And then of course there's always people doing butt choreography. This is a fascinating read, espcially re: our conversation in class last week about documentation. An interview isn't exactly documentation per se, but there's something interesting about thinking about the fact that this is a piece that sounds comical- there's litearlly no way to imagine it where it doesn't seem kind of goofy, but I know three people who have seen it, and they all said they cried.
What happens IRL? How is it different? Or is it just maybe hard to describe performance?
To follow up on our discussion about video/photos of live art. Here are some great examples of when the live performance and the camera work together to create something in between.
This is choreographed by Mats EK
starring SYLVIE GUILLEM e NIKLAS EK
One Flat Thing
choreographed by William Forsythe
choroegraphed by Gina Tai
Chunky Move Dance Company:
E-ISSN: 1940-509X Print ISSN: 0149-7677
Since Ballet Frankfurt was reconstituted as the Forsythe Company in 2004, William Forsythe has increasingly explored formats of installation art practice. Works such as Human Writes (in collaboration with Kendall Thomas, 2005) and You made me a monster (2005) develop within an interactive and intermedial space and experiment with new ways to experience the production and perception of movement. “Performance installation” is the new term for this intertwined process of movement production and movement perception. The choreographic composition itself grows out of procedures of performative sensing by the dancers, which spreads to onlookers. This multiplex awareness of movement for which the dancer’s body is the medium constitutes what I shall call the “media-body” as an essential moment of performance installation as choreographic event. Compared to earlier Forsythe installations—which he called “choreographic objects”—like White Bouncy Castle (1997), City of Abstracts (2000), or Scattered Crowd (2002),1 with their accessible spaces of movement (in White Bouncy Castle the spectator was a visitor moving about freely inside a white inflatable castle, and City of Abstracts featured choreographic projections of movement on large screens in open spaces) performance installations take place squarely in the theatrical context: in theater lobbies, exhibit halls, or accessible public performance spaces where dancers and the audience come together in a mutually shared yet operationally divided space that leads them into an interactive relationship.
The performative structure of the works does not suggest any kind of closed choreographic order geared to the audience. Much more frequently, it evokes poetic spaces with a powerful emotional charge, operating on the borderline of disorder and exalted excess. [End Page 61] At the thematic center of the performance installations Human Writes and You made me a monster dwells terror and physical horror as well as the inescapable necessity to expose oneself to such experience. The subject disperses through the atmosphere like a wave between performer and audience, without taking on the clear contours of either symbol or allegory. Instead, singular actions, permeated by layered soundscapes, and pictorial composition prevail.
These works pose the question of how the choreographer’s art—that is, the art of ordering bodies and their movements in time and space—is able to make images, stories, and feelings concrete. The productions remain consciously dedicated to the performativity of the event in the way they unfold in the here and now—an open space of experienced presence that avoids the representation of emotional states but conveys states of the body. These works purvey a conception of the body as a terrain acted upon by the work as much as an agent of inscribed and remembered forms that become newly actualized: a body that presents itself to view while consciously monitoring its own actualizations. Patterns, behaviors, and moments of tension—both memorized and subject to change through improvisational reaction to others—conduct the dancer’s movements through a great variety of sensual, visual, and spoken information throughout the performance. On this level, these works are characterized by a type of movement-specific intermediality that thinks through interlacing body images, sensual spaces of experience, movement codes, spoken or written story fragments, and embodied memories. This is what I mean by “intermediality,” which I consider to include but also be in excess of the technological interface.
The goal of performance installation is, therefore, to uncover spaces of experience and transformations of bodily states that raise questions about physical and mental conditions. Clearly, performance installation is marginal to the category “dance,” particularly with respect to ballet. Forsythe is driven through this work to transgress the conventions of dance even more than he did in his earlier choreography, which was engaged with an art form so typically burdened by tradition: ballet. In a 2006 interview, Forsythe expressed his interest in working within the art context (in collaborations with Peter Welz) since it allows him to question the body as a figure and a gestalt in new ways. In so doing, he gives greater definition to the processes of production and perception of movement that undergird these installations:
Right now I am working with the idea of a figure, which skin is sort of stretched into an ecstasy of sensation. What did [Francis] Bacon say, “a stenography of sensation”? I’m working with degrees of awareness of sensation. I am certainly not concerned with form from an objective point of view, but rather what is the sensation of formation as the body continuously moves from one state to another. The body is interesting as a perceiving mechanism and probably for me right now, because of the way the body has been presented in our culture so far: it has been exhibited. I think that it is very difficult to exhibit real states of perceptions [End Page 62] so I’m trying to find out where these states have a place. And I think my work tries to make them metaphoric.(Lista 2006, 35)
The term Gerald Siegmund uses for Forsythe’s work—“performative act”—captures the necessity for the Forsythe dancer to both process information quickly while moving and to make snap decisions (2006, 264). This stage of his work has since been radicalized, in part through a transition from the choreographic to the visual art context. Indeed, the “aesthetic of installation,” as Juliane Rebentisch emphasizes in her study of the same title, works with “theoretical questions of the properties of a possible new genre” (2003, 81) and is in line with Forsythe’s concern with the transgression of the dance art. In accordance with the hybrid nature of installation art, Forsythe places things, materials, and preposterously structured activities in a vast space where time seems open-ended (the evening lasts around three or four hours). The perceptive and receptive repositioning of the former spectator into a visitor changes the latter’s function from a beholder to a participant in an uncertain relationship with the performative order.
In Human Writes2 guests enter a large exhibition hall and encounter a high-walled space lined with banners of overlapping drawings. Drawn, blurred, and smeared with black chalk, they show images of a “something.” They show a “somehow”: traces, drawings, traces of drawings.3 That the paper banners carry the memories of former performances and refer to what will actually happen in the installation performance is made clear to the audience only later.
The drawings are, indeed, the residue of a performance installation that brought over 30 dancers and almost 150 visitors together into one space at one time. One should note that this specific time and space was characterized by the imperceptibly increasing duress of rewriting the forty-nine Articles of Human Rights, as penned in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. Human Writes continues, with an intensified interactivity, what Forsythe began in the second half of his Endless House (1999), which had its premier in the Bockenheimer Depot (Frankfurt-am-Main), where he invited the audience to spatially and perceptively create a performance space with the dancers. In Human Writes the visitors were directly invited to participate—under the unspoken assumption that they were to work with the dancers, even help them.
“Without knowing what my efforts were supposed to be working towards, the chalk that I was straining to hold in the air so that the performer could slide a table across it moved back and forth, leaving traces behind. The performer, meanwhile, lay under the upside-down table. To my surprise, the performer and I had drawn an “A,” whose lovely contours were made visible later, once the table had been righted. The performer appeared from under the table. An A from Article 7 of the human rights, “All are equal before the law.” When I went by the same table later, the A had become an M.(personal account)
Human Writes does not exhibit a virtuosic art of bodily movement; rather it challenges the visitors into clear contact with the event: “Would you please hold this leg on the rope and guide it?” In this way, one finds oneself integrated into the performance. The guest does [End Page 63] what he or she is told and further discussion is out of the question. One visitor, clearly making an effort to somehow “do it right,” received this feedback from a dancer: “That was too easy—it should have been a little more complicated.”
The visitors find themselves in a hall set up with rows of large aluminum tables on which most of the performers are standing, lying, hanging, kneeling, or in some other posture trying to reproduce the required textual characters. The tools used—held in elbows, tied to heads, gripped between toes, etc.—were either pencils or black chalk, traces of which were everywhere. The imposed framework of action was meant to impede the writing. Under these constraints the act of writing turned into the manic rubbing of chalk, the blowing off of graphite dust, and the excessive demands of coordination required to write with closed eyes and all the limbs at once. The reproduced letters were scrawled and hacked, in hatches and strokes, redrawn and re-outlined repeatedly. This was a performance at the level of an exalted struggle.
William Forsythe and Ander Zabala in Human Writes (2006). Photographer: Dominik Mentzos.
Situated among the events of the piece, the medium of writing became blurred into its performative traces. In this way, writing loses its culturally meaningful function as the primary and dominant cultural technique of passing down social contracts. The writing comes across much more as a performative act that is created situationally by [End Page 64] persons and bodies. Performers and visitors become operators who, together, go through the motions of recreating the law as text. All of these conceptually determined movement sequences are carried out via a performative structure in which the symbolic order of body and script, act and law is disrupted at the deepest level of their congruence. The dancers create, under great duress and with choreographically constructed actions, a relationship with viewers, tables, and materials. This relationship, guided by the overall plan, works to reproduce the law as something whose existence the body can assure. With their actions, the performing bodies become transformed into the medium of writing itself. The contribution of the visitors, paradoxically, is simultaneously to enable and restrict. After two or three hours of walking, observing, and participating as a visitor in this field of increasingly exhausted actions, one begins to see oneself inside a chamber of horrors.4 The strength to act and create while still falling away from the symbolic order of writing reflects the instability of these precarious actions as well as the perceived conviction that one is somehow doing the right thing.
The traces that remain in the wake of these activities bear the imprint of every attempted action in which bodies were brought into contact. With every performative art installation that “positions itself against an objectivist perception of art and its experience” (Rebentisch 2003, 81), Forsythe uncovers a composition in which bodies, movement, writing, sounds, images (new media), objects, and materials enter into a relationship of re-acting to and with each other within a realm of capability and incapacity.
Ander Zabala in Human Writes (2006). Photographer: Dominik Mentzos.
Intermediality is also at work in You made me a monster,5 which unfolds as a choreographic art of interrelatedness and resonates with the praxis of beholding. Here, in contrast to Human Writes, dancers are integrated into a larger event in which their movement becomes the medium through which their own experience is destroyed. You made me a monster commemorates, [End Page 65] with the persona of “my wife,” Forsythe’s life partner, the Ballet Frankfurt dancer Tracy Kai Maier (1989–1994), who died on February 13, 1994. As all visitors learn by reading a displayed text, she succumbed to complications of cancer.6 At the same time, the story of her suffering and illness run along a ticker projected upon a stretched canvas screen that covers one side of the open performance space.
Upon entering the darkened space, one’s attention is drawn to large tables covered with sheets of beige-colored construction paper, out of which models of the human anatomy are cut. The visitors are invited to hang the cut-outs on skeletons set up on the tables. This activity is accompanied by sounds of humming, shrill buzzing, and hammering. Three performers move improvisationally around the tables and, in doing so, set off ear-splitting wails produced by sensors attached to their bodies that react to the microphones placed in the skeletons. Amidst these electronically amplified screams, wheezes, and raspings, one imagines the pitiful suffering of the terminally ill body, a suffering that emerges from deep within, robbing that interior of its feeling, hollowing it, flexing it against itself and turning it inside out, until it reaches a monstrous distortion: You made me a monster.
A visitor and Christopher Roman in You made me a monster. Copyright the Forsythe Company. Photographer: Marion Rossi.
The evening showed visitors the unfolding of an illness as it runs its course. The materials of the construction paper monsters, the gradual building up of their structural forms by [End Page 66] the audience-participants, the images of text, the sounds—both voices and electronically-amplified shrieks—converge at the site of moving bodies and exchanged looks, without being defined as a pathetic representation of grief. In contrast, an atmosphere of terror hung over the scenery, absorbed into the actions of the visitors and the movements of the performers. An intertwined network of anxiety spread through the darkness, though always allowing the visitors the freedom to observe the dancers, follow the storyline of the video screen, or continue hanging the anatomical paper cutouts on the skeleton.
The dancers in You made me a monster never establish the kind of contact, physical or otherwise, with visitors so present in Human Writes. Physical disintegration becomes the choreographic point of fixation. The dancer’s movements make suffering itself the medium of the dance, here metaphorically sketched out: dance, in the sense of passionate movement energetically embodied, does not take place. The dancer’s body gets in the way of what it wants to do, works against itself, moves against its own will, to land the dancer in an unexpected place, with unexpected times and rhythms. Amidst constant perceptual shifts, the bodies grasp an alien otherness, move toward a foreign terrain, and engender the unknown.
Human Writes and You made me a monster align themselves seamlessly with the fundamental ideas of Forsythe’s choreography: a thought in movement constructed through the body and performatively generated by intermedial processes. So, performative sequences of choreographed movement fold projected, imagined, constructed, and physically remembered images of the body into processes of generating and forming movement-actions (Huschka 2004). The dancers fall back upon the knowledge of their technique in order to reorganize themselves into unusual new choreographic structures and operations. Their focus is neither virtuosity nor grace. Instead, they seek the gaps in their own movement knowledge: “residuals,” as dancers Nicole Peisl and David Kern called it in a discussion with me in 2006.7 This art of counter-intentionality, of attending retroactively to one’s own body, is based on the performative execution of perceptions deriving from layered perceptive processes: voices, the dancers’ reactions, spoken or seen information imparted from different sources during the performance, and their own imagination. The body becomes the medium of a kind of perceptual work in which various mental and physical circumstances converge with remembered, filmed, projected, or imagined bodies (Caspersen 2004).
In this sense, one can speak of an intermedial choreographic and bodily understanding in Forsythe’s work. Accordingly, the choreographic reference to the body as a medium highlights the body’s function as intermediary, through which its performativity consequently comes to the fore. This performativity, in turn, draws about itself an acknowledgment of its own materiality. Taking the word “medium” as meaning “middle and mediator, intermediation and intermediary,” the intermedial body appeals to “the question of how, exactly, the role, the action and the material of this ‘in between’ can be grasped” (Vogl and Engell 1999, 9).8
It would be insufficient to describe the presence of new media (live video feed, digitally re-engineered sound, etc.) in Forsythe’s installation work (as well as in his collaborations [End Page 67] with new media artists) as a process of exploration of the borders and options of bodily movement. In contrast to the intermedia work of Nick Haffner and Thomas McManus—both former Ballet Frankfurt dancers—Forsythe’s choreographic work is not about the sensuous and aesthetic juxtaposition of the live body with the virtual movement image. Forsythe’s interest is in a type of movement drawing, in making the connection between states of the body and compositional processes.
He asks how bodily movement can be perceived as a knowledge inscribed in and through the body as thinking. Forsythe employs computer-generated recording modes because they allow for both analytic and visual points of entry that play back a pool of information for generating improvisational movement. For instance, the mapped-out examples of movement in the CD-ROM Improvisation Technologies (2000) serve as choreographic material while also imparting visible organizational aids for the dancers. It is a technical learning apparatus. Here again, the intermedial perception of moving bodies produces an aesthetic technology of perception.9
Improvisation Technologies, with its superimposition of graphic traces onto moving images of dancers, works with a visualization of these transitory levels of perception. “I’m certainly not concerned with form from an objective point of view, but rather what is the sensation of formation as the body continuously moves from one state to another” (Lista 2006, 35). The sense of the lines indicating paths of movement for the body to follow is to simulate mental images of the movement to be performed and the physical organization necessary to perform them. They not only induce the proprioceptive process required by action, they actually produce it. Similar to Etienne-Jules Marey’s illustrations of movement in stop-action photography at the end of the nineteenth century, the execution of movement is experienced through a technology whose realization is only possible through a visual apparatus (see Snyder 2002, 148). But Forsythe is not Marey. In the latter we have movement represented as a set of visual images, whereas with Forsythe the visual medium itself provides the movement method.
As much as these perceptual implementations appear to be mediated by movement, Forsythe’s improvisational sequences are also elucidated in the installations of visual artist Peter Welz. Two recent collaborations with Welz—whenever on on on nohow on / airdrawing (Louvre, Paris, 2004) and Retranslation / Final Unfinished Portrait (Francis Bacon) figure inscribing figure _ [take 02] (2006)—explore filmed movement material for its figural and sculptural ramifications.10 Welz calls them video-sculpture. In this regard, they transform the recorded and, to some extent, traced movements into an intermedial composition that deals with the body as, itself, a performative act of transformed figures. The improvisational sequences that Forsythe dances are projected, life-size, onto numerous large screens that line the entire exhibition space.
As foundational material for the installation whenever on on on nohow on / airdrawing (2004), Forsythe seeks to create a movement event through an intermedial process that brings his body knowledge into a dialogue with a thematically central phrase from [End Page 68] Samuel Beckett’s text Worstward Ho. Made up of numerous fixed camera shots—from above, from the side, and from the front—and two moving camera perspectives—attached to Forsythe’s hands—Welz creates contrary and complimentary perspectives of the same movement sequence and arranges them in space. Welz’s installation projects different perspectives of improvisational movement in a loop on large-scale screens that, themselves, are so distanced from each other that the projected surfaces can never all be viewed simultaneously from one angle. In his large-scale video installations, Welz treats the freestanding walls as self-contained objects within the installation space. The work applies the Beckett quote “whenever on on on nohow on” structurally to the installation in the sense that the words themselves suggest a repeating cycle or loop. As yet another break from choreographic structure, the movement sequences don’t adhere to any closed form. Forsythe’s improvisation is more akin to a bodily process, one that exhibits a state of restraint and collapse without setting a structure with which to find repeatable forms.
Airdrawing (study of movement of the right hand in black and the left hand in red above computer print onto photo paper). Copyright Peter Welz (2000).
In another video installation by Welz, Retranslation / Final Unfinished Portrait (Francis Bacon), Forsythe sketches with his body an incomplete self-portrait by Francis Bacon projected onto the ground. Forsythe’s movements approximate Bacon’s unfinished drawing. There arises an intermedial connection between sketch, body, and movement. As [End Page 69] with the other performance installations, improvisatory movement thinks through referenced but visually intermittent text images. Forsythe asserts the importance of the body as a volumetric presence rather than a sign. Forsythe described the process as follows: “[W]hen I draw I think sculpture: I am trying to use my body as an invisible sculpture template, and the drawing is in the end just what ‘got in the way’” (Lista 2006, 31). The aesthetic goal is to use the body as a mold—to empty it out without dematerializing it. For Forsythe, any situation means finding where choreography simultaneously begins and ends—the space of a practice molded by a body. For Forsythe this choreographic practice means, in the words of Michel Foucault, that “merciless place, . . . from which there is no escape, to which I am damned” (2005, 25).
These recent pieces pose the question of the body’s status as a generating, remembering, and retracing organ of movement. Their trace-making notwithstanding, they bear references to a remembered bodily knowledge, which is dispersed through intermedial processes. In this sense, choreography does not appear as a creative symbolic order that prevails in the dancing body but as a performative act in which the body has to rewrite its habitualized movement knowledge. To produce these kinds of performances, the dancing body is confronted by external manifestations and informational signals, in which it transforms itself into a medium of movement traces. These aesthetic processes lead not to a specific movement language or formation of an identifiable codex but rather appear atmospherically to the visitors as a noticeable complex of body and movement actions: A poetic space of the performance.
The notion of the movement drawing defines more precisely the intermedia interface between the different perceptual processes of the dancer and the visitor. At the same time, it reveals the relationship between movement and perception as an art-media process. When we consider the collaborative works with Welz alongside You made me a monster and Human Writes, the intermedial body-in-motion that appears in the former is both illuminating and problematic. The collaborations with Welz work with filmed movement structures, whereas the performance installations stage bodies to develop the setting live. These distinct installation formats, however, both engage with bodily movement drawing, understood literally as traced or drawn movement located in space, and figuratively as learned and remembered movement knowledge inscribed in bodies. Both types of movement drawing appear in Forsythe’s work as a process informed by the possibilities of new media (video and computer software).
In this way, movement drawing relies on a double inner structure. The modes of drawing manifest and generate a perceptual carrying out of movement that is “written” by the body-in-motion but also foregrounds a choreographic and architectural investment of space with motion. The deployed medias of movement drawing, be they the technically or artistically reworked video images or the retraced memorization of bodily movement itself, reveal, in contrast to stop-motion photography, video documentation, and other notational methods, the difference between bodily movement and its documentation in [End Page 70] writing and images and refer to the twofold process of their generated performativity. They remember themselves as original acts.
