This article does not represent my beliefs or comprehension of contemporary dance in their entirety. It is rather a compilation of significant impulses, thoughts and ponders. Given the fact that these peaks of contemplation revealed themselves to me at a time when I was attending Impulstanz 2017 in Vienna, I thought it was appropriate to share the following subjective impulses with the world.
I am not excusing by any means the statements which you are about to read. However, I believe that the context must be revealed as a blanket of references on which I can serve my mind’s outbursts.
As you will witness shortly, this article is filled with genuine queries and quests. I send out many sentences which end with a question mark to the universe, hoping that an answer will return either to pay a visit to me or someone else who stumbles upon the following lines.
The question, what is contemporary dance? has been longing for an answer for quite some time. People dedicate their lives to the practice of contemporary dance, many of whom are emancipated as people only by their practice of that particular art form.
However, to many of these same people, it is challenging and often even irritating when someone attempts to explain or describe what contemporary dance is.
Denying description and explanation, a rather religious conduct, don’t you think?
Dedicating your life and emancipate oneself through a devoted practice of something so abstract that it cannot and should not be explained or described as such is scarily similar to the dedication and devotion that allowed the monotheist religions leak into the intellectual pipelines of humanity throughout our history.
Do I dare to ask the unforgettable question, what is contemporary dance?
If you were blindfolded and taken somewhere without knowing anything about where you are taken or what you may experience once you get there, then the blindfold would be taken off and you would find yourself in a situation that you could rather spontaneously recognize as a performance situation or a performative act happening, what would be the leading questions and examinations that you would utilize in order to asses whether you are at a dance or even more specifically, contemporary dance, performance?
In other words, what are the molecules or the DNA of contemporary dance?
If you found a dead body of an art form, and you were running an autopsy to identify it, what would be the signs that you would look for in order to know if this dead body is one of a contemporary dance or not?
What would be the hints and inclinations that you would be after?
What would be the signs that you would draw on? What would they look like, taste like, smell like, feel like?
In other words, what do you think makes contemporary dance - contemporary dance?
Lets say you are making an omelet but you are no longer using eggs, you are not frying it, you are not even using a frying pan to make it, you are not serving it on a plate or any other serving surface for that matter and there is no one eating it, are you actually making an omelet?
And what if in the process of making an omelet you took a few vegetables and chopped them, placed them in a bowl, poured some oil and vinegar on them and had yourself or someone else takes it in through the digestive system. Would you still say you made an omelet or would you consider to admit that you have made a salad?
Do you think you would be afraid to be recognized (if at all) as just one more salad maker? Do you think you would loose the prestige and fame that you always wanted to gain as an omelet maker?
Are you less important now that you realized you have been wanting to make omelets your entire life but actually all you can create, in a good flow, and come to conclusions about, are salads?
Why can you not accept the fact that on your search to make the most mind blowing omelet you ended up making a salad?
I have got news for you, what you made is not an original, unique, innovative or even exciting omelet, it is a regular, generic, simple and delicious salad.
Back to dance…
Whilst we are at it, what is the fear from expertise and experience, in contemporary dance, derived of?
Why do dance makers enjoy so much diminishing their livelihood and lifetime dedications to a practice that indicates “everybody is a dancer”?
We must not forget that everybody can, and in my opinion should, dance.
But should anyone who dances be a legitimate go-to-expert in the evolution of dance as an art form?
Where is the line or is it a whole universe between dance and the art of dance?
In Hebrew, a dance which is practice in social and folklore contexts is called RIKUD (ריקוד) where is a dance that is either spiritual, mystical and/or artistic is called MAHOL (מחול).
These words’ etymologies are profoundly different and each has totally different meaning and connotation.
Perhaps the general and generic english, that we usually use in the dance field, has also decapitated our art form from its uniqueness and particularity. Perhaps the use of such a general language is the reason that we are often confused by the similarity between dance which is a respectful art form and that which occurs as mating rituals of teenagers at a school parties and even that which is naturally happening by the growth of plantation in our backyard. It is all dance.
General vs. particular
Why is it on one hand important for us to have “dance festivals” but at the same time refrain from accepting and perhaps even feeling empowered by a particular definition of dance?
Why is the dance world, field, sector or however you want to call it, so timid and feeling inferior to other art forms so we feel that it is not enough to make dance, to present dance, to research dance, to communicate through dance and to BE dance?
