When I was working in Berlin in 2001-03 at the Theater am Halleschen Ufer (now called Hebbel am Ufer) I’ve met the German writer/journalist Gerald Siegmund. Siegmund, who is meanwhile a professor at the renowned Institute for Applied Theatre Studies at the University of Giessen (Germany), has observed, commented on and analysed the European and American dance scene for years as a journalist and expert. I very much enjoyed reading his writings and I try to get hold of most of his work.
Maybe there is a familiarity with the German way of writing and the different experience I have when reading academic work in German (I can see another blog post here), but I very much enjoy his highly analytical/reflective writing combined with word-plays and a more philosophical/poetic approach to language.
He has not only a profound knowledge of artistic and choreographic working methods but also a systematic knowledge with which he confronts the realities of contemporary dance. (Cramer, 2009)
Not all of his work is translated into English yet but do keep an eye out for it!
In relation to my work of the ‘visible choreographer’ I keep referring back to his book Absence, the performative aesthetics of dance (2006). A great book where he investigates about the notion of absence in relation to work by William Forsythe, Jerome Bel, Xavier Le Roy and Meg Stuart.
In his article Negotiating Choreography, letter, and law in William Forsythe (2012) Siegmund highlights the absence between the body and movement, and the law and choreography and the dancer’s and choreographer’s struggle to connect these opponent poles. He states,
[Choreography] must not be understood one-dimensionally as suppressing ‘the body’ or the freedom of moment, but as the very act of making subjectivity possible. It creates and produces (…) because it always involves resistance and friction through the unbridgeable gap between body and law. (Siegmund, 2012, pp. 212-213)
By negotiating these two poles, the dancer connects to a system of signifiers, the choreography, and by presenting it in front of an audience, or as Siegmund calls it
the symbolic body of a community-to-be (Siegmund, 2012, pp. 212)
the dancer becomes a social subject. The existence of a company is social before an audience and the dancer becomes a social subject in that the work is presented to be read. One could argue that the dancer is holistically part of the signifier and not outside it but the negotiating process is still present. Usually the process of negotiating between these two poles happens in the studio. The dancer learns the choreographic text or realises/authors it and negotiates both opponent poles of body/movement and law/choreography. Even though Siegmund argues that there is a constant gap between both oppositions, when it comes to the performance the audience only sees one possible result of the negotiating process.
When working with the ‘visible choreographer’ these negotiating processes happen in front of an audience, highlighting the negotiating processes of embodying ideas as well as realising choreographic concepts. Listening to the choreographer’s instructions to the dancer, the audience can witness the struggle of the dancer trying to connect both poles. By witnessing the individual decision-making process, the subjectivity/individuality of each dancer becomes visible.
The question might be – what is it about deconstruction in this manner that an increasing number of choreographers seem to be interested in? Is dance still catching up with other art forms that reveal the guts of process?
Having the choreographer as an active member of the performance process and working with improvisation means that the choreographic text is not set but unfolds throughout the performance. Whilst the dancer negotiates between body and law, the ‘visible choreographer’ negotiates between law and body by selecting, rearranging and structuring the dancers’ responses and translating it into choreographic text, to become again realised by the dancers. Siegmund emphasizes that the negotiating does not only apply to law and body but also includes gaining an image of oneself, the social subject (Siegmund, 2012). As the work of the ‘visible choreographer’ plays with shifting dynamics within the groups of performers and therefore with identities in flux, the constant adjustment to these changes and the process of identifying ‘me’ (social subject) and the ‘other’ becomes even more visible to the audience.
Here the negotiating between body and law becomes visible as an opposite process described by Siegmund. How can I write a choreographic text in response to the dancers’ movement? How can I enter the absence between both poles? By negotiating between these two poles my subjectivity/individuality becomes visible. This refers back to the ‘social subject’ (Bel in Lepecki, 2006), which I wrote about in my last blog post (March 2014). I would now argue not only is this process in front of an audience a process of becoming a social subject, it also challenges what might be thought of as the conventional identities of choreographer and dancer.
By having the audience in the space, it enables ‘me’ to not only imagine ‘myself’ with a view toward the ‘other’, but also with a view to the expected role of the choreographer. Reflecting on my work there seems to be a twist within my intention and responsibility. At the same time as I am creating a work for the audience with a choreographic logic I am also challenging the dancers to make their thinking and struggling visible to the audience. Both do not always coincide – on the contrary my decision of not following the choreographic logic often challenges the dancers the most.
The audience becomes a witness as well as a receiving ‘other’.
Cramer, F. A. 2009. Absence: Gerald Siegmund’s study on the ‘performative aesthetics of dance’. [online]. [27.04.2014]. Available from: http://www.goethe.de/kue/tut/fab/but/en4690715.htm
Lepecki, A. 2006. Exhausting dance, Performance and the politics of movement. New York: Routledge
Siegmund, G. 2012. Negotiating Choreography, Letter, and Law in Wiliam Forsythe.In: S. Manning and L. Ruprecht, eds. New German Dance Studies. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp. 200-216
Siegmund, G. 2006. Abwesenheit: Eine performative Ästhetik des Tanzes. William Forsythe, Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Meg Stuart. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag
Photos: Ulrike Heuer, Philippa Thomas