In the works I have discussed, Forsythe distrusts and resists the aesthetic articulation of dance as moving bodies situated in an antiquated and inherited movement vocabulary, as well as the articulation of choreography as a codified movement space for the body. For him, both articulations are merely expressions of culturally and individually established scripts of dance. Forsythe’s manner of transgression lies in the injection of a new technical process that interrupts both articulations, through which he intertwines the production and perception of movement with image fragments whose cultural and textual memory is actualized through movement drawing. In the Peter Welz collaborations, movement is trans-formed into written traces of a visually manifested bodily memory in motion. On the other hand, performance installations convey this type of trans-formation in a differently conceived intermedial setting. In You made me a monster the dancers deal with their own bodily and movement memory to recall the foreign traces of a departed body, or, as in Human Writes, to emerge as agents within the symbolic order of law. As much as this fundamental idea cannot be described as closed choreography, the viewers cannot be deemed as situated in a stable or secure place—for example, their seats in the theater. The provocative moment of these works lies in the radical and medial broadening of the notion of “body,” which now begins to encompass traces of the remembered, imagined, visual, and acoustic, in order to expand itself, in a sense, as an apparition of space-time. And the audience participates in the construction of that apparition.
Translated from the German by Leslie Allison and Mark FrankoSabine Huschka
Sabine Huschka teaches dance studies at the Institute of Theatre Science in Berlin (FU) and formerly at the Institute of Theatre Science in Bern (IUB) in Switzerland. Her research interests center on the history of theatrical dance from the eighteenth to the twentieth century with an emphasis on cultural theory. She served as dramaturg for TAT/Frankfurt-am-Main and for Ballet Frankfurt. She has published Moderner Tanz: Konzepte—Stile—Utopien (Rowohlts Enzyclopädie, 2002) and Merce Cunningham und der Moderne Tanz (Würzburg, 2000). She is editor of the anthology Wissenskultur Tanz: Historische und zeitgenössische Vermittlungsakte zwischen Praktiken und Diskursen (Bielefeld, 2009.) She lives in Berlin.
1. White Bouncey Castle premiered on March 26, 1997, at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London; City of Abstracts premiered on October 24, 2000, at the Opernplatz/Hauptwache in Frankfurt-am- Main; Scattered Crowd premiered on March 15, 2002, at Halle 7, Messe Frankfurt, in Frankfurtam-Main.
2. Human Writes premiered on October 23, 2005, at the Schauspielhaus, Schiffbauhalle 1, Zurich.
4. Patrick Primavesi spoke of a remaining “disappointment in the best sense, [a] discomfort about this way of writing and its resemblance to torture” (2007, 57).
5. You made me a monster premiered on May 8, 2005, in the small theater of the Arsenale in Venice.
6. The narrator describes the inconceivability of terminal illness in short, succinct sentences. We hear of false and biased diagnoses from doctors, a bout of interminable bleeding during a rehearsal for ALIE/N A(C)TION (1992), a purportedly successful operation, and each imperceptible flexing of the body that eventually led to death. We are also told of Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Alien, in which a foreign body invades the body of another and inhabits it.
7. This conversation took place in Dresden-Hellerau on August 9, 2006.
8. The concept of new media put forth by Engell and Vogl has certain critical advantages. They define it as knowledge, and therefore as a systematic object precisely in that it reworks and transmits information rather than merely storing it. Hence, it creates its own conditions of production [End Page 71] and reproduction. On this basis, one can see the connection of new media theory from an anthropological standpoint, in the formulation of Sibylle Krämer: “In the act of transmitting new media also brings about and forms what it transmits. It is the idea of ‘embodiment’ that new media invokes as a foundational cultural activity” (2008, 84).
9. In contrast to a proprioceptive self-perceiving or movement technique stands that of technology with its goal-oriented use of the body, which puts into play a higher-level perspective on the teachings of this technique. A movement technology generates an interest in movement processes and develops a teaching tool for the transmission of this knowledge (Hüser and Grauer 2005, 194). See also Huschka (2005).
10. These installations, along with the latest addition, Architectural Device for Forsythe Movement (2006) are pure installations in that no live movement is performed (see < http://www.peterwelz.com >).
E-ISSN: 1086-332X Print ISSN: 0192-2882
This essay examines the possibilities of intimacy in intermedial theatrical performance. It employs the term “possibility” in the sense both of the potential for intimacy to occur (as in “is it possible?”) and in the sense of the potential utility of intimacy as a dramaturgical strategy (as in “that which it makes possible”). There is an implicit paradox in this plurality, one that suggests that the complex purposes to which intimacy might be put in intermedial performance do not necessarily rely on the basic possibility of intimacy occurring, let alone being sustained, in this context. However, the two sides of this coin of possibility can be understood as only apparently mutually exclusive—as not merely coincidental, but, in fact, interdependent—and this essay explores precisely this paradox as process through the consideration of two case studies: bluemouth inc.’s interdisciplinary performance event Dance Marathon, and the solodevised work-in-progress Swimmer (68), co-created by Ker Wells and the essay’s author. Specifically, the essay foregrounds the dynamic of intermedial anxiety as conspicuously productive. Rather than being an ancillary impediment or distraction, by heightening vulnerability, immersion, interactivity, and investment—of performers, as well as spectators—intermedial anxiety can both pinpoint and activate vital possibilities of/for/in theatrical intimacy.
How a self becomes evident is a fact of theatre that requires an understanding of the dynamics of intimacy (the proximity of relations) and engagement (the conduct of associations).—Alan Read1
Like Alan Read’s recent mediation on “the last human venue,” this essay is preoccupied with the relationship between theatre, intimacy, engagement, and the gradual, tenuous evidence of self. However, a quite different understanding of the “immaterial(ity)”2 of performance provides its focus. In the simplest terms, this essay examines the possibilities of intimacy in intermedial theatrical performance. It employs the term “possibility” in the sense both of the potential for intimacy to occur (as in “is it possible?”), and in the sense of the potential utility of intimacy as a dramaturgical strategy (as in “that which it makes possible”). There is an implicit paradox in this plurality, one that suggests that the complex purposes to which intimacy might be put in intermedial performance do not necessarily rely on the basic possibility of intimacy occurring, let alone being sustained, in this context. However, the two sides of this coin of possibility can be understood as only apparently mutually exclusive—as not merely coincidental, but in fact interdependent—and it is precisely this paradox as process that this essay addresses. [End Page 575]
Most explicitly exemplified by Strindberg’s experiments at the Intimate Theatre in Stockholm from 1907 through 1910, intimacy was the banner of the vanguard of Western modern theatre. Conversely, it is often seen as an endangered quality within the mediatized terrain of postmodern theatrical performance. Most interdisciplinary approaches to intermedia as a generalized field of artistic activity recognize performance as a central component.3 As Peter Frank asserts,
[Intermedia] comes in the form of conceptual art, performance art, video art, new dance, graphically-notated music and music involving theatrical activity, a new theater based on extra-theatrical sources, visual poetry, phonetic poetry, poetry that maintains words but ignores syntax, and all the areas of adventure and experiment lying in, among, and between these.4
Conversely, however, much discussion of theatrical intermediality—the thorough integration of media sensibility within conventional theatrical contexts—remains preoccupied with the consequences for performance—specifically, for the “liveness” of theatrical experience. As Arnold Aronson suggests in his aptly titled 2005 volume, Looking into the Abyss:
We in the theater, protectors of an anachronistic art, attempt to valorize its unique qualities: its liveness, its presence, its spirituality. But something has shifted in contemporary consciousness. . . . It is the mediation of the live actor that [now] seems real. The simple, unmediated actor in three-dimensional space is not comprehendible, not readable, not knowable. The question for us, then, is how the theater—an inherently phenomenological enterprise—reflects back on iconography that is derived from the world of the nontangible and nonphysical. What looks back at us from the abyss today?5
The anxiety Aronson articulates is commonplace. The decade-long period of transition between the 1999 release of Philip Auslander’s influential Liveness and that of its 2008 revised edition has seen this anxiety evolve and increase in sophistication, yet it remains far from resolution:
As the mediatized replaces the live within cultural economy, the live itself incorporates the mediatized, both technologically and epistemologically. The result of this implosion is that a seemingly secure opposition is now a site of anxiety, the anxiety that underlines many performance theorists’ desire to reassert the integrity of the live and the corrupt, co-opted nature of the mediatized.6
While Auslander’s contribution to this debate may be intended, and is often received, as “contentious,”7 important work is being done to defuse and reorient this anxiety toward more productive ends. For instance, Intermediality in Theatre and Performance (2006),8 edited by Freda Chapple and Cheil Kattenbelt, offers contributions by members of the similarly titled working group of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR). The collection brings together a number of convincing perspectives that both advocate the dismantling of binaries and discourage the anticipation of an unchannelled abyss in the “in-between” space of intermediality.9
Conspicuous among these voices is Peter Boenisch, who emphasizes what he terms “the basic mediality of theatre,” a historical reality that “began long before new media technology entered the theatre, even before technologies promoting these new features, [End Page 576] like the Internet, had been invented.”10 While conceding “a fundamental shift towards electrONic culture” in contemporary performance prompted by accelerating advances in information technologies, Boenisch argues that theatre has always been a form of “‘training centre’ [for] new standards of processing and structuring information, including the aesthetic information we call art.”11 As such, he argues, “theatre is a semiotic practice, which incorporates, spatializes and disseminates in sensorial terms (thus: performs) the contents and cognitive strategies of other media by creating multiple channels, and a multi-media semiotic and sensoric environment.”12
However, as Meike Wagner has observed, “there is a tradition of viewing theatre and media as two distinct domains defined by their opposition to each other,” with the “live body of the actor, corporeal presence,” as the “main criteria by which to define theatre”:13
The argument links theatre to incarnation: if there are bodies present on stage then there is live performance; hence, there is theatre. The human body is set up as a shield to the mediatized body and there is a clear line between the two spheres: on the one side of the line there is live performance, where the authentic human body is physically present. On the other side of the line there are technical representations of the body as in video, film, television and the digital.14
Wagner’s gesture to bypass this stalemate is to reconceptualize theatre as a “hypermedium, which integrates a variety of technical media into its performance.” Theatre thus becomes “a large medial framework, which incorporates different media without negotiating the assumed live quality of the theatrical body.”15
Each in its own way, these arguments seek to devalue (Auslander), normalize (Boenisch), or elude (Wagner) the traditional investment in the liveness of theatrical presence in an effort to push through the perceived roadblock of “authentic” corporeality and to open critical avenues into the processes of theatrical intermediality. However, while these arguments attempt to mitigate the anxiety theatrical intermediality often elicits, my own argument will foreground this same anxiety as conspicuously productive. Rather than an ancillary impediment or distraction, by heightening vulnerability, immersion, interactivity, and investment—of performers as well as spectators—intermedial anxiety can be seen to both pinpoint and activate vital possibilities of/for/in theatrical intimacy. [End Page 577]
[I]ntermedia is not performance, but performative action.—Klaus-Peter Busse 17
Psychologists Karen Prager and Linda Roberts identify three basic operations that conjointly define intimacy:
[A]n intimate interaction is distinguished from other kinds of interactions by three necessary and sufficient conditions: self-revealing behavior, positive involvement with the other, and shared understandings. Self-revealing behaviors are those that reveal personal, private aspects of the self to another, or invite another into a zone of privacy.18
This triad of self-disclosure, positive response, and mutual understanding echoes across analyses of intimacy from diverse perspectives,19 providing the grounds upon which the multiple understandings of personality and identity are tested and complicated. Prager also draws a particularly useful distinction between intimate interactions and intimate relationships: intimate interactions refer to behavior that exists within a clearly designated space-and-time framework, whereas intimate relationships exist in a much broader, more abstract spatial-and-temporal framework and continue in the absence of any observable behavior between partners. Unlike intimate relationships, intimate interactions are highly influenced by the conditions of the immediate context.
On a generalized level, a twentieth-century cultural shift that emphasizes intimate interactions over intimate relationships is reflected both in sociological perspectives—which focus on a persistent increase in trends toward individualism—and in the patterns of individual isolation, destabilization, and mobility reflected in contemporary communications studies. More specifically, the distinction between intimate relationships and intimate interactions evokes a second, parallel distinction between what may be described as theatrical and performative exchange.20
Josette Féral suggests that “[m]ore than a property with analyzable characteristics, theatricality seems to be a process that has to do with a ‘gaze’ that postulates and creates a distinct, virtual space belonging to the other, from which fiction can emerge.”21 [End Page 578] For her part, Erika Fischer-Lichte asserts that “the dream world on stage is not to be taken and understood as a representation of an objectively given reality somewhere else, but instead, is constituted as a subjective creation of the spectator’s imagination.”22 Despite a considerable range of overall interpretation, many enduring understandings of theatricality similarly emphasize the generative power of the theatre spectator’s detached subjectivity, which, moreover, purchases coherence and continuity via a contractual (i.e., conventional) containment of affect.23
Conversely, performativity, though also a contentious term, is often associated with the act of being observed. Most recent attempts to define performativity begin, as Rune Gade and Anne Jerslev have recently proposed, with the proposition that “[b]ecoming a subject today is a question of doing rather than being. Or, it seems there is little being without doing. Indeed, there may be nothing but doing. . . . Becoming a subject depends not only on being recognized and acknowledged but every bit as much on being seen doing.”24 Performativity, as such, is distanced from the subjective construction of stable meaning through conventional containment and aligned with an only partly voluntary, open-ended, and consequential process of emergence.
Not surprisingly, one of the most influential definitions of theatricality—offered in early writing from Judith Butler—sets it in direct opposition to performativity. As Butler observes: “In the theatre, one can say, ‘this is just an act,’ and de-realize the act, make acting into something quite distinct from what is real. . . . On the street or in the bus, the act becomes dangerous, if it does, precisely because there are no theatrical conventions to delimit the purely imaginary character of the act.”25 While Butler’s later writing allows for a more nuanced (and thus problematic) relationship between these two concepts,26 this understanding of theatricality as the resort to self-conscious conventions that isolate and legitimize dynamics that are considerably more volatile and unmanageable—that is, performative—when enacted outside of such contexts retains fairly widespread currency. Thus while Shannon Jackson concedes that the distinction between the two concepts (and the debate about that distinction) is complicated and controversial, there is, she suggests, some common ground to be found in the assertion [End Page 579] that theatre is, generally speaking, “‘a place for viewing’ . . . [that] requires the seeability of its object.”27 It is also, Jackson notes, “conceived as a space of performer agency,” one in which “fragmented identities were made whole, the silent given voice, the invisible made visible.”28 Conversely, Jackson asserts that performativity “identifies conventions that are unregistered and unintended rather than fully visible and willed . . . . Performativity thus seems to question the foundations of the theatrical.”29
Considered within this comparative framework, a clear contrast between the application of advanced media technologies within traditional theatrical production (i.e., in the service of theatricality) and the integration of these same technologies within intermedial performance processes (which often foreground performative possibility) begins to emerge. Upon first inspection, at least, the possibilities of/for/in intimacy would seem to be quite different, as determined by the orientation adopted.
When experienced as a relationship, intimacy—so thoroughly dependent on its position in a continuity, a tradition, of such relationships, and on the reassurance of stable frames of convention and mutually negotiated, fixed contracts of engagement—resembles much theatrical practice in contemporary Western contexts. It is primarily a conceptual and extended relationship, providing a self-understanding of enduring cultural positioning (as a “theatregoer”). It is one that structures its points of engagement with explicit respect and accommodation for carefully managed “social-penetration”;30 the “zone of privacy”31 that the spectator is invited into is determinedly public, a communally accepted and relied upon conceit. “Self-disclosure” is minimized within socially acceptable parameters designed for optimum maintenance of a “real” or “true” self,32 strategically tested, validated, and tempered through vicarious identification with adversity. It is an intimacy informed by investments in lucidity, consistency, and comprehension.
Conversely, when experienced within the “different and clearly distinguishable notion of space and time”33 associated with interaction, intimacy adopts a decidedly performative quality. A performative intimacy is one in which the basic criteria identified across multiple definitions of intimacy—a willingness to self-disclose; full, positive, and mutual attention; openness to physical contact and connection; shared understanding—is valued and pursued outside the context of extended aesthetic, commercial, or emotional contracts. It is an intimacy predicated on the devaluation, even rejection, of fictional, thematic, and organizational predictability and familiarity. Given that performative information is often discontinuous, fragmentary, and simultaneous in nature, the potential for understanding lies less in a common comprehension of a specific site of destabilization than in the recognition of destabilization itself as a site of commonality. What is shared, then, is a state rather than a location, a mode of inquiry rather than a set of beliefs, a space rather than a place. It is thus an interactive intimacy, an intersection of “performative action.”34 [End Page 580]
Particularly relevant is Prager’s suggestion that while only a few of the exchanges in an intimate relationship are actually intimate, intimate disclosures may occur in interactions between strangers precisely “because of the unlikelihood of a further relationship and the attendant opportunities for betrayal.”35 With its implication of fixed terms and agreements—of traditional conventions relied upon for coherence, comprehension, security, and commitment—the specter of betrayal would seem to be a key factor in virtually all theatrical experience. But is the generation of traditional theatrical intimacy even possible within intermedial contexts, which, so thoroughly penetrated by aspects of observation, exposure, and surveillance, would seem far more conducive to the disjunctive and fragmentary nature of intimate interactions? Conversely, are such transient intimate interactions possible within the conventions of a systematically governed theatrical framework, regardless of medial components? Finally, could the heightened potential for the betrayal of intimacy produced by this basic contradiction of intentions be a key factor in the pronounced anxiety associated by many individuals with theatrical intermediality?
In the remainder of this essay, I explore these and related questions through the lenses of two case studies. Both are thoroughly intermedial as assessed through multiple criteria. Adhering to Klaus-Peter Busse’s contention that “[i]ntermedia means media criticism,”36 both emerge, from inception, out of urgent questions and preoccupations related to the roles and functions of media in contemporary Western culture. Reflecting Yvonne Spielmann’s assertion that the primary mode of intermedia performance is “self-reflection,”37 both are motivated by the productive ambiguity that results when enthusiasm, curiosity, and trepidation in relation to advanced technologies are in constant, focused negotiation. Sharing Hanna Hardt’s conviction that intermedia “promotes the accessibility of ideas by making use of a banal familiarity with technologies of communication,”38 both projects attempt to foreground and demystify contemporary media tools and applications as factors in social and political discourse.39 Both were initially inspired across media formats, specifically by motion pictures (which, in both cases, were adaptations of works of prose fiction). Further, both projects are developed with a particular focus on the possibilities of media as a means of generating intimate exchange between performers and audience members. Beyond these common traits, however, are conspicuous differences in size and scale, disciplinary range and background, spectatorship, and anticipated audiences.
I personally assumed a creative role in both projects, albeit at differing levels of engagement: in the first case as dramaturg, in the second as director.40 In the broadest [End Page 581] sense of the designation, then, both case studies represent instances of practice-based research—and thereby bring with them the unique opportunities and complications that accompany the dual priorities inherent in such activity.41 It is not my intention to present these cases as representative of all theatrical intermediality; nor, obviously, do I claim a position of objectivity in relation to their workings. However, among the advantages of such firsthand involvement are proximity of position, immediacy of response, directness of application, and access of observation. Of course, the flip side of these advantages, which one needs to be constantly on guard against, is the praxis participant’s hazard of finding exactly what he’s looking for by looking for what he’s got.
Dance Marathon (2009), the creation of the intermedial, site-specific company bluemouth inc.,42 is part play, part relational event, part performance installation, part concert, part dance party, and part athletic competition. (A promotional video for bluemouth’s Dance Marathon, based on its February 2009 Toronto production, is available online at Project Muse.) At the outset of each performance, up to 200 participants are allotted cloth numbers to wear (fig. 1), assigned a pair of footprints taped to the floor, and told to start moving their feet. Some four hours later, after an endurance test of dancing, foot races, choreographed routines, vaudeville performances, special guest appearances, trivial pursuit, and one wild bumper-car ride, the two remaining audience members who have avoided elimination are crowned and celebrated as the marathon champions.
(Right click and Save-as to download file)
Clearly, the piece encourages description and defies fixed definition, as befits the work of an aggressively collective interdisciplinary company that corrals training in dance, creative writing, electronic performance and composition, advanced media, and psychological method acting. With split residence in Canada and the United States (Steven O’Connell and Lucy Simic live in New York, Sabrina Reeves in Montreal, and Richard Windeyer in Toronto), bluemouth inhabits diverse creative and disciplinary spaces and generates material through constantly evolving processes of collaboration, negotiation, and attrition. [End Page 582]
bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts Enwave Theatre, Toronto, 4–7 February 2009. (Photo by Gordon Hawkins.)
