Yesterday I was a part of this:
I was invited to give an introduction to post-dance, and this is what I presented:
(Please note that it is written as a presentation and has not been proofread)
Thank you so much to Block Universe and Tate Modern for having me and for putting post-dance on the agenda for a UK audience.
Block Universe/Tate Modern | 26.05.2019
As an academic I tend to weigh back and forth, not drawing to distinct conclusions, being correct and following methods. Today I want to be a little more bombastic, aiming on a propaganda talk for post-dance, where I want to focus on the importance of the dance field taking ownership over its past, present and future – and playing an active and reflected role in the discussion about dance. As the post-dance-activist that I am, I will focus on post-dance being a tool, or an opener for that discussion.
In my work with post-dance, I have used this book a lot: Critical Moves by the American sociologist and dancer Randy Martin (1998). And he points out that: «To outline a field called «dance» requires a positive construction». So, that’s my aim today.
For me, it all comes down to this one simple and extremely difficult question to answer: What is dance?
Just think about it for a second …
Over the past three years I have asked a lot of different people that question. Ask the question to dancers, and you get an open answer like: Body and space in time. Ask me three years ago and I would have answered: Movement. Or as my boyfriend answered yesterday: Movement on stage, preferably to music.
So how do we answer that question – so that it is relevant for all kinds of dance expressions today?
In my research I have come across a few different attempts or approaches.
Dance is whatever people call dancing.
This approach is from Randy Martins book Critical Moves.
He describes the answer as unsatisfying in its undermining of the question itself.
But I think he draws a relevant picture of today’s complex dance scene where there are a lot of different understandings of dance in play at the same time – to the point where it almost seems individual.
What is dance is also connected with another question that is hard to answer – What is art?
One approach is: Art is what artist do. Or in our case: Dance is what dancers do?
This approach might also be a method to survey what dance is – or post-dance is – through the study of dancers, their practise and performances. But it also leads to other questions like: What makes a dancer? – Maybe a discussion for later?
One last approach: To turn the question: What is not dance?
Not so positive. Over the past three years I have also asked this question a lot and I have gotten a lot of blank answers and negative feedback. Seems dance can be everything … or nothing.
I have one answer: Dance is not postdramatic theatre!
I have a theatre background with a BA in theatre studies and an MA in dramaturgy. Hans Thies Lehmann’s Postdramatic theatre have been one of the pillars of my education. For me, post-dance is a term or concept for an expanded understanding of dance. Therefor I, with my background find it natural to compare post-dance with postdramatic theatre.
An expanded understanding of dance – meaning an understanding of dance that is free from movement as its definitional base – demands a non- hierarchical (equal) view on the elements of dance, meaning that to dance is not or does not have to be the main component of dance as artform. Like postdramatic did for theatre, making the dramatic aspect equal to other elements of theatre making.
I could say a lot about postdramatic theatre, both good and bad. But I will say that it is a very successful terminology – sometimes overused. It has the potential to be an umbrella term for all interdisciplinary and crossover art expressions. Dance performances with focus on text or spoken words, or visual displays – in other words dance performances with movement as a secondary or not at all present element, could easily fall in under the postdramatic umbrella. But my point is, and this is important – Not on dance’s own premises!
(The academic in me need to point out that this is not the intension of Hans Thies Lehmann’s term, but how it is used. The main critic of his term is the miscommunication between the theory and the use of it – maybe due to the belated English translation of his book)
Yes, there are traditions for dramatic or more narrative orientated dance traditions. But dance has never been a dramatic artform and can therefore not be postdramatic. It is an undermining of dance, its tradition, history and practise. And it does not serve dance to not stand on its own, because our understanding of dance is to limited, and therefore fall into another artforms terminology.
I think we could look at post-dance as a counterpart– or even better, a rebellion against the postdramatic. To view it as a similar movement – but on dance’s own premises!
