It is always the rehearsal studio. This is where we meet. This is our home. Familiar gestures and habits. The studios occasionally change, the floors are different. Some have remained unchanged for twenty years. Some really are new.
The working process in a rehearsal studio changes with time. Less and less practicing and rehearsing. Less driven by how something is supposed to look. More performing. Less preparations, bridges to what should be reached, less crises and doubts. More facts. It is somehow simpler now. We are again in a rehearsal studio because this is our job, our work, our skill, our profession. This is what we can do.
We wonder if we even should be here again and dance. Or should we be someplace else and do something else? Finally, time is our biggest capital. We wonder what we are doing. What is it that we produce? And why? Who needs that? What social forces do we set in motion with our trained act, almost a conditioned response of entering a studio and testing an idea? With its development, purification, radicalisation, asking “What is this?” immersing into something clear (to us) and communicable within a familiar form which can have a name, price, expiry date.
This work can be seen as creativity and performance, or just dancing. As far as the former is concerned, if we anchor dance in a choreography or a form known was a dance performance, it is somewhat easier to understand what we do. And if we hone this view to the end and claim that the work we do is just dancing, the situation becomes riskier, more ephemeral and without any economic grounds.
Essentially, working in dance can be viewed as moving one’s body in a space known as dance space, unlike dancing in one’s room or kitchen and within certain codes recognised by a certain group as dance. Let us say that the activity recognised as contemporary dance in the scope of contemporary artistic production is the evolution of certain corporeal ideas leaning on recent discussions among a similar social and professional group, related geopolitically and very often generationally. Communication of these ideas through theatrical tools and performance protocols, creating recognisable aesthetical codes, makes these corporeal ideas available to interested public. Furthermore, such workor professional activity also contains the perpetuation of the profession, i.e. maintenance of the channel of financial resources, be as they are, and labour rights which, if they close, will simply cease to exist. And yet another space of freedom will be irreversibly lost.
What is it that we in fact set in motion beyond ourselves by setting our bodies and ideas in motion? And by the continuous buzz of the questions “How to keep going?” and “What now?” This question appears on all levels – artistic, civil, emotional. Is this act ofdancingof entrance of certain people with certain knowledge and skills into an empty space known as dance space, an act of value in its own right? I am deliberately reducing this matter to the most banal level, to the extreme, to the very notion of contemporary dance as a profession or a theatrical act implying a value. Therefore, I ask to answer the question: “What do we set in motion when we set ourselves in motion?” Is dancing something the human community needs and should be preserved, protected from erosion, or, if there were no knowledge of dance in the broadest sense, what would be the consequences for the human community?
is a certified unique socialisation situation
creates a unique relationship with physicality, which in times of
virtual reality requires urgent reestablishment
is a communicator
creates a unique possibility of emotionally coloured movement
is a reflection of contemporaneity through physical sensitivity
takes place along the line between internal and external experience
is the echo of ritual experience
is a feel-good activity par
is a recommended therapeutic activity
is crucial knowledge in other performance arts.
If there were no dance, mankind would not have other physical activities except sports and martial arts.
All these arguments are touched upon and mentioned at least once a week in order to justify our activity, existence and even work in a given social, legal or administrative occasion.
Back to the rehearsal studio. We recap everything that has changed since our last encounter in our understanding of movement, body, space, relations, in defining the current reason for entering into motion. I stumble upon the key question, which becomes more and more profound throughout the years: “Why even move in the first place?” Sometimes this reason completely eludes us, sometimes it is somewhere around, and occasionally it becomes crystal clear. Not on the intellectual, intuitive or cognitive level. Simply – clear. The process of testing this reason is independent of a specific situation; it can be a rehearsal, a training session, “a dance of a day”, a preparation for a performance or an actual performance. It is a sub-sound, a buzz carrying the rest. A successful performance is possible even without this clarity. One of the key dance skills or, in congruence with the vernacular of this text, an important segment of a dancer’s work, is to have the tools to lead to the state of dancing, regardless of the level of this clarity, to lead the dancer’s entire system of into an activity producing dance and going beyond what was performed yesterday. Not necessarily better or more interesting, simply beyond.
