A Late Night Theory of Post-Dance (a selfinterview)

PDF available here.

(Ana Vujanović, 2017)

It was around 10 P.M. when I arrived. I found her in one of her temporary apartments. A spacious living and dinning room, almost empty, with wooden floors and big windows, curtains wide open. It was in a small, three story building facing Westerpark, in Amsterdam. She made tea and at first looked willing to talk, but when she sat at the table she briefly glanced at the computer screen and then turned her head and looked towards the glass door of the balcony… I saw her withdrawing into herself like a candle in the dark… She sucked the whole energy of the room. Soon after that thought— or was it a feeling? — had arisen, I saw it leave me, and before it was immersed in the energy flow, the feeling-thought turned back, grabbed me by the hand and took me outside of myself. Now externalized, I was observing that wild woman with clear thoughts, who has been ready to abandon them whenever she was asked the right question. I hovered between her and myself. The screen lightened her profile. It didn’t say much. She was perfectly calm and only her eyes were moving rapidly as if she were reading or dreaming. I was under the impression she had forgotten that I was there, and it was not easy to break the silence in which she apparently felt comfortable. But I promised Mårten Spångberg that I would write 15 pages about post-dance and I knew I couldn’t do it without her. So… well, fuck it.

AV: It’s very late for an interview but I was told you wouldn’t mind.

AV: In fact, I prefer it this way. Now I’m a little tired after the whole day of teaching, and it’s similar to being drunk or drugged: borders dissolve.

As she started speaking the whole atmosphere changed. When she looked across the room at a big mirror hanging on the wall behind me — or maybe she looked at me? — we both quickly turned back to our common positions within ourselves. Instantaneously, I regained confidence and clarity of mind.

AV: Maybe it’s a fruitful ground to open up the cognition to all that which doesn’t belong to rational thinking.

AV: It may be.

AV: I find it similar to what you do in your post-dance performances as well. Am I right?

AV: You are. I just wouldn’t call it post-dance if it wasn’t for Mårten. He wrote to me that post-dance comes on stage when knowledge is incorporated and so on… I also think it’s the moment when think-dance completed its historical role. Epistemically or chronologically, it doesn’t really matter. But it was a successful completion.

AV: What then did it leave us with?

AV: With post-dance I guess – the dance which incorporates the knowledge of dance elaborated in think-dance. It is also the dance that doesn’t need to confirm all the time that it is smart. …Maybe we can say that first we have super smart think-dance to ask questions about dance, create problems, and even offer some solutions. We call it exhausted dance. Then comes post-dance, which is always-already an exhausted dance but doesn’t care about it any longer and explores what else it can be once it… Does it make sense?

AV: Probably… If we compare Xavier Le Roy’s Product of Circumstances, Project or Mouvements für Lachenmann with Four Choreographic Portraits by Christine de Smedt, Mårten Spångberg’s Natten or maybe also Doris Uhlich’s More than Naked… or… or Schönheitsabend by Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek I think, yes, we see that migration of dance knowledge…

AV: Hm… Does it make post-dance fugitive? Fugitive from knowledge?

AV: Now, when referring to your own work, what would you say?

AV: I would need some time to ponder that.

AV: No problem… I’ll make more tea. You want tea?

Ana overheard the question. She stood up and approached the window that looked onto the street. It was snowing, had been for a long time. The late night landscape wasn’t changing, except for one scarcely perceptible detail— the layer of the snow lying down on the ground was growing thicker every minute. “We are going to be snowed in!” she suddenly thought. The moment the idea crossed her mind it filled her with horror. Something like in the movies. Something cutting you off from the regular course of life, from all that you know, for an uncertain period of time. Food reserves, water supply, cans, you see!, eating snow?, not having electricity, torches, you see?, blankets! You see? You see!? As her brain pilled up to-be-snowed-up words her body unexpectedly relaxed. As if it ceased to fight and simply surrendered to the burden of the invincible horror to come… Ana sunk into a pleasure of giving in and giving up. She was brought back to post-dance.