As I have noted in previous publications,43 a primary (con)tension in virtually all of bluemouth’s performances relates to an operative contradiction in the stances it takes toward its audiences. On the one hand, the company’s work often demonstrates a desire to generate a familiar theatrical contract: (relatively) stable characters contribute to an evolving (if porous) fictional construct and address identifiable (if multiple and even contradictory) themes. On the other hand, and often simultaneously, bluemouth’s pieces aggressively assault the seams of theatrical pretence by means of a range of performative transgressions: mobile and multiple performance foci; abrupt reconfigurations of space and location; and intense, demanding audience participation. Caught in the crossfire of these intentionally and productively conflicting messages, spectators at a bluemouth show must constantly reassess the nature of the invitations being offered and the requests being made. Put another way, it could be argued that bluemouth audiences must continually differentiate between the company’s proposal of an intimate theatrical relationship and that of an intimate performative interaction. Given the at least hypothetically mutual exclusion of these two modes of engagement, the potential for betrayal is not merely likely or even inevitable; rather, it is central to the company’s intentions.
I use the term (con)tension above to distinguish the conditions of a bluemouth production from those established by other practitioners who also construct intersections [End Page 583] between theatrical and performative experience. Helpful comparisons can be found in two of bluemouth’s New York–based neighbors, the Wooster Group and the Builders Association. Certainly, the Wooster Group similarly employs intermedial strategies to destabilize spectators’ relationships to the full range of theatrical convention, and the company also thoroughly problematizes the perceptual status of its performing bodies.44 However, in a production such as Hamlet (2007)—which concurrently stages both a highly modified version of the 1969 film of Richard Burton in the title role and a kinetic theatrical response to/exchange with that film—Wooster director Elizabeth LeCompte’s directorial approach effectively channels the tension(s) in a premeditated intersection of conflicting aesthetic expectations and circumstances. Admittedly, Wooster productions often deny any clear or stable relationship between corporeal and mediated presence: Joy Kristin Kalu suggests that the company’s Hamlet generates “a trichotomy of perceptual orders,”45 while W. B. Worthen contends that the production unequivocally reveals the inadequacy of a live/mediated binary for performance.46 However, the eccentric intelligence and singularity of LeCompte’s vision overtly orchestrates and instrumentalizes the anxiety thereby generated. The audience is, in a sense, shown its own anxiety, expertly manipulated at a distance.47
Conversely, for its part, the Builders Association adopts a distinctly less direct assault on conventional expectations, one that spectators may or may not fully recognize or choose to engage with. From the outset of the company’s 2007 production Continuous City, which begins well before the acknowledged start of the performance, the technologically crowded stage slowly fills with bodies—actors? technicians?—at work, in consultation, finalizing equipment adjustments, tuning the machine. Then, launching into advertisement-style direct address, the company overtly reduces the significance of characterization and narrative to the level of impromptu conversation and playful exchange with an acknowledged constituency of twenty-first-century consumers (i.e., audience members). Discussing the company’s approach to structure with artistic director Marianne Weems, Randy Gener has suggested that it treats story as “a peg on which ideas are hung.”48 Enacting what Weems calls “a fractal or disjointed [End Page 584] geography,”49 the semi-improvisational delivery of easily purchased popular wisdom (“media is dangerous”; “real people can be misrepresented”; “physical contact and live experience are rejuvenating”) bubbles up amid the real fascination of the production: the seductive and meaning-making spectacle of a dense field of hydraulically powered folding screens, capable of instantaneously revealing and concealing thirty-two projection surfaces, upon which the rambling and intentionally vacuous conversations flow.
In contrast with these premeditated and self-consciously performed positions, the diverse backgrounds and training of bluemouth’s company members result in an inner tension within the company’s collection of distinct artistic intentions—one that fosters similarly diverse relationships to the “interface” between theatricality and performativity, corporeal presence and intermediality. Ranging from “enthusiastic immersion” to “cautious skepticism,” the company members’ respective attitudes toward intermedial expression survive intact into the final performances—mirroring their spectators’ ambivalence, acknowledging and exacerbating their audience’s anxiety. Thus rather than a premeditated imbalance, the company’s performances stage a performative imbalance in the continuous, purposefully unresolved negotiation of these boundaries, enacting an often urgent and aggressive struggle between and upon all the collaborating bodies—audience as well as performers—in the performance space (fig. 2).
My own experience as dramaturg on this project was inevitably defined by this volatility. At one remove from core creative agency, one of the most basic of my functions was to serve the familiar dramaturgical role of the “first audience member,” and the company regularly threw me into the physical development of the material in anticipation of the same immediacy on the parts of future spectator-participants. Finding myself at times in the proverbial “still eye of the storm” (a highly effective vantage point for dramaturgical observation) and at others simply buffeted by its kinetic force (resulting in quite different, but often equally useful experience, dramaturgically), my earlier established impression of the company’s trademark (con)tension was thoroughly validated—as was my confidence that it would serve as the ideal set of conditions for a (con)test of intimate exchange. For inevitably, I propose (as I proposed to the company) that this strategy of perpetual negotiation on all levels of the performance, which is perhaps most accurately understood as an unavoidable condition of the company’s determined democracy, cannot but ratchet up both the anxiety associated with the betrayal of intimacy and the opportunities for it to occur.
Thoroughly documented by scholars such as Frank Calabria50 and Carol Martin51 and subsequently popularized in both fiction and film, dance marathons remain one [End Page 585] of the most fascinating expressions of American culture.52 Evolving out of the celebratory excesses of the 1920s and into the desperation of the Great Depression during the 1930s, the marathons remained a hot ticket throughout and beyond the next decade, successfully blending optimism with antagonism, opportunism with exploitation, heroism with sadism, art with sport, and festivity with torture. Sentenced to remain in motion almost continuously (with only ten or fifteen minutes of rest every hour) for days, weeks, and even months, dance marathon contestants struggled and connived to win cash prizes by remaining the “last couple standing” at the end of a series of remarkable—and remarkably dehumanizing—challenges. Part Olympics and part Fear Factor, the marathons were the clear precursor to the enduring contemporary preoccupation with reality-based competitions, similarly encapsulating a complex, historically specific mix of ideological dynamics.
bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts Enwave Theatre, Toronto, 4–7 February 2009. (Photo by Gordon Hawkins.)
As the form evolved and its popularity increased, dance marathons became complex sociological experiments. Regularly, professional performers were hired to participate in and enliven the proceedings, as well as to provide organized entertainments. At the same time, a range of familiar melodramatic types—heroes and heroines, villains and ingénues—emerged within the ranks of repeat contestants, blurring the lines between actual competitors and hired performers. First-person accounts, such as June Havoc’s Early Havoc (1959), emphasize the porous nature of the event, in which the performative athleticism and the theatrical imposition of narrative elements thoroughly [End Page 586] contaminated each other.53 The attraction for bluemouth of this volatile and unstable hybrid form is not difficult to understand.
Equally significant, however, is the fact that bluemouth’s introduction to dance marathons came by way of the 1969 US film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? directed by Sydney Pollack.54 Based on a 1935 novel of the same name by Horace McCoy,55 the film both critiques and romanticizes its subject matter, foregrounding the physical and emotional violence at the same time that it encourages deep psychological empathy with the main characters (played by Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin). Of particular relevance, Pollack’s access to close-up imagery, the representation of subjectivity via visual abstraction, and the time-altering capability of cinematic duration all figure prominently in bluemouth’s translation of the dance marathon experience into a decidedly twenty-first-century intermedial event. It is no coincidence that the slogan used throughout the film’s advertising reads: “People are the ultimate spectacle.” However, once incorporated into bluemouth’s reinterpretation, this sentiment eventually resurfaced as: “The show is about the audience.”56 This shift in perspective is instructive.
From its first moments, Dance Marathon insists upon a constant succession of involuntary intimate exchanges, and thus opportunities for betrayal, throughout its four hours (fig. 3). Participants who arrive as couples are intentionally separated at the outset and remain in close proximity to a chance partner (enforced by the taped footprints) for the extended period required for all audience members to “find their feet.” Throughout the first half of the performance, participants are left in newly formed pairs long enough to develop an embryonic familiarity, before they are systematically shuffled to yet another new partner. Each switch also leads to a different elimination challenge—physical, artistic, knowledge-based, or pure chance in nature—intended to promote a joint investment that encourages participants to playfully but thoroughly commit to their new partners as a means of protecting their own status in the event.
During the development and premiere run of Dance Marathon,57 the willingness on the part of the participants to repeatedly connect and commit to virtual strangers during the first half of the performance surprised all of us—not least the performers orchestrating the exchanges. We were struck by the degree to which the participants engaged in concentrated and revealing exchanges that went beyond a mere joint effort toward a common goal and that by all appearances were prompted by the extraordinary circumstances of the event.58 This would seem to support Prager’s assertion that intimate [End Page 587] disclosures may occur in unprecedented interactions between strangers precisely “because of the unlikelihood of a further relationship and the attendant opportunities for betrayal.”59 However, the second half of the performance requires participants to settle on a single partner of their own choice with whom they will navigate the increasingly competitive run up to the final conclusion of the marathon. As such, the terms of the interaction shift yet again, adopting some of the qualities of a (relatively) longer term “relationship,” thereby adjusting the criteria of selection and the etiquette of exchange. As the onus becomes increasingly on survival within the porous fiction of the marathon frame, the terms and conditions by which betrayal is measured (and indeed possible) must be constantly reassessed.
Dancers Barbara Lindenberg and Robert Kingsbury in bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts Enwave Theatre, Toronto, 4–7 February 2009. (Photo by Nancy Paiva.)
Arguably, a second level of betrayal frames these spectator-to-spectator negotiations. While Reeves’s role as MC (master of ceremonies), Windeyer’s glib bandleader Rocket, and associate member Dan Pettrow’s authoritarian Referee are explicit and stable, other loosely defined characters—Little Stevie O’Connell (O’Connell), Lady Jane (associate member Ciara Adams), Ramona Snjezana Knezevic (Simic)—only surface as the evening unfolds and demonstrate significantly more elasticity. Similarly, interspersed among the audience members are twenty-one trained dancers and performers who [End Page 588]
Dancer Cara Spooner and audience members in bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts Enwave Theatre, Toronto, 4–7 February 2009. (Photo by Gordon Hawkins.)
Dancer Amelia Ehrhardt with blindfolded audience participant in bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts Enwave Theatre, Toronto, 4–7 February 2009. (Photo by Gordon Hawkins.)
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progressively emerge through unheralded segments of rehearsed choreography (figs. 4–5). Both the unanticipated presence of these performers and their refusal to assume predictable, conventional theatrical relationships to the other participants and performers repeatedly initiate and then betray stable terms of engagement.
Beyond all these progressive tiers of “micro-intimacy,” however, lies a larger, mediatized framework that contextualizes and makes contingent the hundred or so individual negotiations underway at any given time. For Dance Marathon also features an “eye in the sky”—or, more precisely, multiple eyes throughout the hall that render private spaces public property, projected onto the large suspended screen (dubbed “the mirror ball” by the company) high above the dance floor. Added to this is a large “jumbotron” video screen at one end of the performance space and numerous other projection surfaces throughout the playing area. These “eyes”—tripod-secured and handheld video cameras—offer up intimate exchanges for general consumption and, finally and effectively, dispel stable distinctions between audience and performer. Utilizing observational strategies reminiscent of those employed in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (close-ups, abstracted perception, time alteration), videographer Cam Davis’s manipulation of the technology’s oversight transforms the (personally) minute into the (communally) epic and the (narratively) fragmented into the (perceptually) seamless. Physically located in the center of the playing space, and thus thematically associated with the authority of MC, the band, and Referee, Davis’s overt orchestration of this process reveals the constructed nature of continuity, which is, as such, itself revealed as a seductive and “self”-sustaining process of mediatized meaning-making.
Ultimately, during the Toronto performances, most participants openly celebrated these “invasions” of their privacy (renovating the term in the process). And while some clearly attempted to “perform” intimacy in anticipation of its contradiction, many also seemed to merely enfold it into the performative realism of the event—a conscious acknowledgment of both a general, conditioning mediatization and the intuitive navigation skills that this mode of discourse evokes. Addressing the shifting contemporary response to such pervasive surveillance, John McGrath has proposed that
[i]n contemporary society our “legitimate claim to being reproduced” is no longer sternly denied by an industrial capital insisting upon our passive consumption of mass images. Instead, an unreliable, although exploitative, image machine multiplies our bodies in digital data-streams—across the border from our consciousness or even our knowledge, but reappearing shockingly, reassuringly, suggestively, disruptively in our lives. . . . And as we learn to move within and also love this surveillance space, our responses to its problems, its challenges, are no longer yes/no, good/bad, crime prevention/Big Brother, but a subtle and unending array of detours, disruptions, exaggerations and alliances: counter-surveillances.60
However, Dance Marathon does more than simply foreground this potential. Participants are invited to give private, pre-performance interviews concerning their memories of dancing and their favorite dance tunes; eliminated participants are interviewed about their immediate reactions to being removed from the competition and their plans for revenge; more interviews are conducted in the quiet and darkened lounge area where small groups of expelled audience members console themselves [End Page 590] and one another with drinks from the bar. On their own, these “sound bytes” would, arguably, merely play into the popular fascination with voluntary self-disclosure; yet when they are woven into the larger fabric of the performance’s blanket of surveillance, a complex relationship emerges among these related modes of “the legitimate claim to being reproduced.”
Much as with the numerous, interacting predilections and intentions of the company members themselves (and, for that matter, those of their associate artists and their dramaturg), these multiplying instances of public privacy coexist without coalescing, refusing, ultimately, to be absorbed within a single theatrical conceit or a common ideological perspective. Much like the cultural phenomenon from which it takes its name, Dance Marathon remains a site of activity, a hive of performative industry, conceptually resonant though aesthetically heterogeneous, and, to borrow McGrath’s phrasing, “a subtle and unending array of detours, disruptions, exaggerations and alliances.” In this context, each intimate exchange can be seen as both an act of collective exposure and an act of thoroughly mediated intimacy—a composite experience predicated on an anxiety of betrayal both nervously apprehended and actively pursued.
Compared to Dance Marathon, Swimmer (68), a solo devised performance, is a decidedly more contained, focused, and introspective exercise and reflects entirely different interests and intentions. Yet in its own way, this work-in-progress also grapples with, and exploits, the anxiety of betrayal associated with theatrical intermediality, and in particular the possibilit(ies) of intermedial intimacy as a dramaturgical principle and strategy. (A video of one scene from the workshop showing of Swimmer (68), staged 19 December 2009 at the Robert Gill Theatre in Toronto, is available online at Project Muse.)
(Right click and Save-as to download file)
Swimmer (68) presents a single, isolated figure struggling to sustain an increasingly unsustainable self-construction. A man runs out through the audience to the stage, where only a single wooden chair, a standing lamp, a vintage television set, and a few isolated properties await him. Dressed only in swimming trunks and soaking wet, he pauses upstage and slowly dries himself. Acknowledging the audience only after several minutes of self-absorbed action, he turns, walks to the edge of the stage, raises his arms, and makes the firm request that identifies his presence as performed: “Look at me.”
So begins the piece’s central monologue, initially a (self-)deceivingly calm plea for validation through observation and affirmation. As the piece continues, it becomes apparent that the unnamed character, who cannot seem to remember his own name, is relying on a very small number of elusive memories, all of which date from the first few years of his life, to sustain his sense of personal coherence and unity. Further, the memories seem to hold a key—the answer to a question he has not yet figured out how to ask: “What am I doing here, before this audience?”
However, the paucity of his memories, and their evasive significance, is contrasted with their vivid physical intensity. The actor / character attempts to validate his presence by telling the audience the story of his young life—and, as is ultimately revealed, his young death by drowning. In a sense, then, the character’s “journey” carries him toward an acceptance of his own absence through an acknowledgment of his own [End Page 591] demise. Ironically, therefore, as he tries to piece together the images and sensations he has access to, his highly physical performance is intended to suggest that he is able to locate many of these memories deep in his body. Offhand gestures trigger keen reminiscence, while emergent recollection is expressed through emphatic, even convulsive movement. The performance pieces together personal narratives, one vivid physical memory after another (the sensation of carpeted stairs on his youthful behind, of the cool spray of a sprinkler on his face, of the weight of his father’s watch, given for safekeeping). As he recounts these fragments of memory—a trip to his journalist father’s office, an argument about politics between his father and his uncle, a gathering at his family’s cottage to watch the first moonwalk, a fateful boat ride—the intermedial production design is intended to subtly prompt a similarly visceral identification with these stimuli on the part of the audience. Yet, as discussed below, this shared physical experience is eventually disrupted by memories designed as distinctly “foreign” in nature, the offspring of conspicuously mediated transmissions that undermine his reliance upon them for self-continuity and complicate the audience’s relationship to the psyche they participate in.
Although I am both the director and a co-creator of this piece and thus closer to creative authorship than in the previous case study, Swimmer (68) is a particularly personal project for the production’s lead writer and solo performer, Ker Wells (figs. 6–7). Ironically, one dominant motivation behind this work is Wells’s deep antipathy toward advanced media in performance (in conspicuous and productive contrast to my own predilections). Trained in a direct lineage from Jerzy Grotowski via Eugenio Barba and Richard Fowler,61 Wells has always been, and remains, highly suspicious of mediatized theatricality.62 He has never hesitated to express this suspicion openly, indeed vociferously—in a manner that precisely reflects the intermedial anxiety discussed in the first section of this essay—and my approach as director has been both led and pursued by this intersection of theory and practice. Fittingly then, Swimmer (68) attempts to meet this anxiety head-on through an exploration of the relationship between embodied memory (that which is experienced through the operations of one’s own behavior and activity) and mediated memory (that which is experienced through mediated transmission).63 [End Page 592]
Actor Ker Wells in a workshop showing of Swimmer (68), Robert Gill Theatre, Toronto, 7 November 2009. (Photo by Bruce Barton.)
Actor Ker Wells in a workshop showing of Swimmer (68), Robert Gill Theatre, Toronto, 7 November 2009. (Photo by Bruce Barton.)
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Wells also brings to this project his keen preoccupation with 1968, a year that, in the context of the current political climate in North America, gives rise to a pronounced case of déjà vu. Media headlines in and about the United States chronicle a distinctly familiar contradictory moment, as the resigned apathy of an entire nation has been abruptly challenged by a call for “hope”—specifically, hope in the potential for significant, even radical, social change. But for those who lived through a related contradictory moment some forty years earlier, the call is a particularly complicated one. The year 1968 is remembered by many as a charged moment of sexual revolution, social upheaval, personal experimentation, and political idealism; it is also remembered as a definitive moment of oppression by politicians, the military, and police forces. Thus for many within and beyond the United States, it represents a historical moment when the possibility for “real change” (a vaguely defined though passionately embraced concept) was both most tangible and most tangibly denied. As the current US presidency of Barack Obama attempts to deal with the huge challenges it faces, both domestic and international, amid the worst economic conditions in generations, the possibility for significant impact is similarly fraught.
Swimmer (68) explores the idea that “the past is always with us,” as the familiar expression goes, not merely through its references to 1968, but more deeply by drawing on recent developments in the understanding of human cognition and, in particular, the mechanisms of memory, introduced into the production’s development process by dramaturg Pil Hansen, an artist/scholar who has contributed significant research on the relationship between dramaturgy and cognition, perception, and memory.64 Specifically, as is now widely accepted, memories are not stable images, stored intact in the human brain; rather, memory is a process, a “firing” of neural synapses, constantly recreated (as opposed to repeated) in the act of remembering. As Gerald Edelman has suggested in The Remembered Present:
Recall, under the influence of constantly changing contexts, changes the structure and the dynamics of the neural populations that were involved in the original categorization. Recall is the activation of previously facilitated portions of particular global mappings. Such recall can result in a response similar to a previously given response (“a memory”), but generally it is one that has been altered or enriched by ongoing changes.65
Thus a “memory” is never the same twice, since any given memory does not occur more than once; instead, memory accumulates and sheds aspects, with all our experiences shaping and reshaping our understanding of past events.
