About Franz Anton Cramer

dance scholar, philologist and author. Fellow at the COLLÈGE INTERNATIONAL DE PHILOSOPHIE in Paris (2007 to 2013) with a research project on „Dance and Crisis“, visiting professor at Berlin’s Inter-University Centre for Dance from 2008 - 2012. In 2009 he launched the e-journal “MAP – Media I Archive I Performance“ (www.perfomap.de, in collaboration with Barbara Büscher). Resident in Kyoto, Japan, at the invitation of Goethe-Institut in 2011. Publications include „Total freedom. Dance cultures in France between 1930 and 1950“, www.digitaler-atlas-tanz.de (2011, in collaboration with Marguerite Joly), „Warfare over Realism. Tanztheater in East Germany, 1966 – 1989“ (New German Dance Studies, Susan Manning & Lucia Ruprecht, eds., 2012).

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.

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

Modernity’s crimes

were mostly committed in the name of a better future – a future that would be able to quit he past and free itself of its conditions.

What is called „progress“ always also is a process of destruction.

(This need not necessarily be understood in a moral sense …)

So the achievements of progress are closely linked to its crimes, as is obvious in the political and social realms (colonialism, genocide, mass destruction …) But it also holds true for the cultural, or even the artistic. It was the spirit of „improvement“ that called for destruction of cities, orders, historic complexes, local cultures and so forth.

Common to this dynamic is a fear, or at least an indifference to the past and the old due to a hope to the capitalised „that which is to come“.

The present is but a transitional phase.

But this transitional phase became the locus of experimentation for New (World) Orders, new materialisations, new artefacts, and there was created a new set of values which is the critique of that what is. It is the „contemporary circle“: Because something is already in place, it cannot be of its time any longer. Because it is existent, it has fallen out of its time and calls for reformulation and reshaping.

 

The stage

presents presence, or presentness. But what kind of presence ?

Merleau-Ponty in his 1959 „Cours“ claims that the very quality, or essence of visibility, of the potential to be seen gives an object its visible presence. Only after comes the act of perception. This dialectics of perception presupposes the perceptibility as an essence.

But are this visible presence and presentness created by and on the medium of the stage automatically contemporary?

It seems as though there was schizophrenic condition inscribed in this calling for actuality, for presentness: That what is in the now at the same time should be other, or different, it should be here and not here, real and potential, in the fullness of its being and in its sheer potentiality.

 

This might be one of the causes for the capitalist logic of a value without counter value, or corresponding value, of an action without present mode, of a ride without a rider (a journey without a traveller).

So might the Contemporary and its difficult subjectivity be a kind of Flying Dutchman? Forever unredeemed in his progress in time because the locus where it might find rest is always already passed / overcome and rots the Now of its appearance, infested by the affirmative?

 

In their 1999 study

“Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme” / The new spirit of capitalism, Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello (re-edited 2011) analyze the procedure by which capitalism listens to its various critiques in order to re-incorporate them into its system and conduce them to new models of profit-making.

One field of analysis is the liberatory claim, the claim for individualisation against massification and standardisation as part of capitalism’s economy. This is not the occasion to give an overall account of this much discussed book. But it is interesting to learn from Boltanski and Chiapello that as a reaction to a critique of massification and standardisation both in consumerism and in production, in industrial and managerial strategies since the 1980s have aimed at producing “variety” or even “authenticity” as consumable goods. “Authenticity” is understood as something that remains outside the commercial world – a limited resource, so to say, but all the more valued just by this scarceness.

If it was (or still is) capitalism’s logic to destroy all difference, the “contemporary form of capitalism” would be to induce difference in its programme of standardisation. And, as Boltanski/Chiapello state, “there was an evolution toward merchandising certain qualities of humans“ – especially those that are service-related and that “imply the presence of the body”.

The burning question, then, would be if and how it is possible to stay out of this dialectics, and whether creating – understood as aiming at difference – can at all bring forth the liberating effects that are claimed against capitalism’s stronghold.

 

The contemporary

is rather difficult to grasp as a term and as a concept. But what is always at stake are the possibilities of the physical to be telling of a contemporary condition. Giorgio Agamben, in his short essay on the question “What is the contemporary?” posits the problem thus: “In order to know what the contemporary is, we need first to ask of what and of whom we are to be contemporary.” (2008: 7)

Just to take the risk of being misunderstood, and to talk in short-hand, I would say for now that it is our body that we have to be contemporary with in order to achieve some intellectual, artistic, or social progress.

 

The two terms that are central to my argument, then, are the contemporary and the historic. Both form a dialectical couple, as it were. They span a horizon that gives dance-making its relevance, its potential, and its specific presence.

 

If we agree somehow that in order to be contemporary, a work has to happen today, in our own time, we would also have to agree that this “own time” is a time that takes in charge, that creates its own past.

What is being done today in an artistic endeavour reaches back to those bits of history it chooses to make its own.