AV: I am not sure if it is really about being a fugitive from knowledge. It is more about being a fugitive from only one type of knowledge, the one that results from analytical observation and rational thinking. If cognition should be considered in a much broader sense than the one we commonly hold, then the field of knowledge as a repository of cognitive practices has to be revisited and broadened as well. Following this line of thought, post-dance isn’t about escaping the whole field of knowledge.

AV: Can you say more about the types of cognition you are interested in within your poetics? You said you don’t accept that rational thinking is the only way of cognizing the world, right?

AV: Yes, but it’s very simple what I mean. I in fact think that apart from rational thinking, which is totally great and we need it more than we do it, humans are capable of creativity, affectivity, intuition, bodily sensation, spiritual insight, etc. These are the ways to perceive the world, to know it and to live in it. …Already Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela wrote about living as embodied cognition. For them every little and unremarkable living organism that is capable of growing and self-producing, embodies cognition; and when put in an environment, that little worm or even ameba perceives its environment and adjusts to its changes in a super intelligent way without having any mind to analytically observe and direct the process of living.

AV: Interesting. And what is the super intelligent way in which an ameba adjusts to its environment?

AV: It’s… like when the environment influences living organisms they undergo numerous internal structural changes, which compensate these perturbations. You see, the changes happen in the structure of the living organism, whereas it manages to preserve its constitutive relations and thereby continues reproducing its identity!

AV: And post-dance…? Is it also about embodying cognition?

AV: Ok, take for instance my Train journey (Choreographic étude no. 1). Its elements are very simple and minimal: an excerpt from Robert Musil’s The Perfecting of a Love, DJ Fleischmann’s composition Take Your Time and the voice of Alice Chauchat as narrator.

AV: Basically, only audio stimuli…

AV: Almost. You can see Alice sitting on a chair in dimmed violet light, but it’s a way weaker stimulus than the audio. In any case, I use all these elements just to choreographically set the conditions for dance to appear. And then dance appears. Not on stage, not in the bodies of dancers, not in front or around audience, but directly in their imagination.

AV: Does it go beyond the kinesthetic experience and back?

AV: I don’t really understand the question… Maybe its spatial element confuses me? What I hope for in Train journey is not that the audience summon up delicate Claudine traveling in the compartment with a stranger, nor that they depict by a mental brush the pictures of the countryside as they superimpose one over another as the train runs. I hope what starts stirring in their imagination are pitches in Alice’s voice, a shivering of Claudine’s body, spiritual moments of pouring oneself over the borders of the private self, flashes of bodily pleasure. That is why there is not much text nor is the music particularly suggestive. All the elements I use are weak, as I see them as triggers for a dance that opens up for not-only-rational cognition.

AV: This all sounds really well planned.

AV: I see where you are going, but it’s not a contradiction. It is well planned. It is an artwork, something I want to share with others, something which appears on the public stage and which costs money. However, planning in art cannot protect us from the contingency of processing experience, which undermines existing representational concepts. And that is exactly where I see a need to cultivate other, all other types and ways of cognition. Or, the other way around, to set the conditions for that imaginary dance, which we can now call post-dance, since we have that word.

AV: When did it all start?

AV: Long ago… but I cannot say exactly when. I was certainly deeply impressed by Four Choreographic Portraits and… For instance, I remember when I organized a lecture performance and invited Doris Urlich to retell on stage, in detail her performance More than naked. How really to retell it? That was an interesting experiment. How to describe these 20 naked bodies moving, jumping, dancing in 20 different, and even within itself changeable, manners? And how to describe the techno music? Doris Urlich was sitting half-naked in front of the audience and struggling to find the right words. She was good but eventually didn’t find them. Exactly! She didn’t find them because words are not here to describe music but to describe thoughts. That is why we are so good when it comes to thinking and so miserable when we turn to emotions, feelings, spirituality…

AV: You don’t think it is the other way around – that affects cannot find their matches in words and we need to try harder?

AV: No, it is the words that were never meant to be a means for any other cognition but rational thinking.

AV: I see. How indeed to describe a color, a taste, a feeling or a tune with words?

