[-empyre-] into what midst? which collective? whose imaginary space?

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Thu Apr 18 05:51:42 EST 2013

here for sharing,  the Kostanić essay:

[transcribed from]
Program for
Semi-Interpretations Or how to explain contemporary dance to an undead hare

Composition and modulation:   Nikolina Pristaš
Notes and blackboxing:  Goran Sergej Pristaš
Credits for performance and the translation of texts (in Croatian and English)
Sound design: Jasmin Dasović
Light design: Alan Vukelić
Costume design: Silvio Vujičić
Hare: Ana Ogrizović
Technical support: Marcell Mars
Speculative dimension: Pravdan Devlahović, Ana Kreitmeyer, Ivana Ivković, Tomislav Medak, Zrinka Užbinec.
Producer: Lovro Rumiha


SEMI-INTERPRETATIONS or how to explain contemporary dance to an undead hare
“I don’t know how things stand. I know neither who I am nor what I want, but others say they know on my behalf, others, who define me, link me up, make me speak, interpret what I say, and enroll me. Whether I am a storm, a rat, a rock, a lake, a lion, a child, a worker, a gene, a slave, the unconscious, or a virus, they whisper to me, they suggest, they impose an interpretation of what I am and what I could be .”
Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France

The Choreographic Unconscious: Dance and Suspense

Marko Kostanić

Regardless of methodological differences and the number of participating group members, an adequate entry point for complementing the interpretational deficiency suggested in the titles of the latest BADco.’s performance is an issue that was elaborated in the previous two, namely 1 Poor and One 0, and The League of Time. More precisely, we need to outline the continuity between these two performances and Semi-Interpretations. The concept that will help us outline it is a paraphrase of the famous term coined by Fredric Jameson – the choreographic unconscious. [The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, 2002] Historical and epistemological postulates of the previous performances start from an analysis and extraction of choreographic procedures from non-dance fields, in specific historical and political constellations – cinema, the Taylorist organization of labour, the social imagination and technological Utopian visions of post-October Russia.

Articulating choreography as a structural moment of operation in other, non-dance social fields not only casts a different light on those places from which it has been extracted, but also establishes a framework for different ways of writing the history of dance. It is a double method of cancelling the unconscious in the supposed detachedness of choreography from the historical and social reality – but what is brought into light from that reality are the constitutive traces of choreography, whereas from choreography as an autonomized artistic field it is the unconscious social and rhetorical conditions of the specific legitimization of the autonomizing process with respect to the social hyper-codification of ballet and the gestural ideology of everyday life. 

Semi-Interpretations start from the dramaturgy of emptied history as a tool for articulating the choreographic unconscious. What we see on stage is a sort of fictionalized post-apocalyptic situation. It is a dancer who has the knowledge of dance and is throughout the show in the position of playing with that knowledge with regard to the only one who is left for her for communicating that knowledge, for persuading it, and that is the undead hare. 

The hare is undead because it has a single potential left at its disposal – the gaze. It is not clear what receptive horizon or cognitive competences are hidden behind that gaze. The tension of not mastering the scopic field is additionally emphasized through the contingency of sound. Besides the ‘image’ that has served as the scenographic and dramaturgical ‘material,’ which is Beuys’s performance of explaining pictures to the dead hare isolated from the audience who can only observe him through the window, the function of sound onstage imposed another ‘image’ as the origin of situation on stage, this time from the history of philosophy. It is the famous Sartre’s example for explaining the emergence of the gaze – the voyeur peeping through the keyhole, at which moment there is a rustling sound on the staircase. There is an emergent awareness of the potentiality of always-having-already-been gazed at as a key constituent of psychological existence. 

The fiction of post-apocalyptic world has history as its unconscious. The dramaturgy of Semi-Interpretations allows history to enter its fictionalized field by not mastering the gazes within the fiction. Instead of directly involving and thematizing the audience as a present and accessible gaze, Semi-Interpretations are scenographically shaped according to a paraphrased variant of Diderot’s instruction – dance as if the curtain had never been raised!  Same as in 18th century painting, from which Diderot had drawn his instruction, Semi-Interpretations do not neglect or exclude the beholder with this gesture, quite the contrary. In her book Imagine There’s No Woman, in the chapter called ‘The Invention  of Crying and the Antitheatrics of the Act,’ Joan Copjec has defined the beholder’s status in such arranged representation in the following way:

Curiously however, this self-absorption of the represented space, this refusal to acknowledge the existence of any space outside its own, aimed at not an absolute denial of the beholder so much as at his ‘absorption’ at the depicted scene. That is, the paintings’ very pretence to ignorance of the beholder’s presence worked to arrest the beholder’s attention, to capture him in their thrall.  By sealing the space of the representation off from that of the audience, at which the scenes were in fact directed, these paintings did not completely sever their relation to their beholder but, on the contrary, emphasized that relation, gave it new weight and significance.

