weird encounters – 9. where do you want to go next
interview with melanie zimmermann, curator at kampnagel, hamburg

among those things that only the body can record (for now):

the pleasure of physical proximity

dance-flow aka kinesthetic energy

desire

suffering

the beat is on

vertigo

la présence, but in english

injustice

all emotions

hunger

felt energies of companionship

et la la la

hospitality (oubliette de derrida)

ferris wheels

la party

(dedicated to nora chipaumire, and everybody who either danced or kissed yesterday, 22 Feb 2020, 3:15)

how to break a wall
inofficial trailer
gestural memo X

Important Questions III (an unfinished list):

How is contemporary dance education representative of the society it is part of? What is the reason to invite non-European dancers – are they an ornament? How can they fundamentally challenge our understanding of dance and dance education? Who has access to dance history, dance education, dance institutions? How can history travel through my body? How can you take students really serious? … And: I loved that everybody cheered for their colleagues so much after the shows – how can we adopt that, please, for everyday audiences?

(23 Feb 2020, 9:11)

interview with mohamad abbasi, invisible center for contemporary dance, tehran
nora chipaumire / Feb 21
weird encounters – 8. i lost my sense of…

Even if it is well known, I still find this important (also regarding discussions on violence):

“Let us not forget that choreographic power is generally majoritarian in the sense that ‘choreography’ names a very specific masculinist, fatherly, Stately, judicial, theological, and disciplinary project – a project, that, moreover removed dance from its social terrain (the communal yard) and placed it in a private (courtly) chamber, thus subordinating dance to signification, to full presence, and to archiving. In other words: at a certain point in the history of the Western subjectivity, a certain social (and socializing) activity called dance fell prey to a Stately (and theological) apparatus of capture called choreography.” (André Lepecki, ‘Choreography as an Apparatus of Capture’, TDR, Vol. 51 No. 2, 2007)

(How can dance education not be in the name of choreography? I also think about the dance battle that took place in the night, on the dance-floor, spontaneously, away from stages, schoolmasters, or choreographers.)

(22 Feb 2020, 10:35)

gestural memo IX
weird encounters – 7. maybe that’s the next step
about privilege
cumbia class

What I try to look at when I don’t want to be overwhelmed by my own judgements:

the feet (my former ballet teacher Janice told me: ‘if you want to see the technique, always look at the feet’ – it has become a somewhat questionable fetish of mine when I look at dance) / falling bodies / bodies flying in the air (thank you to the performers from Tunis) / hair, hair-dos, the way that hair falls and flies, body-hair / parameters of exhaustion, especially sweat and heavy breathing / the choreographic structure of solos and group-phrases / the materiality of the set / trying to imagine the future development of the performance / the rig / the curtains / the audience reactions / inter-individual differences in physicality of the dancers / my own hands

(20 Feb 2020, 23:59)

Just as a reminder to myself:

“The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house.” (Audre Lorde)

What does that mean for discussions about the accessibility of dance education and institutions? How would our idea of dance have to change to open it up to other bodies? How does the citation challenge the structural violence inherent in certain aesthetics and their according regimes of training?

I feel, we need to radically question our understanding of virtuosity. Virtuosity is the master’s tool that reigns all technical aspects of Euro-American dance, be it classical or contemporary forms. If we were to replace virtuosity with curiosity, or a rigorous notion of study (cf. text on Claire Cunningham), might we be able to go beyond what we know and like to see? Indeed, we need to rethink our own aesthetic preferences.

(24 Feb 2020, 12:15)

smaller detail / Feb 20
interview with jana zöll, independent artist, leipzig
interview with claire cunningham, choreographer and multi-disciplinary artist
how do you look at me too

On violence I – Context / Gaze

There is multiple eruptions of violence during the Biennale, one after the other. Some are registered more, others less. The first eruption already occurs during the opening. It happens beforehand, obviously, but becomes public on Monday evening (cf. Text Opening): Three dancers from the Ivory coast are not able to participate in the Biennale as they were not allowed to enter the EU because of visa problems. The letter by the students reminds us of the structural violence that excludes certain bodies from the so-called international community of dance. It feels like a substantial challenge to the structure that were set up: Wouldn’t we have to give up on any plans – and just discuss about structural violence and exclusion during the whole Biennale? Maybe this impulse it one-sided, all too strict. But what would be aesthetic reactions to these political urgencies, then?

