Let me begin by way of a personal anecdote, describing a recent work that I consider as pivotal in how I position myself against the aspirations I aspire for as a choreographer negotiating what, Walter Benjamin in his essay The Author as Producer, describes as the attitude and position to the relations of production of one’s time. A question that “directly concern the function of work within the literary relations of production.” In short how do I position myself as a choreographer negotiating the exigencies of remaining afloat within an art economy that does not necessarily yield the means by which one can remain afloat as a non-choreographer, or a 32-year old mother of two with rent, monthly utilities, healthcare, clothing, and daily costs of living to attend to. Which brings to the table our favorite question, how do we as artists involved in the thing we do as artists survive when obviously the thing we do as artists does not guarantee access to the means of having a “good and comfortable life” that any adult aspires for.
The work I am pertaining to, entitled The Audience Watching the Audience from 8:00pm to 8:40 pm, was a work produced while and through a residency granted by the Campbelltown Arts Centre’s International Dance Residency Program where I together with Filipino poet-critic Angelo V. Suarez collaborated with Australian dance artists to investigate the complicit network of interdependency involved and necessary for artists and cultural workers who “flit in and out of art-related institutions.”
The Audience Watching the Audience from 8:00pm to 8:40 pm is a work in choreography and administration, developed between myself and Suarez together with Australian dance artists Sam Chester, Matthew Day, Alexandra Harrison, Nikki Heywood, and Dean Walsh under the curatorial and administrative assistance of dance artists Julie Anne-Long and Emma Saunders. Allow me to quote from the notes to work which was distributed to the audience members during the performance:
“This is a work of choreography. Which is to say, this is a work of literature. The Audience Watching the Audience from 8:00 P.M. to 8:40 P.M. is an investigation into inscription—that is, how relations within a theatrical context are inscribed as well as how these relations are administered. This is a work of administration. Which is to say, this is a work of choreography.
As cultural workers who flit in and out of art-related institutions, the 7 artists have come up with a choreographic work in and out of the process of which they could also flit, as per administrative procedure: For 3 weeks prior to the show, The Audience Watching the Audience from 8:00 P.M. to 8:40 P.M. was conceptually and physically assembled according to a pre-set schedule that marked when each collaborator would be present—a means of allowing the work to carry on even when some of those who worked on it were absent. One could even say that part of what constructed the work—the process of construction being “a careful symphony of comings and goings,” as Harrison described it—was one’s conscious and occasional absence from it. How telling that the 7 artists have agreed to not join the audience, further administrating and inscribing themselves into the performance thru their absence.”
I am referring back to this work particularly due to the online discussions that have ensued between myself and Suarez, and curator Tang Fu Kuen. The bone of contention was a line in the notes saying: “The discussions are also framed within the economy of an international exchange, a type of economy that either enables artists to become mobile and productive, or disables artists to be forced into mobility when they do not choose to be mobile and into productivity where they produce works they do not necessarily choose to produce.” Whether it was a misunderstood as cynical distrust in the economy of international dance exchanges, typifying the current mode of cultural production in contemporary economy, or an ungrateful spite against the necessity of “being mobile” is as far as I am concerned, didn’t matter as much. For isn’t it the very character of the art economy that allows, to quote Suarez, “feed the mouth that bites its hand…[even allow[ing] this economy to flourish as in the case of the cottage industry known as institutional critique]?” Furthermore the work, put in the context of international exchange, the platform by which most of my work, if not all of my work is allowed to exist, actually elicits this kind of self-reflexivity to thrive. The statement thus was nothing more than putting into historical context circumstances by which the work was being produced.
But why I am really citing this work is to illustrate how we – the artists, particularly Suarez, and myself who flew to Australia together with our then 7-month old child to do a residency – articulated our relation to the forces of production by exposing the administrative procedures and personal circumstances which are ordinarily considered as external to an aesthetic or choreographic work known to the public. In fact it was this very administration of the bodies in performance, bodies that included the audience who were precisely the instrumental accomplices of the work that we wanted to articulate as the choreographic work.
Immediately, the question “But (where) is the dance here?” comes to mind. My answer is that “there is none.” This was a work in choreography and not a work in dance. And as you’ve seen there is not a trace of anything in the work that may even remotely resemble dancing. The only thing that may account for this work to be of a work in dance or a work in the field of dance is that it has been conceived, produced, presented and distributed within an institution of dance by a group of people entrenched in the field of dance. Save, for Suarez and Nikki Heywood, who is an actor and dramaturge, all the collaborators had a distinct dance background and context to speak of.
