The materials about the work of Dorothee Günther consist of videos, scores and texts. Since I am not a scientist, but an artist, I felt a need to create a sort of methodology, how could I practically approach theoretical material. Very soon I came to a solution: I tried to reproduce the practices that Günther developed in my own body. I practiced the same with materials of Caravaggio-Bernini exhibitions at Art History Museum of Vienna as well. I tried to execute the movements, that I saw captured on the paintings.
The process, that I went through, was very different from my usual dance practice. I never did these things, never gave to my body such tasks, and never experienced anything like this. It felt also very different. To be honest, it felt very uncomfortable. There was some resisting reaction in my body, and I got very curious, why doesn`t my body want to move in this way.
I asked myself: how would I call the activity I am performing? I decided to call it “re-enactment”. According to Oxford dictionary, re-enactment means “the acting out of a past event”. Günther´s class, considering that I was working with documents and not with Dorothee Günther personally, would fit to definition of a past event, that i was trying to act out.
I asked myself then: what is my motivation to move, both as an artist and as a dancer? My personal answer was: fun. Fun, according to the Oxford dictionary, is “enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure”. I agreed in my heart with this definition. I truly believe, that even though being a dancer is sometimes a hard job – to train, to rehearse, to perform is often demanding and complicated – the soul of dance is enjoyment of muscles to contract and relax, amusement of being precise and self-controlling, light-hearted pleasure of being observed and appreciated.
I understood, that I don`t experience fun while re-enacting, and that`s why my body, being torn apart from its main and most significant motivation, resists the tasks and sabotages the whole activity. I asked myself then: is it my personal reaction to the specifics or re-enactment, or re-enactment essentially steals from a dancer fun of moving? In order to investigate this issue, I am writing the current essay.
The text of Gerald Siegmund is dedicated to re-enactment and helped me to find the coordinates of my investigation. The main axis of it are dance practice, conceptualization and language.
The entire western philosophy starts with the statement of Thales of Miletus: “Everything is water”. Sometimes this simple phrase is considered the first philosophical text in European history. The meaning of the statement and its possible interpretations are not so important for us now. What is important, is the matrix of looking at the universe. In my opinion, this matrix is relevant for the entire history of European philosophy.
I believe, “everything” in this formula means “being”; “water” can be interpreted in many different ways. Interesting is the connection: A is X.
What is A and what is X? Is this relationship between substance and its essence? Or substance and its accidents? Is it Plato`s ideas and their representations? Or Aristotle`s material and shape? Or Kant`s Ding-an-sich and experience, a priori and a posteriori knowledge? From Ancient Greece till German classical philosophy of subjective idealism, “A” is a concept of absolute amount and quality, as by Thales, “Everything” or “Being”. This is also considered “Objective existence”, opposed to emotions, to body experience etc – to different concepts in different epoches. The obsession with “objectively existing order” blends a bit in the 20th century, but in my opinion the whole idea of announcing and comparing concepts leads us to statements “this is what exists” and “this is what doesn`t exist”, even though the word “substance” as a very general philosophical approximation, might not appear at all in some contemplations nowadays .
The point is, that the main tool of philosophical thinking is announcement of concepts, negotiating their relationships and interplay, comparing them, explicating them, etc. In other words, all the philosophical thinking can exist only on the level of language. It operates a particular symbolic system. Starting the philosophical negotiation is possible once we define the main categories – the borders of the symbolic system.
In this perspective it is very obvious, that once we drag philosophy and its tools to a movement research, we step on the territory of language and use particularly tools of language to open the issues we are researching. At the same time, performing art and namely dance is not necessarily connected to language and doesn`t have to operate words and concepts. The connection between performing act and language manifestations can be set in very different ways, and also can be avoided at all. Considering this as a starting point, I would like to analyze and critically look at the idea of using tools of language (these tools will be defined below in the context of chosen material) by understanding and creating art pieces (this process will be also defined below and analyzed using some particular examples).
