terça-feira, setembro 05, 2006

O Síndroma de Stendhal (III): Criticism and Politics, por Arnd Wesseman

O terceiro texto integrado no dossier especial de aniversário do blog O Melhor Anjo é uma conversa com o coreógrafo francês, radicado em Berlim, Xavier Le Roy, e a coreógrafa sul-africana Robyn Orlin, sobre as relações entre criação, política e crítica. A conversa foi conduzida por Arnd Wesseman, editor da revista de dança alemã Ballet-tanz. O encontro serviu para o confrontar dos espectáculos dos dois coreógrafos com algumas posições mais correntes no discurso coreográfico. Discute-se ainda o modo como a retórica política pode induzir os processos criativos em erro, bem como a necessidade de pensar acerca das responsabilades de um espectáculo.

Criticism and Politics
- a conversation with Xavier Le Roy and Robyn Orlin
por Arnd Wesseman

Illegal immigrants are human, even if they do not possess valid documents. In French they are called the "Sans papiers", in German political-speak they are "undesirable": no identification, no civil rights. The Berlin-based choreographer Xavier Le Roy's commitment to helping these personae non grata is in no way opposed to his work as a choreographer. What others non-analytically call dance can be defined as movement performed in time by a group of people; a physical occurrence on a social stage. This is where dance's political potential lies. Xavier Le Roy talked to Robyn Orlin, the South African choreographer who set the course for her future work in 1990 with pieces like "Explaining Loss To A Young Ballerina" and "Explaining Conflict To A Dying Ballerina". For her, dance is not about continuing traditions but about examining social situations through dance. With "F****" she presented the Germans their "Faust" anew. National and ancient myths, dying swans and tutus do not have to be obsessively "historically correct" replicas but can also reflect current circumstances – something which has gone without saying in drama for some time.

aw: Does dance still have a political content? Or: Can dance be seen as a political tool?

xl: The latter, no, I don't think so. And what is a political content? What is content in a dance piece? Do you mean simply the representation of a political issue? You cannot separate the content from the form, can you? But this is not why you are asking me, I presume ...

aw: You are involved in the issues of the "Sans Papiers", but there is no attempt to represent their problems on stage...

xl: No. That's correct.

aw: And what about you?

ro: Regarding the Sans papiers? I would be interested, but I think it is more important to understand whether dance is a sort of representation at all, and to understand what it is to be political ... Think of somebody drawing beautiful landscapes at the height of apartheid. This can be interpreted as politically provocative.

aw: But isn't drawing landscapes in that case just the manifestation of an inner migration?

ro: There are many ways to work politically. Our lives are political all the time. Drinking this coffee now is political. Where does this coffee come from and how were the workers paid and how did it get here – it's very easy to make a political issue out of everything. A cup of coffee is, in fact, the "object" of representation, the manifestation of a whole system in which we live. In the dance world we only have to look more carefully at the body, as a representative as well, but also at the structures that surround it. So, for me there is a lot of room in the dance world to be political.

xl: In one way or another, by producing a choreography and presenting it, you cannot help being political. You make choices, whether referring to a content or not, and already these decisions are political.

aw: Let's take an example of content: "Giszelle", referring to "Giselle", (by Xavier Le Roy), or "Rock My Tutu" (by Robin Orlin), referring to "Swan Lake".

ro: I think "Rock My Tutu" was a deconstruction, which in turn became political

aw: ... according to its tradition ...

ro: ... according to the tradition, yes, and it's important to question tradition.

aw: Is this already a political question?

ro: Yes, of course. My latest piece, "Babysitting Caspar ...", focuses on the museum guards who take care of art works. I not only have a need to deconstruct the art work, but also the system to which this art is bound. And tradition is part of this system.

xl: It is only politics if you understand it as "a specific way of acting put into practice by a particular kind of subject and deriving from a particular kind of rationality" as Jacques Rancière said. It is about, as Robyn said, which questions I ask or re-ask within the system or context in which I have the possibility to act. The basic questions are, what you produce, how you produce it and what this thing will produce? That's how you are political.

aw: Let me take as another example your "E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S.", as an open process instead of a performance with fixed rules.