What The Audience watching the Audience… is proposing is a notion of the choreographic divorced from dance. Encompassing the once stable relationship of choreography with the body and movement. Here, choreography is articulated and understood as an activity of organization. An organization of bodies in space and time, recording and organizing movement and gestures into a sensible whole to constitute a community — choreography as a social activity that not only connects bodies to form a community but also organizes the relations in which these bodies exist to interact. In short it is a work of administration, wherein what is administered is not only the bodies of all that are present in the performance but the very relations and power constellation by which each one present in the space is inscribed in.
German dance critic Gerald Siegmund proposes “the birth of choreography as a result of a moment of crisis, a moment of loss, of disappearance, of death both of the dance and its dancer.” Choreography is thus an action that keeps things, things that are immediately disappearing from finally disappearing. Is this not what we experience when we set movement material down into their “final choreographic” mode? Setting material in order to preserve the germination and materialization of an idea, concept, feeling and/or affect into a gesture? Siegmund then adds that it is this very instability – instability of the dancer’s feeling, fear of falling, crashing and dancing out-of-step – that is at the center of choreography. And hence, a community-forming moment that is aroused by the fear of impermanence. For dance is not only immediate and ephemeral but also always absent. In a sense that once it is realized and embodied it immediately ceases to materially exist. Choreography then aspires to prevent this abolition from taking place by putting into a code, into a score, and writes into language the body that is absent or at the threat of absence.
Allow me to momentarily digress and cite Andre Lepecki’s book Exhausting Dance in which he makes reference to the works of Jerome Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Vera Mantero, and Juan Dominguez among others whose works in the 90s introduce a stilling of movement as a response to dance’s identity of being-in-flow and it’s historical trajectory towards motility or continuous motion. This stilling dismantles the notion of dance as that associated with movement, constant agitation, flow and continuum of movement. And thus creating a crack in which thinking the choreographic in terms other than movement is made plausible, where “new possibilities for thinking relationships between bodies, subjectivities, politics and movement” is addressed.
This historical moment in recent contemporary dance history changed the landscape by which a dance performance is experienced, read, produced and consumed. If then, one could easily talk about dance performance in terms of what kind of object ‘dance’ a performance is, as in what is the dancing matter, the technique-style and subject matter being communicated through metaphor are being presented in the 90s these questions were no longer sufficient. Instead what emerged is another approach that was not solely if at all concerned with “what object a dance performance is” but “what kind of concept of dance” is being proposed and performed (B.Cvejic 2006). In this framework, a work of dance or choreography may be considered as a kind of proposition that issues a comment on dance. Through which the materiality of dance and the experience of the spectator are laid bare and challenged by way of self-reflexive critical questioning of one’s own position in the production and redistribution of experience and knowledge of dance.
At this point I would like to show another work probing the notion of choreography as an act of administering. Administering not just bodies and relations of these bodies with each other and in space but also the conditions within which these bodies move. The next work is an excerpt from a solo work Anything less is less than a reckless act. This solo, a lecture-performance, calls attention to the decision-making process constitutive of the aesthetic experience itself. It attempts to illustrate how audience members or spectators of a dance performance are implicated in the way they choose to experience a performance. And how in by administrating the means for them to watch and take a position as I wish to expose how the audience are participates in the construction of the work.
The initial impetus of this work was to isolate myself as a choreographer from the dance object by way of creating a structure by which I could still frame the work as a solo without necessarily being as “physically dancerly” involved in the dance object.
How does one, whose career track as a choreographer was primarily determined within the bounds of a solo dance practice, accomplish the task of distinguishing the dance from the choreography when one’s work as a choreographer within a solo dance practice is immediately complicated by the subjectivity and mandatory charisma expected of a solo dance performer? How does one, whose career track as a choreographer being primarily determined within the bounds of a solo dance practice and complicated by the subjectivity and mandatory charisma conforming of a solo dance performer, become a choreographer capable of critical distance from one’s own productive labor? How does one, whose career track as a choreographer being primarily determined within the bounds of a solo dance practice and complicated by the subjectivity and mandatory charisma conforming of a solo dance performer negotiating a critical choreographic distance from the one’s own productive labor, distinguish between activities called dance and choreography?