AV: Genau! And when I became interested in setting choreographic conditions for a different dance to appear, I realized that for that venture I didn’t need dancers. I needed weak indications, loose anchors of perception, provisional stimuli, and words that offer resonance of their sound rather than meaning…

AV: But still, Train journey is not a whatever-it-means; it’s eventually a feminist piece.

AV: Maybe eventually. But it’s a long journey to that last instance, and many audience members never even come to that point. That is also all right, though a pity.

AV: You know, listening to how you describe it now, maybe your post-dance works are all feminist because that is how you understand post-dance itself.

AV: Um… you mean because of escaping western, male, white, hetero rationality?

AV: Yes!

AV: Then yes, for me post-dance is a feminist venture. It’s still a very wide horizon, but yes…

I was afraid she would leave me again. Her eyelids lowered and I saw her entering the veeery wwwiiide horizon as if she were enchanted. I reacted by raising my voice:

AV: Think about other examples – Karagöz, The Black Eye (Choreographic étude no. 3) for instance. What we have on stage are Elena Ferrante’s story of two dolls – from My Brilliant Friend I think – soundtracks from Italian neorealist movies – I don’t know which ones – and two narrators: Christine de Smedt and Bojana Cvejić.

AV: Yes, and we see their black silhouettes on a translucent screen, like in the shadow play. In Ottoman Empire it was called ‘Karagöz theatre’, after the name of one of its protagonists. Anyway, I don’t expect the audience to be familiar with the history of the Ottoman Empire’s theatre so that they can identify Christine and Bojana or Elena and Lila as Karagöz and Hacivat. It is of course exciting to have that trigger as well, but it’s not crucial. I wanted the audience, which is mostly European, to chew that word, ‘Karagöz’, especially because of the transition from ‘g’ to ‘ö’.

AV: And dance in this piece appears mostly in the dialogue between Christine and Bojana.

AV: Um… yes, but it is never a metaphor for thought. For me, dance emerges from the pauses in their dialogue. Otherwise, the story is well-thought and self-contained: two girlfriends, Elena and Lila play with their dolls in a workers’ suburb of Naples and throw the dolls, one after another into the cellar of the local loan-shark Don Achille. There is nothing to be thought further about the story, whilst it can open the audience’s black eye to a number of digressions, futures, pasts… Maybe it’s naïve, but I want the pauses in the narrative to work like scissors that cut out an empty space in the spectators’ and listeners’ selves, which is of the shape of the pauses. And then the audience can fill that hollow with imaginaries, which are sometimes thought, but more often sensed, intuited, felt…

AV: What for instance?

AV: Something like walking through ourselves, populated with others.

She made a gesture towards The Street Window. I was sitting across her and while my gaze was following her hand and I was murmuring: “Whoever leads a solitary life and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere, whoever, according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling – he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street. And if he is in the mood to not desire anything and only goes to his window sill a tired man, with eyes turning from his public to heaven and back again, not wanting to look out and having thrown his head up a little, even then the horses below will draw him down into their train of wagons and tumult, and so at last into the human harmony.”, the new geometry of the interview became evident: a line was running from her to me, from me, with a sharp angle, it turned to the balcony door, it hit the glass and in a slower pace went back toward her, slightly curving, it tackled her gently and proceeded toward the window, where it vanished.

AV: …In that piece I worked with two experiences. One is the sensation of a summer afternoon on the Croatian Adriatic cost. Imagine someone alone in a big bed, daydreaming after a nap. But one is never alone. The window is open, and from the street something like sounds of an open food market enter and thrill her body. She feels small prickles. It’s a tingling sensation of light disturbances by others – sewing needles! — and at the same time a feeling of belonging to them.

AV: An in-between experience?

AV: It could be… It points to two streams, almost opposite, which act simultaneously upon one’s body. One stream tends to close in on itself and protect the individual body from others, while the other ultimately opens the body to an irresistible belonging to everybody. …It’s not that one hears the sounds of food market, rather what she perceives right behind her shoulder, almost touching her skin can ‘be described’ as a multitude of female voices, where some high peaks of Italian or Dalmatian from time to time distinguish themselves from the generic noise.

AV: This is what you see as a post-dance?