Self-absorption in Semi-interpretations is not the basis of theatrical representation, but rather functions as a specific dramaturgical tool used to achieve a dramaturgy of emptied history. What remains from history is the historically formed brain and body of the dancer, as well as the hare’s gaze and the sound, which indicate the historical anchoring of unhistorical fictions. The gaze of the audience is the recipient of persuasion and explanation. The indicated special status of that gaze makes its formation dependent on the dancer’s relations with the gazes within the fiction and the ensuing establishment of a distance from which it is possible to historicize the fragilities of fictional scopic relations. 

The lack of a direct relationship with the present audience and the dance for gazes within the fiction make it possible to inscribe the above-mentioned receptive horizon and cognitive competences into those gazes, to historicize and to draw out the choreographic unconscious. It is a dramaturgy that uses fiction to avoid giving a direct answer to the audience on the question for whose gaze is it that the dancer is dancing, establishing instead the coordinates for historical thinking on the accumulated conditions that determine the articulations and re-articulations of that question and answer. 

It cuts the interpretation in half. What is expected from the spectators is to fill in that second half, even though there must be some who enjoy the suspense created by this half-way interpretation. But it may be more fruitful to ask the following – can dance create suspense, and how?  

An interesting historical angle for looking at the problem of persuasiveness and rhetoricity, artificiality and naturalness of dance that is danced for someone, which is in the focus of the choreographic unconscious in Semi-interpretations, is a specific turning point in the history of cinema. It is the cinematic revolution that took place between 1915 and 1920, far more relevant than the introduction of sound. Moreover, it coincided historically with the legitimizing ideological tropes of modern dance, which emerged in opposition to ballet. And it irreversibly influenced theatrical gesturality and acting. Cinematic thinking first appeared at that time, meaning that films no longer functioned as a technologically facilitated way of documenting the theatrical dispositive. Apart from the theatre as an accessible method of representation, one of the reasons for the “time-lag” in the evolution of cinematic thinking was the original fascination with the invention of the medium. 

The discovery of motion pictures resulted in an inevitable desire to show as much liveliness, movement, and intensity as possible. As Pascal Bonitzer wrote in a text on the genealogy of Hitchcockian suspense:  “For the first fifteen or twenty years, cinematographers allowed themselves to be captivated by things, by movement and by life, by the animated spectacle of the world.”  

That is the register in which the cinematic acting of the time evolved, which used a burlesque, accelerated, and caricatured variant of almost incessant theatrical gesturality in order to become equivalent in persuasiveness to the ultimate sort of newly-discovered persuasiveness – a faithful reproduction of reality. 

But then, primarily owing to Griffith and partly also to Kuleshov’s experiment, there was a break. Using the potentials of montage and close-up made it possible to enter the hitherto inaccessible space of theatrical relations and made the previous type of gesturality and its corresponding persuasiveness obsolete. This led to a sort of repression of the actor’s body and, accordingly, to the narrative relevance of immobility, neutrality, and the focussed body. The crucial thing was that it was no longer the movement that was choreographed on film; it was the gaze, which automatically created cinematic psychology and suspense.

The birth of suspense on film is not only interesting as an episode in the history of cinema, but because of the dominant influence of film as a medium, which has shaped the regimes of other arts. The montage procedures that create suspense are also one of the key determinants in the coordinate affective system of the contemporary subject. The privileged situation in which suspense comes into dance is the dance solo. There are two essential reasons for that. The first has to do with the inevitable emphasis on the gaze of the dancer, which needn’t be intended. 

The choreography of her gaze, be it completely concealed or in a direct eye contact with someone in the audience, is an inevitable basis for organizing intelligibility in such a performative situation. In other words, regardless of what she does with her gaze and where she directs it, that gesture immediately acquires a privileged status of interpretation. The other reason is linked to the distribution of attention, or rather with its condensation. Every tiny movement of the body or gesture becomes decisive. The method of choreographic persuasion and the formation of a particular procedure always require struggle with a far greater degree of contingency, be it corporal or interpretive.  What happens in Semi-Interpretations is that an additional emphasis is placed on the situation of suspense in dance by bringing the undead hare on stage. Constitutive tensions and the suspense of the dance solo are dislocated and intensified in a question that appears even more decisive – what will Nikolina Pristaš do with the hare. 
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