So, in other words, I would like to take as an initial subject of discussion the idea of conceptualizing art practices. I`d like to look at this idea using one particular phenomenon as an example: reconstructions and reenactments of existing choreographies (why reenactment can be considered an act of conceptualizing, will be discussed below).
Art practice. In the Oxford dictionary we find two beautiful definitions of the word “practice”, and the gap between these two meanings contains the whole problematic of current essay. First definition: “Practice is the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it”. Which basically means that practice is an extension of something; it exists as actualization of some potentiality, which can exist without being actualized as well. The second definition tells us: “Practice is the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something”. Reading this definition, we end up suddenly in a parallel universe: practice is not opposed to theory, but is just a way of doing something. It is not the content of the act, but it is also not opposed to its content. It is just the fact of occurrence of an act, it is actually an act itself in its entire diversity, once it is perceived as a self-sufficient event, and not as a representation of some hidden content.
In this second definition the language surrenders. Like a mad snake, it starts to eat its own tail. What can we do with the concept, if we can`t oppose it to another concept, we can`t compare, we can`t tune it into the net of other concepts? That`s why I would like also to understand art practice in this way – pure reality of action. Let`s stop looking at art practice as opposition to “art theory” (not a correct term, actually, I put it here as example of mechanical opposition on the level of language; correct one would be “art conception”). Let`s see practice as a row of acts, or ways of behavior, that are self-sufficient and not necessarily correspond with any hidden invisible content. In simple words, practice is practice, it is just what we are doing, what occurs, what happens, what probably makes impact. It is extremely subjective in the sense, that in its pure appearance it can`t be captured (it exists only while it is executed, and only in time, outside of time practice doesn`t exist). However, practice is extremely objective at the same time, since on empirical level it is absolute. It exists only once it is comprehended, independent of who is the receiver of sensual information – artist or his audience or both. Action is valid once it happens in time and once it involves at least one person. For an act of art there should be location, duration and at least one witness.
This is the border of practical universe. Talking about dance art practices, we would mention performances, rehearsals, trainings. We can`t oppose them to theoretical works. We can compare them only with other practices, for example, with washing dishes, or cooking, or repairing a car, or walking etc. Once we look at practice in this perspective, the idea to oppose practice to theory sounds very debatable. Of course, the duality “theory-practice” is still valid and sometimes very useful, but we see, it is not obviously essential. For instance, we don`t talk so much about theory of washing dishes or theory of taking a walk. Hypothetically it is possible to research theoretically these practices, but somehow it is not very popular directions in science.
To reflect on this, namely 1) what is theory? 2) when and why we need and use theory?, we might need some more definitions.
So, the Oxford dictionary again. “Theory” is “a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based”. At the same time, it is “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained”. That`s interesting. First of all, “theory” is measured in principles, systems, ideas, in other words, it exists only on the territory of language, or, only outside of time. This is the huge difference with practice. Practice and theory, obviously, never meet. The one is impossible to capture, the other one is impossible to perform. Second of all, on the level of definitions already we see dual relationships between theory and practice. First definition tells us, theory is a base of practice, or, in other words, its condition. Second definition tells the opposite: theory tries to explain practice, which means, it is determined by practice and is an applied thing, that can`t exist separate from practice. In this case, it is still something that exists outside of time and only on the territory of language.
The verb “to conceptualize” is defined as “to form a concept or idea”, “concept” is “an abstract idea”, and “idea” is “an understanding, thought, or picture in your mind” (Cambridge dictionary). So, summarizing all these things, to conceptualize art practice means to bring the ungraspable fluent only-in-time-existing phenomena into the coordinates of language, capture them with a help of words and trap in the cage of outside-of-time-existence.
Two more things to look at. First: what exactly we understand by “creating art pieces practice”, and second: what tools we have to conceptualize this practice of creation?