Why do we feel a must to branch out to cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, non-dance, post-dance and other notions of creation processes?
Not to say, by any little bit, that collaborations are bad. I am all about and thanks to collaborations. However, we should be allowed to also make, learn, research, develop and perform solid dance.
So, what is dance?
If I were watching a show (which I often do) or better yet if I were performing a show (which I have also done a few hundreds, perhaps thousands, times) how would I know thatI am observing/doing dance?
For those of you who are thinking “but, why do you have to know? It is just all art!”
I have many things to say to you and one of them would be a question: why do you have a passport?
In order to venture, travel and journey in full freedom one has to depart.
Where is dance departing from?
The body? Does it have to be a human body?
The space? What kind of space?
The performance? Must dance have audience?
Time? Does dance only exist in correspondence with the infinite continuum of time?
Another thing I would like to ask, how come it is alright for Rage Against The Machine, Elvis Presley, Adele, 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse, Vivaldi, Philip Glass, Björk, and many other leaders of their own genres to accept the fact that they all make (or made) music but us, in dance, we think that in order to be innovative we need to go against that same thing that defines us altogether?
There is no post-music, music is not over music.
There are subgenera like post-rock and post-punk but not post-music.
Music does not feel like it has to refuse its own origins and identity in order to be important. It is always music first of all.
There is no non-music either. Again, there are only non-genre practices, not non-everything that music is.
Why is there non-dance?
And if you can not describe dance, how can you then relate to concepts such as post-dance or non-dance?
Better yet, if you can not describe dance or talk about dance as dance, how do you expect public and audiences to listen and respond to you, to us?
How can you call something “dance festival” if you can not or perhaps refuse to describe dance?
What is the festivity all about then?
Is this some spiritual practice where one celebrates the death of an entity? Is this what the festivity all about? Are we holding festivals to announce and celebrate the end of dance, the death of it?
Dance on the spectrum of gender
As a person who is immersed in the journey within, across and beyond the contextualization and conceptualization of gender through language and practices in different societies, I am intrigued by its infinite variety and demonstrations in the universe.
I am reminded, and would like to remind you too, that no matter how you see yourself and/or the world, no matter what happens across the correspondence between who you are referred to as and who you would like to be referred to as, whether you are gendered by birth or by life, no one rejects the fact that gender is a spectrum of endless possibilities and combinations of male and female.
Male and female are general and rather ambiguous instigations of directions. They are our points of reference and through, across, despite and because of these references, we are each able to discuss gender and perhaps measure and liberate that specific and unique self that is ours.
Back to dance, what are our reference with which we can construct or identify our subjective and individual self as dance artists?
Dance like Napoleon Bonaparte
Another thought that comes to my mind is the violent characteristics of invasion and colonization. To some extent, I see the spreading and binge of contemporary dance as a ruthless regime which is never satisfied or content with its own cultural heritage or geographic territory but rather violate everything that it comes in touch with in order to fit itself everywhere. Even more saddening than that is the similarities between the generalization and lightheadedness with which we treat the identity of contemporary dance, to that which brutal regimes and ideologies treat those who are other and/or different to them.
There is something missionary and rather pathetic in how contemporary dance yearns for recognition and validation from everyone and anyone, to the extent of loosing its integrity, specificity and dignity.
It has become so general in the mask of eclecticism, so bland in the mask of conceptualism, so plain in the mask of politically-correctness and so alienated in the mask of globalized.
Back to the future
The year is 2017, it was not that long ago when people were looking for ways to express themselves through movement and choreography which are different to the classical ballet aesthetic and philosophy. The pioneers of modern dance worked very devotedly to develop a language and methodologies which could demonstrate and develop dance without the unnecessary comparison to the previously existing dance form which up until then were either extremely strict or extremely loose.
What are we devoted for as a dance community nowadays? What are the philosophies and methodologies that we are going to leave for the generations after us to utilize in their way to emancipate themselves?
Will there be dance in a few decades? How will humans know that they are dancing? Will they be able to recognize the ancestral connections between the contemporary dance of the 21st century to the dance that happened on earth in the 20th century and even in the century before that?
If so, what would be the elements that they would be referring to?
What is the DNA or dance? What makes dance - dance?