What, then, does it mean to say one “remembers” 1968? Wells was barely five years old at the time, while I was ten. Both of us hold some vivid personal memories from that year, but it is impossible to sort these out, with any absolute precision, from the far more dense pool of subsequent sights and sounds and sensations—including those we [End Page 594] have absorbed through print, radio, film, television, audio recordings, and computer screens. What we recall, ultimately, is the product of an evolution of memory as old as we are and as new as our most recent visit to YouTube.
The initial point of departure for Swimmer (68) dates directly from the year 1968 and provides its lone character with a specific cultural touchstone. In that year, Columbia Pictures released The Swimmer, directed by Frank Perry and starring Burt Lancaster. Based on the short story of the same name by John Cheever, the film tells the tale of a middle-aged man who decides to “swim home” across an upper-class district of California, “one pool at a time.” The character’s journey takes him through a reluctant re-immersion into his own troubled past of domestic strife, economic disaster, and social disgrace. It is a past he has apparently tried strenuously, and largely successfully, to forget. As such, The Swimmer is a surprisingly haunting tale of willed forgetting, self-delusion, and the unavoidable cognitive blending involved in navigating the remembered present. It is, however, also a fascinatingly uneven aesthetic oddity.66 Its tumultuous production history involved the departure of Perry as director, with none other than Sydney Pollack (of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) completing the film. This perhaps in part explains the work’s disarming lack of formal continuity. As the film progresses, apparently unintentional jump cuts, sharp shifts in lighting levels and hues, and a disconcertingly intrusive soundtrack all increasingly undermine its general reliance on realistic performances and dialogue. This process, in turn, increasingly discourages a traditional psychological engagement with the film, effectively complicating any consistent contract—any stable relationship—it can offer a spectator. It is precisely this instability that lifts The Swimmer above the general current of dated melodrama, and it is the same quality that generates its resonance with intermedial performance.
A critical distinction between the performance and its cinematic source of inspiration is its perceptual register. Whereas the film’s most enigmatic qualities are visual, the performance’s emphasis is on sound. Richard Windeyer of bluemouth is also the designer, composer, and performer of Swimmer (68)’s soundscape; via his direct participation in each performance the character’s childhood memories—of riding in the back of a pickup truck, of boating, of being slapped by his mother—enter the space as part of a dense, complex, and living field of sounds heard and shared between the performer and the audience. Compared to the audio input, the visual stimulus offered by the performance—designed and performed live by videographer Cameron Davis—is spare and disjunctive, resisting stable or cumulative connections between the images. The motivation behind this shift lies in several qualities of auditory perception introduced into the project by Hansen, all of which can contribute to a higher level of shared experience between performer and audience.67 First, auditory perception is constant: humans cannot physically shut out auditory input, even during sleep, and thus are, in effect, more thoroughly “vulnerable” to sound. Second, and directly related, auditory perception does not permit physical avoidance, as is possible with vision. Precisely because binaural processing is a crucial and highly accurate means [End Page 595] of directional assessment, it is also doggedly insistent, and selectivity requires significantly higher order cognitive processing than with sight (i.e., there is no equivalent to simply turning away). And third, auditory perception is durational: unlike with visual perception, there are no second takes, and thus positioning and point-of-view do not significantly privilege individual receptors over others in a shared environment.
This emphasis on aural stimulus participates in two trends recently identified by Johannes Birringer as indications of the transition to the digital domain of intermedial performance: first, the shift from screen-based contextualizing projections to interactive data generation through the integration of the actor’s body and the media employed;68 and second, “the issue of ‘involuntary’ movement, a concept that must appear strange and uncanny to any trained performer.”69 As Wells and Windeyer perform what is essentially an interactive duet, the performer in Swimmer (68) conspicuously both responds to and triggers sonic input. His physical presence and the presence of the media effectively inhabit one another, a condition that to varying degrees extends to the other presences in the space as well—that is, the audience. Thus a reliance on sound as the dominant mode of scenographic mediation strongly encourages a resonating performance experience involving all in attendance—audience members and performer.70 Further, the material sensation of sound, based in the actual vibration of bodies in the space, fosters a “different and clearly distinguishable notion of space and time”71 by foregrounding the traditionally prioritized liveness of corporeal presence and thereby laying the groundwork of a heightened potential for an intimate relationship with the character portrayed.
However, whereas this auditory communality sets the stage for a convincing theatrical experience, the performative sensibility of Swimmer (68) is also intended to scrutinize the contingent, constructed nature of the same. The vulnerability to auditory perception that promises a shared experience also demands of a listener a significant degree of both conscious and conditioned discernment. Located in a porous fictional state, the details of which are few and perpetually mutating, the performance’s consistently fallible solo character is presented urgently piecing together the auditory stimuli from a specific moment in his youth (1968) that hold the promise of self-unity and self-coherence. Yet where there are gaps of meaning, where he cannot sustain the story of his self, he attempts to assimilate what are undeniably mediated memories—or more accurately, memories of mediation—to provide continuity to his own, intimate personal experience: his impertinent uncle’s tendency to bait his father about their contrasting political views is deflected into a playful televised dance by Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau; a troubling incident with his first cap gun is superimposed with a magazine photograph of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner; his own slow, final settling beneath the waves coincides seamlessly with Neil Armstrong’s gradual, historic descent down the lunar module ladder. These commonly recognizable images (marked as mediated through the introduction of visual stimulus) that participate in yet exceed the character’s physical experiences, and those of the audience, offer a thoroughly intermedial mode of interference and are transformed through and blend with his own memories: his [End Page 596] father’s workplace, his family’s cottage, the last moments of a life that ended far too soon. As such, they are intended to demonstrate the irresistibly invasive and perpetually composite nature of perception. In repeatedly resorting to mediated stimulus to fill out the lacuna in its own purported live experiences, the conspicuously nameless figure, in a sense, overtly enacts the central anxiety in intermedial experience. In doing so, desperately and without discernment, he stages an attempt to purchase the illusory stability of a conspicuously contentious and contradictory personal history.
Ultimately, as with its precedent in film, the performance piece gradually concedes the composite and permeable quality of identity and the crucial compromise in what Anthony Giddens has called “the reflexive project of self.”72 However, Swimmer (68) is not an adaptation of the film; rather, it sets out to construct an intentionally performative version of the movie’s presumably unintentional instability in terms of its stance toward its audience. The deceivingly clear (and seductive) binary between embodied and mediated memory is intended to foster a succession of experiences on the part of the audience. Initially, the performer’s behavior suggests a high correspondence between his stimulus reaction and that of spectators; yet increasingly the performer’s experience seems to contradict the stimulus that is offered the audience. His tenacious claims of personal ownership of mediated, and thus collective, images and events will presumably frustrate traditional character identification. However, while the character’s desperate attempt to sustain personal coherence in the face of mounting intermedial interference may complicate traditional theatrical identification, this commitment to self-continuity is also, arguably, a very familiar mode of behavior—and thus one that may prompt significant empathy in a contemporary, mediatized population. The intention is to offset the character’s experience with that of the audience: just as the lone figure’s apparent confidence in the uneven though largely sustainable coherence of his blended memory begins to erode, the audience is confronted with the proposition that all realities, including their own, are products of a similar process.
An instructive comparison here exists in the work of the theorist/practitioner Gregory Ulmer. History, Ulmer contends, is better understood as “mystory.”73 As Andrew Murphie and John Potts have noted, “[Ulmer] treats memory as a reservoir for creative invention—each act of remembering is a reordering and exploration of the hieroglyphics of memory and, aided by new media technologies, we can learn to write this reordering and exploration.” Consequently, these authors suggest, Ulmer encourages “us to want to ‘learn how to remember’ . . . in a different way.”74 In a manner similar to Wagner’s aforementioned attempt to bypass intermedial anxiety, Ulmer proposes the decentralizing (indeed, de-anchoring) of perceived corporeal coherence and unity as a means to achieve intermedial mobility and liberating agency in (self-) performance. [End Page 597]
An example of this approach can be found in the Necessary Angel (Toronto) production of Bigger Than Jesus (2004), co-created by Daniel Brooks (who directs) and Rick Miller (who performs). While also a solo devised performance that makes extensive use of sophisticated media, Bigger Than Jesus enthusiastically enacts Ulmer’s mobility of identity as it explicitly (if unwittingly) adopts Busse’s previously cited assertion that “[i]ntermedia means media criticism.”75 While the piece is also a highly personal exploration of Miller’s relationship to issues of faith and spirituality, its primary preoccupations are with media representations of Jesus Christ and the ideological implications of big-budget Christianity. As such, Miller portrays a wide range of perspectives and personalities, his performing body moving with agility among multiple “selves,” all grappling with the rowdy and awkward interface of individual belief and commercial interests in contemporary religious representation.
At one point he plays a flight attendant on Air Jesus Flight 679 from Toronto to Jerusalem (on this flight, Jesus has direct access to the prayers of the passengers, as does the audience via rear-screen projection, through the use of a “prayer cam”). At another, Miller provides a large rear-wall screening of the Last Supper by staging it on the downstage floor with miniature action figures (Darth Vadar, John Lennon, Homer Simpson) in front of a video camera (to a passionately sung parody of the “Gethsemane” number from Jesus Christ Superstar). In all this, Miller seems intent to foreground the fluidity of historical, cultural, and ideological realities with the intention of throwing the onus for meaning-making back out to the audience—which, via mediation, is a regular, often-interpolated “presence” onstage.
As Peter Cockett has observed, the constant juxtaposition of embodied and mediated images of the performer and his spectators “keeps the audience in a state of critical motion”:
This effect is characteristic of the play as a whole and is central to Miller and Brooks’ approach to their subject. The preacher tells us that, to keep our Jesus awake, we must keep moving: “It’s only natural to keep things movin’! Look around you. Everythin’s movin’. I’m movin’ all over the place. Your eyeballs movin’ trying to keep up with me. . . . Even our stories are movin’, they be constantly changin’, growin’, evolvin’ as we speak. Nothin’ is fixed.”76
Conversely, however, our intention in Swimmer (68) is to stage the deep anxiety that such mobility—loosed from sensory validation and corporeal chronology—may generate, as well as the perceptual strategies to which individuals may resort to forestall such unwelcome liberation. In its portrayal of the pursuit of history amid the insistent emergence of “mystory,” our project’s focus is the (self-)defense systems in place against learning how to “remember . . . in a different way.”77
This work-in-progress is thus attempting to both frustrate and facilitate an experience of collective intimacy. Initially, it seeks to establish the conditions for an intimate [End Page 598] relationship through a sensorial disarming of the audience’s auditory defenses. It then proceeds to deny shared confidence in the continuity of perception by exposing the human propensity for blending input from all sources—embodied and mediated—in processing the remembered present. Yet in betraying its audience’s expectation of a sustained intimate relationship with a stable theatrical character (“I know this man, he could be me”), the perceptual instability of the production is meant to invite its spectators into an intimate intermedial interaction (“I know this state, I too am trying to stay afloat”).
My initial research into the nature of intimacy in intermedial performance resulted in an opposition between a (dubious) theatrical relationship and a (privileged) performative interaction. As is often the case with binaries, the stability of this distinction is quickly challenged when tested in practical contexts. However, while this dichotomy is unsustainable in any absolute manner, the antagonism (conceptual and actual) it suggests offers an avenue into the more complex processes at work. While it would seem that the possibilities of a stable intimate relationship rarely coexist with those of intense intimate interactions (in performance contexts or elsewhere), the most significant territory in this duality may, in fact, be in neither camp specifically, but rather in the contentious space in-between.
That intermediality is productively considered as an “in-between space” is by now a familiar contention.78 Yet while this regularly refers to its positioning between art forms, disciplines, and knowledge paradigms, it also provides a framework for the key concepts in conversation in this essay. This portrayal of intermedia as an in-between space (i.e., a nonplace) no doubt contributes to the heightened anxiety it evokes, in that it suggests the loss of a stable platform—indeed, of a place—for live, corporeal presence. And while the actual productivity of the live/mediated binary may be quickly exhausted, its philosophical conviction has proven remarkably enduring. However, reframed within an examination of the possibilit(ies) of intimacy in intermedial performance, this static opposition of terms can be reformulated as an animating principle.
The observations of the preceding pages suggest that the tension between intimate relationships and intimate interactions in intermedial performance is one not merely of coexistence, but, in fact, of co-dependency. Within a context where mediated opportunities for microscopically private self-examination are combined with the ever-present threat/seduction of covert surveillance and public exposure, the stakes of an intimate relationship are most directly measured by that relationship’s vulnerability to disruptive intimate interaction. At the same time, the intensity of an intimate interaction is measured in proportion to the baseline relationship it repudiates and problematizes. While interactivity—performative action—is argued as a defining characteristic of intermedia proper, traditional models of theatricality have foregrounded contractual qualities more commonly associated with extended relationships. Thus when theatricality [End Page 599] and intermediality are combined, the irresistible movement between these states of relative predictability and dislocation often plays itself out in the form of a defining and energizing anxiety—a fear/pursuit of personal exchange that has its inception in more broadly defined processes of intimacy well beyond the parameters of theatrical performance, let alone theatrical intermediality.
Articulated in this manner, the anxiety inspired by theatrical intermediality can be liberated from a generalized and entrenched opposition between live and mediated presence, and re-cognized as a more specific and mutable set of emotional, ethical, and physical obligations of exchange. A focus on intimacy, and the degree of engagement and interactivity it implies, reflects an intensification of the anxiety theatrical intermediality generates. In this context of heightened stakes, the co-dependency of the “alternating current” of intimate relationships and interactions that flows through theatrical intermediality is, for many, experienced as an ongoing succession of betrayals—betrayals of expectations that are experienced as nothing less than the betrayals of the intimacy those expectations promise, foster, and validate.
Throughout its performance, Dance Marathon juxtaposes isolated personal interaction with ubiquitous mediated exposure. This virtual orgy of constantly shifting allegiances and full immersion in the public eye establish intimate interactions—with their narrowed sphere of time and space—as the order of the evening. However, as the dramatic characters and narratives, along with the predetermined choreographic sequences, begin to emerge from the general partying, the performative nature of the event is complicated by theatrical conventions and expectations. Thus it was that in the first run of the production, audience members often strove to remain in the midst of the embedded dancers, no matter how difficult or demanding the movement sequences became. Understandably, participants were highly reluctant to be denied their hard-won personal agency. To be shorn of this performative status was just one, albeit significant betrayal of intimate interaction by the dictates of a markedly different intimate relationship within the evolving performance. As the piece unfolds over any given performance, however, these intimate theatrical relationships are repeatedly exposed (both conceptually and literally via mediation) as tenuous, fraught, fragile . . . constructed. And it is the swelling energy of 200 participants repeatedly in transition between these states of intimacy—a process of constant, enthusiastic betrayal—that drives the performance.
Swimmer (68), however, invites its audience into a more reluctant shared experience of this destabilization. In a sense, operating in the opposite progression, in this performance it is a gradually constructed intimate relationship that is eventually disrupted by an even more intense intimate interaction between performer and audience. The initial intimacy established is cumulative, even subliminal, as sensorial assurance of a coherent identity accretes on multiple levels and via multiple avenues of stimulus. Yet this stability, ultimately, is exposed as no less fraught, fragile, and constructed than that of the characters in Dance Marathon. But whereas it is the emergence of the tenuous stability of Dance Marathon’s characters that provides the disruption in that performance, in Swimmer (68) it is the tenuous stability of the lone performing figure that is ultimately riven into its constituent pieces—revealing identity, revealing presence, as performed, as a composite of embodied and mediated meaning. [End Page 600]
Ultimately, both performances literally stage the emotional, ethical, and physical repercussions of live attendance in a mediatized world. Fittingly, the structure and strategies of both performances anticipate a common anxiety in their oscillating invitations to, and betrayals of, intimate intermedial exchange. The nature of these invitations and these betrayals, in both cases, is that of exposure: the revelation of the insistent yet necessarily porous, contingent, and unsustainable fictionality of intimate theatrical relationships within the seductive yet necessarily abrupt, disjunctive, and discontinuous flow of intimate performative interaction.
Which brings us to a final, evocative betrayal, one that potentially pushes past the enduring binary between live and mediated performance. This betrayal takes the form of a now-explicit and slightly revised paradox and suggests that the complex, defining possibilities that emerge out of the occurrence of intermedial intimacy are, in fact, dependent on that intimacy’s ongoing disruption and transformation. Put another way, the key to the possibilit(ies) of intermedial intimacy is, in fact, to be found in its impossibilit(ies). [End Page 601]Bruce Barton
Bruce Barton teaches playwriting, dramaturgy, devising, and intermedial performance at the University of Toronto. He has published in TDR, Theatre Topics, Performance Research, and in numerous international essay collections. His books include Reluctant Texts from Exuberant Performance: Canadian Devised Theatre and Collective Creation, Collaboration, and Devising (both 2008). His current creative practice includes writing and dramaturgy for multiple devised theatre projects and the creation of aerial-based interdisciplinary performance.
1. Alan Read, Theatre, Intimacy and Engagement (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 1.
2. Ibid., 2.
3. For a sample of the range of such approaches, see Hans Breder and Klaus-Peter Busse, eds., Intermedia: Enacting the Liminal (Dortmund, Germany: Dortmunder Schriften zur Kunst, 2005).
4. Peter Frank, “The Arts in Fusion: Intermedia Yesterday and Today,” in ibid., 31.
5. Arnold Aronson, Looking into the Abyss: Essays on Scenography (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 112.
6. Philip Auslander, Liveness, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2008), 44.
7. Ibid., xiii.
8. Freda Chapple and Cheil Kattenbelt, eds., Intermediality in Theatre and Performance (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006).
9. A second volume, “Mapping Intermediality in Performance,” is currently forthcoming from this working group. My contribution to the concept section of the text is titled “Intermedial Intimacy.”
10. Peter M. Boenisch, “coMEDIA electrONica: Performing Intermediality in Contemporary Theatre,” Theatre Research International 28, no. 1 (2003): 11.
12. Peter M. Boenisch, “Aesthetic Art to Aisthetic Act: Theatre, Media, Intermedial Performance,” in Chapple and Kattenbelt, Intermediality in Theatre and Performance, 113.
13. Meike Wagner, “Of Other Bodies: The Intermedial Gaze in Theatre,” in Chapple and Kattenbelt, Intermediality in Theatre and Performance, 126.
15. Ibid., 127.
16. The following section is based closely on another recent article in which I brought together a network of disciplinary perspectives—psychology, sociology, anthropology, communications, and media studies—in order to better understand how interdisciplinary conceptions of intimacy might inform its potential as a factor in intermedial performance; see Bruce Barton, “Subjectivity<>Culture<>Communications<> Intermedia: A Meditation on the ‘Impure Interactions’ of Performance and the ‘In-between’ Space of Intimacy in a Wired World,” Theatre Research in Canada 29, no. 1 (2008): 51–92.
17. Klaus-Peter Busse, “Intermedia: The Aesthetic Experience of Cultural Interspaces,” in Breder and Busse, Intermedia, 264.
18. Karen J. Prager and Linda J. Roberts, “Deep Intimate Connection: Self and Intimacy in Couple Relationships,” in Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, ed. Debra J. Mashek and Arthur Aron (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004), 45.
19. See, for instance, Nancy L. Collins and Brooke C. Feeney, “An Attachment Theory Perspective on Closeness and Intimacy,” in Mashek and Aron, Handbook of Closeness, 163; and Kathleen D. Vohs and Roy F. Baumeister, “Sexual Passion, Intimacy, and Gender,” in Mashek and Aron, Handbook of Closeness, 190.
20. Of course, both these terms are sites of considerable controversy, and it is not my intention to resolve the respective debates.
21. Josette Féral, “Theatricality: The Specificity of Theatrical Language,” SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism 31, nos. 2–3 (2002): 97.
22. Erika Fischer-Lichte, “From Theatre to Theatricality: How To Construct Reality,” Theatre Research International 20, no. 2 (1995): 103. In a forthcoming article, I further complicate these preliminary distinctions through the addition of the philosophical orientation of Samuel Butler in a discussion of the reemergence of theatricality within contemporary CGI effects in popular cinema. See Bruce Barton, “Bullet-Time, Becoming, and the Sway of Theatricality: Performance and Play in The Matrix,” in “The Theatricality of Film,” ed. Jeremy Marron and André Loiselle (forthcoming).