xl: Nonetheless, there were rules, there was criticism, because there was a system to refer to, because the whole point is: we cannot escape the system. We are part of it. The question is how we can transform it if we are not satisfied with the dominating structures. We have two choices: you can be satisfied or dissatisfied with society. If you are satisfied, you regard only what has satisfied you already. If you are not satisfied, you might need to criticise, to provoke change, or you long for other needs or other meanings. Because you have an alternative position within this system, these influences are a big deal in your decisions. And I think we, or at least I, have a very privileged position towards this problem ...

ro: How can you be "privileged" within the structures of the dance world?

xl: That's up to everybody [exercising their] own right within the constraints of the system we live in. To be able to choose is a privilege built on key decisions. That's not easy. I remember I started to think about this when I could have done another piece for four dancers after my solo, as expected: just reproduce the pre-existing ways of social development, of how a choreographer is supposed to get more attention and reach a bigger audience. But I didn't want to do it for exactly this reason. I didn't want to just re-use a system without questioning it.

ro: That's exactly the problem in ballet, too. Why do dancers use an arabesque? There must have been a reason for it a long time ago: it has a beautiful line and aesthetic for some people. And now it just happens, only for its beauty. Isn't this a boring notion? It is about reinventing and not just reproducing. That's what we have learnt from the "Judson Era" which was indeed a radical movement, in its time ...

xl: Yvonne Rainer hasn't stopped yet.

ro: That's true, but are we pointing in as interesting a direction as they did?

xl: You mean the use and change of conventions. The transformation of conventions. I would really understand this as [causing] change rather than saying "Pah, balls to conventions", because if you do exactly the opposite, you are doing exactly the same. It is only the black side of the white side. The position you are fighting against is then already included in your position; it is preserved in it, as you have to be aware that the dominant economy is included in everything, even criticism. This is a problem with any "system": it swallows everything, you have no choice, it is impossible to be outside of it.

aw: I remember another sentence from your "Product Of Circumstances" saying something like fifty percent of a performance is just indicating your right to be on stage; showing, for instance, the state of your training. Isn't this relying on the need for conventions as well?

xl: Yes, but actually I was referring to the relationship between research and production activities and laboratory practises. It has similarities to dance – look how laboratory practise and research is understood and used today in the context of choreographic art: as something which is not producing, which is not productive in an "economical" sense. Over the last years, people's understanding and use of research has got worse and worse. A very romantic attitude. Research equals non-production is a dangerous understanding of research and production. We have to produce to survive, or maybe not?

ro: And that's probably the reason why in the dance world at the moment not a lot of really interesting stuff is happening, in terms of the consumer, the critic, the producer. What they are all waiting for is an art that cannot fail. But, on the other hand, the work is now quickly consumed by the public, the critics and the presenter – will this process accelerate, or what will happen to this process?

aw: Aren't these the same people who express their love for dance history by strongly criticising any repetition although they love dance especially because it's so unrepeatable?

ro: That's truly political ... But honestly, we are not looking at history in an interesting way to reinvent ourselves. I think we are not reading history enough to see where we have to go, in order to pose better questions.

xl: You know this project by Quatuor Albrecht Knust, who recreated a1970 piece by Yvonne Rainer, "Continuous Project-Altered Daily", tore-present her? I proposed to present this project in Berlin, and the reaction was, we need something new. This is old. Re-activating fairly recent history did not seem to them to have any relevance for today's dance culture. This was in 1996. Baryshnikov had more credibility when he did it in another form five or six years later.

ro: Judson was a very important political movement. They asked basic questions on the essence of dance, of running, of walking, of the systems in movement and dance.

aw: But Judson was supported by the general political discussion going on in society at the time. What about today?

ro: I think a lot of important questions got asked in the sixties. I don't know if we can simply ask these questions again. The communities have changed, the computer is invented, mechanisation and perhaps mechanisms have changed.

xl: Aren't you scared?

ro: Sometimes.

aw: Take globalisation, fast-track information, which is already on the other side of the world while we are still talking here ...

ro: I am worried.

xl: We transform the information, since we do not understand information just as an exact replication. This is why dance and choreography are so interesting, because they emphasise the fact that there is no such thing as reproduction of information without transformation. When you repeat a step or a piece of information, you are coming to the point: there is no repetition without difference, according to Gilles Deleuze, and there is no difference without repetition. By definition, the repeated step is never the same as the one you want to repeat. It is a part of our subjective constructions; it changes and can never be objectified.