The history of dance (or of performance, for that matter) is never given. Such is a belief I share with many artists active in the field. Just because performance in its very insubstantiality is bound to a present tense, it always has to insist on the development in the past, remaining somehow invisible, and bound to our bodies and their memories, fantasies, and possibilities. What has been performance can never become performance again. But it can inform the performance of the now.

 

This interaction between past and present is blurry in its nature – just as performance, phenomenologically speaking, is always blurry. But at the same time, this interaction is essential for the task, or the quest, to create something that we can be contemporary with. Again it is Agamben who says that being contemporary is being outside of one’s own time, of not being able to be totally part of it (otherwise you would be just “actual”). Ethically speaking, it is the “courage to be punctual to a meeting of which you know it will never happen.”

 

So if we aim at creating a moment that would be fully one of our time and that would be true to its history as well as to its becoming, then the moment of presence that dance and performance in a more general sense can create, is a hybrid presence, as I call it. It is a presence that bears all the weight of that which has been in order to make it bearable for those who watch it in a present tense.

 

French teacher and curator François Frimat claims that the hybridity of contemporary dance is not only the dubious moment of a dance happening now and here, it is also a dance that happens outside of dance, that negotiates the elements that come into play, and that balances, or at least embraces all that which is not bound by definitions. “The body”, Frimat claims, “is the first and foremost battle zone because in it conflict the energies of life and the destiny of death”. But even on a smaller scale, the body presents a series of conflicts between individual and social, between repetition and innovation, between knowledge and ignorance.

Being contemporary to this hybrid body would mean, I think, to invest it with its own history, and with the history of the art form that in itself is always forgetful of its own presence.

Being contemporary, then, would be to go back in a quest for the past. The past of the art, but also the past of one’s own present moment.

 

 

Noh theatre

In order to be a bit more specific, I would like to come back to my recent experience with Noh theatre.

Noh is a form which deals with transformation on several levels and in several ways.

  • The actor transforms in an object — in the sense of sculpture.
  • The actor has to transform the mask as an object to an entity with its own life, its own demands, its own ways of doing.
  • What is being shown – the “Story” or “narrative” – is always process-oriented and shows how states of mind, passions, memories, and indeed life itself transform themselves in a way that the emerging New is inscribed in the formal array which in itself is extremely set and static. It is within this static context that the transformation is happening, but “before our eyes”, as a reality, so to say, not as a mimetic device nor as a deconstructive approach in destroying illusionism or psychological coherence in order to reach a contemporary paradigm.

The “here and now” of Noh comes as a complex construct, an interaction of various levels (choir, stage set, music, chant, dance, recitation …). All of these layers are intertwined in a way so as to create a new layer, layer I call “transformational”, a layer of something summing up the potentialities of the art and of the play, while at the same time keeping respectful distance to this “autonomy” of the performance and its objects and elements.

I am well aware that the “transformational quality” in Noh theatre I am referring to remains an assertion, an experiential situation. But I believe there are good grounds for my intuition that the performative mode of “becoming different”, but based on a clear set of stage device and knowledge, extracts itself from the capitalist greed to extract the spectacular from the performance and to give “new things” and “authentic experience” to the consumer.

If the contemporary to a large extent avoids models in order to create innovation and newness, it is a dynamics that impoverishes creativity in the sense of reactivity – reactivity to that which is, or has been and the understanding of the model that may be, for instance, local performance cultures, or specific techniques with their social history.

 

In the 1990s, Peggy Phelan formulated her “Ontology of Performance”. Performance, by its very insubstantiality, would resist to capitalist logics. Almost 20 years later, this thrust might not be valid any longer, as even the unsubstantial has become part of market mechanisms (and in a sense even are the paradigm of Capitalism: to transform substance to unsubstantial values, to dematerialise the world). So the consumption of “new” and “original” work may be a call for creativity, but it can no longer claim to be subversive. (Just as André Lepecki has shown that the celebration of movement is not necessarily a sign of “liberation” or of “individualisation” but rather inscribes the artistic practice in a paradigm of colonialism, exploitation and energetics – the “Politics of performance”, rather than its ontology.)

 

So what if the quest for originality was in itself a trap, a somehow sordid strategy to lock us into some kind of market logics?

What if the moment of “sharing”, of “joint consumption” in the moment of “live art” were a privileged moment in which to set oneself free of cultural consumerism in favour of a common ground of experience?

But, as Wanda Golonka recently said in a dinner conversation: “You are never free in your actions because you are always yourself”.

And, I would like to add, you are always already part of a system …

[excerpt of a lecture entitled
‘The Origial Trap. Traditions in Contemporaneity’)
given on 5 May, 2012 as part of the MA SODA programme in Berlin,
Inter-University Centre for Dance (HZT)]

 

 

 

Readings

Agamben, Giorgio, Qu’est-ce que le contemporain? Paris: Rivages 2008.

Boltanski, Luc and Ève Chiapello, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard 1999, reedited 2011.

