Xavier Le Roy and Bojana CvejicThe End with Judgement by Way of Clarification
Xavier Le Roy: Because we cannot escape this terminology any longer what is your understanding of conceptual dance? What is it in relationship to dance? In relationship to conceptual art? When have you read, heard the terms ‘conceptual dance’, ‘non dance’ or ‘anti dance’ for the first time? How do you think these terms are understood in the field of choreographic art? In other fields? What is your understanding of these terms? Or why do you think they were chosen?
Bojana Cvejic: The term “conceptual dance” has never been theorized, introduced in a programmatic way by the makers, i.e. the choreographers to whom the label is attributed; nor has it been elaborated theoretically in European or American discourses of performing arts that follow on from so called conceptual dance practices today.
So far I have been convinced that the term is so inappropriate that it should be dismissed, its usage being more harmful than supportive of the development of these practices. But as the term stubbornly recurs, and more and more with the negative intention of closing a paradigm down, perhaps it is important to use this panel discussion as the last opportunity for contesting the grounds on which the denomination ‘conceptual dance’ with regard to conceptual art has been made. I would very systematically and concisely divide the arguments in two: what makes the content of the concept ‘conceptual art’ – the ground for “yes” (which are definitely not the reason why the term conceptual dance was coined, because the usage of the term shows that it isn’t informed by knowledge about conceptual art), and the grounds for ‘no’:
Grounds for “Yes”
1. Conceptual art developed the new aesthetic of the speech act in the late 1960s. The artist representative of minimal sculpture, Donald Judd best exemplified it with the statement: “This is a work of art if I say so.” Indeed if some recent dance practices use the performative of ‘this is choreography, this is, this could be dance’ to constitute their novel propositions on dance, they nevertheless move away from the aesthetic of declaration and intention. The proposition “This is choreography” is never neutral and arbitrary, for it is devised to meet the resistance of Dance in the singular, the tutional resistance to not only proposing other propositions, but to the form of proposition as such.
2. When a work of dance or choreography is considered a kind of proposition presented in the context of dance it issues a comment on dance. Here we have to reconsider how the preposition ‘this is choreogra-phy’ relates to Joseph Kosuth’s definition of artwork as an analytic proposition. In dance there has never been a determination of analytic critical conceptualism of the kind of Kosuth, which would analyse the types of propositions using positivist logic, or linguistic or semiotic models and replace the matter of performance with a meta-linguistic discourse on the nature and concept of dance. However, the propositional form of the so-called conceptual dance practices shares with conceptual art self-reflexiveness, much less discursive or epistemological and much more perceptual / anti-essentialist, thereby working mainly with the materiality of dance and the perceptual experience and interpretation of the spectator. Self-reflexivity in conceptual dance is directed towards the dispositif of theatre, the ‘conditions, roles and procedures whereby a spectator is presented something as dance, which becomes the object of its own performance. Such a reorientation promotes a radical stance: if dance tries to tell us something about the world it is bound to fail… It can only represent representation, in other words, its means, mechanisms and ideologies of producing meaning and status in contemporary culture.
3. Self-reflectiveness should better be replaced by spectatorship, when it addresses the frame of perception, and in some rare cases, receivership, when it requires that the spectator discursively engages in the understanding of what the work proposes as choreography. Meaning is created in structural relationships between the work and the field of dance and choreography, the conditions and roles of the author and the spectator.
4. Does conceptual dance share with conceptual art institutional critique? Only withn regard to critiquing the ideological fetishism of the status of object and commodity status. Nevertheless, so-called conceptual dance participates in the institutional distribution; there is a necessary collaboration between the programmer and the choreographer to a certain degree; some programmers strive to co-create concepts ar rather contexts of festivals which will support the propositions of conceptual dance.
Grounds for “No”
1. The work of so-called conceptual dance isn’t based on the withdrawal of the perceptual. It doesn’t map the linguistic onto the perceptual, even if it is influenced by the so-called Duchamp effect; the word does not prevail over the movement. There is no dogmatic prohibition of physicality (as was the case in conceptual art when the art object was replaced by the theoretical object). On the contrary, the practices are based on configuring other materialities of movement and body expressivity, which would no longer rest on the Romantic notions of the ineffable and unfathomable, the speechless anonymity of the body etc. (I’ll return to these notions with regard to Dance in singular.) The fear of the ugly words ‘tautology’ and ‘self-referentiality’ associated with conceptual art and used against so-called conceptual dance comes from relying on the entrenched hope in Western culture that dance would be the event of thought before it acquires a name. This is where Western philosophers like Alain Badiou, theorists and intellectuals, take pleasure in dance and become complicit with dance practitioners who aim to preserve dance as a medium-specific practice of the sublime and ephemeral self-expression of a free individual. Badiou confirms Mallarmé’s definition that dance is poetry emancipated from writing tools. The practices called ‘conceptual dance’approach dance as writing in the Derridean sense, which doesn’t and cannot reiterate the writing text in the domain of theory.
2. No utopia: conceptual dance cannot be seen as part of the historical project of modernism, as was the case with conceptual art. It doesn’t belong to the same lineage of abstraction which would make it the last instance of abstraction Merce Cunningham – Yvonne Rainer – Xavier Le Roy, Jérôme Bel or Tino Sehgal; Marcel Duchamp – Donald Judd – Joseph Kosuth) or reductionism and self-reflection, where the use of language substituting for movement would be a form of dematerializing the object and the commodity dance. There is no goal in transforming the format of presentation (theatre performance of dance), audiences or institutional market. These practices operate from within the institutions, emphasizing a critical use of the theatre dispositif.
3. However, the practices bundle under ‘conceptual dance’ propose a plurality of configurations of movement, body, subjectivity, cultures, beyond self referentiality and homogeneity, that could be associated with rational selfreflection only from within the medium. We couldn’t speak of an artistic movement of formation, we could even have difficulty in making one paradigm that would include Bel, Le Roy, Boris Charmatz, Vera Mantero. This proves two things: the heterogeneity points to a hybridity against the purity of pure modernist dance) and an openness of differences, many not only concepts but conceptualiza- tions of dance beyond modernism.