I am guessing that like some of my peers in dance, my career as choreographer in the Philippines has been catapulted by means of a solo – a solo I have “choreographed” and performed in 2004 by way of an invitation to participate in Jay Cruz’s Dancing Wounded Contemporary Dance Commune’s (now Transitopia Contemporary Dance Commune) entitled “Truth about beauty, truth about dance.” Now whether that solo was choreographically worthy or performer or, should I say ‘dancerly’ worthy still remains unclear to me – though I suspect the former, that is I knew then as performer with substantial stage experience that I must have possessed both the skill and charisma of carrying out a solo that warranted the public attention and recognition I have received as a dance artist. In retrospect, I will say that in the context of how the so-called independent dance and the rise of independent dance artists in the Philippines has evolved there was an apparent indiscriminate tendency to synonymously interchange the terms solo dance artist with choreographer. As well as the sweeping affiliation of the contemporary with independent (dance), and/or solo dance artist. It was as if being a solo dance artist was no different from being a choreographer. And hence, I was interested in determining, whether I could be, being a choreographer whose career track has been initially established by solo dance works, a choreographer or that if I could choreograph expressing my bodily subject position. In this work, I tried as much as possible to disassociate myself bodily by not demonstrating the movement to the two dancers but by simply giving out verbal instructions that the dancers themselves had to interpret according to their experience and baggage as cultural beings.
The opportunity to clarify what is being a dancer and what entails being a choreographer has never cropped up until recently, which perhaps account for what may seem as a turning against dance, in favor of choreography, choreography that is beyond dance. Not that being one and the other at the same time is not possible but just that from where I am – where, being the place in which one works as administrator and administratee, sometimes separately but often simultaneously, in fields that may have to do with dance but often also fields that are outside of dance – the contrast needs to be clarified in order to properly situate one’s relation to artistic and cultural production. And hence elicit and receive the necessary support and infrastructure that will allow me to work as an artist and produce work that is considered art or aesthetic.
Back then, before there was WiFi or Contemporary Dance Map, or Facebook, or what we now know of as independent dance has even existed, all we – and when I say we, I mean us dancers who were informally bound together by a common: dancing outside what were considered as radars of dance namely, the CCP particularly Ballet Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theater, even of UP Dance Company – were concerned of nothing else but to find, and in our case, activate, by way of self-organization, performing spaces for outsiders and autodidacts like ourselves who were/are not part or belonging to formal institutions in dance. So, at that time, while we were in the process of becoming choreographers by way of our dancing activity; being publicly recognized as “dance artists” we were also becoming administrators, cultural managers in the service of ourselves as artists – self-organizing, self-governing and self-administrating mechanisms that will render our abstract work as dancers to be legible to the public, even to our own selves. Or in Marxist terms, we were producing capital, while also distributing capital for the consumption of the market. Or in what I am proposing as the expanding notion of choreography, we were becoming choreographers. Hence, one can say that we needed to become choreographers in order for us to be choreographers.
How far and to what extent can we choreograph the dance. That is to say to include the circumstances and political constellations that make it possible to frame a particular work as dance? Is it possible to account for those otherwise considered external to the dance — the material coordinates, micro-political arrangements, relations and economic decisions surrounding the production of any work in dance — and declare them as part of the aesthetic work?
I say yes. It’s been done and is being done. Jacques Ranciere provides us with a theoretical framework to back up such assertions when he defines aesthetic “as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and stakes of politics as a form of experience.” He further elucidates that aesthetic practices are those that “disclose artistic practices, the place they occupy, what they ‘do’ or ‘make’ from the standpoint of what is common to the community.” Artistic practices being the “ways of ‘doing’ and ‘making’ that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility.” By proposing aesthetic practices as those that “disclose artistic practice” Ranciere suggest a more encompassing definition of the ‘aesthetic’ as something that does not merely involve the making of art but the more so the activities that distribute art or allow art to be distributed, experienced, produced and presented. In other words, the politics ordinarily conceived as extraneous if not “just contextual” to art.
If the aesthetic then encompasses what we ordinarily perceive as art, including even those that are otherwise just circumstances allowing one to participate in the institution of art, my proposal of the choreographic is hence to call attention to all the ‘other things’ that allows one to choreograph or to administrative endeavors that render the expressed to be sensed by a public, even by the artist himself. Let me then close this by citing a current work entitled Daily cost of living 01.05.2012 – 01.05.2013. Daily cost of living… is nothing but a tedious documentation my daily expenses incurred by way of collecting the receipts of all my expenses from food, daily necessities to books, eating out, clothing, rent, cost of daycare and reaction. These receipts will be published as a book after one year and called out as a choreography – a choreography of daily life, a daily life of a choreographer who negotiates life as a choreographer and non-choreographer aspiring to be a choreographer.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Author as Producer” in Reflections, edited by Peter Demetz, New York, Schocken Books, 1986, pp 220-238.
Cvejic, Bojana. “To end with judgement” www.mobileacademy -berlin.com/englisch/2006/texte/cvejic03.html
Lepecki, Andre. “Introduction: the political ontology of movement” in Exhausting Dance, New York, Routledge, 2006.
Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics, translated by Gabriel Rockhill, London, Continuum, 2009.
Siegmund, Gerald. “Five Theses on the Function of Choreography” in Scores No. O, Autumn 2010.