Between rehearsal work, stage work and administrative work, the open discussion about who and what is this instance that legitimises dance as work, as a value, artistic, social and economic, looms like a stubborn shadow. On the rawest level, it is enough to archive institutional documentation such as contracts, reports and professional channels of acknowledgment like reviews, awards, collaboration invitations. However, this is not enough, too much is left out. For instance, how to measure the unmeasurable, which eludes the administrative vocabulary, but is indispensable for the understanding of creative dance work? How to measure the change beyond ourselves that our repeated return to the studio nevertheless, I hope, produces? Can audience experience or memory be quantified? Can the knowledge shared throughout the years be measured? The amount of at least minimum paid jobs our work has made possible – to others? Is our own existence a measure, balancing between economy, anarchy, precarity and support of likeminded people?
The precarious position, more accurately, the absence of systemic stability leads to a specific identity state, not to say crisis, a perpetual vortex of the internal artistic drive and the issue of its realistic sense (is it a lack or an excess of something?), the existential issue and the question of “What else do I need to do on the market?” (better profiling, branding, education, networking, raise/lower the price, work more/less etc.), the feeling of political and social responsibility (because I nevertheless do what I chose to do, which is a luxury…, others have it worse etc.). Such a regime leads to a state of perpetual vigilance, agility and expertise in a number of fields. On the other hand, like in similar professions, it leads to burnout, exhaustion and a shift of focus from what should be important to preserving the ramparts of the context in which one can operate to some extent, i.e. to the maintenance of existence per se. Exposure, the feeling of being out in the cold is constant. Exposure of our bodies and expression is the essence of our work and, yes, it is a choice. The need for communication with a hint of narcissism and eccentricity. OK. Exposure to the audience. OK. Exposure also to a system which does not possess any ideological or professional tools neither for acceptance, nor for evaluation of the work we expose. This is where the real problem begins.
It is much clearer in the classroom. It is the articulation of experience and transfer of knowledge by way of a chosen methodology. This chosen, individual methodology’s framework positions this work in the society. The result is the number of students and paid fees. Very clearly quantified.
In the classroom I wonder what it is that I teach when I share my knowledge on dance through some movements, some systems of motion. I notice how hard it is for me to distinguish what is knowledge and what a habit, or if knowledge has become a physical habit. All these returns to the rehearsal studio and hours of exchange of ideas have resulted in the embodiment of a knowledge, an awareness, a playfulness, an ease of transformation. I share the current station in meandering through my own dance awareness. With the invitation to everyone to take what they recognise in these proposals. Teaching someone how to dance is a failed activity to begin with, on so many levels.
The growth of teaching and mentoring capital is proportional to the number of years spent on the dance floor. And dancing, i.e. performing capital at a certain point starts to diminish. Injuries, wear, pain, fatigue. Bones, joints, tendons, they all have an expiry date. A dancer’s body is a capital, a strategic investment which has its life span and cannot be replaced like a computer or a guitar. The feeling of the body’s unprotectedness, as well as its strength and renewability, the feeling I am this body on a very real level is one of the most impressive realisations and clarities I can distinguish as the essence of a long existence in dance. In our system, paradoxically, back to the local context for a moment, the only situation when I actually receive equal acknowledgment and protection from the system, is a maternity leave or a long sick leave. Only in situations of proven utmost incapability of work I become a legitimate citizen worthy of the system’s protection, whereas the work I do is non-existent, immeasurable, self-induced, systemically less valuable than amateur work.
Hence, back to the rehearsal studio, let us see where we are now. Then automatically, by way of a conditioned reflex or the trodden paths of the profession and cultural policy, off to the stage where work actually – happens. Or, let us assume that we are sitting in the rehearsal studio now, thinking where and why to go on. Let us move away from the stage, the spotlights and the performer vs. audience dichotomy. These positions have become slightly uncomfortable to everyone. Let us see if dance really can be a value per se, without being a lesson, a party,a session, a show on dance as an abstract notion. Here I don’t mean clean dance, purified of all influences, the immaculatelevel in the modernist or mystical sense, a dance surging unstoppably over the edges of the body, consciousness and sensuality to the upper spheres, but rather dance in the sense of a practice expanding and acting by itself in what it is. The work which is a performance of itself, which produces an invisible and immeasurable value, which is nevertheless indisputable and acknowledged. The work that does not exhaust but nourish and which produces knowledge and progress, and which does not come in the form of a stage performance. Dance as a practice communicated without aesthetisation and dramaturgical sutures. What could it be that is not already and that could produce a new possibility of change? It is the issue of – the rehearsal studio.