It feels like the topic of violence clearly resurfaces on the third evening, when five students from Iran (all members of the ‘Invisible Center for Contemporary Dance’ founded by Mohamad Abbasi) present their short piece entitled ‘We all need a party“. They start their performance by bowing several times, as if their presentation had come to an end. In a powerful gesture, they then place themselves on the back of the stage, their faces towards the back wall, upper body bent forwards, their heads resting on the back wall. It seems as if they are waiting for an execution committee. What follows if several solos danced to the sound of machine guns. The bodies of the dancers jerk, twitch, convolve and contort themselves – both as if they were being shot at by repeated machine-gun fire and as if they were excessively dancing to club music. The piece, it says in the program note, is about not dying in stillness, but about dying in movement.

It is hard to deal with the proposition, I feel, from my privileged position. After all, what do I know about the constant daily struggle for survival and danger of death in Iran, especially in the just recently even more constricted and violent political climate. I can only project. There is, thus, a double violence that I become aware of: The violence of a context, in which dance is considered a crime, and where any gathering of more than four people a criminal act. A context that is full of daily conflicts, structural disempowerment of the people, of religious and political interdictions, rules, bans. And, on another level, a form of violence that is present in my gaze and my projections. It borders on the perverse, I feel: For is there not a strong affective power of the act of dancing and partying on the rim of an exploding volcano, especially for a privileged Western audience? Who is immune against a certain form of fascination or, more simply put, admiration of people who practice contemporary dance in this kind of circumstances? Yet is that not a sublime form of exoticism, already?

During the following days, many of the European dance students seem to be strongly affected by the performance and the presence of their Iranian colleagues. At different occasions, some of the participants express their gratitude for living and dancing in a much more privileged context. It feels like there is a growing consciousness that the simple act of moving to music (or without music) is not as neutral or normal as one thinks from a Western perspective. And, yet, there is something problematic about these comments, too. While they reflect on their own position, maybe even express a form of guilt or shame – they do not call for action, yet. Later on, I ask Mohamad Abbasi, about these expressions of gratitude from European dancers. He says: “Sometimes, I think, it has a negative side, as an Middle Eastern artist, to be here to show the people that they should be grateful for what they have. I don’t think they should be grateful. They should fight more, and they should fight with us, not against us. We should fight for something achievable – for all of us!”

(28 Feb 2020, 11:35)

gestural memo VIII
le corps commun
a côté
weird encounters – 6. what was it
la scène but in english

How does a large group of people that don’t know each another find itself? When is that moment that collective energies are assembled and activated? In this Biennale, I feel, it clearly happens on the 4th day, within the symposium ‘Updating Dance Education’ led by Monica Gillette.

After a 45 minute warm-up, to which no outsiders are allowed, Gillette introduces the main question of the symposium: How does digitalization influence dance education, what are the chances and challenges? Teachers and students are separated into different rooms and split up into smaller groups to discuss how they are affected by digital media in their professional (and private) lives. Maps are drawn, a small group discussion is held, about the influence on social media on self marketing. And, already, it becomes clear that while social media seems to be a burden (and a form of addiction that is hard to control) for some, for others – from different, mainly non-European contexts – they are a crucial source of information and inspiration when it comes to dance.

While, in the first round of group work, I believe to sense some frustration, and have a longer discussion with some participants about whether it is productive to separate teachers from students and what the ideological presumptions of this choice are, the second round of group work brings a surprise, at least in my point of view: Gillette invites the students (and Kerstin Evert, respectively, the teachers in the other room, but this I didn’t witness) to choose a dance video on Youtube and learn it together. Afterwards, the short dances are presented, and Gillette asks for impressions. Where I would have expected to hear comments about the difficulties to learn material from screen, something else happens: Students had partly shown each other and learnt dances from their different cultural contexts – vernacular, or non-Western forms that had not been present in the Biennale before. Also, this is the first time in the Biennale that the whole body of students spends time together. Somehow, therefore, other topics surface: Suddenly, there is an open discussion about privilege, about the limitedness of one’s own aesthetic and technical references, and about power structures – within and outside of the educational institutions. It might all be projection, but I feel that for a moment, a sort of group spirit arises among the assembled dance students. This becomes clear, also, when at the end of the symposium the teachers come back into the space.