Creation of an art piece in dance has a very clear frame. This definition might sound very stupid, but nevertheless it is the most reliable one I know. “To create a dance piece one should execute some movements”. The Oxford dictionary defines dance as “move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps”. We know already, that presence of music is actually not always necessary for dance; set sequence of steps is also mentioned as “typical”, not essential. So, what stays solid – in order to dance you need to move. To create a dance piece you need to move. Using the definition of practice, that we chose above, we must admit consequently, a dance piece, or a dance performance, exists only while being performed. It is capable only to occur in time, since it belongs to the sphere of practice. To be very clear with this, we can also define what is “piece” and what is “performance”. “Piece” is “a written, musical, or artistic creation”, “creation” is “the action or process of bringing something into existence”. “Performance” is “an act of presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment”, or, more general, “the action or process of performing a task or function”. As we see, all the definitions lead us towards fluid, only-in-time-existing things. Even the word “existence”, that appears in the definition of “creation”, shouldn`t be misinterpreted in this perspective. From the point of view of opposition theory-practice, all what “exists”, exists outside of time, so to say, a priori, which means, it can not be created (only probably if we talk about how God created the world, but it is irrelevant aspect for us now). So, “bring to existence” in this definition means as well, that we are processing in time to bring to existence-in-time something, that can only exist-in-time.
Summarizing: practice of creation of a dance piece is a practice of moving body. While training we practice some movements, when we rehearse, we try out, explore, set movements – but still, it is a process of moving, which can be lead by any kind of principles or without any principles at all. The essence of it is the fact of moving body. So, “creating dance piece practice” consists of specific “practice of moving body”.
Which tools do we use to conceptualize this practice? Which tools do we use to make something ultimately alive to something ultimately dead? To transform ephemeral to eternal? This transition, from practice to concept, is the subject of this essay and will be negotiated below. One question that can be discussed before, is “what are the tools of language”?
We can discuss it separately from our main topic on one simple reason: language can exist without analyzing art practices. Language can understand itself even as a completely self-sufficient area, that exists as a system a priori, before any experience and completely independent of what we call empiric reality. Language operates with words. Word is “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed”. From this definition we can steal already a very important knowledge: language operates meanings. It takes a concept and draws a line to another concept. Language is a complexity of concepts in its development and all possible interpretations. By definition “language” is a method, or a system of communication.
The assignment – to provide communication – already prescribes some tools. We need currency to exchange, and words are this currency. Comparing words means creating meanings, comparing meanings – creating bigger senses etc. But it always goes to the same point – words can be defined only with the help of words, communication becomes the self-sufficient action which doesn`t require any input apart from presence of at least two interlocutors. Nevertheless, we come to a very naive and simple moment of understanding language, when we learn a new one. I point at something with a finger and ask: what is it? “Table”, “Flower”, “Human”. Language tries to grasp ungraspable reality by calling, language is tending to find phenomena, that are relatively persistent in time and understand them as entities. Entity is already less fluid than reality taken in general, that`s why we can find words for them. Even though, it is still approximation, it is still just negotiation inside language, which has nothing to do with practice. For instance, if I break one leg of a table, is it still a table? Two legs? Three? All four? I break table into pieces? In which moment the word is not equal to the phenomenon? The borders of phenomena are not definable, and all we can see, language somehow always tries to fit to reality, as if it is a glove put on a hand. But glove can be bigger or smaller than hand, it can have more or less fingers, can have completely other shape, or can be done of material, that produces too much friction, so glove cannot fit. Language is always somewhere around reality, but never exactly fitting, since essentially reality and language are two very different things, that are not even opposites. I would like to repeat this statement and underline its significance: they are not opposites, they just never meet, they belong to two different universes, they are two different processes inside a human being, that never really cross and also need each other rather accidentally, than essentially.
Coming back to our topic, if conceptualizing dance practice is finding phenomena, that are persistent in time, pointing with a finger and calling, and then operating with this treasure of designed meanings and definitions, then we can say consequently, that conceptualizing practice and practice itself are two different self sufficient universes, that are not even the opposites. They are not sides of one coin, and even not two different coins. It is one coin and one tomato, more or less this difference in everything.
So, let`s summarize the basis of the research, that we are going to start.
