On standstills and slowness in contemporary choreography
etween inner rhythm and external image: performers who wrestle with inner physical processes create a new aesthetic, possibly even as a contribution to a new political ethic. Astrid Kaminski contemplates the importance of slowing down and accelerating in contemporary dance.
A staircase over which an outstretched body models itself downwards, headfirst and so slowly that its locomotion is almost not noticed as one passes by. "Intermission” was created by Maria Hassabi in 2013 for an auditorium on a flight of stairs within the context of the 55th Venice Biennale and has since then in several variations been performed globally in museums. The performance seems to have become an icon of a contemporary aesthetic of halting, interruption and resistance to a temporality perpetuating itself in linear logic. The effect that someone almost stumbles over a prostrate body because he or she is looking at a mobile phone while climbing stairs is almost in and of itself a part of Hassabi's staging.
In recent years, not only "Intermission” but also many other choreographies have dealt with the reclining and/or slowed-down body – including the real-time stage sleep of the performer Robert Steijn or the famous death simulation workshops of Keith Hennessy. This is happening on stage as well as in the auditorium. Two examples of many: In Angela Schubot's meditation "The Fire From Within”, a part of the trilogy Body Without Power (2014/15), we laid down for two hours on our self-built mat and pillow islands and listened to a long poem about body processes. In "Useless Land” by Catalina Insignares and Carolina Mendonça, which was performed in the monastery ruins behind Berlin's Alexanderplatz in summer 2018, we were able to listen to a collage of texts from speculative materialism, lying down until dawn, and waking up now and again in a state between sentences and dreams.
Extreme intensity at an external standstill
Slowly, however, my impression that the terms "halting, interruption, resistance” suggest a deceleration metaphor changes, by looking at people lying down or when I consider my own lying down; they seem only the first and most superficial associations. Around the same time Hassabi premiereds "Intermission”, the "Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics” by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams was published. As the title already says, the manifesto was not aimed at deceleration but at the opposite. The authors see the way out of futurelessness and resource depletion in the appropriation and mastery of technologies – away from a neoliberal capitalism close to the political right and towards a post-capitalist, technologically innovative society.
This blasting of neoliberal capitalism from the inside, which acts from the assumption of a "world without an outside”, has inspired many reactions, criticisms and new interpretations. The philosopher Armen Avanessian compiled them in two volumes (#2 together with Robin Mackay) for Merve-Verlag. With regard to the body, the Marxist philosopher Franco Bifo Berardi criticizes the fact that acceleration has a clear bodily limit: At a point, your veins will burst. The manifesto author Alex Williams himself considers that the concept of "acceleration” reduces an "extremely complex structure of systems and dynamics to a rather simplistic metaphor, a politics of tempi”. Finally, the queer theorist Patricia MacCormack proposes – and this is the essential link for my thoughts on dance – to think of "time as intensity” and searches for an "accelerationist aesthetic that does not confuse speed with capitalism's rushing delusion of substitutability, but recognizes intensity in every movement and thus every movement as acceleration”.
Training ground for the imagination
What does this mean in relation to dance? An interpretation would be: dance wildly. Another which e.g. the choreographer Kat Válastur makes the premise of her work is: The living body can never be still or immobile, it is permanently in a state of extreme activity. From this point of view, the outwardly halted or slowed body could be regarded less as an anti-acceleration cipher than as a form of intensity, as is elaborated by MacCormack: it could be – as a figuration of an inverse reality of movement that lies beyond immediate visibility – the opening into another temporality and, beyond that, a training ground for the power of imagination which the ‚acceleration authors‘ consider as a necessary condition against the inevitably catastrophic visions of a future based on the lack of imagination.
But what does it look like? How can such internal intensities be revealed to an external view? For years, "somatics” was almost a swearword in dance performance aesthetics. This situation is about to change – through broader public interest in somatic techniques and, on the other hand, through an expanded discourse and a changed sensuality, foremost in relation to the dominant sense of sight. Over the past 15 years, choreographic work done with the body has found its way into museums. Thus the perspective shifted from the one typical in theatre, which expects a continuous movement. The gaze of museum visitors lets itself be drawn to a stationary object, allows it as well as the surroundings to take effect. If this way of viewing now meets the living body without a fourth wall, an interaction between the performers and the viewers might be the result.
In order to expand these experiences, other senses are currently being more involved as well: hearing with the whole body in works by Isabel Lewis or Laurent Chétouane, feeling in a recent work ("Male Breast Feeding", 2018) by Antonija Livingstone (whose pet, by the way, is a snail!), touching in "Subjects of Position" (2018) by Zwoisy Mears-Clarke. At the same time, the changed way of seeing also had an effect on the theatre space and could be conducive to works as enchased as those of the young Daina Ashbee, for example, who deals with physically stored traumas - or, quite differently, a work like Sheena McGrandles’ durational performance "Jaded” (2017) in which the performers move in slow motion for over three hours.
Responsible posthuman beings
Angela Schubot developed another, perhaps the most radical kind of immersion in her Body Without Power trilogy, in which she approached the paradox of a body presence that is permeable to space via real-time meditations: "In a zero-sum economy of power, no one else can occupy the space I occupy. I tried to reverse this principle by permeating the body with space.” Politically speaking, Schubot has found with this hypothesis a possible means to override the chain reaction of capitalism-appropriation-(neo-)colonialism.
With regard to overcoming anthropocentric dominance, a quite large number of choreographers have dealt with animal realities, and these works often have to do with reclining bodies and slowed down movements as well: Xavier Le Roy's "low pieces” (2011) took place lying, sitting and on all fours; in Alexandra Pirici's "Aggregate” (2017) the performers laid in eel colonies or solidified into tigers and gorillas. Angela Schubot and her long-standing artistic partner Jared Gradinger have meanwhile gone one step further and describe their most recent works, such as "Yew outside” (2018) in the Botanical Garden in Berlin-Pankow, as "Co-creation with nature”. In the research work for their new piece, which will premiere at the end of February at HAU, they created an impressive experience of extreme intensity while externally being motionless – by being buried in the earth for up to two hours. Jared Gradinger describes the feeling: "We were shivering. Maybe it was the cold, but in a sense, it was not cold. It was pure energy."
At this point, we can yet again quote Patricia MacCormack, who in her acceleration essay explores the question of "what contribution aesthetics can make to mobilizing an ethical configuration of desire”: "If we want to be responsible posthuman beings, we must consider near futures, small tactical goals, and the strategic connection between all those things that increase the expressiveness of other life forms [...]."
The perception in general as well as the perception of inner body processes or processes of connection with other life forms and beings in particular per se requires a reduction of external movement to a standstill. In this respect, it seems more than a hypothesis that the dimensions of lying down or of slowed movement can be quite different from those of stopping and caesura: They can both be transitory and transformational - a horizontal entry into possible futures. The prostrate body, which radically slows down but is never still, becomes a vehicle that can redesign the world from within. This can go as far as reaching the ultimate experience of death, which, as Jared Gradinger says by thinking of microbial processes, is "only a word for another form of life.
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