23. Some subsequent interpretations problematize the seamless dislocation suggested by Féral and Fischer-Lichte; see, for example, Hans-Thies Lehmann, Postdramatic Theatre, trans. Karen Jürs-Murby (New York: Routledge, 2006), esp. 150–66.
24. Rune Gade and Anne Jerslev, eds., Performative Realism: Interdisciplinary Studies in Art and Media (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press/University of Copenhagen, 2005), 7.
25. Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (1988): 527.
26. Butler’s early assessment of the potentially neutralizing tendency of theatrical contexts to “derealize the act” (ibid.) was later revised to recognize the potential affect of “citational legacy” within “aesthetic enactment.” In specific reference to the use of “injurious words,” Butler contends: “An aesthetic enactment of an injurious word may both use the word and mention it . . . calling attention to it as a citation . . . both forceful and arbitrary, recalcitrant and open to reuse”; see Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 99–100. For Butler, the shift from reiteration to resignification opens up “the possibility of decontextualizing and recontextualizing” and offers an “ironic hopefulness” for affirmative change (ibid., 100).
27. Shannon Jackson, Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 191.
28. Ibid., 190.
29. Ibid., 190–91.
30. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, Too Close for Comfort: Exploring the Risks of Intimacy (New York: Plenum Press, 1994), 11.
31. Prager and Roberts, “Deep Intimate Connection,” 43–60.
32. Collins and Feeney, “Attachment Theory Perspective,” 173.
33. Karen J. Prager, The Psychology of Intimacy (New York: Guildford Press, 1995), 19.
34. Busse, “Intermedia,” 264.
35. Prager, Psychology of Intimacy, 19 (emphasis in original).
36. Busse, “Intermedia,” 265.
37. Yvonne Spielmann, “History and Theory of Intermedia in Visual Culture (Manuscript of the Paper Presentation),” in Breder and Busse, Intermedia, 130.
38. Hanno Hardt, “Inter-Media: The Interdisciplinary and Intertextual World of Hans Breder,” in Breder and Busse, Intermedia, 236.
39. “Intermedia as a creative environment—and more specifically, as a vehicle of artistic expression—promotes the accessibility of ideas by making use of a banal familiarity with technologies of communication. The latter remain identifiable structures of a modern existence to ease participation in the social and political discourse with their constant presence in the life of a contemporary society. In other words, the deployment of electronic media . . . defines a cultural milieu of common professional and private practices” (ibid.).
40. There is no question that my creative contribution in both cases was deeply informed and influenced by my current theoretical preoccupations—which, in turn, have been tested, stretched, and transformed by that creative activity. More specifically, the difference in my roles in the two case studies inevitably alters the degree to which I am, on the one hand, largely observing, responding to, and facilitating a creative process (as dramaturg) and, on the other, directly contributing to a production’s particular focus and strategies (as director).
41. For further contextualization of these case studies, see Pil Hansen and Bruce Barton, “Research- Based Practice: Situating Vertical City between Artistic Development and Applied Cognitive Science,” TDR: The Drama Review 53, no. 4 (2009): 120–36; and Barton, “’Stop Looking at Your Feet’: bluemouth’s Dance Marathon and Inter/Actual Dramaturgy,” Performance Research 14, no. 3 (2009): 13–25. In the first, Hansen and I offer an original design for an approach to practice-based research that we call “Research-Based Practice” (or RBP). The following case studies do not meet the extended criteria of RBP as advocated there, in part because no pre-established and consensually agreed upon relationship between the practical and research aspects of the projects were articulated at the outset. In the second article, the direct point of entry is my experience as company dramaturg on one of the following case studies, Dance Marathon. That essay focuses squarely on issues of creative strategy, generation, and development. The present essay is more preoccupied with generalizable theoretical issues, as these issues are envisioned, identified, and scrutinized in specific practice environments.
43. See Bruce Barton, “Devising the Creative Body,” in Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising: Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English, vol. 15, ed. Bruce Barton (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2008), vii–xxvii; Barton, “Through a Lenz Darkly: bluemouth inc.’s S(t)imulated Schizophrenia,” Canadian Theatre Review 127 (2006): 54–59; and Barton, “The Razor’s Edge between Performativity and Theatricality in Bluemouth inc.’s American Standard,” Canadian Theatre Review 126 (2006): 23–26.
44. Wooster Group performances have become “textbook” examples of the problematic nature of postmodern theatrical performance; see in particular, Philip Auslander, “’Just Be Your Self’: Logocentrism and Difference in Performance Theory,” in Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, ed. Phillip B. Zarrilli (London: Routledge, 2002), 53–61; and Auslander, “Task and Vision: Willem Defoe in LSD,” From Acting to Performance: Essays in Modernism and Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1997), 39–45.
45. Joy Kristin Kalu, “Experiencing Expectation: Perceiving the Future in Performance,” Theatre Research International 34, no. 2 (2009): 170.
46. Worthen has proposed that “the Wooster Group Hamlet stages the ongoing subversion of the archive by the repertoire, suggesting that a dichotomy between writing and performing, the recorded and the live, are inadequate to the critical assessment of performance today, if they ever were really adequate at all”; see “Hamlet at Ground Zero: The Wooster Group and the Archive of Performance,” Shakespeare Quarterly 59, no. 3 (2008): 308.
47. Kalu suggests that “the audience is faced with a conundrum. Amazed at the actors’ virtuosity and perfection, we nonetheless feel profoundly distanced from them. The literal process of imitation keeps the audience at a distance. The performers confine themselves to a situation designed for a different audience, making this audience feel to some extent superfluous”; see “Experiencing Expectation,” 170–71.
48. Randy Gener, “Electronic Campfires,” American Theatre 25, no. 10 (2008): 30. Gener notes: “Since the story is like a peg on which the ideas are hung, the real action in a Builders piece lies in the dynamic interaction between the stage and the projected material. ‘We’ve developed an unusual vocabulary that uses technology to talk about technology, and how it affects us as human beings,’ Weems says. . . . In concert with the principle that technology itself functions as a character, the Builders Association stages the frisson between the liveness of the performers and the sentience of technology. . . . Builders performances, in effect, grapple with the remediation of the actor’s body. It lays bare the reality of hypermediacy. It challenges us to reconcile the culture’s striving to re-fashion old discourses about the nature of community with the new epistemology of the place of the individual self within the context of electronic media” (30–31).
49. Ibid., 31.
50. See Frank M. Calabria, Dance of the Sleepwalkers: The Dance Marathon (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Press, 1993).
51. See Carol Martin, “Dance Marathons: ‘For No Good Reason,’” TDR: The Drama Review 31, no. 1 (1987): 48–63.
52. It was intriguing to realize that when recently writing about this production for a UK periodical (“Stop Looking at Your Feet”, Performance Research), I felt a distinct obligation to introduce my readers to the dance marathon form with few presumptions of familiarity. Clearly, this is not the case for a US readership.
53. “One thing about this kind of show business, the audience came and went without offence to the actors. People yelled to friends, or to the dancers; wept and screamed when a favorite dropped out; fought among themselves. Audience participation indeed”; see June Havoc, Early Havoc (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959), 80.
54. Sydney Pollack, dir., They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Los Angeles: MGM, 1969.
55. Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (London: A. Barker, 1935).
56. Bruce Barton, “Dramaturgy Notes” for bluemouth inc. production of Dance Marathon, Harbourfront Performing Arts, Toronto, 2008–09, unpublished.
57. Following a two-year development period that involved workshops in New York, Toronto, and Montreal, Dance Marathon was first produced 4–7 February 2009 at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Performing Arts, Toronto. It has since been remounted at the Midsummer Festival of the Senses, Cork, Ireland, 22–25 June 2009.
58. As reported in “Stop Looking at Your Feet,” in the second public showing at the conclusion of the Montreal workshop, the performance began with an extended sequence during which audience members and performers danced and talked freely. As theatrical and choreographed sequences began to emerge more subtly out of the general interaction, the audience members were reluctant to break off from their impromptu conversations and regularly ignored even forceful acts of premeditated performance. In the talkback session, participants spoke of their feeling that they and their partners had, in fact, been the most important “characters” in the piece. It was in the wake of these experiences that the phrase, “It’s all about the audience,” became the working mantra.
60. John E. McGrath, Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy and Surveillance Space (London: Routledge, 2004), 195.
61. Wells was introduced to the training practices and philosophy of Eugenio Barba by Barba student and collaborator Richard Fowler at the National Theatre School of Canada. He co-founded two theatre companies in Canada: Primus Theatre (in Winnipeg, 1988–98, with Richard Fowler), and Number Eleven Theatre (in Toronto, 1998–2006). For descriptions of Primus Theatre, see Per Brask, “Dilating the Body, Transporting the Mind: Considering Primus Theatre,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 9, no. 1 (1994): 207–19; and Helen Peters, “Training to Survive, III: Primus Theatre Workshops in Newfoundland,” Canadian Theatre Review 88 (1996): 26–30. For descriptions of Number Eleven Theatre, see Bruce Barton, “Mining ‘Turbulence’: Authorship Through Direction in Physically-Based Devised Theatre,” in Directing and Authorship in Western Drama, ed. Anna Migliarisi (New York: Legas, 2006), 115–33; and Virginie Magnat, “Number Eleven Theatre’s The Prague Visitor: A Journey into a Canadian Company’s Creative Process,” Theatre Forum 24 (2004): 88–94.
62. Primus Theatre and Number Eleven Theatre productions were notable for the fact that all sound and music in all productions were generated acoustically by the performers. For Ker Wells’s candid reflections on this anxiety, see Ker Wells, “Work With Your Hands,” in Barton, Collective Creation, 209–16.
63. That this distinction is, in fact, regularly difficult and, under conditions of emotional or psychological distress, virtually impossible to ascertain with precision or confidence has become a focal point of the generation process. I consider this phenomenon in detail in “Subjectivity.” See also, among a large number of others referenced there, Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations,” in Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 166–84; and Paul Virilio, “Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!” in Reading Digital Culture, ed. David Trend (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 23–27.
64. See Pil Hansen, “Dramaturgical Strategies: Articulations from Five Toronto-Based Theatre Artists,” in Developing Nation: New Play Creation in Canada, ed. Bruce Barton (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2009), 169–84; Hansen, “Dramaturgisk Navigation med Danske og Canadiske Redskaber,” Dramaturger og Dramaturgier, Peripeti 10 (2008): 61–74; Hansen, “The Reflection Forums of Moving Stage Lab,” Canadian Theatre Review 135 (2008): 58–60; Hansen, “Dramaturgi og Perception” (PhD diss., University of Copenhagen, 2006); and Hansen, “Dance Dramaturgy: Possible Work Relations and Tools,” in Space and Composition, ed. M. Frandsen and J. Schou-Knudsen (Copenhagen: Nordscen 2005), 124–42.
65. Gerald M. Edelman, The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 110–11.
66. For an entertaining and informative take on this film, see Lawrence Russell, “Review of The Swimmer,” Filmcourt (2001), http://www.culturecourt.com/F/Hollywood/TheSwimmer.htm .
67. There are many good introductory volumes on the relationship between visual and auditory perception. The observations presented here were drawn by Hansen primarily from Elizabeth Styles, Attention, Perception, and Memory: An Integrated Introduction (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2005).
68. Johannes Birringer, Performance, Technology, & Science (New York: PAJ, 2008), 23.
69. Ibid., 24.
70. Admittedly, this does not allow for significant irregularities in hearing ability and thus remains a generalized hypothesis rather than an observed reality.
71. Prager, Psychology of Intimacy, 19.
72. Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity, 1991). Giddens defines the “reflexive project of self” as “the process whereby self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-narratives (244), and the “narrative of the self” as “the story or stories by means of which self-identity is reflexively understood, both by the individual concerned and by others” (243).
73. For an extended treatment of this idea, see Gregory Ulmer, “Mystory: The Law of Idiom in Applied Grammatology,” in The Future of Literary Theory, ed. Ralph Cohen (New York: Routledge, 1989), 304–23.
74. Andrew Murphie and John Potts, Culture & Technology (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 93–94.
76. Peter Cockett, “Bigger than Jesus: Mediating the Larger than Live Story,” Canadian Theatre Review 127 (2006): 7.
77. Another useful point of comparison is Germany’s Rimini Protokoll, which has created multiple performances that would seem to thoroughly embrace Ulmer’s concept of “mystory.” In productions such as Wallenstein: A Documentary Play (2005) and Mnemopark (2005), the company invites “real people” to present/represent/re-invent their own “biographies” via novel and often whimsical applications of media; see http://www.rimini-protokoll.de/website/en/index.php .
78. Freda Chapple and Chiel Kattenbelt define intermediality as “a powerful and potentially radical force, which operates in-between performer and audience; in-between theatre, performance and other media; and in-between realities. . . . In addition, intermediality is positioned in-between several conceptual frameworks and artistic/philosophical movements” (Chapple and Kattenbelt, Intermediality in Theatre and Performance, 12 [emphasis in original]).
The choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker traces images in sand with her feet in “Violin Phase,” part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Performance Exhibition Series.
In 1981 Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a young Belgian student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, presented her first professional work of choreography at a festival in Westchester County in New York. It was a solo, set to Steve Reich’s “Violin Phase,” in which Ms. De Keersmaeker moved in circular patterns with strict repetitions of a single turning, twisting phrase that brilliantly played off the music’s formalism and drama.
A neat 30 years and a lot of fame later, Ms. De Keersmaeker was back in New York on Saturday to dance “Violin Phase” as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Performance Exhibition Series. The series is associated with the museum’s “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” — a survey of drawing across various mediums so all-encompassing that it could offer almost anything as a pertinent example.
One of those examples is dance — increasingly alluring to the visual-arts world — as traces in space, illustrated by films from perennial art-world favorites like Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer as well as William Forsythe and Ms. De Keersmaeker. It’s unclear why these films are a better illustration of “line” or drawing with the body than, say, “Swan Lake” or krumping. (“Line,” the harmonious, aligned elongation of the body, as understood by dance practitioners, is a very different thing from the “line” that curators are exploring here.) But Ms. De Keersmaeker’s “Violin Phase,” as performed on a large square of beautifully swept sand (the preparations, with a man carefully filling tiny holes by hand, were almost as exciting as the dance), is a perfect choice. As she begins her sharp, whipping phrases, her upper body twisting from side to side, her arms wrapping around her waist, her feet rake up small blue smudges in the sand. The marks are traced and retraced as she moves in circular patterns, until at the end (you can see this better from an upper floor) there is the startlingly beautiful imprint of a pressed flower, with curvy outer swirls and six perfect inner spokes. Here dance as traces through space is given tangible form.
Watching Ms. De Keersmaeker and the way she seems to anticipate and herald the music’s jagged flow is thrilling. Expressions — trancelike concentration, pleasure, laugher, perhaps fear — pass fleetingly across her face like water ruffled by wind. When she lifts her dress high and does a little skip late in the 15-minute piece, the silliness is absurdly right, evoking folk-dance nuances in the music you might never have noticed.
Seeing this at MoMA raised some questions. At the 2 p.m. performance I watched amid a huge throng on the second floor as people chatted, came and went, shifted position. At the 4 p.m. show I staked out a front-row position and viewed it in theaterlike conditions with perfect concentration on the dance. How did most people perceive it? What does MoMA intend? Is dance just a fashionable inclusion for museum curators or will it eventually take its place as a rightful form of contemporary art to be browsed by tourists? Interesting, interesting.
The Performance Exhibition Series continues through Feb. 6 at the Museum of Modern Art; (212) 708-9400, moma.org.
Heisler, T (1/23/2011). Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker Dances at MoMA - Review. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/arts/dance/24moma.html
The genetic programming of man It is part of us all and understood as the program that we are made of: The genetic code.We see in it the essence of the individual, the source of identity and a modified definition of the self. «The modern concept of the gene led to the perception, that the body is not a static, given entity, but – similar to computer software – a set of commands, a program, that can be handed over to the next generation.» Christina von Braun’s quote expresses the confusion of modern man, who is discovering the benefits of technological progress as well as genetechnology’s threats. Paradigm shifts of man’s destiny and everyone’s ability to reproduce as well as other social changes thereof make us ask the question: What is our individuality beyond the mere analysis of our datasets? Will it be possible to program formerly only imagined versions of our real bodies? What if our individuality will be simpliy cloned away? What if our self will be enhancend into a second self made of flesh and blood, looking identical? Are these questions, born in the controversial science of genetechnology new? ICH² (Me to the power of 2) The contentual discussion that ICH² has, is based on the assumption that these questions have been around since the age of man. The known issue of duplication/reproduction in relation to the artificial production and enhancement of human life is reappearing within a new set of paradigms of modern technology. The cross-media dance performance is including latest research as well as an array of forms of encounters with the other self: in dream and in shadow as well as on media from mirror over film to digital imagery. The theatre, which the body lets take place on the stages of subconsciousness and media is merged with the „sans-frontiere“ virtuality that emerges within the reality of the theatre’s space. Which art form would be better to transcend this act than dance? Contemporary dance uses modern media to accelerate the pervasion of virtuality and reality.
Originally posted at: http://www.ich-quadrat.de/eng/index.php
See VIDEO here: http://vimeo.com/865792
Liz Lehrman Dance Exchange
Ferocious Beauty: Genome, 2009
Image source: www.kcmetropolis.org/.../november-11-2009
By Liz Lerman
To write a true history of dance and community would be to go back to the essential roots of dance itself. The various strands of artistic process and functions inform the evolution of the form to its practices today, on the stage and inside the life of most communities. This article merely attempts to describe — from a contemporary art perspective — some of the influences on my own early years as a way of understanding work that, in essence, merges concert and community concerns Trying to write this pointed out to me how much we need someone to tackle the larger picture. That person would have the joy of looking into several different pockets of work emerging just prior to and post mid-20th century, but looking at this work through the lenses of both art and community practices.
There were dance artists committed to preserving their own cultures, albeit under new circumstances. There were dance artists committed to preserving their own cultures within the constructs of the dominant culture — on the stage, in the press and within artworld boundaries. There were dance artists exploring politics on a global scale, and dance artists primarily working from the more personal political space of gender and sexuality. There were dance artists concerned with access and class issues. There were dance artists laboring within institutions far from the art world stage, including hospitals, prisons, synagogues and churches. Some of these artists actually changed professions, choosing new avenues for their most passionate beliefs. (I used to say that many of my allies had become dance therapists.) Others spent lifetimes trying to integrate their beliefs inside a stratified world..
I see my own body of work as straddling thee different periods, addressing some of the above categories:
1975-85: personal grief, personal politics = access and outreach
1985-95: personal identity = crossing cultures
1985-present: questions of meaning = large scale canvases and passing it on
I had originally planned to write about these three periods, looking for my counterparts, seeing trends, while still covering this history with the detail of autobiography. But, like all historians, I really began to wonder where to begin the story. I realized that it might be more fruitful to look at the forces that shaped me before I founded the Dance Exchange in 1976.
When I think of the influences in my work — influences that helped to form patterns of thought, constructs about art and society, a way of going about my business of breaking apart myths and making new or different connections — I am reminded of several things. These include my upbringing, some lessons learned early, two books and one art movement (and for another article, the amazing people I met along the way who influenced my thinking, cheered me on when I was blue, reminded me of why I was doing all of this….)
By the time we laid my father’s stone in the spring of 2000, I thought I had heard every story about him. But as people came to share in their experience of his life, I was overwhelmed with the number of people and incidents that spoke to his grand mission in life. One in particular stands out. A young woman appeared on our porch, introduced herself and began crying. She was a Latina lesbian who had sat next to my father at a human-rights luncheon/conference. He had engaged her in conversation and somehow had convinced her to go back and finish school. She couldn’t believe he had died, and wanted us to know how critical the moment had been for her. I remember thinking at the time that my father never stopped. He worked in the world right up until his death.
But the accumulation of all these stories also made me think that my work was in many ways just my father’s world and ideas reconstituted. He did it through politics and business; I was doing it through dance and culture. Viewing action in the world as a sacred mission, lovingly challenging Jewish tradition, bringing people together for reasoned dialogue, making distinctions among allies, championing the regular everyday life of regular everyday people — well, actually celebrating the brilliance of the unrecognized and questioning authority, this was my father’s world and this had become mine.