AV: Yes, the rhythm of peaks and noise. The peaks go high and the noise spreads horizontally. The competing sounds… And on an ontological level— which I see as existential as it is social— post-dance happens in the divergent streams that I mentioned before, when one is on the verge of being alone, unique, private and already being another.

AV: But again, one doesn’t hear that sound by the ear— the sound the audience hears comes from the soundtrack— nor does she see the food market. The experience you describe resides in the empty space of oneself, which takes the shape of the pauses in the dialogue, right?

AV: I imagine it that way. And of course I am far from being certain about what is happening in the audience while attending Karagöz, The Black Eye. The pauses may trigger very different feelings, associations and sensations, and they can well fail in cutting out its double in the selves of the spectators and listeners. But that was the experience I worked on, trying to choreograph the sensorial conditions for it to appear.

…I imagined a very long sewing machine with hundreds of needles, orderly arranged in a row. Needle, needle, needle, Needle… They work according to a clear pattern: every third needle goes up, two in between go down. And that is how a wave travels along the needle row. The whole machine is turned over, like a beetle turned on its back. The female voices from the food market are stuck on the tips of the needles, which resemble beetle’s legs, sewing nothing. Just struggling for life. Or dancing: 1, pause, pause, 4, pause, pause, 7…

AV: And what was the other experience you worked on?

AV: Hm, it’s even harder to put into words…

AV: Is it again a physical sensation?

AV: A kind of… maybe an experience of pressure and friction at the same time… With some soft material. No, wait, soft on surface and hard inside…

AV: Like rubber?

AV: Um… yes, a quite hard rubber. And then there are two massive things, which press hard against each other. But since both move, rotate around their axes, they produce a lot of friction…

AV: And the body is in-between these two things?

AV: Well, no… The body is these two things moving together. It is an inside movement. Very warm and slow since the pressure is strong, preventing these things from rotating fast. So they put a lot of energy in rotating, while struggling against the energy exerted on them.

AV: Can we imagine that movement as something happening between two circular whetstones?

AV: Ha, interesting! But they are covered with rubber instead of flint… And they rotate in opposite directions.

AV: I see. And they have no purpose, like sharpening knives or similar…

AV: No, what is happening is just that, putting hard pressure on each other, because of their great weights and trying to rotate resisting the pressure and its own rubbery surface.

AV: Why is this experience important for you? Why do you want to share it in a performance?

AV: Because… You know, these two sensations marked my entire childhood. It’s not something we usually speak about. But they were indeed the strongest experiences of living I had at the time. They would come out of the blue and stay there with me, usually when my mind was not occupied by anything special. I had to endure them. Enduring them was an intensification of living for which I didn’t have words or ideas to express or analyze. Later, as I grew up, around the age of ten I became capable of describing them with the words I use tonight as well. These metaphors didn’t progress, and I have never been able to say more. And even back then I knew that what I felt was not what I described as a multitude of female voices at a food market or two circular whetstones rotating and pressing each other; they were mere metaphors.

AV: But you liked the feeling of domesticating these sensations with metaphors?

AV: Certainly, because that was the moment when my indistinguishable existence got some personal contours. And look, soon after I had managed to describe these sensations I was able to recall them when I wanted.

AV: How? By imagining these metaphors?

AV: Yes, I would slow down my breathing, imagine these metaphors and the sensations would come. It was especially important since they appeared more and more rarely as I grew up…

AV: It was childish…

AV: Childish or not, I felt an urge to preserve them, somewhere, in the realm that never belonged to me but where I was always able to enter as if I bore it inside.

AV: And now, do you still have these sensations?

AV: They don’t appear by themselves and I rarely manage to recall them through metaphors. That is why I wanted to explore them by other means and share them on stage.

AV: And what does it have to do with post-dance?

AV: I would firstly like to return to your comment that it was a childish experience of existence. I’d agree that probably it has to do with developmental phases of cognition in children. We first have sensations, then start thinking a bit, then communicate our thoughts, then recognize them as ours etc. But what I am interested in now is to explore these sensations after the audience members and I, as adult humans, have cultivated our capacity to think rationally.