Dance practice is complexity of acts of moving body. It exists only in time, is fluid, ephemeral, not graspable. Conceptualizing dance practice means to refer to dance practice in words and bring it to the territory of language, area of outside-of-time-existence. By definition of both things, this action, this “referring”or “bringing to the territory of” is actually impossible. That`s why I would like to understand by “conceptualizing dance practice” = “create conceptual systems inspired by observed dance practices”, denoting thus, that conceptualizing is an act of creation, not a translation, and admitting thus, that concepts and practices are equally self-sufficient, they are not necessarily co-dependent, but can stand in any kind of relationships, that are interesting to explore.
These relationships is something we will explore in this text, intending to answer the following questions:
1) What are the tools we use for conceptualizing dance practice?
2) How do we choose words to describe dance? Which symbolic system do we use to talk about techniques? How do we use it?
3) Why do we need to conceptualize dance practices?
4) What do we do with the concepts after we have them?
As an example of conteptualization of dance practice I would like to follow and critically comment the logic of the text “Affect, technique and discourse” by Gerald Siegmund. This text is dedicated to some cases of reenactments of existing dance pieces. The practice, that is in focus in this essay and which leads through the entire contemplation like a red thread, is the experience of Jerome Bel, who used materials from Susanne Linke`s “Wandlung” to compose and perform his “The Last Performance”.
The fact of such a borrowing is itself remarkable for me. Or should we say – stealing? Copying? Which word would be more precise? (by the way, the border between quotation and plagiarize is only contextual, the action of copying is technically the same – another remarkable notice, I find). Nevertheless, I would like to investigate and clarify a bit, which actions a choreographer might perform in order to achieve such a result: audience members consider his movements “a borrowed material”.
To answer this question – independent of how true and precise the answer would be – we would need another language methodology. We were speaking until now about language tools for conceptualizing art, so to say, to create a neighbor planet near dance practice, which is in a way inspired by dance, but is able (by definition) to exist separately and independently. That was possible, because we were using always the matrix of philosophical thinking, we used the form “everything is something”, so we tried always to answer a question “dance practice is …” Such approach, as it was demonstrated above, leads us to the territory of language and results into concepts, so to say, the result stays in the field of theory. When we change this initial matrix, when we don`t ask ourselves anymore “what is dance practice?” and we don`t operate with definitions of concepts, and we don`t aim to have a system of concepts at the end, we can open ourselves to other questions and, consequently, to other outcomes. In this case, the question is “why did people think, it was borrowed material?” The result of negotiating this would be an instruction, which is not supposed to answer fundamental questions. It works with connections between actions of an artist and reflections of audience. It doesn`t negotiate fundamentally so far, what is action, what is perception, etc. We walk towards abstractions and generalization from practice, analyzing practice, and are not rushing to make this step – formulate conceptual rule. We also won`t analyze, what the piece of Bel or Linke meant, what was it`s method, what it all was supposed to be. We will talk only about actions of the artists.
To describe actions (for instance: I watch someone dancing, I notice, how the legs are moving, I try to imagine this coordination and find it in my body, I try to repeat and remember etc) we need to know our aim. Do we describe them to capture the movements for next generations of audience members? To trap it in the concept, to kill it and keep it dead – in other words, do we try to describe, what they are? If this is our aim, we have to use the methodology of conceptualization, that was discussed above. Another variant: we need to describe these actions in order to be able to reproduce them. It is for next generations of dancers. In this case language tools are applied and serve another goal. The final destination of verbalization is practice again. The result will be expressed in actions. It means, the language part of this should answer not the question “what is it?” but “what should I do to achieve it?” even though “it” is not defined. “It”, whatever it is, stays in the field of practice and necessarily should stay an orphan without a parent concept above.
So, in the text of Siegmund is discussed, that Bel created a piece, where the audience recognized the movements of Susanna Linke. How is it possible? If we consider accidental coincides irrelevant, we might create kind of tutorial – how to borrow (quote? copy? steal? plagiarize?) material from someone else. What is the process of it?