My father had apparently always loved dance. He had gone to college with Anna Halprin and used to pass out flyers for her concerts. He took me to see anything that came through Milwaukee, where we had moved when I was eight. But his most important legacy to me as a choreographer was his complete lack of high-art/low-art thinking. He made me watch everything. "They are dancing on T.V.," he would yell up the stairs to me, and I was expected to drop anything I was doing, including homework, to come and watch. And he made me read. Like the man himself, his preferences were big and broad. And so, in my youth, I read about Katherine Dunham, about ballet, about Jewish theater artists, about native American ritual — anything that moved, I was expected to respect and appreciate.
But it wasn’t just my radical father who forged my concerns for thinking large about the world. My mother, too, had impact on the direction my life would take even though she died so young, in March of 1975. My mother was an elitist, the great opposing force to my father’s populism. She didn’t like people that much. She preferred her garden and music. She wasn’t compassionate about the shortcomings of human beings. She preferred and expected honesty, integrity, intelligence. If you couldn’t be direct and to the point with her, she would just as soon be alone. And she was alone a lot.
She believed in Art. She also believed in the myth of an artistic life. She told me daily how tough it would be. How I would have to learn to stand up for my own ideas. How being part of a crowd wasn’t worth it. To her, exclusiveness, like everything else, meant having integrity. Seeing one’s own vision was much more valuable than being accepted. That was how she was an elitist. It was about ideas and vision, not status and wealth.
And she saw no reason not to have the best — not in terms of material things, which she didn’t care about, but in terms of teachers. So, when we moved to Milwaukee, she searched out the best dance teacher she could find for me. Of course, she eschewed the popular one that everyone told her about. And instead she found me Florence West, a woman whose impact on my early life would parallel that of my family and my religion, my brothers.
Florence had studied with Ruth Page and Martha Graham. She was trying to develop her own style of dance, which would somehow combine the best of modern and ballet. At that time, in most parts of the dance world, it was impossible to study them together. You were expected to make your choice and stick to it, and never let the two cross. But Florence had other ideas, which she called "the Dance of Dimension." I took as many technique classes a week as I could. These consisted of barre work and then floor work similar to what a Graham class would look like. Then the last 45 minutes would be spent doing a dance phrase that Florence would have choreographed that mixed it all up. We studied the same phrases for a year and then performed them at the recital. Every other Saturday was choreographers’ workshop day. Then for two hours we would draw and paint and dance and sculpt and dance and improvise and draw some more. Anything was possible, except playing with scarves. I think Florence was afraid we might suffer the same fate as Isadora. I loved her.
But Florence was also impossible. She yelled (as did my mother, which, as I like to say, is why I hardly ever do). I never knew if my behavior was the cause of what she was hollering about, or whether she just needed to let off steam. But she was a brilliant teacher. I tried to arrive early to class because then I got invited into her one-room apartment/office/library/ that was off the main studio. She would show me books and pictures and make me touch different rocks and fabrics. She would tell me about yogis and Isadora; they all somehow blended in my mind. But, in her own way, she was the intersection of my parents. Demanding and rigorous in detail like my mother. Broad-minded and a grand mess of ideas like my father. She left Milwaukee for New York City when I was 14, which coincided with the beginning of my time of troubles.
In the summer of my 14th year, I danced for President Kennedy at the White House as part of a group from the National Music Camp in Interlochen Michigan. After that, I would describe my life pretty much like this: quitting dance, going to Bennington and meeting Martha Wittman, transferring to Brandeis and jumping into the anti-war movement and guerrilla theater, quitting dance, trying to find my way with Ethel Butler in Washington, D.C. during a failed early marriage, quitting dance (my first husband wanted me to and I tried, I really tried, to quit, that is), teaching at a Quaker boarding school where I first tested my ideas about dance and community (more in another article), and life moved on …
But by then I had learned a few lessons that would inform the beginnings of the Dance Exchange.
1. The Problem of Institutions: While at Bennington I suffered because my Midwestern lyrical passion, which was the way I described my movement vocabulary, didn’t fit into the cool construct of the Cunningham era. If this was dance, then I wasn’t it. So, I transferred to Brandeis to study history. While there, I suffered because my generalist’s mind and inclination didn’t fit in with that particular moment in historiography, one of detail and specificity (I only learned about the power of this much later). So, there I was, railing against the system again, and that is when I realized the problem was the system. In other words, it wasn’t really dancing , or for that matter my love of history that was the problem, but rather the way these particular institutions — in the context of these particular trends with these human beings in charge — dictated the practices of the "field". What a relief. It made me remember my father’s dictum about Judaism, right at the time he was thrown out of both the synagogue and the Anti Defamation League because of his radical support of civil-rights causes. He simply told us not to confuse the beauty and truth of Jewish life and thought with the institutions that had been constructed to support it.
It is these experiences that underlie my total commitment to building a humane institution, which I define as one in which everyone gets to grow, not just the person in charge. And one in which the practices that are, well, institutionalized, are practices that support the inherent values of the goal itself, in my case, dance and art making. It turns out to be very difficult to do this, and my failures rival my failures as mom, as friend, as teacher, as choreographer, as wife.
2. Taking Work Off the Stage and Out of the Studio Is a Good Idea. I learned a lot while teaching at the Sandy Spring Friends School (1970-72). I was, at the time, only a few years older than my students. I had a lot of growing up to do myself. In the first year, I figured out I might teach the boys after practice on the soccer and lacrosse fields. No technique for them, just straight-away performance pieces, which they only brought indoors for the final dress rehearsal. They were a smash hit and after that it was easy to set up a boys’ class.
I realized my students were nervous about performing, and so I made the first concert be under the light of the second full moon of the semester. Called Moon Dances, the student dances were a series of solos and duets and trios performed on the soft hillside in suburban Maryland, while scores of their classmates and teachers tried to see them. It was gloriously beautiful and dim enough to hide all errors. And for me, site-specific work began. Later, we would perform in the creek, and the trees, in the offices and the parking lot outside the grocery store at the local Plaza del Mercado, and later still, in my Dance Exchange years, in factories, shipyards, bowling alleys, prisons, houses of worship, anywhere, really, except for shopping malls.
3. It Matters Who Is Performing. I was very taken with the ideas that I thought underscored the Medieval Passion Plays. I imagined that whole communities taking part in these productions gave serious thought to who played Jesus or Mary. I guessed that the personal attributes of the performer, or and the character they played, would blend into each other. In fact, I think the Disney folks do this, too, with some of their casting for their animated features, drawing on an Eddie Murphy, or a Robin Williams to infuse the cartoons with readymade personality and feeling, and to arouse our own empathy to a higher pitch. I thought the same could be true in our theaters as well. I thought I could make the casting affect the community, and vice versa. I could do this best by putting people on the stage who were known in their own communities, in real life. This was contrary to some of the standards being set in my field at that time, which suggested that a great dance ought to be viable and should live separately from its cast, like a beautiful vase that can exist without the function of holding liquid. But I had come to think otherwise. If revelation was one of my highest standards, then revealing something new about a human being who people thought they knew in one way was, in fact, a real outcome of the performance. And it worked in reverse, too. The dances took on an added dimension because of the very real presence of friends, colleagues, neighbors on stage.
4. New York City Isn’t Everything: I decided to test myself in N.Y.C. after my three years at the Quaker school. I came to study postmodern dance and continue my ballet training, which, at that time, I thought I needed, from a technical perspective. And I wanted to learn acrobatics. I found an amazing class filled with the oddest assortment of people trying to do back flips, including Sesame Street characters, go-go dancers and aspiring actors. It seemed significant to others that I studied all of this at on the same time (the idea was still pretty strong in New York that you picked your form or style and stuck to it). It seemed more significant to me that although I went to see lots of work, I was so untouched by most of it. And it seemed significant to me that most of the people I knew who called themselves artists were basically taking two or three technique classes a day. Period. There was no conversation about application, usefulness, pushing the world in a different way. I was shocked by their contentment with the institutions set up to make, see, account for art. I laughed at myself as I noticed I was taking more interest in my Hells Angels neighbors than I did in the art scene around me. I came to see that I couldn’t answer my questions in New York. In fact, I could barely ask them. One morning, in my ninth month of living at 2nd Avenue and Third Street, it came to me that I didn’t have to stay there. I could go seek my answers elsewhere. I left.
The Two Books
I am not sure how I discovered "The Quest for Community" by Robert Nisbet. It was written in 1953, but reissued in 1969, and that is the copy that I own. I haven’t read it for a long time, but recently decided to look at it again. I enjoyed coming across my own notes, the sections I had underlined, the ideas that spoke to me in the years predating the Dance Exchange.
Here, on the second page of the forward to the new edition, was the clarion call I needed: "It is not the revival of old communities that the book in a sense pleads for; it is the establishment of new forms: forms which are relevant to contemporary life and thought." That was precisely what I was imagining somehow for dance — that we could use our extensive skills and tools to build, or rediscover, or create a community, a sense of community, an awareness of a collective existence.
Alienation was a big issue then, and I didn’t expect to find in his discussion of it such a passionate point of view about something that would become so important to me. Since working between generations was to become a primary tool for me, I found in this book some thinking on the subject that was unexpected. He gets into a discussion of how the past and future play out in the present, and he makes this claim: "In genuinely creative societies … there is a telescoping of the generations that is not hidden by all the more manifest facts of individual revolt. Past and present have a creative relationship not because of categories in men’s minds, but because of certain social bonds which themselves reach from past to future."
And finally, he gets into a wonderful description of the difference between power and authority, which for me has had a profound impact on the way I lead. First, he explains that power is external and based upon force. Authority is rooted "in the statuses, functions, and allegiances which are the components of any association." But what really excited me was his discussion of multiple authorities. He wrote, "There must be many authorities in society, and that authority must be closely united to objectives and functions which command the response and talents of members. Freedom is to be found in the interstices of authority: it is nourished by competition among authorities."
Without knowing it, I was discovering some principles for how I might come to run my dance company. Persuasion and authority have, for me, become hallmarks of how to lead in a more collective endeavor. Since collaboration has become such an important choreographic tool for me and so many others, understanding how to lead without being merely authoritative was very important. At the time I read this, I was only just imagining a dance company. But as I write this now, at the completion of our first 25 years, I see how this writing helped prepare me. This book gave me a theoretical base on which to hang the early explorations of the Dance Exchange.
Also at this time I read and reread a book called "ARTCULTURE" by Douglas Davis. The subtitle "Essays on the Post-Modern" both attracted and repelled me. Although now I talk about postmodernism frequently, at the time I stayed away from too much art theory. But this book was the only place I could find a synthesis of two distinct threads in my own life: serious art training, and a political point of view about the world.
The opening chapter is called "Artpolitics: Thoughts Against the Prevailing Fantasies." Here he gives a history lesson that underscores one of my own primary thoughts and frustrations about who artists are and how we are supposed to behave.
The Hollywood view of the artist as childlike naïf — a view cherished by too many curators, critics and collectors — is a particularly pernicious form of paternalism, which robs the artist, in this case Courbet, of his humanity, of his natural right to be a citizen. In his 1855 manifest he wrote: "To know in order to be able to create, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch, according to my own estimation: to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art — this is my goal." These words have been printed in a thousand textbooks, yet are rarely understood. Any artist now who acts on that advice is automatically considered less than serious (about his product and his image perfecting).
I remember so clearly my sense that my work in the nursing homes and senior centers in the mid-’70s was weakening my position as a rising avant-garde artist. I kept telling people that it felt like I could be an artist if I waited tables, but if I wanted to spend time working with old people, then I was relegated to a lower caste, that of a therapist. Later still, when I compared notes with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women and a committed community artist, we laughed because she said she had been made a social worker. We guessed that white people could be therapists, black people social workers and that there was probably a hierarchy in that as well.
Here is another quote from Davis that states in one sentence a complaint that I heard again at a recent National Performance Network meeting: "What is wrong with acting collectively? Only the belief that in doing so the artist relinquishes the psychic individuality that is his prime value, as product, in the art market." We are still having to explain over and over that sparks of genius lie everywhere, and are often dormant until odd ideas and people move together. They come alive in combination with each other. I find much inspiration, pleasure and challenge in my collaboration with company members, other artists and members of community, just as I enjoy the moments of individual creative leaps. It would be good if we could find a language that supported the idea of artistic vision crossing back and forth between collaborative genius and individual brilliance.
But for me, a dancer coming up in a time of imposed abstraction, Davis’ chapter called "What is Content?" perhaps helped me the most — so much so that in rereading it for this writing, I realized I borrowed a line for my Docudance in 1980. Fortunately, at that time, I was giving my audiences bibliographies, so he was given some credit. Here it is: "The point is that we have no skills for dealing with content, after decades of avoiding it." I was eager to make dances about something, and, at the same time, keep moving forward with the very important idea that Cunningham and others had spent their lives making. He had convinced the world that dance in itself was enough. That there were worlds of information in each step. Since Cunningham had fought so hard to make that notion acceptable as content, I felt it important to find another way to describe dances about something in addition to the movement. So, I began to talk about subject-matter dancing. In my early years, I even went so far as to call some of them nonfiction dancing.
This is still quite an important subject that deserves more writing and more clarification. I say this because I continue to meet many young dance artists traumatized by their professors, the critics and who knows what else. They are terrified to be "literal," by which they mean tell a story that is understandable. These very rich ideas about content, subject matter, meaning were, in turn, to bring me to the needs of text and storytelling. And this makes yet another connection with a contemporary movement of that time: interdisciplinary work, which has grown so extensively since then as to be almost taken for granted.
And lastly, Mr. Davis, in one brief sentence, sets up for me the single biggest leap of my theoretical work; the poverty of either-or thinking. "The error of Guerrilla Art is directly opposed to the error of elitist art; it sacrifices form for content." Recently reading about Leonard Bernstein, I came across a quote in which he almost screams against the "dread dichotomy." Here is one of these false dichotomies laid out before me so many years ago. How many times have we in the community arts world been accused of giving up form for content? And how many times have I tried to get people to see that the form is everywhere, on the stage, in the unique designs of each residency, in the problem-solving of bringing people on stage who are not professionals. On the other hand, how many late nights at Alternate Roots could I be found talking passionately about how we "community artists" had to get better at our craft. And how many dance concerts have I left wishing the choreographers could have given me more to think about than just the beautiful bodies in space doing sometimes beautiful and interesting things. In my world, form and content, process and product, nurture and rigor, individual vision and collection creation, these all form delightful spectrums that I get to dance along. Sometimes I may spend a lot of time at one end of the spectrum, but I always check out the other to be sure I haven’t left something out. And the older I get, the more interesting it is to stretch the spectrum and to live at its edges.
I cannot do justice to these two books here. I suspect that a careful reread on my part would reveal some ways in which my own ideas and work have veered away from these texts. But at the time I read them, they were all I had to propel me forward. Since then there has been some wonderful scholarship in our fields. We have been fed by many more writers. But Douglas Davis and Robert Nisbet helped me in moments of extreme isolation and questioning.
An Art Movement: Or how Dada kept me fresh and enthused
I really thought that I was part of what some of us jokingly called the New Avant-Garde. I felt that those of us embarking on political/access/identity/community art making were, in effect, taking the best of contemporary art forms and, by turning them to usefulness, were inventing a new movement. I, for one, however, relied on some history to help me discover this. The bulk of that history was not in the dance world but in the world of theater and the visual arts. And mostly it had taken place during and just after World War I.
I was totally inspired by the Dadaists and a companion movement of that time, the Russian Avant-Garde. I found their ideas about art quite compelling. Looking back, I would say that there were four areas in which their thinking and actions affected mine: anti-art, pageants, readymades and collage. Briefly here is a glimpse of their impact on my thinking.
The Dadaist stance of anti-artworld-establishment suited me fine. I was among a group of artists who were interested in reframing most of the artworld’s mechanics and way of doing business. I was quite conscious early-on of how much of my methodology grew out of rebellion and the need to make a dance world different from the one I had grown up in. For me, though, it went beyond artworld politics. I was interested in creating a different mythic base for our own behavior, and addressing some of the romantic perceptions of what an artist’s life was supposed to be. The Dadaists did this with humor, attack, political thought and camaraderie, all tools that I admired.
Somewhere in my history books, there’s a paragraph about an incredible reenactment of a major battle that had occurred earlier, during the Russian Revolution. Apparently, theater artists were the directors of a grand show that included some 5,000 participants and a gunboat in the harbor. This tantalized me. I cannot find any reference to the event since then, but it has left an indelible mark on my imagination. I think some of what has evolved in my own process about community engagement hearkens back to this notion: that people use their bodies to learn their history. The Russians did this in the ’20s on a huge scale, or at least I think they did.
One form of integrating my personal and professional life was the freedom of movement that objects made between my house and the studio. Material goods traveled mysteriously from home to rehearsal to stage and back again. My mothers glasses, and the last nightgown she wore before her death made their way into my piece about her dying. I put them on right at the end and then jumped yelling "NOW." I loved this moment for myself, of thinking of her and becoming her. I found all kinds of inspiration my small daily activities and tried to see it as Duchamp and others had, a world of readymade art all around us.
I took a theoretical base for this from my understanding of Kurt Schwitters, who turned his whole house into a tower of art. His use of collage was an extension for me of the readymades, and in some ways more useful for choreographic structure. In the early years of my work with older adults, I often thought of them as a piece of collage, that their presence was like an old button, or piece of fabric, which an audience member could use to connect to their own memory quickly and deeply.
For many of us working in the community arts world, our sense of history connects with the WPA, with political organizing, with a strong sense of civic responsibility. But I feel as strongly connected to my ancestors who labored in the art world alone, or in its various subgroups of radicals and revolutionaries. (A good example is the life of Robert Schumann, whose music is totally accepted now by even the most conservative of critics. But there is a very sobering story of what the artist went through to attain not stardom but understanding. )
Every community artist should write a story like this. I am convinced that the more we recognize the multiple artistic and social forces that led each of us to our time in history, the more it will help make our artistic ideas and projects carry the weight they deserve. I mentioned above a quote from Leonard Bernstein, who railed against the "dreaded dichotomies" of his many worlds. I would simply add that I, and so many others, stand firmly upon the bodies of work of pioneering artists who claimed art as essential all by itself, and who claimed art as critical to the well-being of our communities. And as we continue to struggle to gain acceptance, support and comprehension of the worth of our work, we might continue to call upon all of our ancestors and their accomplishments. That, in turn, will help us improve the standards we keep, and the awareness of what we are trying to become.
To Futurism and Back Again, 2010
Image source: http://double-vision.biz/dancemission.html
“…exhilarating, funny, challenging, complex, beautiful. Unconventional and experimental,
just the way modern dance should be.” - Yelp
Intermedia performance group, DOUBLE VISION, creates contemporary performances for dance, music, video and interactive technology. At the heart of our work is a need to experiment and seek meaning in the ever-changing landscape of contemporary culture. The result, is a body of work that is complex, humorous, quirky and continuously evolving.
Under the direction of Sean Clute and Pauline Jennings, the San Francisco-based company has distinguished itself both nationally and internationally. In 2008, DOUBLE VISION celebrated its ﬁfth year by embarking upon an ambitious U.S. tour. In a 5-week period, the company gave 17 performances in San Diego (BASICʼs Grafﬁti series), LA (Electric Lodge andMicroscores), Phoenix (Trunk Space, Arizona State Universityʼs Dance Matters series), Tucson (University of Arizona), Albuquerque (ARTS Lab), Santa Fe (Center for Contemporary Art), Boulder (University of Colorado at Boulder), Columbus (BoMA), Chicago (The Orphanage), and Brooklyn (The B A R N and MonkeyTown). Also during the ﬁve week tour, DOUBLE VISION conducted four dance technique and composition master classes and numerous lectures at UNM, ASU, UA and the College of Santa Fe. Perhaps just as important, the company engaged in collaborations, debates and interviews with local community members, artists and teachers.