Coming closer to my 45th birthday, I wondered, with growing irony and a real need of settling the scores, what it is that I know as a dancer, as a choreographer, as a performer. Which knowledge or skill can I offer directly and acceptably to a broader social community, as an economy chip, to justify all these hours on the dance floor? With growing irony, knowing how to dance stops with the question “What can you dance?” The same goes for knowing how to choreograph. This question resulted in the dance work Ms Fox Invited Ms Cat1 in association with Silvia Marchig and Josip Maršić, performed, like many others, only a few times, but also a dance work in which the question “What can I and what can’t I dance?” visited and touched upon different levels and experiences of our dance biographies.
Working on this performance helped crystalize some surprising issues. A growing comfort of being in one’s own body, although physical force and dancer strength evidently diminishes. A realisation what the experience of one’s own body and dance in the period of full-blown physical power and shape was coloured by the feeling of dissatisfaction, insecurity and insufficiency, which I now perceive as a paradox. When strength and physicality can no longer be in the focus, when competitiveness is illusory, something else begins, a game more entertaining in which I identify subtler zones of movement.
The second issue is a quest for a new point zero, the beginner status, for learning anew, for a utopian position of an absolute beginner. The work of a dancer, author and mentor implies an affirmation and objectification of one’s own corporeal knowledge, an analysis of one’s own process of creating, memory, method which is at least to a certain point transferrable and communicative. Going back to starting point, which is, naturally, completely different from the starting point of learning in one’s youth, a possibility of a re-establishment of relationships towards movement and body is a relativisation of one’s personal professional system, which inevitably leads to a risk of not producing anything but ourselves. Very profitable in the market sense, but a creative and artistic cul-de-sac.
Back to the rehearsal studio. Whatever we do there in a closed circuit of fellow dance practitioners, in a form called a rehearsal, is at a certain point – shared. We need open eyes to make it real, to materialise it. These are the forces we set in motion. An encounter which is a unique experience of this shared moment. Excitement and explosion makes a performance (a play, a dance) intimate.
All we could possibly think and analyse about the precarious position of the independent dance scene in the recent Croatian context has been thought and analysed already on so many levels. Cramped inside a rightist crusade on all the social levels and the violence of the neoliberal market, an individual who is not part of these two systems wiggles somewhere on the edge of their existence. The material, the civil, the artistic, the intellectual, the emotional. The cost of the naivety that human rights and a progressive socially sensitive system are the guaranteed course of history has finally hit us. They are not. Every human right of any vulnerable group is unstable and requires constant caution and barricades. And the profession of dancers and choreographers in the Balkans is a strange echo of more stable and developed social communities and its own loyalty to utmost individualism, establishment of its own values, daily resistance to totalitarian tendencies which surge like floods from all parts and in different forms. A dancer’s body reinvents itself as an instrument of resonance with contemporaneity, as instability within the statics of totalitarian ideologies. We choose dance as a profession, as a calling, as a lifestyle, as a measure of values, as a circle of people, as a way of understanding the world, as something important, as an identity, as ourselves, as excitement, as knowledge, as existence, as vulnerability, as a demand, as a right. We choose it in our youth, when dance looks like a dynamic, demanding, risky and enchanting activity, despite warnings of its instability and economic cost-inefficiency. Then, after twenty or more years, unless we have institutionalised within a 9 to 5 working rhythm, we choose dance every day all over again. The dance that does not produce anything but itself. And sets extremely irritating social forces in motion which occasionally endanger the system in which dance stubbornly attempts to live.
In the dance work Fest, Ivo Dimchev plays a fictional character of the controversial Bulgarian performer Ivo Dimchev, who after 10 years of successful European career arrives at a fictional Danish festival and experiences countless problems with staging a fictional play, such as embarrassing negotiations about the price and number of performances, a lack of rehearsals, the impossibility of performing against a white backdrop, which is the only technical requirement, aggressive reviews, exhausting conversations with the audience after the performance. The answer of the fictional director of the fictional festival to the fictional performer’s repeated arguments that the arranged conditions are being cut down is: “You are talented, Ivo, you can do it…”
The question nevertheless remains, which are the minimum conditions when dance stops being work and a profession, when the system fully manages to exclude this kind of ethics and collaboration from the economy. What sort of talent and skills to lean on then? And how… to keep going?