AV: Again, that ‘after’ can be either chronological or epistemic…

AV: It doesn’t matter since I don’t deal with history, and in my work the synchronic composition of the field of cognition has priority over its diachronic development. And exactly in these synchronic interstices of cognition I see post-dance. To be clear, it is not a pre-modern dance; it is not a return to the nature, the origin, the roots, the pre-rational authenticity of the body… Far from that. Once again: it is what comes after the dance performed its capacity to think.

The last words stayed with me. They invoked images of dance I had seen in old photos, books, videos, on stage, in the street, in movies… Plenty of them. Laban’s movement choir, Zulu war dance, a widening gulf of time in Eszter Salamon’s NVSBL, Judson Church public showings, two young men doing contact improvisation, Sasha Waltz saying dance is a universal language, Maga Magazinović’s studio in Belgrade, ballet dancers in tutus and pointe shoes, Wigman’s expressionist dance, Jérôme Bel sitting on stage across Frédéric Seguette, a variete, a lecture of Dorothea von Hantelmann speaking about the experiential turn in art as opposed to performativity, Pina Bausch smoking at a rehearsal, a Polish Movement Institute’s performance with office clerks… It was a mess. And when these images became three-dimensional they started behaving like dying fish on a boat desk, moving, fidgeting, jerking, sliding along each other’s slimy bodies, jumping rapidly to catch the last breath, distorted with convulsions, and multiplying endlessly. They filled me and I felt mucous inside… It was long after when I heard Ana saying:

AV: …witch dance for instance.

AV: Witch?

AV: I mean that sort of embodied knowledge.

AV: And one question that intrigues me: Do you think post-dance cannot be danced on stage? Can it only happen in audience’s imaginary?

AV: It’s a good question, but I am not sure I can give a satisfying answer at the moment. In my performances most of the dance results from the work of imagination. What we see on stage are choreographic conditions. Sets of elements in certain relations that trigger, associate, call, evoke or invoke certain movements of human cognition, a vast variety. And as far as I understand the term, we can call it post-dance. But on the other hand, we cannot speak about post-dance without mentioning Four Choreographic Portraits. In these performances Christine de Smedt, the author and performer, certainly moves and her movements can be called ‘dance’ in an unorthodox sense of the word. But if we let ourselves be devoured by her dance, from that speculative position, an ‘indance’ position all that could be seen as setting conditions for a virtual dance to appear in the audience members themselves.

AV: What exactly? Can you be more specific?

AV: I can read an excerpt from my writing on that performance, so that it becomes clearer:

…Besides that choreographic configuration, I must mention here de Smedt’s performing mode. In how she performs those authors there is a superimposition between the figures of four investigated authors and Christine de Smedt’s figure. In that constant negotiation, which takes place in the body, she is neither a neutral painter of these portraits nor does she paint her self-portrait by referring to them. Her body is not transparent, as it would be in realistic theatre; it is opaque in its heavy materiality. However, as such it incorporates elements of the four choreographers’ figures whilst inscribing its own parts in those figures and oeuvres. The incorporated elements of others’ range from concerns to sensibilities, exposing the private, characteristic set ups, dance materials etc., while de Smedt gives them back the specificities of her body, the way of speaking in public as well as her creative construction of the four figures. In that way, she creates a vibrant interplay of between herself and themselves, which in performing exceeds each and all individuals at play here.

AV: Ok, I kind of see now. De Smedt’s performing body is a dance or even post-dance body since it contains the knowledge of dance, it’s constituted by it, but it also fosters us to change the focus and see it as a frame for a virtual post-dance to appear out of it. Like we cannot really see the process of exchanging corporeality, but we can sense it while observing her body work on stage.

AV: Something like that. But it is hard to achieve. What fascinates me with Christine de Smedt is that she manages to maintain both cognitive realities of dance, the actual and the virtual.

AV: My impression is that they separate from each other, while emanating from the same body.

AV: Yes, but with one important remark: In my view there is neither ontological nor epistemic need for the virtual cognitive reality of dance to be virtual. Therefore, post-dance is not necessarily virtual. It is virtual only because we still need to nurture a variety of cognitive capacities and practices, and then, at one point we will be able to actualize them in a communicative, intelligible way. Christine de Smedt went far with that and as a result, in Four Choreographic Portraits, dance appears both on stage and in the imaginary, while in my performances it takes place only in the imaginary, still as a larva, an immature free-living form.