aw: But what is the difference today? In earlier times, information was always represented by a body. When a war was lost, somebody had to report it. Information used to be in-corporated; today it is digitalised ...

ro: It's a matter of how we restore history and how we question it.

aw: So, we still need representation?

xl: Of course you can represent anything, let's say, hunger, or whatever else is affecting our times, or history as a non-acceptable and unbearable catastrophe. But the question is still, why represent hunger in a theatre? To produce what? I really wouldn't know how to do it.

ro: What is, then, the role of the theatre? A place to be entertained in? A place to be made demands on? A place to sway along to music?

xl: For me, the theatre is a place of discourse. It's a place where you can stage different questions. You may even change something, maybe not the world but a certain understanding of it ...

ro: So, why not deal with hunger in the theatre?

xl: Is theatre really the place to stage this? The question again is how to do it. Do we have a form for this, and not only the content?

ro: But does dance have to live in a cultural vacuum? How do we act there? Shouldn't this vacuum be burst? Let some fresh air in!

xl: Theatre is a medium and whatever you do, it is not related to any reality as such, but to this medium itself. I do not see how this medium is able to grapple with something like hunger. The only hunger I see staged is the anorexia problem of some dancers.

ro: I can tell you about real hunger in Africa. And I don't see a single reason why it can't be explored within the theatre. I don't see theatre as this very precious place, and even if we are talking about anorexia, about self-hatred, I don't see one reason not to show it in a theatre.

xl: I don't mean that theatre or dance only relates to its medium, without any contact to the outside world. I think, in a theatre you can propose things which could activate a perception of your point of view on hunger, but maybe not by putting hunger very clearly on stage.

ro: Okay, that's an artistic problem. But what about your suggestion that theatre is a place for discourse? Discourse equals questioning equals taking the lid off things equals discourse equals politics ...

xl: What I try to offer on stage is something I can relate to and suggest to an audience, that is close to my position and so offers some kind of question. How should I take up a convincing position on hunger in order to question our understanding of hunger?

ro: I show work at Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, I'm petrified and in awe and critical, since this is like the Carnegie Hall of dance in Europe, and here I come with my pieces, my props, my little light bulbs in short simple pieces and the public like it or they don't, but this "Carnegie" feeling cannot stop me from working on issues of hunger, Sans Papiers, Aids, homophobia or racism ...

aw: But is theatre still the right place for it? Didn't public discussion of political issues leave the theatre a long time ago? Where is the discourse?

xl: I believe that when people gather in a theatre, each spectator simultaneously alone and an integral part of a period of time, a community is built, where interest is heightened according to what is produced by this act. I think this emphasises the aspect of discourse as an exchange. But how do you use this set-up? How is this set-up perceived? This is also valid in the Théâtre de la Ville, which you mentioned, which represents a frame of specific cultural and social constructions, where we can pose this question in order to create such a discourse. And this frame also affects and conditions the proposals you make to the spectators. That's why I try to include questions about the frame here. I operate within the discourse because it is not independent. The great thing about a theatre like this is that it is similar to a lot of other social constructions and the audience is there.

aw: Like in a church?

ro: Greek theatre wasn't derived from churches. Theatre then came from a need to communicate. In Africa it originated from story-telling. I don't see theatre or dance as such a rigid architectural form, oras an aesthetically pre-defined production. It is everywhere – in thestreets. At the moment in South Africa, the most interesting theatre is on television every day when the Parliament is transmitted for two hours in the afternoon. It's entertaining, it's a bit of dance, it's highly political, it's full of discourse and it touches our lives directly. When we get angry in South Africa, it could well be defined in "Judson" terms as dancing, going by what we have said here today, and this is: very political.

Arnd Wesseman

Arnd Wesseman é editor da revista de dança alemã Ballet-tanz. Este diálogo com os coreógrafos Xavier Le Roy e Robyn Orlin foi publicado originalmente na Ballet-tanz em Fevereiro 2003, e gentilmente cedido pelo autor para integrar este dossier. Links, edit e forografias da responsabilidade do blog. Outros textos de Arnd Wesseman podem ser lidos aqui.

Já publicados no dossier O Síndroma de Stendhal: Corpo Colonizado, por André Lepecki; A cat with nine lives, por Margareta Sörenson.

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