Post-dance is a concept, a «source-concept» as it says in the book. Kind of a think tank – drawing few conclusions, being open to suggestions. That also means that it lacks a theory and defined content (here the academic view sneaks in again). But still it has caught the attention of the field and have some kind of momentum – getting the conversation started. But is it something new?
In 1998, this book was published (the earlier mentioned Critical Moves by Randy Martin). In this book he asks for a re-conceptualization of dance. Challenging body movement as the definitional base of dance.
In 2006, André Lepecki published his book Exhausting Dance. He asks for a reconfiguration. And I quote:
«[The] theoretical dialogue departs from the observation that the dances that refuse to be confined to a constant «flow or continuum of movement» indicate a reconfiguration of dance’s relationship to its coming into presence.»
Re-conceptualization, reconfiguration or post-dance (post-dance might be a little catchier, and maybe that’s why it has gotten a bit more attention). The timeline from Randy Martin in 1998 to post-dance, now 20 years later, shows a continues discussion about what dance is – and that the understanding of dance as «body movement» or «flow or continuum of movement» is not only perceived as limiting today but has been the last decades.
I could go further back in time, for example to the dance dramaturg coming into dance in the 1980’s. But this is just to give you an overview and point out that post-dance, although the term is new, the intension or movement behind it has been going on for a while. And maybe now is the time to do something about it, – building on the momentum post-dance already have.
Of course, we could focus on discussing post-dance as a term itself, but for me that is secondary to the conversation the term enables and draws attention to.
To no longer understand to dance as the definitional base and main element of dance is a manoeuvre that can’t be easily concluded. Like André Lepecki puts it:
«… it challenges absolutely the very «saleability» of the dance object by withdrawing quite often from it what should be its distinctive (market) trait: dance.»
This feeling might also be enhanced using the post prefix. A post term/concept establishes in its function a distinction from a pre-term. Exactly how such a distinction take place can be perceived as context-dependent and thus different from concept to concept. For example, it may be a dismissive distinction. In the case of post-dance, it would be a rejection of dance. Such a (mis)understanding of the term highlights a weakness in the terminology of the term. Post-What-Kind-Of-Dance?
In comparison, in post-dramatic theatre, the term points out which theatre tradition the term breaks out off or comes after, dramatic theatre and not theatre itself. To defend post-dance, I think it is difficult to find that «something» that would make the term clearer. I doubt post-dance dance would be a hit.
But what if we look at the post, not as a dismissive after – but as a beyond. The beyond-perspective can be understood as an extension beyond the original term. Like dance has outgrown itself. It works both as a disbarment of post as a dismissive and absolute distinction – which often is seen as something negative, but it also opens up to a more spatial and not so temporarily shift from before till after. Post-dance is in that perspective a term that acknowledges that dance over time has changed and expanded – and will continue to change and expand in the future.
In the case of theatre, we firstly talk about theatre, then the subgenres dramatic and postdramatic. Couldn’t that be the case for dance as well?
Over to the propaganda:
Art and artist are breaking boundaries, as they should. That makes art hard to study and it makes it hard to conclude. And academics are always at least two steps behind.
It is clearly a quality and an openness in understanding post-dance as a «source concept». But it is also harmless and vague, giving post-dance the value of being everything and nothing at the same time. I believe that we must dare to define a framework for what post-dance is for post-dance to have an impact, artistically but also in a bigger cultural politic perspective.
The need for an extended understanding of dance might not be most imminent within the experimental dance field – where dancers define dance as body in space over time. But it is important for their communication with the «outsiders» – the audience expecting movement to music, the founding counsellor not approving the application due to a miscommunication of artform, or the critic criticizing dancer who doesn’t dance – and again have an impact on founding.
The will to conclude has been awaiting. But I think the difference from Randy Martin wrote Critical Moves twenty years ago till today is a more self-reflected dance field. Post-dance can end up as a trend concept that eventually will blow over, but I’m experiencing the interest and the discussion around the term as a chime for change – and maybe even a start of a rebellion (towards postdramatic theatre)