In the final discussion, a few remarks stick out to me. Juan, a student from Columbia speaks up for a colleague from a different, German school that feels she is not being heard and listened to enough in her dance education program. He makes a strong pledge for horizontal structures in dance education. He insist on the fact that the way work relations are structured within dance education will have a great effect on how relations are built within the professional field afterwards. Some teachers seem a bit overwhelmed by the comment, many look at their phones. Finally, both David N. Russo from Munich and Elena Sterenberg from Bogotá insist on the necessity for institutions to change and work towards more equal relations among their members. Aseng Borang from Dehli asserts her anger about continuous structures of white privilege. And Duncan Routh highlights the potential of meeting so many dancers from around the world. He pledges to make a dance with someone from a distant place – via internet, without having to be in the same studio space – and invites others to do so as well. Feels like the assembly has found a momentary closure.

I notice that in the afternoon there is a large group of students from different schools teaching each other dances in a studio of K3. I wonder if this is the residue of the morning assembly.

(21 Feb 2020, 9:35)

“In India, we dance to make statements.” (Aseng Borang in the symposium ‘Updating Dance Education’) “Because our bodies are so restricted.”

in the studio
behind the curtain of assumptions
weird encounters – 5. did you hear
gestural memo VII

“I’m in Africa now. / Watch me. / Watch me fuck the present.”(nora chipaumire in her performance ‘#PUNK’) “I’m in Africa now. / Steal this. / Smash my brain.”

Important Questions II (an unfinished list):

How can I reveal my own criteria, how can I challenge my judgements? Why is dance so occupied with exhaustion – is it a critical reflection, or a secret affirmation of neoliberal imperatives of performance? What reasons are there to become aggressive on stage? How do you legitimize the violence you afflict upon your own body in dance training? What is it worth for? What does your gaze imply? Why do you like this art-form from the bottom of your heart? Would you still be as idealistic in your choices as when you decided to take up dance education in the first place? Does art need to propose alternatives?

gestural memo V
do to my body what you want to be done to yours
interview with aseng borang, school of culture and creative expressions (scce) at the ambedkar university, delhi
interview with elena sterenberg, pontificia universidad javeriana bogotá, columbia
gestural memo IV

“Why is the AK I T (German Dance Education Conference) always discussing behind closed doors?” (from a conversation with students on Thursday) “Aren’t we supposed to be the experts on what education actually feels like?”

“I simply have no stamina for this unending lack of about-ness.”(from my notes in the performance by Deborah Hay) “Instead, I imagine her flying out of the scene, at the end of the show. That would be truly fantastic.”

I am watching the solo ‘Fire’ by Deborah Hay, adapted and performed by Ros Warby. It feels like I am seeing everything through a looking glass, all the little details seem more present, more lucid to me. Ros Warby is highly comical, in a very refined way. She is wearing a white body, and black training slippers that look like some sort of tap dance shoes to me. Her solo starts center left in a spotlight. Her body twitches, and reconfigures itself in small staccato movements. All the while, she is making sounds – weird sounds, part chewing, part mumbling, part bird chatter – that are amplified by the small portable microphone attached to her head. After a while she moves towards the audience, the light opens up. Out of the beautiful, non-signifying chattering sounds, some questions arise: Who are you? What do you want? Were are u from? Waves of giggles from the audience. People that have difficulties holding themselves. Ros Warby seems to be able to move every single muscle of her face separately. She is making everyone feel happy and awkward at the same time.

I feel plunged into a curious field of myriad details. The ripples of the skin of Warby’s ankles when she kneels down, the exact position of her fingers plus the energies she is sending out from them, the breath of my neighbor. Here, everything is delicate, delicate in a way that affects my note-taking on the small paper-pad I brought with me. I hear the sound of the pen, I feel it touching the paper, I find my handwriting is altered in weird ways. For a moment, I am all caught by my discovery that the top of Warby’s ears are not covered by the white headband she is wearing.

