TTT and other meditations

Impulstanz 2009

Keith Hennessy


On the first day of the dramaturgy class (with Jeroen Peeters & Martin Nachbar) we read:
Anxious Dramaturgy, by Myriam Van Imschoot.
She documents the rise of the dramaturgical role in contemporary dance (Pina Bausch, W Forsythe, A T de Keersmaker) and the critique of the dramaturg’s authority (esp. according to Lepecki). Then she tries to unpack the statement, “this piece needs a dramaturg!” and suggests that we don’t need more dramaturgs but more dramaturgical contexts – more collaborative and interdisciplinary sites of questioning and research.

On the second day we made dances from the IKEA catalogue.

1.   pick a piece of furniture
2.   make a dance that does that piece of furniture (embodies it, represents it, is it).
3.   make a dance about perceiving that piece of furniture.

We then read these dances dramaturgically – using our own definitions or understandings of what dramaturgy is. Working with furniture is part of a larger project of thinking through choreography/dramaturgy as related to ideas from architecture.

We read a section of Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories by Bernard Cache, a Deleuze-inspired thinker and furniture maker. I like the way we take time to read collectively in class, reading aloud a short section and then discussing it until all are satisfied with their understanding. On the third day, we were to take the furniture dances into architecture dances but I missed that because my back was in spasm.

To Cache, architecture is all about framing possibility, providing niches where life can happen. I am considering choreography as providing (new, particular) niches in which life can happen. Earlier this week, I had been thinking of recent performances by Antonija Livingston (The Part) and by Jennifer Lacey & Antonija (Culture and Administration), as structures to live in, i.e., that what was moving/touching/engaging was watching them live (breathe, dance, feel, decide, perform) within the pre-determined composition.

I am also thinking about the empty space versus the use of furniture in performance. Today I imagined a dance that begins with clearing a stage filled with furniture.

Today’s reading is from Chaos, Territory, Art – Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, by Elizabeth Grosz. The first chapter has a paragraph that meant a lot to me today, considering what it means to work towards a Doctor of Philosophy while focused mostly on Art and not feeling very confident about my accumulation/production of meaning with regards to Philosophy.

“Art, according to Gilles Deleuze, does not produce concepts, though it does address problems and provocations. It produces sensations, affects, intensities as its mode of addressing problems, which sometimes align with and link to concepts, the object of philosophical production, which are how philosophy deals with or addresses problems. Thus philosophy may have a place not so much in assessing art (as aesthetics has attempted to do) but in addressing the same provocations or incitements to creation as art faces – through different means and with different effects and consequences. Philosophy may find itself the twin or sibling of art and its various practices, neither judge of nor spokesperson for art, but its equally wayward sibling, working alongside art without illuminating it or speaking for it, being provoked by art and sharing the same enticements for the emergence of innovation and invention.”


Last week (Vienna/impulstanz) I taught a class, i.e., I facilitated a research laboratory, called Queer! Each day I presented some theory and tried to come up with movement or choreographic projects to explore concepts:

• Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands as a kind of ‘third’ space

• Trin Minh-ha’s moving between margin and center, (moving to and fro, which Trajal quotes as to-ing and fro-ing)

• Lynette Hunter’s considerations of the not-yet, what has not-yet been said?

• reasons and tactics for complicating binaries.

I told the participant/students that art can precede or instigate theory (philosophy?) as much as it can respond to theory: testing it, illuminating it, using it. When art plays with theory there are likely to be gaps – spaces of misunderstanding, or spaces where coherence or continuity is disrupted. This is where new theory and art-as-a-kind-of-theory can emerge.

Meanwhile I’m supposed to be in a research group with 9 others about teaching. I say ‘supposed to’ because I have been either spending my days in the dramaturgy project or with osteopaths and sports medicine doctors.


Called TTT (Teaching The Teachers), the group was instigated by Jennifer Lacey and funded by the European Union, as a performative research project. We are asking:

• What is a class?

• What is possible in a class?

• Is teaching a performance? Yes, how?

• What is the relationship between this teacher performance and the performance skills or process that we are teaching or that we might use on stage?

And many other questions, particular to the concerns, interests, and questions of that each of us might have towards teaching.

I am looking at the dance class as a place to engage, anticipate, or question theory (philosophy). I am also, as always, curious about how a dance class embodies or propagates ideology. How does a dance or dance class participate in, disrupt, or avoid normative (hegemonic) systems and ideas about bodies, ethnicity, power, authority, the role of art, gender and sexuality, social organization...?

If I can make it to the group tomorrow, we will be discussing religion and dance class. How does dance embody religious concepts? E.g., the Christian verticality of heaven and hell, the relationship of body to floor, the metaphor of flying, ideas of channeling, possession, and inspiration. It seems obvious that how we teach contemporary dance has political resonance, including but not restricted to, liberatory potentials.

I am (again) looking at the physical shapes we use in class, especially comparing grids and circles. In my teaching I use the circle often, especially at beginnings and ends, but also for warm-up exercises and movements. I also use multi-centers, or anti-grids, meaning everyone spread out and face any direction, for more personalized work, improvisation, or solo focus. Like most post-modern, improvisation, or contemporary dance teachers, I don’t use mirrors in class. This enables the room to have shifting or fluid notions of front, back, side, which destabalizes the idea of dance as frontal presentation. It also helps to shift the student/dancer’s experience from external (what do I or we look like?) to internal (what does this feel like?). I think this is pretty obvious stuff for most of us, but it’s worth stating as a kind of example of how certain trajectories in dance since the 50’s have embodied or reflected political and philosophical shifts in approaches to body, art, social organization, and teaching.

I’m also looking at going to performance as a class, as an educational experience, especially when contiguous with taking class. A couple weeks ago I was teaching at Ponderosa, a rural art farm in Stolzenhagen Germany. At the conclusion of a week of workshops focused primarily on improvisation, energetic states, and performance, there were two nights of performance. One was an open marathon of 10 minute events and the second night featured improvised performances by Meg Stuart/Jeremy Wade/Brendon ?, Sten Rudstrøm/Andrew Moorish, and myself. Both events seemed like continuations of the workshops, directly reflecting, elucidating and/or extending the questions and processes proposed during the teaching periods. At Impulstanz, my Queer! workshop was intended as a space to reflect on the festival performances, considering them from our evolving queer and feminist perspectives. Also, I find that every night after performances, students (who might also be friends and colleagues) ask me about the performances and we debate, often rehearsing ideas and perspectives that we recall from the day’s work.



The biggest value of TTT was meta-physical, that is, beyond the physical. The material reality – space, money/time, a temporary community of fascinating teachers – was crucial to provoke an experience, something that I felt, that entered me, my body and mind/awareness/perception. My brief experience with TTT affirmed the experimental direction of my teaching in the past couple of years and sparked fresh possibilities for teaching that is research-based, experiential, and experimental.

I was inspired to question what and how I teach and what and how I participate in Impulstanz as a festival of teaching. I felt lucky to be with such smart and curious people. If I could do it again, I would spend more time in reflection and simple practice, alone and with the group, and less time trying to consume the festival.

Coming from California, I arrive in Vienna somewhat thirsty/hungry for European ideas, aesthetics, and provocations. I want to rub my ideas and strategies in friction with Euro and international bodies and structures. TTT became a microcosm of this friendly eros, of this bodily rubbing. Encountering each other’s bodily and conceptual practices generated a warm friction, an environment where collective intelligence was sensed (sensual) rather than instructed or lectured. I mean to say that we absorbed knowledge, modeling a kind of democratic teaching/learning that reflected the best of what we have been developing as individual teachers.

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