It is partially assumed in the text of Siegmund, and from the point of view of practice it is pretty easy to imagine. First of all, there is a source. It can be a video record of the piece, it can be rehearsal process with alive Susanna Linke, who explains her choreography, it could be reading of notated score. Until the 20th century there was actually only one way to transmit choreography – from body to body. Basically, one person shows, another person tries to repeat. When the choreographer explains the movement, it just supports the same process, that a dancer follows while learning choreography by watching. Only one aspect of this process is relevant for us now. Dancing, as any performing act (I believe), is a result of individual activity. I mean, dancer has own will and own purpose/motivation to move, dancer is not marionette guided by invisible threads, dancer has to decide – now I dance, and then move somehow. Getting back to our oppositions in the world of practice, dancer decides to go to stage and to dance and not to go home and wash dishes or cook. So, basically, dancer has an idea, what to do, and (s)he follows a particular task while dancing.
The word task is very important in this context. Task is in a way not self sufficient (like concept). Task is a language construction, which has only applied meaning. When we have a task, we have no idea, what will happen. It is next step of being professional: to understand the connection between task and effect of its execution. But task itself is just instruction “what to do”. This instruction, even though it uses the tools of language, and, as any language construction, is never perfectly fitting to the reality, is supposed to provoke wanted and precise actions. That`s why we meet in practice “good” and “bad” tasks. We evaluate tasks according to the actions they provoke. There are precise tasks, so we can predict outcome. There`re broad tasks, that engage imagination of a dancer and lead to new interesting creations. The thing is, task is nothing without execution, without a person solving, following, accomplishing the task. Language in this case is the maid of practice, it has no functional independent value. We know also, that by giving the same task to different dancers we can get different results, and sometimes the difference is that big, that a choreographer is not satisfied and changes task in order to get what (s)he expects as a result.
So, in order to learn some choreography, a dancer should create for her(him)self a row of tasks. Looking at choreography in this perspective, we should admit, that any choreography is a row of specific tasks, and nothing else. From the point of view of practice, choreography exists only in the dancing body and while dancing, and the only way to capture it in some sense is to formulate tasks using the tools of language. Once we have tasks, everybody can try to follow them. But also, since the bodies are different and the understanding of language is altering from person to person, the same words can trigger slightly (or significantly) different actions in different dancers. That`s why choreography can never be repeated exactly. New dancer – new choreography.
Anyway, getting back on rails from this digression; I believe, that when some dance material looks “borrowed”, it means, the audience can recognize, that there are the same movements in the body of Bel, that Susanne Linke used to perform in her piece. How is it possible, that it looks the same? What do people recognize? First of all, it is coordination, so, basically, visual part of dance. The arm goes here, the legs go there. Dancer moves from the left to the right, and then from the right to the left. Second of all, timing. For instance, connection with music – in this accent dancer does this, in that accent dancer does that. Third of all – quality. The hand is lifted up slowly and tensed. Could be any other parameters and criterias – a lot of other ones. The thing is, all of them, visual or audial ones, are external. How to make some movements remind of some other movements? One would need to do something, to create the same external effect. In order to achieve a particular external effect, one would need to create a row of tasks for himself, that would lead to the desired external effect.
So, basically, to copy someones piece, one need to create such tasks for himself, that the movements look the same for audience. The problematic of figuring out the tasks that lead to particular appearance is the fact, that tasks, as any language construction, never fit. There could be unified task, like “arabesque” (quick comment on the phrase of Forsight “arabesque doesn`t exist”: doch, it does as a task, and doch, it does as a concept, it doesn`t exist, when you try to use a concept as a task, but this will be explained further). But we see, when Bel tries to do arabesque, he notices, the arabesque by Linke looked different, since she had literally another body. When the idea is to “borrow” choreography, what should Bel do in this moment? One way is to say: it is arabesque, and I`ll do my arabesque. It will look differently, but I`ll consider it the same, because content of choreography are tasks, so when I copy choreography of Linke, I copy her tasks, so even if the outcome looks different, it is still the same choreography. That`s how I “borrow” and what exactly I “borrow”. Another way of behavior would be: I need my audience to recognize Susanne Linke in my movements, since the content of choreography is the effect it produced in audience. What I would like to copy is this effect, and if Susanne does here arabesque, but I need to do attitude to reach the same shape (no offense intended), then I`ll change the original task to achieve the desired effect. That`s what I “borrow” and how I “borrow”.