In addition to the U.S. tour, DOUBLE VISION gave ﬁve performances in the Women on the Way Festival, and was tasked with curating a full evening of intermedia works for WOW. The company also completed its ﬁrst residency as part of the Garageʼs Resident Artists Workshop series, held three Meet the Composer Workshops culminating in an experimental new media performance, and participated in several festivals at the Climate Theater. Additionally, directors Sean Clute and Pauline Jennings were invited to present their work at An Interdisciplinary Conversation: Mobility of the Line conference (University of Brighton, UK), the Empire Conference Migrations, Diasporas, Networks(California State University), and DUC X (Dance Under Construction) (University of California, Berkeley). Finally, DOUBLE VISION was invited to set Three Canons and Mise En Scenes on the Mills College Repertory Dance Company from March 2008 – November 2008.
The year 2009 has already held numerous achievements for DOUBLE VISION, beginning with Sean Cluteʼs Fulbright award, a residency at the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, Austria (January and February 2009) and a three-week tour in Europe. While abroad, DOUBLE VISION performed and lectured at the University of Applied Arts (Vienna), the MuseumsQuartier Wien (Vienna), Pécsi Tudományegyetem Mûvészeti Kar (Péc), Institut Intermédií (Prague), and CST Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology + Tanz Akademie Zürich (Zurich). The performance, Six Donuts, at the MuseumsQuartier boasted ﬁve dance and audiovisual world premieres that were developed during the two-month residency.
Most recently, DOUBLE VISION was awarded two grants by the Zellerbach Family Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The company was also invited to be the ﬁrst honoree in AXISʼEngaging Momentum series, where choreographers are invited to conduct a choreographic workshop with the company. DOUBLE VISION has additional workshops and performances already slated for 2009. These include our second RAW residency, workshop and performance series at the Garage. This residency will culminate in a performance this fall that will further push the boundaries of live stage performance. Director Sean Clute will be conducting audio-visual research at Djerassi during a fall residency and his work Canale della Misericordia [Venezia, Italy] will be performed live in May by the Illuminated Corridor series. DOUBLE VISION will also be participating in a festival at the Climate Theater this spring and is currently working on two premieres – an epic animation and dance work – both exploring research and experiences gained from the MuseumsQuartier residency. These two premieres, along with a third, will be performed both in San Francisco and New York City in spring/summer 2010.
Photo: Yamazaki Hiroshi
The founder of butoh, Hijikata Tatsumi, passed away in 1986 at the age of 57. In contrast to another butoh founder, Ono Kazuo, who is 93 years old and still performing internationally, Hijikata never left Japan. Nonetheless, Hijikata's influence is worldwide and evident in films, photographs, writings, and the many dancers who were trained or affected by his art.
Hijikata's physical absence seems to strengthen his presence in the remnants of his life's work. A documentary film by Ouchida Keiya of a performance of Hosotan (A Story of Small Pox, 1972), 1 one installment of a serial work entitled Shiki no tame no nijushichiban (Twenty-seven Nights for the Four Seasons, 1972), allows us to see a classic Hijikata dance: lying down on the floor, he writhes to the accompaniment of "Bailero" by Joseph Canteloube. Only a loin cloth covers his skinny body, his rib bones are clearly exposed, the result of many days of fasting. His white butoh makeup is sliding off his skin, like scabs off a healing wound. Perhaps this fallen person is dying but trying to get up, a situation and image that Hijikata often talked about. Through the blistering image of emaciation and death, this ugly figure reveals the beauty of life. Hijikata's butoh seems to contain the secret of being.
The word "butoh," now the accepted name of the genre, originated as ankoku buyo in the early 1960s. "Ankoku" means "utter darkness." "Buyo," a generic term for dance, is used in many compounds: for example, gendai buyo, modern dance; and koten buyo, classical dance. Later in the 1960s, ankoku buyo evolved into ankoku buto. The word "buto" is used in compounds such as buto-kai, a European-type ball dance, or shi no buto, the medieval European dance of death. That is, "buto" was used to refer to Western dance forms. However, according to the Japanese dictionary Kojien, buto also means haimu, a specific ceremonial salutation at the imperial court in which a person flings the long sleeves of traditional Japanese dress and stamps the feet (Shinmura 1991:2037). "To" means stamping feet. Although a stamping movement is not typical of butoh, Hijikata created the term "ankoku butoh" to denote a cosmological dance which completely departed from existing dances and explored the darkest side of human nature.
Hijikata's relatively early death, self-mystifying character, and extraordinary works have made him a mythic figure. Recent efforts to reexamine his legacy have begun to expand our understanding of both the man and his work. In November 1998 a week-long symposium about Hijikata was held at the Theatre Tram in Tokyo. Dancers, visual artists, poets, and scholars of various disciplines discussed aspects of Hijikata's life and career, such as his idiosyncratic use of language and his relationship with classical dance. One night was dedicated to a discussion by non-Japanese butoh dancers. The frank opinions of these dancers from various cultural contexts offered a valuable contrast to the insular tendencies of the butoh world in Japan. The Hijikata Tatsumi Archive was recently opened at Keio gijuku University Art Center in Tokyo, and more sources are becoming publicly accessible, their abundant materials awaiting critical study. We are only just beginning to assess Hijikata, his butoh, and what he was trying to achieve in his life and his work.
This issue of TDR is probably the first publication in which Hijikata's words are translated into English in complete texts rather than in excerpts. 2 Until now, only selections from his evocative writings have been translated, and usually presented with a number of photographs. Although they definitely stimulated the imagination of English-speaking readers, these partial translations were very limited, especially considering the vast numbers of words Hijikata left behind. Japanese readers can easily obtain several books of his writing, most nobably the two-volume Hijikata Tatsumi zenshu (The Collected Works of Hijikata Tatsumi, 1998).
With this history in mind, we have decided to translate a range of complete texts dating from 1960 through 1985: a lecture, an interview, a conversation, and notes from his scrapbooks for butoh. We hope these writings will enable readers of English to understand the contexts and styles, the changes and continuity, of Hijikata's thinking and choreography.
Another criterion was to select pieces that relate directly to the performing arts. We have not included Yameru maihime (Ailing Dancer [provisional English title], 1983), because this, the longest of Hijikata's imaginative writings, is being translated into English by Kobata Kazue and will be published by the end of the year 2000.
Words and Body
Despite being a man of the body, words were essential to Hijikata. He was a voracious reader, and he wrote and spoke about his butoh on many occasions. He was especially fond of verbal battles with artists, poets, and writers, which he initiated during drinking bouts and which he considered a necessary process for his creations. In these drinking debates, so to speak, he took words, that is, ideas from his interlocutors and threw riddles back at them. Numerous banquets and drinking sessions were held at bars, friends' houses, and the Asusbesuto kan (Asbestos Hall), 3 which was both Hijikata's home and studio. Hijikata trained his dancers and choreographed works using words. Ultimately his dance was notated by words called butoh-fu (butoh notation). A tremendous number of words surround his dance.
But Hijikata's words are not easy. Often his writings are strange, equivocal, and incomprehensible even for Japanese or for people close to Hijikata. His sentences are sometimes incorrect according to Japanese grammar. He freely coined his own terms, such as ma-gusare (rotting space) and nadare-ame (dribbling candy). His writings often are like surrealistic poems. At the Tram symposium, Nishitani Osamu, a scholar of French literature who used to hang out at Hijikata's studio, pointed out, "Hijikata's writing is neither prose nor poetry--something different--and his Japanese is twisted" (1998). Uno Kuniichi, a scholar and an acquaintance of Hijikata who wrote Aruto: Shiko to shintai (Artaud, Thought, and Body, 1997), responded, "[Hijikata] created something persuasive by disconnecting the joints of sentences" (1998). Hijikata's language implies meanings and feelings that logical language cannot convey. His words are fingers between which sand slips. Although his writings are strange, they are not necessarily unfamiliar or unapproachable. Hijikata's writings are both evocative and challenging.
When I first read the words of Hijikata, I felt that they were not clear Japanese; they were too crazy--I thought he was self-mystifying. However, after I took butoh lessons with Ashikawa Yoko, that feeling completely changed. Ashikawa, from 1968 one of Hijikata's most important disciples and his indispensable collaborator, faithfully maintained Hijikata's teaching after his death. As I learned and practiced butoh, Hijikata's apparently mystifying words became real and comprehensible. I was convinced that his words were an accurate expression of what he felt and thought. Undeniably, Hijikata created a smoke screen of strange behaviors and language, but this was all part of his conscious strategy to make a mythic image of himself and his work.
One day in 1988, at a workshop held at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Ashikawa told participants to become wet rugs. Wet rugs? We lay on the floor in various ways. "Feel the weight of water within you, a rug." She suggested a feeling of wetness by using a Japanese onomatopoeia: "jyu jyu." The sound implies water sweating.
Onomatopoeia occupies an important position in Hijikata's language. Evocative sounds were the means to convey specific physical states and sensations. In Japanese, onomatopoeic words are often used as adverbs, whereas in English onomatopoeic words tend to be verbs or the noun forms of verbs, such as "buzz" or "meow." For example, neko ga "nya nya" naku in Japanese, is "a cat meows" in English. "Neko" is cat, "nya nya" is an onomatopoeic adverb, and "naku" means cry. And usually such onomatopoeias are simultaneously explanations and mimetic sound effects. They explain how an action is realized or what it results in. For example, the onomatopoeia bisho bisho indicates a state of "wet all through" (Kakehi and Tamori 1993). 4 Japanese onomatopoeic language is designed to capture a physical sense rather than merely imitate or refer to a concept by means of a sound.
In butoh exercises such as those led by Ashikawa, one was supposed to be able to become a twisted wet rug or heavy with too much water. How to achieve this was up to each person. Ashikawa did not tell us what to do or how to behave; she simply gave us a few words. The participants were all adult women and some were modern dancers, and for all of us, it felt strange to seriously try to "become wet rugs." But in a little while I became sensitive to my own physical state of being; I felt freed from my daily self by becoming such a lowly thing on the floor.
After I took classes for several months in 1990 and 1991 at the studio of Hakutobo (White Peach Room), a group that was originally created in 1974 by Hijikata with Ashikawa as a main performer, 5 I came to understand that Hijikata had attempted to capture all kinds of emotions, landscapes, ideas, and so on, by using words that were physically real to him.
In Ashikawa's class, there were routine basic exercises. One of them was called mushikui (insect bites). A student is first told, "An insect is crawling from between your index finger and middle finger onto the back of your hand and then on to your lower arm and up to your upper arm." 6 The teacher rubs a drumstick back and forth across a drum, making a slithering sound. Then she touches those particular parts of the body to give some physical sense to the student. The number of insects increases one by one and finally, "You have no purpose. In the end, you are eaten by insects who enter through all the pores of your body, and your body becomes hollow like a stuffed animal." Each insect has to be in its precise place. One should not confuse or generalize the insects even when their numbers increase.
The most difficult part of this exercise was that one had to "be it," not merely "imagine it." This was emphasized in the class again and again. The condition of the body itself has to be changed. Through words, Hijikata's method makes dancers conscious of their physiological senses and teaches them to objectify their bodies. Dancers can then "reconstruct" their bodies as material things in the world and even as concepts. 7 By practicing the exercises repeatedly, dancers learn to manipulate their own bodies physiologically and psychologically. As a result, butoh dancers can transform themselves into everything from a wet rug to a sky and can even embody the universe, theoretically speaking (Kurihara 1996).
The Body Is a Metaphor for Words
For Hijikata the body is a metaphor for words and words are a metaphor for the body. He said that the brain is merely a part of the body. Hijikata's statement finds an echo in recent work in cognitive science. According to the cognitive scientists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, contrary to the Cartesian view, "the mind is inherently embodied, reason is shaped by the body, and since most thought is unconscious, the mind cannot be known simply by self-reflection" (1999:5). They and many other cognitive scientists argue that language is physically based. One feels "up" and "down" in English, and Kibun (one's feeling) ga agaru (rises) and ochikomu (falls down) in Japanese.
In child development studies it has been observed that children empathize with objects as if they were human beings, projecting their own emotions onto them. The psychologist Heinz Werner called this "physiognomic perception." 8 A two-year-old boy, seeing a cup lying on its side, said, "Poor tired cup!" Another called a towel-hook "cruel." Werner wrote, "During the physiognomic period of childhood it is the very absence of polarity, and the high degree of fusion between person and thing, subject and object, that are characteristic" (Werner  1961:72). Similarly, in his lecture "Kaze Daruma," (Wind Daruma) published in this issue of TDR, Hijikata describes placing a kitchen dipper in a field to show it the world outside. As close as Hijikata's ideas seem to those of cognitive scientists, linguists, and psychologists, he was also very different from them because he was a poet, always attempting to capture amorphous life--life that resists being settled in any particular form. Hijikata tried to create his own universe with his own language. That was one of the reasons he kept changing his themes and styles: he wanted to avoid getting trapped in a static form and losing life.
Hijikata saw the body in everything and attempted to capture it in words. In Butoh no tame no sukurappubukku (Scrapbooks for Butoh) 9 a copy of a picture supposedly by Jean Fautrier is pasted onto a page and surrounded by handwritten notes, entitled "Zaishitsu hen II Fotorie" (On Material II Fautrier). Hijikata perceived the body in this painting--as he mentions in an interview with Shibusawa Tatsuhiko published as "Nikutai no yami o mushiru" (Plucking Off the Darkness of the Flesh) in this issue. As Hijikata told Shibusawa, "Paintings, too, are created by human beings and reveal their ultimate 'butoh quality' (butoh-sei)." The captured body was put into words: "a person composed of tactile sensations and particles" and "flying grasshopper" (see "On Material II Fautrier"). And they were realized as movements by a butoh dancer with the help of more of Hijikata's words.
Instead of liberating the body from language, Hijikata tied the body up with words, turning it into a material object, an object that is like a corpse. Paradoxically, by this method, Hijikata moved beyond words and presented something only a live body can express. That is the essence of Hijikata's butoh. Hijikata saw human existence as inextricably part of the body. But this body only comes alive when it is chased in to a corner by words and pain--that is, consciousness. He rigorously practiced this point of view with his own body and life.
The Emergence of Hijikata's Butoh
Hijikata's words dispel the misconceptions about butoh and his own work, which have both been erroneously essentialized and stereotyped. Butoh is often seen as something essentially "Japanese" or "Tohoku," the northeastern region of Japan where Hijikata grew up. Some scholars too easily try to connect him with Zen Buddhism and other "Japanese" or "Eastern" elements. Others, particularly American critics, see butoh as a direct product of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For example, discussing butoh and Pina Bausch's dance theatre, dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote in the New York Times in 1984:
Each group uses images that include pain and suffering, that are often violent and that shock. Both are clearly part of a theatre in revolt. There are European critics who have drawn a connection between these trends and the countries in which they have grown--that is, the Germany that emerged from the Nazi camps of World War II and the Japan that emerged from Hiroshima. Apocalypse casts its shadow. (1984, sec. 2:1)
Four years later Vicki Sanders wrote:
Hijikata Tatsumi [...] was a teenager when the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He intended a career in classical dance, but just as the atomic assault forever altered the course of Japanese political history, so did its aftershocks indelibly mark the nation's emerging artists and their attitude toward the aesthetic roots from which they sprang. (1988:148)
Yes, the war affected Hijikata greatly, as it influenced whole generations of Japanese artists and writers. And of course butoh contains a lot of "Japanese" elements. However, the origin of Hijikata's butoh is far more complex.
Leaving Tohoku in 1952, at the age of 23, Hijikata experienced a great shock when he arrived in modern Tokyo. "Naka no sozai/Sozai" (Inner Material/Material) 10 an article which appeared in the program of his first recital, Hijikata Tatsumi DANCE EXPERIENCE no kai (Hijikata Tatsumi Dance Experiences Recital, July 1960), is autobiographical and reveals much about his life and psychology at the time. Postwar confusion prevailed and the dramatic postwar economic growth hadn't started yet. People were far from affluent, especially young artists. But they were free and full of chaotic energy. World War II destroyed Tokyo physically but had liberated it artistically. The society's quick change in values--from the restriction of unquestioning obedience to the emperor-god to the "free choices" brought by "democracy" made people suspicious of everything.
In Tokyo, Hijikata took various jobs, such as as a longshoreman and junk dealer, to survive while he kept dancing. His hunger was literal. As a young artist, he had nothing to lose.
Hijikata had a special feeling about his upbringing and where he came from. He was the sixth son and tenth child of 11 children. His parents farmed and also ran a soba noodle shop. Tohoku was still an "underdeveloped" region of Japan at that time and the Tohoku dialect was often the butt of jokes on TV. 11 The gap between Hijikata and the young urban artists he met must have been huge. He followed the intellectual trends of the time, voraciously reading French literature including works by Arthur Rimbaud and Comte de Lautréamont.
But Jean Genet was his favorite writer. Feeling alienated from the urban and the modern, Hijikata struggled to establish his own identity and create original work. Genet's paradoxical world captured Hijikata's imagination. Genet, rejected by society, affirms himself as he is, rejecting society in turn, and constructing his own paradoxical ethos (see Genet  1964). Poverty became a virtue; lice were emblems of prosperity. Genet's imagination turned an inmate in his pink-and-white-striped prison garb into a gigantic flower at the beginning of The Thief's Journal ( 1964). This paradoxical conversion became Hijikata's guiding aesthetic throughout his life: the ugly is the beautiful; death is life.
Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors, 1959) is considered to be the first butoh piece. Its title was taken from Mishima Yukio's novel about male homosexual love. But the feeling and content were taken from Genet. The appearance of this performance was quite different from what we consider butoh now. Hijikata and Ono Yoshito, Ono Kazuo's son, exchanged a live white chicken as a symbol of love. As seen in photographs by Otsuji Seiji (19:130-31), 12 some movements resemble those of jazz dance, which Hijikata learned from taking lessons and dancing with Ando Mitsuko (who later changed her name to Noriko), one of his many dance teachers. But at the same time one recognizes symbolic postures that might be from Hijikata's modern dance background. And one also sees, even then, the rigid, contained body that became the prototype of a male body in Hijikata's butoh.
Kinjiki caused a huge controversy in the mainstream dance world because of its theme, its sexually explicit gasping sound effect, and its use of the chicken, which Ono Yoshito was supposed to choke to death between his thighs. 13 As a result of the controversy, Hijikata, Ono Kazuo, and other dancers quit the Zen nihon geijutsu buyo kyokai (All Japan Art Dance Association) currently Gendai buyo kyokai (Contemporary Dance Association).
At this time Hijikata met Mishima, as a consequence of having borrowed the title of his novel. Mishima, already a star novelist, became deeply interested in Hijikata's work. He often visited Hijikata's studio, encouraged him, and introduced him to important cultural figures. Especially significant among these was Shibusawa, an erudite scholar of French literature. Mishima was enthusiastic about Georges Bataille and the Marquis de Sade. Shibusawa's translation of de Sade's 1792 Les Prospérité du Vice Part II was seized by the authorities for obscenity, leading to a notorious 1960 court case involving prominent writers as witnesses.
Shibusawa, the same age as Hijikata, became a very close friend, providing him with a tremendous amount of insight into literature and contemporary thought. From this time on Hijikata greatly expanded his association with writers, poets, and artists in other genres, leaving the narrow-minded mainstream dance world behind. He became transformed from an unknown dancer into a rising avantgarde performer.
"Keimusho e" (To Prison) published in Mita bungaku (The Mita Literature, 1961) is the direct result of Hijikata's new friends and interests. Studded with quotes from various famous Western writers such as Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bataille, this sometimes clumsy article strikingly conveys the impact on Hijikata of his new environment and his receptiveness to new ways of thinking. Nietzsche and Bataille's ideas resonated with those of Genet, helping to form Hijikata's own paradoxical approach to art and life. In this early essay Hijikata almost buries himself in the writings of Marcuse, et al., yet emerges with his own strong presence by focusing on the body and his own experiences.
After Kinjiki, Hijikata's works continued to evolve in theme and style. In the 1960s, he primarily used male performers. Often the themes were at the time seen as "sexual perversion": homosexuality and transvestism. And he collaborated with many artists of the neo-dada and surrealist schools. In Anma (Masseur, 1963) he placed tatami mats in the audience area where old women played the shamisen 14 and male dancers threw a ball back and forth, performed other athletic tasks, and even rode on bikes. This piece came closest among Hijikata's works to the Happenings that were often staged in Japan during that time by such artists as Akasegawa Genpei, Nakanishi Natsuyuki, and Takamatsu Jiro.
