Correspondence from Daniel Linehan, PARTS #2

Daniel watches three performances by ex-PARTS choreographers.

Daniel Linehan is a 2007-2008 Movement Research Artist in Residence. In September ‘08, he began the two-year Research Cycle at PARTS in Brussels. He will periodically contribute posts to CC about performances and other happenings in Brussels.

This weekend in Brussels, there were three separate shows from three ex-PARTS choreographers. Being curious about what kind of work ex-PARTS students make, I went to see all three shows over the past three nights (and to my relief I found out that there doesn’t seem to be one particular kind of work that they make).

The first work I saw was Supernaturel, a solo by Alix Eynaudi, which was a meditation on the presence and absence of the performing body. The piece alternates between a solo dancer on the one hand, and pure theatrical spectacle (absent of any body) on the other hand. The piece begins with a spectacle of theatrical lighting, complete with a pyrotechnic finale of sparks. Later in the piece, there is a second, quieter spectacle of ground fog rolling in, creating swirling eddies around the floor. There is also a sequence in which we simply hear a recording of a voice that invites us, in various ways, to become aware of the sensations of our own bodies: “Your throat tightens a little bit as you swallow,” and “You notice that the sensation of the bottom of your tongue is similar to the sensation of the top of your tongue.” (There were other, non-oral suggestions too). I was annoyed by this voice telling me what I was feeling, and I think that’s partly because, as a dancer, I found it trite. I am used to hearing these kinds of suggestions in dance classes. I imagined, though, that these words could have offered a more profound experience for certain non-dancers, who may not be as accustomed to paying attention to the sensations of their body. (But of course I can’t pretend to know what experience others might have had.)

The next night, I saw It’s in the Air, a duet by Mette Ingvartsen (ex-PARTS) & Jefta van Dinther. In blurbs about the piece, Ingvartsen was touted as being one of the most “physical” choreographers of her generation, and the work was said to be about “perceiving the body as body.” I have to say, I hate this tendency in our language about dance to describe some work as more physical and more body-based, when what we are really referring to is a certain kind of abstract, formal choreography. The “body” is always a site of hyper-multiplicity, it is never a “pure” body, it is always part of a complex network of beliefs, habits, and patterns. The body also includes the brain and the vocal cords; thoughts, ideas, and spoken language occur via physical processes. So I don’t think that those pieces that might be labeled as more “conceptual” are somehow less physical or less about the body.

In any case, let me describe the actual piece. Two dancers, a man and a woman, on two trampolines. As it begins, they slowly, almost imperceptibly, shift from tiny bobs up and down to finally, ever so slightly lifting into the air. At first, they are not even bending their knees (they must be pushing with their toes, I think), so it looks like two human figures are effortlessly lifting off into the air. Over the course of the piece, they engage in more vigorous jumping and more complex body arrangements, and although it becomes quite virtuosic, they never really do any tricks. Sometimes they are in unison, reaching a peak together as they rise 30 feet in the air, and sometimes they shift in and out phase with each other, reminiscent of Fase, by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. These shifts in and out of phase with one another seemed so natural, they seemed to be grounded in basic principles of physics: two different bodies of different shape and size, and different capacities to exert force, will bounce at different rates. It’s in the Air was such a—can I use this word?—joyful experience. Although the choreographic development was quite rigorously specific, there was something undoubtedly childlike about the whole enterprise. The simplicity of watching people bounce up and down is extraordinarily pleasing.

On Halloween, I saw Once Upon a Time in Petaouchnok, a performance created by Nada Gambier. This was a performance in which Gambier, along with six other individuals of various ages and life experiences, talked to each other about ordinary daily experience. The piece has a quasi-documentary format. At one point, they are talking about the rules of how many months you can stay unemployed and still receive benefits if you are over 25 years old versus if you are less than 25, and it is as if we are merely spectators on a boring conversation that people are having somewhere in the world. But there is also the acknowledgment that the documentary format is an illusion, and in the midst of their conversation the performers will briefly turn their faces out to the spectator as if to make sure we are still paying attention. There was something about this piece that was so determinedly democratic (everyone has a story to tell) and so willfully mediocre (everyone’s story is trivial) that it gave me a strange, disquieting feeling. Strange because I ordinarily feel bored, rather than perturbed, by the banalities of everyday life.

The use of the quasi-documentary format made me think about the cultural trend of increasing interest in documentary films and in reality TV shows. A performance obviously cannot aspire to be a true documentary, because it is always staged, always contrived. But then again, is any documentation completely free from being staged? Documentation by a camera is also selected and framed by a subjective eye, and people who know they are before a camera, just as people who know they are onstage, cannot help but perform for the situation.

I have heard of a particular PARTS “brand” of work from various people inside and outside of PARTS, but I couldn’t identify a common aesthetic to the three works, and they seemed to me to be as different (or as similar) to one another as if I compared one of them to a piece made by a young New York choreographer. I wonder if it’s becoming more obsolete (or if it has long been obsolete) to speak of the particular performance aesthetics of a certain geographical locality, and I wonder if it’s because the world has become smaller…

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