We see, it is always about connection between task, intentions behind the task and its outcomes. Task is thus never self sufficient, and language is in this case what a language is supposed to be – a medium of communication, which is applied, which is a bridge from one practice to another practice. Purpose and result of any negotiation are on the territory of practice, otherwise all negotiations become irrelevant.
Now we see clearly. There are two ways of using language while negotiating practice. One way we`ll call “conceptualization”, and it starts in language and finishes in language, creating near Earth kind of another Earth, similar, but with other laws of phisics, we can call it Conceptual Earth. All the same, but no gravity… Or everyone is immortal… Whatever – same shape, but completely alien content. The other way we`ll call “task analysis”, and it starts in practice, goes out of practice to return back and finishes in practice. It digs and plows, it transforms the Earth, but never creates anything additional – just opens all the possibilities of existing area.
Since both methods of negotiation are operating with words, symbols and concepts, they seem to work at the same factory, and it is interesting to see their interplay – how do they interact in the reality of talking about dance and how they else could they hypothetically co-exist.
Interplay of concepts and tasks
In the text of Siegmund we see a lot of concepts, that he drags from text of other writers and philosophers to express his vision. Would we try to understand, do his contemplations belong to the conceptualization of dance practice, or to task analisis, or to both to some certain extent?
He uses often the word “affect”. We can read the phrase “Affect cannot be perfectly reconstructed without losing its ability to affect”. And the previous one: “Affect takes precedence over technique”. What does it mean? No, even before we start to care what it means: do these phrases belong to conceptual talk or to task analysis? I find, that as a task it is very broad. Strictly speaking, everything can be a task. A phone book can be treated as a task. Another question, that probably it works not the best as a task. It is like the prophecies of the Oracle of Delphi – obscure and mysterious sentences, that are supposed to be somehow applicable to reality, but nobody can understand, how exactly, until tragic bloody final reaches us. The we understand what was meant, but it`s too late. We couldn`t translate the message in good precise tasks and executed wrong actions. “You will kill you father and marry your mother”. Could it be interpreted as a task? Oedipus formulates the task: I should avoid killing father and marrying mother. It is very broad and formulated negatively, so it is probably a bad task. It needs interpretation and specification, and it can be interpreted in very diversified “I should do”: 1) I should kill myself 2) I should never kill anyone and in order to do this 2a) I should never meet any people – I should isolate myself or 2b) I should cut off my arms and legs in order to be weak and to be incapable to kill etc. The same with mysterious theory of affects. “Affect takes precedence over technique”. What is meant by this? It can mean practically anything.
Then, later in the text of Siegmund we meet a bunch of names like Spinoza, Zizek, Deleuz, Lakan, etc. We dig deeper and deeper into the world of concepts and necessarily, by definition, move away from the world of practice. We move with all our belongings from Earth to Conceptual Earth. The only bridge from concept to practice is leading through task analysis. It means, we should investigate, do we have strong and clear connection between a concept (for example, “affect”) and task (for example “arabesque”).
Siegmund in his text talks about affects as representations of physiological states while dancing. Still it is a conversation on the territory of concepts. Physiological state is a concept, not a task. “To reach a certain state” – this already sounds more as a task, since we hear a verb, that can be taken as an instruction, and there is a direction to apply it. This formula is still very open for interpretations, but somehow inspiring to produce some actions.
Physiological state, or affect, in this case is a word, a concept, that, combined with some amount of other verbs, can be a part of a task. The role of the word “affect” will be an inspiration in this case, a fata-morgana on the horizont, that makes a mad sailor move forward. Affect is an image, that makes the psychics react. Extrapolating this example to a common case, we can say, that concepts are beautiful peculiar jewels in the treasure box of tasks. They never shape the real mechanism of performing, but they can serve an inspiration, they can trigger psychics and be a material for tasks.
