this respect. The work on a dance aesthetic and technique that was developed in the time between the World Wars testifies essentially of two things: that the dance has existed. And that it can still be read today. The contemporariness of the project may be subject of another discussion. As can be the adequacy of the physical appearance and rendering of dance material by bodies not fully permeated by its development (obviously for historic reasons). What remains beyond doubt, however, is that a lineage of intention manifests itself that can be traced back to the very early days of modern dance. We see Isadora Duncan dancing through the ghosts, the spectres of the contemporary dancers indulging – more or less – in material they do not really master. But mastery is not the issue, as it wasn’t in the days of Duncan (or Wigman, for that matter …). What matters is that the intention travels through the diverse conditions that society, discourse, and aesthetics have set up.
The point of interest here is less the continuity, truthfulness or originality of the historic project (not historicising project!); rather, it is the hint towards continuities in intention. As unstable as the actual performance may be, the stability of the available paradigms in which to inscribe this intention have an astonishing stability and perdurance. Let’s not forget that Isadora Duncan herself invoked the “Pathosformel”, a term and phenomenon coined by art historian Aby Warburg. He referred to certain gestures, postures, attitudes, iconographic schemes (such as drapery in statuary and painting, landscape settings, etc.) that transport specific intentions (for instance the representation of emotionality and passion, of somatic states, of life and death …) over centuries, even millennia.
So in fact it might not be of any use to talk about all of the lost matter (or immaterial artifice) involved in dance making in order to mourn once more the eternal loss of performance’s substance. Quite on the contrary, the interesting task is to find evidence, or rather make this evidence obvious, that basically nothing is ever lost in the history of bodies and their potential for representation.
During the CritEnd sessions with Boyan Manchev, one of the points raised was the Bataillean claim for “raw phenomena”, for a reality that would be unfiltered by ideologies, schemes, methods, or experiments. Every phenomenon has its specific duration, thus inscribing itself in a historic reality (how ever short-lived it may seem). Nonetheless it gains a connection to this intentionality that will be representable. (Representation also understood as a critical process, an “alteration” of the “original” state so as to avoid mimetism or sheer repetition.)
The transfer, the translation maybe (a parenthesis on Benjamin’s reversed theory of translation would be necessary here – departing from the assumption that the original never came into existence to be fully translatable, but to be the basis for a new being, an altered state) of that which has preceded a specific dance / work into a discursive formation might not only be something inevitable and lamentably contingent to the work but rather a consubstantial part of its energetic emergence. (“Intention” is a term that deserves more profound analysis; energy would certainly be a key term in such an endeavour.)

Amongst the various performances that I have seen in the three programme axes of ImPulsTanz 2012 (main programme including Wild Walk, CPA*, 8:tensions), several lead up to reflection on the basis of this “intention” that is or is not communicated through the work. “Francis Bacon”, for instance, considered a signature piece of Ismael Ivo’s collaborations with Johann Kresnik, premiered in 1994. It clearly exhales the (historical) expressionist thrust Ivo himself feels strongly connected to. However the piece, seen again after almost 20 years, seems today trapped in its own theatricality, as though the actual intention (it could roughly be called the fusion of expressionistic subjectivity with the historicizing representation of another expressive artist’s work) were captured by dramaturgical device. There is an assigned meaning that prevails the piece, an auctorial frame that bespeaks the choreographer’s way of working but leaves place for the dancer only to interpret something external. It is not about creation, not about immediacy of the performative. The dancerly intention, here, cannot precede the work, it is instrumentalised and thus, denatured. Two colliding regimes, that of the mise en scène and that of the dance itself provoke a standstill of the performative.

Whereas in Philipp Gehmacher’s “Solo with Jack”, the almost classicist modelling of the gestured body seems to hint to the contrasting position. Strictly based on the body’s appearance as a medium of its own intention, we can witness a discursive flow that is formally arrayed with great precision and subtlety at the same time. Quite remote from expressionist formulae, Gehmacher nonetheless inscribes his practice in the possibility of the body objectified through its given shapes. As personal as Gehmacher’s “vocabulary” may be, it at the same time adheres to a poetics of nuance and introversion that allows for a reading, an appreciation of sorts pointing towards an in-between state of representation – loaded with artificiality without sacrificing the “authenticity” and intentionality of the shape.

Another example to examine would be “Insignificant Others (Learning to look sideways)” by An Kaler, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins and Antonija Livingstone. Here, the physicality as event and as basis for representational transformation creates presence and co-presence both for performers and public – a “moment de partage” which at the same time leaves open a sphere of unauthored being. This “unauthored-ness” (horrible neologism …), however, is not linked to naturalism or arbitrariness. Rather, it testifies of the very performativity that is at the outset of any dance intention.

If I were to set up a new, if personal, principle of hermeneutic criticism it would without doubt be around this intricate, long-standing and in some sort anti-essentialist relation between a works preceding intention, the framework of its representation, and the possibilities of alteration – or else subjectivation – within the performance paradigm.

Diary of a body

Daniel Pennac published last January, Journal d’un corps, a fiction based on a narrator’s life through his body perceptions from 1935 to 2011. The deconstructive narration and the accurancy of the text give to this novel a great interest for any readers curious to understand how this choice can unveils some aspects of human behaviour.

 Not a scientific essay but a story 

In 1935, aged of 12 years old, the narrator decides to start a diary in which he’ll write everyday, until the end of his life. As son of a First World War veteran, the young sickly boy has been educated by a living dead father despondent and paralysed by a shell shock (or combat fatigue) in the trenches but willing to give him a strong culture before death.

That’s how, as an orphan, the adolescent who saw eleven years of agony feels the need to control his fears and the urge to take notes in order to understand and conquer this external area of flesh, bones and blood. Too scholar and puny, the narrator will try until 87 years old, to train and analyse his organism until its proper alteration: “We are, until the end, our body’s child. A confused child.” An instrospective novel, with a singular perception and a skilfull narrative process. More than thirteen years after David Le Breton’s essay, L’Adieu au corps, Daniel Pennac gives a highlight to an human body that he described, last March in Montpellier, “as full of surprises”.

Journal d’un corps de Daniel Pennac, éditions Gallimard (collection Blanche), 396 pages. 

Visions of Excess

Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess. Selected Writings, 1927-1939.
Allan Stoekl, ed.
Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie Jr, trans.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1985

Theory and History of Literature, Volume 14