Her movements are highly stylized, yet easy and fluent. It feels as if she is looking at her own vocabulary – some of it idiosyncratic, but lots of ballet on the way – from a slight distance. A form of irony – about herself, her body, her vocabulary, the situation of being watched, the audience, that whole theater apparatus – that is more loving, more caring, more fierce than anything else. It makes me think, again, that here the dance is all about the skillful manipulation of attention. In this case, executed by someone who is obviously highly trained. How does the training matter, I ask myself. Is this transposable to different dance styles, contexts, forms? How would the basic procedure – a form of enjoyment, full commitment, yet almost disinterested mastery of self-awareness – change? (Unfinished thought, to be continued…)

(20 Feb 2020, 10:35)

gestural memo III
stardust
weird encounters – 4. you look sad today

A poem (sorry, it is in German) for Deborah Hay/Eva Mohn, written as I was watching
‘The Man Who Grew Common in Wisdom’ – Part II: ‘The Gardener‘:

Waldschrate
laufen durch den Wald
kleine Zwerge
oder Berge
für und wider
sind vermählt
schau durchs Fernglas
kleine Weile
peile, peile
Deinen Stern

Fährte
führ’ mich ins Gebirge
der Verknoten-
Punkte
für ein Eislaufen
und Sahnecrème

(19 Feb 2020, 23:34)

through the looking glass
weird encounters – 3. it feels like something is growing
center chest / Feb 18

There is so much that seems important to me in Claire Cunningham’s performance ‘4 Legs Good’, especially for questions around dance education, training and technique. // Claire Cunningham is a self-identifying disabled artist from Scotland. She dislikes formality which is why she starts her lecture performance with an informal conversation. It is fantastic how she immediately establishes the right tone. Never too distant, never too private. Her performance lecture talks about and demonstrates how she uses, misuses and experiments with her two elbow-crutches as an artistic practice. She insists on the fact that the two crutches have closed cuffs, that those cuffs are flexible, but – most importantly – that she has been using the same model of crutches for a long time. This is, because they are the most important tool for and specific to her movement practices. The crutches are her dancing partners, an almost organic extension of her body, the lens through which she views and experiences the world. // There is so much, I feel, that we can learn from this lecture performance: There is the way she names and makes transparent her teachers and dancing-partners. Not only does she refer to a history of disabled artists we might not know, but in rendering her own education and inspiration transparent, she takes us in into her practice. One can literally feel how the colloquial, but direct tone that she establishes on stage draws the audience in. Here, someone is really sharing what they are working on, and that feels engaging. What she does, is to ‘study’ (very much in the sense of Moten and Harney – a careful, insistent, but never-ending work of loving inquiry): The aesthetic experience is generated from the careful and curious examination of her material (both the body and the crutches) and the conditions that come with it. In the case of Cunningham, this brings up the question of what she calls ‘bespoke training’: A training beyond conventional forms or techniques, based on her very body, its curiosity, and the encounter with specific teachers and dancing partners. In how far does that apply to all training, I ask myself. Or: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it were so? Finally, there is so much to learn about how we normalize bodies, implicitly and without noticing it. For Cunninham, standing on two legs, in parallel position, is but a ‘normative stand’. Her practice isn’t limited to two legs – she has four, which makes her a quadruped – a condition, she insists, that is not simply a limitation but, very often, much more interesting and rewarding than two-legged existence.

fine people

“My center is in my chest.” (Claire Cunningham in her performance ‘4 Legs Good’) “And my plié is in my shoulders.”

Important Questions I (an unfinished list):

What is a VPN-Client, and why is it so important for Iranian dancers? Did you ever think about the fact that access to information on the internet is a huge privilege? Why does Deborah Hay still utilize so much ballet vocabulary? Can institutions provide more digital support for dance artists? Why are the burning issues always discussed behind closed doors? Who’s afraid of giving up their chairs? Who is struggling with language, who is not? How much time do I spend on my mobile? How do we educate strong democrats, that – in their artistic work, and as citizens – are able to fight fascism? How to teach technique via internet? Is the internet dead already?

“Feel free to slow me down!” (Eylül Fidan Akinci in her introduction to the Do-Shop ‘Dance Herstories’) “This is for you. You are in control.”

weird encounters / 2. do you want to build a shelter
double prosthesis
gestural memo II

Then, there is this little episode that Mohamad Abassi, founder and director of the Invisible Center of Contemporary Dance in Tehran, Iran, tells me on the first evening: When his students applied for a visa to travel to Germany for the Biennale, the responsible person in the German consulate demanded that they come to the embassy for a kind of private performance, in order to physically prove that they are dancers. Indeed, the dancers thus travelled to the consulate, in order to literally perform their artist status. Abassi, their teacher and mentor, is not allowed to enter with them. When they get out of the office, they tell him the following: It was when they warmed up, already, that the official was satisfied. You warm up, so that means, you must be dancers.

weird encounters – 1. feels like i have left

Biennale Opening / Februar 17, 2020 

Vision may be a good sense, if you like to get an overview. Vision orients us spatially. It helps us find our way, if we are not visually impaired. It provides for schemes and outlines, abstracted forms. If you get lost in visual meditation, it provides for fluid detail. But sometimes vision is all overwhelmed by what is happening. Your eyes disturbed by too much to take in. Too much, and not just visually.