From practice I know also, that for some dancers it is enough to say “it is about love” – and their creativity translates it into good productive tasks, that lead to beautiful choreography. For the others better to say “it is about arabesque” – and the body executes this task in a gorgeous way, since technical things trigger them more. For some dancers it is necessary to read Spinoza and explain the meaning of affects. It is very long and complicated way to create tasks, but it is also possible way. The funny thing of task analysis is, task are significant only being applied to particular body and mind in particular performing situation. Tasks, even though they deceptively are expressed and articulated in words, are actually only partially concepts, but mostly the reflection of pure practice. That`s why they don`t have independent value. That`s why also any concept, being a part of task analysis, loses its independent value and becomes a tool for practice, which might be useful or useless dependent on particular situation.
Laying aside questions 1 and 2 of this research, I jump now to the third one: why then are we conceptualizing practice? First of all, I guess, because we can. Any possibility in art is an opportunity, and artists are curious, aren`t we? Once the role of conceptualization is not to explain practice (it is impossible by definition), once the only real basis for practice is task analysis, and conceptualization can`t play a structural, systematizing, shaping role in task analysis, but be just an inspiration for it, we should admit, that conceptualizing of dance practice might be enjoyable and useful, but never is an essential element of practicing dance. So the answer, why do we conceptualize dance is actually – because we can. This action, action of conceptualizing, being a self sufficient act of art, can bring a lot of fun. So, the answer might be also: we are conceptualizing dance, because it is fun. Because it brings us inspiration.
Am I being seriuos? What is this? Is this answer sufficient? What is this word “fun”? What is this expression “because we can”? Looking more detailed at the mechanisms, how do we conceptualize dance, what tools do we use, we can see more, what is “fun” about it. Again, the Oxford dictionary defines “fun” as “enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure”. Do we enjoy conceptualization? Is it amusing? Is it actually light-hearted pleasure, to find connotations between arabesque and Benedict Spinoza?
Let`s get back to methods of philosophy. Still one of the biggest problems of philosophy is creating connotation between concept and reality (experience). What does it mean in the perspective of conceptualization of dance practices? How do we recognize, how do we decide, that “affect takes precedence over technique”? So, we see a lot of people doing arabesque (same task), we see, it looks different (altered outcome) and we would like to express this variety and complexity of diversified versions in one word. We say – it is about affect. Isn`t it poetic? One word, that has no real ground under the feet, is supposed to inspire us for brave experiments and research in our bodies. It is pure poetry, and the poetry is the department of language, that can trigger mostly our imagination. So, basically, it means, once we read a sonnet of Shakespeare and dance something inspired by it and once we hear a lecture about Spinoza and then dance keeping in mind something about affects – it is the same mechanism. Conceptualization thus is writing poems about something we have seen, it is as way to express our fascination or disappointment about something we saw. Which means, conceptualization is by its definition something extremely, ultimately subjective. And subjective things have an accident, in other words, random connection with reality of practice.
Once the conceptualization works in this way: I see difference between arabesques, I am intrigued, I look for the word for my astonishment, I remember I felt something similar while reading Spinoza, I come to the word “affect”, I connect altered arabesque to the theory of affects and write a text, – we see, it is subjective, random, accident, in a way made up connection between analysis and analyzed object. The tools we use for conceptualization are basically free personal associations, comparison based on freely chosen criteria etc. It is pure art, that uses other art as a material for itself.
Now it`s time for the last question we asked: what do we do with concepts once we form them? Actually, we can do different things. We can create tasks out of them, we can use them as an open task, in other words, for inspiration, or we can just enjoy them as peculiar unique artistic creations, that are self sufficient. Isn`t it fun? Can be fun, can be not fun. Both is possible. Examining the definition of fun, we can see, that amount of joy depends on which concepts we are dealing with and how do we apply them. It can happen, that some concept doesn`t find its connection with practice. So, repeating after Forsight, an arabesque understood as a concept, will never find connection with practice. Arabesque doesn`t exist. It is Sisyphus` work to try to make concept work, when it doesn`t find it connection with tasking. In this case it is not fun. It is not enjoyable, not amusing and not light-hearted at all. It is an attempt of putting on a hand a condom instead of glove. Or a glove on a penis. Same action, but no fun, since it is not fitting and will not fit.