Frimat, François, Qu’est-ce que la danse contemporaine? (Politiques de l’hybride). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France 2010

Lepecki, André, Exhausting Dance. Performance and the politics of movement. New York: Routledge 2006.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Notes de Cours 1959 – 1961. Paris: Gallimard 1996.

Phelan, Peggy, “The Ontology Of Performance”. In: Unmarked. The politics of performance. New York: Routledge 2006 (first published 1993).

Dear experts,

Dear Experts,

[…]

As you can see in the attached schedule, there are several periods were I propose two experts on the same day. The idea behind it is twofold: things and thoughts always occur in parallel, so it seemed important to create a situation in which switching, swapping and simultaneity are implied. The way how to deal with this simultaneity needs to be figured out – it can be co-teaching, or morning / afternoon, or a mixture. As we will always have a part of writing / discussing, and a part of unbound reflection, the presence of two experts can help to draw clearer lines rather than insisting on day-long units.

I propose that “new” experts come in on Saturdays so as to present themselves and outline the project for their intervention that starts after the weekend. It might make it easier for the participants to prepare.

The very first weekend of CritEnd happens at the same time as the Choreographic Platform Austria. So the scheme is to really cover this event until Wednesday, closing with a “public appearance” (a forum discussion, a reading of texts, a debate between the experts, a dialogue between CritEnd participants and DanceWebbers or something of the like).

Then a part were the workshop would deal more with practical things and structural concerns, such as production possibilities, institutional support, the frame within which dance can be created, etc.

The last week would focus on two aspects: new media / internet tools and their influence on dissemination, their possibilities of non-hierarchical archive building, interaction between the public and the “expert”; and a more general debate on the role of criticism and the concepts of body and organisation as presumed basics of the art of dance. The last week should conclude with a “final presentation” of the results and processes of this year’s Critical Endeavour (and possibly also on the project as a whole). But of course we have to see the dynamics of our work before we can know what to present in the end.

On the practical level:

[…] The technical equipment for now is: projector and DVD-player; printer; wlan access. The work sessions will be in a room in Museumsquartier.

We will have a blog on which to publish whatever documents we want and need and should.

I hope I did not forget anything. Anyway, let me know your remarks, comments, doubts.

Thanks for having accepted to be in this project, very best regards,

fa

Dear participants

Dear CritEnders,

[…]

As you probably know already, Critical Endeavour is an initiative launched four years ago in the frame of ImPulsTanz / DanceWeb. The aim was to work on contemporary dance criticism by bringing together dance writers from various backgrounds to share an intensive viewing experience and to exchange on possibilities to improve skills and comprehension of an art field that is rapidly expanding, evolving, changing, and broadening its scope.

On the other hand, many of us have the sometimes frustrating experience that dance criticism is declining: less coverage in the conventional media, mainstreaming of forms and formats, reduction of aesthetic debate to judgmental issues, etc. The situation may not be the same for everyone and everywhere, but the tendency seems to be more or less global.

So, for the 2012 edition of CritEnd, together with the Vienna team, we wanted to conceive of a slightly different focus. Rather than working on different strategies and methods of dance criticism, it seemed of interest to us to expand the notion and concept of dance as an artistic practice (not necessarily limited to the basic “movement in time and space” or “bodies in space” but involving other disciplines, art forms, discourses); and we were hoping to reflect on new, more adequate, more “contemporary” media and platforms to disseminate dance discourse (or rather: discourse on dance). So to be very short: Critical Endeavour 2012 wants to investigate the “aboutness” of dance and dance writing. About what are we talking exactly when talking about dance? About what do dance and performance talk when they appear in an artistic context of a festival, but also beyond ?

It is to this end that we invited several experts to discuss about and learn from their particular fields of activity and specific interest in contemporary dance. I will send you later more information on those experts who are:

Claudia La Rocco (New York), Pieter T’Jonck (Brussels), Boyan Manchev (Sofia and Berlin), Ángela Vadori (Buenos Aires and Vienna), Marlon Barrios Solano (Europe and the US)

As for the first edition in 2008, I have been invited to function as a mentor, active in planning / preparing our meeting, in introducing the experts and trying to see after the “coherence” of the three weeks we will be working together. My CV is attached, so I won’t go into details now. But in a general sense, I can say that during the last 20 years I have gone through a great number of professional tasks and experiences in the field of dance, both historic and contemporary, aesthetic and political, from journalism to archiving, from building up educational structures in the university to doing philosophical research. And I can say that with each of these activities, my understanding of what all this is about has continued to change. So that even today, I am not sure whether I “really” know what dance is. But, as I concluded once a lecture on “Corporeality, technique, and ideology”,

“What are we actually seeking when we want to do things with dance? / Maybe it is life. / Maybe it is freedom. / Maybe we are utterly wrong. / Just one thing seems clear: Dance always does.”

Wishing you a good time before meeting in Vienna,

Yours,

fa