In contrast, it should be noted that Hijikata created Banzai onna (Banzai Woman, 1959), about a woman who ceremoniously sent off soldiers to the front at a train station with banzai, and Yome (Bride, 1960), about a bride in the countryside, for the female dancer Onrai Sahina, a high school teacher and his partner at that time. These works were supposedly based on his own memories of growing up in Tohoku. The so-called "return to Tohoku" in Hijikata's work is usually dated to his late-1960s trip to the region with photographer Hosoe Eiko for the Kamaitachi (Sickle Weasel) 15 project, which resulted in a photo exhibition (1968) and a book (1969) of the same title. In these early works were the seeds of Hijikata's 1970s Tohoku kabuki series.
Change and Continuity
"Nikutai no yami o mushiru" is an interview by Shibusawa--printed in the intellectual monthly Tenbo (The Perspective) in July 1968--that was conducted before the performance of Hijikata Tatsumi to nihonjin: Nikutai no hanran (Hijikata Tatsumi and the Japanese: Rebellion of the Body) in October of that year, in the midst of the student power movement in Japan. This interview reveals that Hijikata was in a period of transition foreshadowing a drastic change.
In Hijikata Tatsumi to nihonjin, Western and Japanese elements clashed. With spasmodic movements, Hijikata, borne on a palanquin, entered the stage from the audience. A long kimono covers his naked body. In his hand he holds a golden phallus. The performance shows the influence of Antonin Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double, translated into Japanese in 1965. Artaud influenced the new generation in the Japanese theatre, and Hijikata was no exception. The entrance with a golden phallus was reminiscent of passages in Artaud's "From Heliogabalus, or The Anarchic Crowned." In one scene, Hijikata wore a long dress and danced violently, his movements evoking the waltz and flamenco. In another scene, wearing a girl's kimono and socks, he jumped up and twisted as if disabled. Hijikata was attempting to mix what he acquired from without and what was taking shape from within: the merging of his avantgarde works and pieces like Banzai onna and Yome. The first part of the title Hijikata Tatsumi to nihonjin clearly indicates that Hijikata was making a conscious change from an apparently "Western" focus to work that intensely examined his own body, specifically, a male body that grew up in Tohoku, probably to liberate himself from the body.
After the performance of Hijikata Tatsumi to nihonjin, Hijikata started to create pieces for Genjusha (Fantastical Animal Company), a group of women who worked in a smaller theatre, and Hangi daito kan (Mirror of Sacrificing Great Dance), a group of both women and men. These became the foundation of the 1972 series Shiki no tame no nijushichiban, which came to be described as Tohoku kabuki. The series consisted of Hosotan, Susame dama, 16 Gaishi-ko (Study of Insulator), Nadare-ame (Dribbling Candy), and Gibasan, 17 each of which was a full-length evening-long performance and represented a different season of the year. All included Tohoku themes, characters, sounds, etc. As the title indicates, the series lasted 27 nights, with each piece performed five or six times. This serial work was the largest of Hijikata's projects.
"Inu no jomyaku ni shittosuru koto kara" (From Being Jealous of a Dog's Vein), written for Bijutsu techo (Art Notebook, 1969), gives a clear sense of this new stage in Hijikata's dance work. Although he had previously mentioned Tohoku elements in his interview with Shibusawa, in this article he presented his ideas as based primarily on his memories. He also wrote that his older sister had come to live within his body. Around this time he began wearing a kimono with his hair hanging long or tied in a bun and speaking in women's language. 18
In contrast to earlier all-male pieces, Hijikata's work during this time increasingly featured women performers, although he wrote, "If blue veins can be seen through a dog's skin, there is no need at all for a woman's body" (see "From Being Jealous of a Dog's Vein"). Despite this statement, he needed a woman's body to realize his new dances. He was greatly indebted to the rare talent of Ashikawa Yoko, who could bring into danced reality what Hijikata desired. One of his long-time male disciples, Waguri Yukio mentioned at the Tram symposium that Hijikata and the silent Ashikawa hid themselves away in a studio to create their dances (1998b). In these intense sessions Hijikata fired off words and Ashikawa expressed them in movements and wrote them down as butoh notation. They worked alone for hours. Nobody else was allowed to join. Ashikawa often taught the dances produced during these sessions to other disciples.
This intense collaboration between the two was necessary for the birth of Hijikata's new style of butoh. But it raised the question of whether it is always necessary to have an apparently hierarchical relationship between a controlling, directing choreographer and a dancer who passively realizes the choreographer's vision. And why did Hijikata need Ashikawa's female body? Was it because of the nature of his dance, or because of the nature of his personality?
Tohoku Is Everywhere
Hijikata often said that Tohoku is a foreign country. In an interview, he stated, "Although it is Tohoku kabuki, there is a Tohoku in England. The utter darkness exists throughout the world, doesn't it? To think is the dark" (1985:17). He also mentioned that Tohoku's historical past was as a colony which exported soldiers, horses, and women to central Japan (1985:18). Hijikata exhaustively explored where he came from. By doing so he ended up making Tohoku into an imagined place beyond space and time. While, however, he used the "nativism" popular in early 1970s Japan, he did so in an extremely radical way. He was undoubtedly a shrewd entrepreneur and a superb artist at the same time.
The love for "raw nature" in many of its aspects, both beautiful and cruel, in the work of Hijikata was to some degree caused by the dramatic economic growth in Japan from the 1960s onward. This growth was fueled by rapid and often environmentally heedless industrialization on a tremendous scale. Factories were built all over Japan. They produced extreme pollution in many areas, leading to any number of dire results including minamata disease, caused by mercury poisoning, and itai-itai disease, which is caused by cadmium poisoning. Landscapes and communities were destroyed; traditional social relations and mores were disrupted. The pervasive sense of loss permeating Japanese society gave rise to the desire to recapture a more idyllic and socially whole way of life thought to be qualities of premodern Japan. This return to an older, better Japan became a national cultural fantasy (see Ivy 1995). A number of people around Hijikata undeniably emphasized the "Tohoku-ness" in his works. This Tohoku-ness clearly matched the spectators' melancholic sentiments.
Hijikata's Tohoku kabuki was enthusiastically accepted. It brought him an opportunity to present a new work at the mainstream Seibu Theatre which, unlike his previous venues, is run by a large corporation. However, some intellectuals and artists now distanced themselves from Hijikata. Shibusawa was among them, but he was in the minority among butoh spectators. 19
With Shiki no tame no nijushichiban, Hijikata opened up new ground. Through this success a number of young people without much dance training were initiated into his world. He stopped dancing himself at the age of 45 in 1973--for reasons that are not clear. After 1974 he concentrated on choreographing a series of performances at the small Asbestos Hall for Hakutobo, the group he started with Ashikawa.
Every other month a new piece was performed. Hijikata's works became marked by a particular style. This was in sharp contrast to his work up to that point, which always was changing. Shiki no tame no nijushichiban included kabuki-like outward movements, which Hijikata himself performed. Simultaneously, however, there were Yufu (courageous woman) characters who bent their knees and backs deeply with their chins sticking out. This transitional phase preceded a new style of dance for Hakutobo, which was characterized by concentrated, contained movements for female performers. The incredible transformation of Ashikawa into a bowlegged midget-like figure and the complete changes of her masklike facial expressions were striking and surprised the audience. What Ashikawa showed was the result not only of practical work on the body, but of the words Hijikata bombarded her with as they worked alone in the studio. His words were metaphors for his body. He was trying to convey his body to her through his words. Ashikawa responded to this word/body procedure enormously. Ashikawa even said that an exchange of bodies occurred (1990:164). Hijikata's words--her actions: a methodology that used words to create definite forms was being established during this period.
Attitude toward Classical Performing Arts
The original title of "Fragments of Glass: A Conversation between Hijikata Tatsumi and Suzuki Tadashi" was "Ketsujo to shite no gengo shintai no kasetsu" (Language as Lack and Temporary Construction of the Body). 20 It was published in April 1977 in Gendaishi techo (The Notebook for Contemporary Poetry). Although Hijikata's language sounds mysterious, he was actually very methodological and analytical. In this conversation, the theatre director Suzuki, a theoretical artist himself, constantly pulls the mystifying Hijikata back to a place where he must be analytical. This push and pull between the two experimental theatre artists clarifies some similarities and differences between the revolutionary dancer and the innovative theatre director who shared the same glorious period of Japanese underground performing arts.
In the conversation, moderator Senda Akihiko mentions that Hijikata used the phrase Tohoku kabuki in reference to Shiki no tame no nijushichiban when he visited the dancer right before a performance of the piece. In 1973, an enthusiastic article, "Shi to iu koten butoh" (A Classical Dance Called Death) by Gunji Masakatsu, an authority on Japanese traditional performing arts, especially kabuki, also connected Hijikata with kabuki, defining kabuki as "wriggling in the interior of the womb among Japanese," and unlike current kabuki which is more about spectacle (1973:121). Gunji's article was published right after the performance of the Shiki no tame no nijushichiban and his words undoubtedly strongly influenced the discourse surrounding butoh.
Contradictorily, Hijikata himself emphasized, in the conversation with Suzuki and elsewhere, that his dance had nothing to do with established performing arts. But there are a number of examples from Hijikata's life that reinforce his connection with traditional performing arts. His friend, the poet Yoshioka Minoru, remembered Hijikata talking about the kyogen piece Tsurigitsune (Trapping a Fox)--now regarded as one of the most important works in kyogen--which had been shown on television in 1973 (1987:62). He also witnessed Hijikata earnestly looking at Nishiki-e (multicolored ukiyo-e) and old woodblock prints at a used bookstore. One of the major genres of these prints is yakusha-e (actor prints) which depict kabuki actors onstage. Yoshioka stated that Hijikata received inspiration for Shiki no tame no nijushichiban from these prints (1987:56-57). Hijikata was undoubtedly interested in the traditional performing arts and was affected by them. But he purposely avoided directly confronting "national/traditional performing arts" such as noh and kabuki. In this, Hijikata was very different from Suzuki who encountered and used the traditional arts in a systematic and analytical way. The direct experience of nature was very important to Hijikata. In his conversation with Suzuki, while explicating his complex attitude toward the arts, Hijikata declared that Tohoku's spring season with its abundance of mud taught him to dance.
"Kaze Daruma" (Wind Daruma) is a lecture originally titled "Suijakutai no saishu" (Collection of Emaciated Body), given the night before the Butoh Festival 85, Butoh zangeroku shusei--shichinin no kisetsu to shiro (Collected Record of Butoh Confessions: Seven Persons' Seasons and Castles) in February 1985. 21 Hijikata spoke in a way designed to address a general audience. Toward the end of his life, Hijikata focused on "suijakutai" (the emaciated body). Probably one of the actualizations of this emaciated body was the ghostlike figure Ashikawa Yoko performed in the Tohoku kabuki keikaku 4 (Tohoku Kabuki Project 4) in 1985. In a man's kimono, Ashikawa moved as if she were floating, her eyes almost closed, as if her body was disappearing. This figure was strikingly different from those powerful presences she portrayed in works from the 1970s. Hijikata once wrote, "Since the body itself perishes, it has a form. Butoh has another dimension" (1998:295). He ambitiously attempted to erase the body and go beyond it, beyond anything with a material form. It was this "disappearing" that he was working on just before he died. Hijikata asked, "Where does a human being go after death?" This was the question he obviously confronted when he realized his own death was near. At the same time, he was still in the process of developing his notion of the emaciated body. In the lecture, Hijikata just barely touches on the theme of the emaciated body, quoting an ancient Buddhist priest, Kyogai, then telling stories of "Kaze daruma" which Hijikata had relayed many times before. As butoh dancer Murobushi Ko 22 stated at the Hijikata symposium, "Butoh is not yet achieved" (1998). Butoh, for Hijikata himself, was an ongoing process--it never could be finished or achieved.
Hijikata stated in 1977, "Now is the very crucial moment when the world has become filled with all kinds of materials. Even when there were obstacles and resistant things in the past, we did not necessarily grasp what was lacking within you vividly" (1977:123). He experienced drastic social changes from postwar poverty to extreme materialism. He was very aware of how such changes influence the relationship between the world and the body: "The body is constantly violated by things like the development of technology" (1969:19). Today these changes are accelerating. The rapid development of computer technology, virtual-reality technology, and the internet have extended human possibilities for the future but seem simultaneously to be eroding or changing our sense of what is real. From this current context one can more clearly read that Hijikata's struggle was to present the real in a time when the body is constantly simulated.
Undoubtedly, the body is culturally constructed on some level, but is it just that? Hijikata called the body "the most remote thing in the universe" (in Ashikawa 1990:163). Quite a few of us seek the more real and go beyond mere relativism by examining the body intensely, while trying to avoid the danger of essentializing it. Words can be a weapon to confront the body. Although a relationship between the body and language always existed, we are pressed to examine that relationship now because of the very nature of the epoch we live in. Hijikata's words and the documentation of his works provide a direction for us--but they also open up further questions. The translations presented in this issue of TDR will, I hope, create a larger space for examining the relationship between the body and language in both discussion and practice.
1. For the Japanese long vowel sound, the diacritical "-" is placed over the vowel as in buyo, shusei, and Tohoku. However, words commonly used in English such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and butoh are left without diacriticals.
2. Longer excerpts of three articles by Hijikata were translated in Butoh: Shades of Darkness (Viala and Masson-Sekine 1988).
3. The father of Motofuji Akiko, Hijikata's wife, was an importer of asbestos. It is said that since he bought the place for his daughter, Hijikata named it Asbestos Hall.
4. According to linguists, Japanese has more of these compared to other languages, including English. There are several Japanese-English dictionaries meant explicitly for translating onomatopoeias and mimetic words into English. See Kakehi and Tamori's Onomatopea: gion, gitaigo no rakuen (Onomatopoeia: The Paradise of Sound Effective, Mimetic Words) for the specific nature of onomatopoeia in Japanese.
5. When I was taking lessons, Ashikawa had started working with director Tomoe Shizune, originally a guitarist and composer, and the group is called Tomoe Shizune to Hakutobo (Tomoe Shizune and Hakutobo).
6. All quotes by Ashikawa are from classes during 1990/91 unless otherwise noted.
7. For readers who would like to experience this themselves, a CD-ROM, Butoh Kaden by Hijikata's long time disciple, Waguri Yukio (1998a), is available. Based on his work with Hijikata, Waguri created this multimedia butoh-fu in which one can see how Hijikata used words for dance. There are 22 segments of Waguri moving to Hijikata's words.
8. I am indebted to Amagasaki Akira's Kotoba to shintai (Words and Body, 1990) for this connection of Heinz Werner's concept to Hijikata.
9. Hijikata made a number of scrapbooks, filling them with words and images to create his art works.
10. Originally this article was untitled. When this article was included in a book Bibo no aozora (Handsome Blue Sky) in 1987, an editor entitled it "Naka no sozai/Sozai."
11. Tohoku has always been considered a far-away frontier and has evoked mythical images for Japanese for centuries. In the seventh century the Imperial Court sent soldiers to conquer its inhabitants, Ezo people who were considered to be the ancestors of the Ainu, indigenous people mainly living in Hokkaido, Karafuto, and Chishima. However, there are recent archaeological studies suggesting that the Ezo were the ones who bore the Jomon culture, the original Japanese culture that began around 10,000 bce and lasted until 500 bce.
12. TheOtsuji photographs are not performance photos but were taken at a studio.
13. The chicken didn't actually die according to both Motofuji and Ono Yoshito.
14. A shamisen is a three-stringed instrument that became very popular in the second half of the 16th century.
15. Kamaitachi is a phenomenon in which skin rips spontaneously. People used to think that an invisible weasel was responsible for splitting the skin, thus the name.
16. The title is equivocal and untranslatable, typical of Hijikata. Susamu is a verb that means that something, especially a mind, grows wild or becomes rough, or that one does things as s/he wishes. "Dama" is tama. The pronunciation is changed because it gets connected with another word. Tama means a ball, and also a beautiful woman or a courtesan and a prostitute. I think that the title means "a beautiful woman who became rough" or "a prostitute who grew wild."
17. As Hijikata explained, gibasan is a regional name for a particular seaweed that grows on the Akita coast.
18. Japanese language is gendered in terms of words, style, and pronunciation.
19. It should be noted that the butoh audience was a minority then in Japan and remains so. However, Ono Kazuo and Sankaijuku led by Amagatsu Ushio are more or less recognized by mainstream Japanese audiences.
20. This is the only excerpt among the pieces chosen for translation in this issue. This was to maintain a balance with the other pieces, since the original article is a few times longer than "Wind Daruma," the longest of the others. I chose sections that focus on the relationship between the body and language and Hijikata's attitude toward classical performing arts.
21. This was published as "Kaze daruma: butoh zangeroku shusei" (Wind Daruma: Collected Record of Butoh Confessions) in Gendaishi techo in May 1985. The lecture was given in February 1985.
22. Murobushi Ko (b. 1948) is a butoh dancer active in Europe.
1990 Kotoba to shintai (Words and Body). Tokyo: Keiso shobo.
1990 "Shintai no naka no 'tasha' o sagasu" (Searching for the "Other" within the Body). Kikan shicho (Quarterly Shicho) 7:160-71.
1964  The Thief's Journal. New York: Grove Press.
1973 "Shi to iu koten butoh" (A Classical Dance Called Death). Bijutsu techo (Art Notebook),
1961 "Keimusho e" (To Prison). Mita bungaku (The Mita Literature), January:45-49.
1969 "Ankoku no butai o odoru majin: Hijikata Tatsumi san" (Demon God Who Dances on Stage of the Darkness: Mr. Hijikata Tatsumi). Mainichi Gurafu (Mainichi Graphics), February:12-19.
1977 "Ketsujo to shite no gengo=shintai no kasetsu" (Language as Lack and Temporary Construction of the Body). Gendaishi techo (The Notebook for Contemporary Poetry), April:108-26.
1985 "Kyokutanna gosha: Hijikata Tatsumi shi intabyu" (The Extreme Luxury: Interview of Mr. Hijikata Tatsumi). W-NOtation, July:2-27.
1998 Hijikata Tatsumi zenshu II. Tokyo: Kawade shobo shinsha.
1995 Discourses of Vanishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kakehi Hisao, and Tamori Ikuhiro, eds.
1993 Onomatopea: Gion, gitaigo no rakuen (Onomatopoeia Paradise of Sound-mimetic, Mimetic Words). Tokyo: Keiso shobo.
1984 "Japan's New Dance Is Darkly Erotic." The New York Times, 15 July, sec. 2:1, 10.
1996 "The Most Remote Thing in the Universe: A Critical Analysis of Hijikata Tatsumi's Butoh Dance." PhD diss., New York University.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson
1999 Philosophy in the Flesh. New York: Basic Books.
1998 Remarks at the Aruto aruiwa Hijikata Tatsumi (Artaud or Hijikata Tatsumi) symposium. Tokyo, 12 November.
1998 Remarks at the Aruto aruiwa Hijikata Tatsumi symposium. Tokyo, 12 November.
1959 Photographs in "Gendai no muma: Kinjiki o odoru zen'ei buyodan" (Contemporary Dream Demon: An Avantgarde Dance Group that Dances Forbidden Colors) by Mishima Yukio. Geijutsu Shincho (New Tide in Art), September:130-31.
1972 Hosotan (A Story of Small Pox). 75-minute film. 16mm.
1988 "Dancing and the Dark Soul of Japan: An Aesthetic Analysis of Buto." Asian Theatre Journal 5, 2:148-63.
1991 Kojien. 4th edition. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.
1998 Remarks at the Aruto aruiwa Hijikata Tatsumi symposium. Tokyo, 12 November.
1998a Butoh-kaden (Butoh Book of Flower). CD-ROM. Tokushima: Just System.
1998b Remarks at the Enshutsuka Hijikata Tatsumi, furitsukeka Hijikata Tatsumi (Director
Hijikata Tatsumi, Choreographer Hijikata Tatsumi) symposium. Tokyo, 13 November.
Viala, Jean, and Nourit Masson-Sekine
1988 Butoh: Shades of Darkness. Tokyo: Shufunotomo.
1961  Comparative Psychology of Mental Development. New York: Science Editions.
1987 Hijikata Tatsumi ko (On Hijikata Tatsumi). Tokyo: Chikuma shobo.
TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 10-28