When I heard ‘larva’, I shuddered. Just for a moment.

AV: Namely, you don’t know how to insert it into a physical body.

AV: I don’t. I know it’s about metamorphosis, since the larva never resembles its parents, but I still don’t know how to carry it out. I’m afraid of becoming either too illustrative or too mystical…

AV: When observing Four Choreographic Portraits through your post-dance lens, I’d say that in these four performances, taken separate, we see how a certain author-figure or poetics is being shaped, on which premises and through which processes. But if we look at all of the performances together, we can follow how the general choreographic intellect travels from author to author, how it fluctuates between them. For instance, Eszter Salamon’s frontal monologue has its match in Xavier Le Roy’s dialogical after-talk and Jonathan Burrows narration of his childhood memories, and the same aspiration comes again, from the back, with Alain Platel as a mute subject of others’ perceptions of him.

AV: I like the way you said it. And for me, those fluctuations have a post-dance quality.

AV: Shall we try to give them some socio-historical outline?

AV: I wouldn’t be able… or maybe it contradicts the thrust toward not cognizing everything with rationality. But the choreographic gesture of initiating the fluctuation for sure has socio-historical contours. Maybe it’s all about some other, new, unknown modes of living together. About showing not only how these authors differ among themselves, but also how they contribute to what we today see as contemporary European choreography. It’s their common achievement. That choreography is not the one that existed before them: it changed common premises of dance and left them, charged with open potentials for new dance poetics and practices, like post-dance for instance.

AV: Here we see why the collective shouldn’t be demonized as what contests singularity; it can indeed strengthen it. Namely, these authors and their poetics don’t eventually loose their characteristics in the fluctuation; they appear within Four choreographic portraits indispensible both in how they actualize the choreographic general intellect and in how they invest in the creation of contemporary European choreography.

AV: Yes, for Lila it would be about ‘dissolving borders’, while Bojana and I would call it ‘transindividuality’, but I am still somewhat reserved toward outlining it in socio-historical terms.

AV: At the end we can mention your Choreographic étude no. 2: A Coffeehouse. You made that work together with Bojana Cvejić and Marta Popivoda, right?

AV: I’d rather speak about Spångberg’s Natten… But it’s really too late… and I think we have enough pages.

AV: Oh, it’s already 1.30 A.M.! Ok then, let me check… check… check… No, we have 13 pages.

AV: Then add spaces.

AV: Errrrr… Pfff… No, let’s finish it like a regular interview! Especially since we didn’t have time to talk about Etude no. 2, tell me where one can see your post-dance performances.

AV: I told you everything – one cannot see them.

AV: Ok, I got it: where can one see the choreographic conditions for dance you set on stage?

AV: No, really, these performances exist only in our imagination. Or they don’t.

AV: Oh! …Don’t you love the theatre, the illusion of the stage?

AV: Claudine said… or it was Alice: “What I value in art is the subtlety of the right ending, which consoles us from the humdrum of everyday life. Life is disappointing, so often depriving us of the effect on which the curtain should fall. If we were to leave it at that, wouldn’t it mean accepting the bleak matter-of-factness of things?”

* * *

I turned to reading the notes I had just made. Letters on the screen somehow drew a little closer to one another and the interview shrank to 12 and a half pages. Damn! Who would believe that?

Ana went to the bedroom as if she was not a freelance writer whose workday never ends.

Ha, she thought she would be able to fall asleep while I was working. …However, soon after she realized she needed me to be her dumb pillow:

AV: You really can’t come?

AV: Quite impossible, you know. I must try to get this job finished as fast as I can.

AV: But I would be so pleased.

AV: I know. Oh, I know…

I tiptoed to the bedroom. When she saw me in the doorway fluffy like a pillow, she simply said: Turn off the light please.



Published in: Post-dance, M. Edvardsen, M. Spångberg & D. Andersson (eds.), Stockholm: MDT, 2017

PDF available here.