Correspondence from Daniel Linehan, PARTS #1

by Daniel Linehan

This past September, Daniel Linehan began the two-year Research Cycle at PARTS in Brussels. He will periodically contribute posts to CC about his responses to performance in Brussels.

Correspondence from Brussels #1: Halprin, Brown, and Burrows Re-Enacted –

Thoughts on Enactment and Re-Enactment


Before the Show:

This week at the Kaaitheater in Brussels, Anne Collod & guests (including DD Dorvillier) will present Parades & Changes, Replays, a “re-interpretation” of Parades & Changes created by Anna Halprin in 1965.

I was looking forward to seeing the re-enactment of Parades & Changes, but I did have a few questions about the value of such a re-enactment. What is the value of re-enacting important performances of the past? One possibility is that re-enactment can serve as a sort of living documentation of the past. To state the hyper-obvious: live performance is ephemeral. We can try to capture the performance with writing, photographs, video recordings, etc., but none of these media can give an experience equivalent to that of a live performance. A live re-enactment can serve as a form of documentation that does convey the liveness of the original event. So a re-enactment can be a form of documentation just as valid as a video-recording, for example. Just as valid, but still deficient, because all forms of documentation are deficient…they might give the illusion of “objectivity” and “reality,” but this is exactly what is dangerous about them. If I look to Parades & Changes, Replays as if I am seeing Anna Halprin’s 1965 work, then I am deluding myself. A re-enactment will be performed by different bodies in a different time and place, and it cannot be the original.

But this begs the question, what is the original performance? Is the original performance the most important or the most valid one? Do performances have an “original” form? I would say, No! of course not…performances change each and every time they are enacted. What is special about live performance is that it is enacted in the present, and so the value of any enactment or re-enactment must relate to what it does in the present, because it can’t do anything in the past, and it would be misguided to look to it for insight on the past.

So perhaps the value of re-enactment lies in how a re-appropriation of structures from past performances can have something to say about what is happening today.

One other thought: In a documentary I saw the day before the performance, Anna Halprin talked in an interview about why dance was a medium that interested her, and she talked about how there are all these different thoughts and systems of belief in the world, and that our thoughts and beliefs are really just illusions created by culture. But the body can be a site of universality because the body is something we all share. I have questions about this assertion. Isn’t our bodily experience also experienced through culture? Our sense of taste, for example, is something which seems innocent and immediate, but it is actually heavily filtered through our culture (think of fine wine, escargot, etc.). Isn’t our kinesthetic sense also dominated by our culture, or sub-culture (the release technique sub-culture…the professional figure-skater sub-culture, etc.)? I would pose that the ideas we have about our bodies are a filter through which we experience all of our perceptions and sensations, and so bodily experience is also, at least in part, derived from culture. And can it really be said that the body is something we all share? Isn’t the body exactly that which makes each of us separate from one another?

After the Show:

Before seeing Parades & Changes, Replays I vowed to see it on its own terms, in relation to today and not to 1965, a year which I know almost nothing about. But now I think that it might be okay to say that the work I saw is really the “same” as the “original” Parades & Changes…inasmuch as there is no original Parades & Changes. Each time the work is performed the scores allow for different actions because the scores compel the performers to relate to what is happening in the present. Anne Collod writes in her program notes that within Parades & Changes, “the possibility of its own permanent transformation is inherent.”

To witness each of the six performers engage in the scores…you see what the score is; it is legible and nameable (e.g., “dressing and undressing”), but you also see how differently the score is manifested for each individual, and also how differently it is manifested each time it is performed (the performers do the “dressing and undressing” score three times each). And in watching the score in this way, you realize the nearly infinite number of possible ways in which it can be embodied. The performers are individuated, yet they form a collective, and each “version” of Parades & Changes is individuated, yet the performances all collectively belong to the same work. The “work” is not the performance of the work; it is a series of structures that are defined enough yet open enough to allow for a specific realm of possible events to occur. The performers are doing ordinary tasks that we do every day, and we think we know these tasks, but in the witnessing of them, and in the realization of their almost limitless potential, we realize that we don’t actually know them at all.

To get back to the issue of re-enactment, it seems to be an issue that is in the air right now. At PARTS, we are doing a workshop where we are re-enacting Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset according to the structures of the original work. This week at the Kaaitheater, a ten-year-old work by Jonathan Burrows was presented. I also think of the trend in New York to re-present important works, some of which were originally performed only a year ago (Neil Greenberg’s Not About AIDS Dance, recent works by Adrienne Truscott, Trajal Harrell, etc.). Hell, it seems that re-enactment also includes the touring of a work, or performing it for a second or third night. Re-enactment, as I’ve experienced it, allows for change and difference, and in this sense it acknowledges the ephemeral nature of performance. But isn’t there something in the “re” of re-enactment that is fighting against the ephemeral nature of performance, against a tendency in the contemporary arts to always throw out the old and strive toward the new? But perhaps performance need not be as ephemeral as we’d like to think. It is no more ephemeral than any other experience. Taken on its own terms (as a performance/experience and not as an object) a performance is no less ephemeral than the performance/experience of reading a book, for example. The experience of the book only exists in the reading of it, in other words, in the re-enactment of the book’s writing. What separates performance from certain other arts like literature and visual arts is not that performance is more ephemeral, because the experience of any artwork is only possible through its re-enactment, which is necessarily an ephemeral experience. Perhaps what distinguishes performance, as performance, is simply that it does not have an object as its product. (…But perhaps there are exceptions to this?).

P.S. One of the striking things about Parades & Changes is the basic structure of everyone doing the same score at the same time, and the complexity that can come out of this simple structure. This is a structure that I’ve witnessed in other recent works, also, like Deborah Hay’s O, O, and that I experienced in Miguel Gutierrez’s Everyone. I am curious about this contemporary fascination with (and nostalgia for?) utopia-forms and collective action, perhaps a reaction against the sense of collective inaction and impotence that can be felt when faced with big injustices in the world.

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