We need to look at dance, we cannot speak about it, says John Neumeier, director of Hamburg Ballet and its ballet school, at the opening ceremony. Carsten Brosda, the cultural minister of Hamburg, on the other hand, is fascinated by dance notation. If we contemplated the abstract symbols, the indexes that signified what will be expressed, just like we looked at the writing of a foreign language, what would we understand?

The opening ceremony of the 7th Biennale Tanzausbildung, resounds with glorious claims and projections that dance is often charged with. A universal language, a place in which difference is experienced and valued, a practice ground for widening perspectives, an arena in which to unfold the politicality of the body. Nine national schools, nine international schools – more than 150 dancers from all over the world, plus dance educators, educational institutions, and further artists and dancers. The Biennale is meant to be a place for exchange. A place for negotiation beyond technique, styles, beyond national borders. Dance is international, it has always been.

In many ways, I think, it is good that the abstract claims about what a festival like this can do, what dance can do – in terms of creating conditions for relating to otherness, to things and people and styles and political contexts that we don’t know – are put into question immediately:

The festival starts with a first presentation of students work from different schools. After the presentation of students from HZT Berlin, a performance of students from Abidjan, Ivory Coast is supposed to happen. But it cannot. Four out of five students from ‘GLS – La Fabrique Culturelle’ from Abidjan, that were supposed to participate in the Biennale, had their visa application declined. They cannot, therefore, take part in this gathering, they cannot perform at Kampnagel.

As they are excluded from the event, the director of their school, Frank Edmond Yao, and one of his students, Djédjé Éric Gbadie (who was allowed to enter the EU because of a previous professional engagement in Germany), after performing a short dance, read a letter from the students. In the letter, the students express their anger about the rejection of their visas, their unfulfilled hopes for exchange and commonality, and their sadness about not being able to learn from their fellow dance students. We are forced to admit: The internationality that the Biennale celebrates, it does not include – as the students themselves precisely analyze in their letter – these students form Abidjan, neither their friends, their families, their neighbors.

The moment on stage, the fact that the voice of the director and his student crumble, that they are impersonating an absence, one that is not really visible, it leaves our eyes empty. Rather, it leaves us with a set of questions that will not be answered here and now. There is no beyond the bubble. Inside/out. If there was a we that functioned as a host, that performed the fragile act of hospitality, to dancers from other places, how was that we challenged by its own powerlessness to welcome them?

After the reading of the letter, the floor could not be more slippery. The fragility of involuntarily having to answer to this letter turns Beethoven Dances, the performance of the Ballet School of Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier, into some kind of requiem. The politics of sorting bodies, along the lines of how they look, and, concurrently, along the lines of how and where they are allowed to move, weighs heavily – so heavily that it seems as if the floor itself was but a friendly companion, providing too little resistance for ballet slippers, making us stumble, much as the students from Berlin stumbled when receiving their applause.

Dance is not a universal language. You need to learn how to read and how to speak it. It’s full of complex cultural and historical codes. Furthermore, who is allowed to speak, here and now, is never without violence. In the end, I stay with Kerstin Evert, director of K3, and her statement: Nothing is comparable to anything else, in this context – the Biennale. Let things be next to one another, may they infect each-other. That would be enough. What we’d see and feel and were able to say about being alongside one another – we will need to find out. We can’t foresee that.

(18 Feb 2020, 11:24)

Ruptured Eyes / Feb 17
if we were able to start from here…
gestural memo I

“Some time ago, I promised myself not do judge any body dancing.” (from the performance ‘Toxic Toxicity’ by students form HZT Berlin) “Then I asked myself, what is this Biennale really there for?”

How to celebrate, to truly celebrate diversity, when you know that your scope of vision is always limited? How to dive into the fantastic, the super-joyful encounter with others, without forgetting all those that were not allowed to be part of this gathering, that are not here today, for reasons that are beyond their will and power? How to value diversity when it has become a symbolic value long time ago?

inside/out