I find, fun is an important motivation for an artist. I personally am creating things because it is fun for me. Of course, there are different paradigms, different faiths in art. We don`t exactly know, whether art of dance has an aim and assignment. It is optional nowadays. One thing that in my opinion might be a good motivation for an artist to do any kind of art is fun of doing. However, it is a choice of every artist, to have fun or not. It is also optional. Maybe some artists enjoy confusion and perplexity, they like to be in complicated situation and prefer to avoid fun. Surely, it`s their right. I would then strongly recommend to them to take some abstract concepts, better a complicated philosophical system with a lot of broad obscure unclear definitions, and try to apply all that stuff directly to existing dance techniques. I am sure, a lot of pain and suffer will occur, and no fun at all. Also, for some people it is fun to be confused, perplexed and unclear. So many options we have! And all of them are equally valid and valuable.
Getting back to reenactment or reconstruction. In order to make the contemporary piece look partially or completely like an old one, that probably was not danced for many years, we need to go through the process of task analysis. This was described and discussed above. However, we see, Siegmund finds apparently, that this layer is not sufficient, and goes into negotiation of affects, trying to define conceptually, what is choreography and to whom does the authorship of it belong. He concludes also, paradoxically, that choreography cannot be copied, the act of reenactment is an act of creation. Then he asks – very reasonable question in my opinion – why then people do reenactments. He proposes two answers. First is – the dancers would like to experience the energy and passion of dance, that was possible in the creation of 1970s and is considered inappropriate today. I understand it like this: to create a piece like 1970s is considered old-fashioned, to reenact it is a possible way to experience it. So, basically plagiarizing in order to avoid epigonizing. Courageous decision, I would say, and it works, as we see. To be just sure what we are talking about: according to Oxford dictionary, “Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”, “re-enactment is the acting out of a past event”, “quotation is a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker”, “epigone is a less distinguished follower or imitator of someone, especially an artist or philosopher”. So, the plagiators, quotators and reenactors just copy. To copy, by the way, means “to make a similar or identical version of; reproduce ” or “to imitate the style or behaviour of ”. In the frame of the last definition, we can count epigones as copyists as well. From the point of view of task analysis, plagiarizing, quotation and reenactment are the same thing. They find their distinctions only on the territory of language, so in the universe of concepts. In other words: one can conceptualize plagiarism, and it will be fun. Because, as we remember, conceptualizing can bring a lot of fun (or not, it is optional).
Furthermore, Siegmund provides another explanation of the phenomenon of re-enactment. He mentions the recently increased significance of technology and the ability of computers to collect infinite data. Dance art is the fluent thing, that is in a way opposed to the reality of databases, where not a single byte of information will be lost. Dance exists only while performing. Paradoxically, the re-enactors would like to reexamine this feature of dance and try to repeat it. Siegmund admits, that these attempts have ambigous consequences: the title of the last chapter of the text is “confronting the unattainable”. Trying to capture uncapturable, as we discussed above, is also a privilege of conceptualization.
Summarizing, I would conclude, that re-enactment of dance performances is an activity, which has strong connection with conceptualization of dance practices. I would say, probably, the idea of re-enactment as an art form would never appear, if there was no anchor in conceptual universe. Reconstructions of battles are not considered battles or political practices. But the reenactments of pieces are considered pieces and art practices. I assume, the possible reason is, that a re-enactment is only partially dance practice, and to big extent a conceptual practice, which means a re-enactment can`t exist without correspondent concept behind, or, in simple words, makes no sense if is not accompanied by elaborated comments. Regarding the main question of the essay: it can be both fun and not fun. It is still optional. It depends on the artist and it depends on the audience.
And, answering my main question, I assume, I must admit, that re-enactment doesn`t necessarily steal fun from artist`s life. Since some artists have fun conceptualizing dance, they can also find fun in re-enactment.