13.09.2021 : TWO PREMIERES
I hope you are well.
Since the beginning of 2020, I didn’t send you any real newsletter. Instead, I sent you reflections on the situation we have been through. It felt more urgent to do so… and I kept IRL activities in the realm of real life.
Despite all odds and despite some cancellations and postponing, I had the chance not to experience a drastic drop in my public activities. I have been lucky enough to have activities planned during the small windows when public events were allowed and to collaborate with partners, who were keen on finding plan Bs or plan Cs within the frame of the restrictions. Sometimes, it meant performing for 8 people instead of a full house or creating a solo version of a group piece. It was worth it. And thanks goddess, I didn’t have to go digital, which was anyway not an option for me.
Here is what happened: During Easter 2020, Rachel Tess and I created and presented a “drive in” performance, which we have continued to present since then in the countryside in Skåne. In September 2020, my collaborators and I premiered and toured a new piece in Sweden (Warriors: Chiron in Aries, Recital #1). In November 2020, I danced a solo version of Tribute (the group piece I have made for Weld Company) at the festival Moving in November in Helsinki. The same month I presented a one to one performance, at the front door of gallery Frank in Malmö. During the spring 2021: I have made a new version of Ribbon dance addressing current political issues in the frame of Marie Fahlin exhibition at Marabouparken; I made a piece in collaboration with Christian Falsnaes for Corpus in Copenhagen, which we presented indoor at the Royal Danish Opera, outdoor on Ofelia plads and at the Roskilde Festival; I danced several times Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere and gave a technosomatics session at Inkonst; I created the site specific performance Proscenium at Wanås sculpture parc; I was the mentor for danceWeb together with Anne Juren at Impulstanz, where Weld company and I presented Tribute and where I taught Technosomatics; I danced Ribbon Dance for the Pride at Dansstationen in Malmö; We performed Dance is ancient in Glasgow in the frame of the festival Journey to the East.
And together with my collaborators, we prepared two premieres for you, a solo and a group piece, which will be presented together at Inkonst in Malmö, on September 24 and 25. Before that, on September 18, we will have a work in progress presentation of the group piece at MARC in Knislinge, where we are rehearsing now. The group piece will be presented at Weld in Stockholm from October 1 to 3, and the solo at Skogen in Gothenburg from October 8 to 10.
Some words about the group piece:
Hope: Chiron in Aries, Recital #2
Hope is the second piece within the Chiron in Aries-cycle. After the sacrificial and wounded dances of struggle and resistance in last year’s Warriors, Hope is an attempt to conjure up a new world from the ashes of a past one. To a live set by Fiedel, four dancers engage in ritualistic, made up folk-dances that act as a spell for bringing hope after a disaster. They emphasize the strength of the collective, especially when the collective is not at the expense of individualities.
In Greek mythology, Chiron was a Centaur raised by Apollo who initiated him to the arts of healing, music and prophecy, which made him different from the other violent and unruly Centaurs. When he was hit by a poisoned arrow he was left with a wound that never healed. In astrology, the minor planet Chiron is called “the wounded healer” and represents our deepest wounds and our capacity to heal. The sign Aries represents the ego, willpower, desire and the warrior within us. When Chiron is in Aries it addresses our deepest wounds in relation to our sense of self.
Choreography: Frédéric Gies | Dance: Samuel Draper, Andreas Haglund, Elizabeth Ward, Declan Whitaker | Music: Fiedel | Lighting design: Thomas Zamolo | Costumes: Grzegorz Matlag
Some words about the solo:
Terpsichore in Scorpio – Deposition
With this piece, I celebrate my 30th anniversary of work in the dance field. I want to bring to the surface all the traces that the dances I have danced or seen and that the dancers I encountered have left in my body. I want to offer my body as a living, somatic archive of 30 years of dance – 30 years of dance that occurred not only on stage or in the studio, but also on the dance floors where I danced for countless hours. The preserved or decomposing dance materials contained in my body become the fertile soil for new dances.
Choreography, dance: Frédéric Gies | Dancers (in the videos): Elise Brewer, Disa Krosness, Maria Naidu, Malin Stattin, Andrea Svensson, Thomas Zamolo | Music: Fiedel | Lighting design: Thomas Zamolo | Videos: Andrea Keiz (editing) and Frédéric Gies (filming) | Costume: Grzegorz Matlag
The projects are coproduced and supported by Inkonst, Weld and Skogen; supported by MARC (residence); supported by The Swedish Arts Council and the city of Malmö.
PS: When we premiere the two pieces at Inkonst, we have the pleasure to have Ania Nowak performing her To the aching parts! (manifesto) in between our two pieces.
10.06.2021 : Premiere: Proscenium at Wanås sculpture park
Proscenium is a site specific performance commissioned by Wanås sculpture park in Knislinge, Sweden.
11.05.2021 : Premiere with Corpus tonight!!!!
For three weeks now I had the pleasure to work with the fantastic dancers of Corpus (Alexander Stæger, Hazuki Kojima, Marco Høst, Alma Toaspern, Louella May Hogan) on Corpus episodes: Home #2. The piece is a collaboration between the visual artist Christian Falsnaes and I. We have made seven delicate dances. Choreographing these dances felt like goldsmithing.
24.04.2021 : The day I became a meme
19.04.2021 : Bad girls at Inkonst – review
Who has decided that dance is non-essential? Probably someone who has never danced and who doesn’t think that the definition of what is essential and non-essential needs a democratic debate… In any case, we proved that person wrong on April 17 and 18 at Inkonst. Here is a review of the performance “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere” by Sara Berg in Sydsenskan (translation).
“Down in Inkonst’s basement, it looks like the Berlin club Berghain when the light is on. The floor is covered with chewing gum bags, U-Bahn tickets, bar menus, cigarette packets, chocolate paper and a t-shirt. This installation by the artist Anton Stoianov forms the background for the dancer and choreographer Frédéric Gie’s dance performance “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere” (17-18 / 4), which takes exactly 3 hours and 38 minutes.
I have previously seen two works by Gies at Inkonst. Common to both was a choreography where elements from both ballet and club dance were combined and performed to a live set by the German techno-DJ Fiedel.
This time the music is pre-recorded and we are a total of eight people in the corona-adapted room. There is no seating, so we all wander around a bit unplanned. Checking the rubbish on the floor, reading each other. Then techno streams out of the speakers, Gies throws off his shirt and starts dancing.
“Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere” was created already in 2014 and has been performed in a number of different countries. It is a collective performance, where the audience is invited to the work – to “individual and collective movements”. So we are all meant to dance.
It was over a year since I danced in a room with other people. This time it is also fully lit, unlike the club’s forgiving darkness. It feels like a nightmare.
Gies himself seems completely unaffected. They swirl across the floor in a mixture of classical ballet, improvisation, rave and gymnastics. Some in the audience start moving tentatively along the edge and after a while the group pressure makes it more socially uncomfortable to stand still. We have created a mini club.
Before the corona pandemic, this was a performance about the essence of club dance, about a collective art form that was never recognized artistic status. Built today, it takes on a wider meaning. Ever since the restrictions were introduced, the closures have been debated. Why do malls have to stay open when theaters are forced to close? Do we really want to live in a society that cares so little about culture?
Frédéric Gies wants to show that a lockdown may save the body, but it kills the soul.
Already after an hour I start to feel tired and I wish I had brought snacks. I remember a friend who used to bring bananas to the club. After another hour, I have stopped focusing on Gies, now they are just one in the crowd, a club visitor among others. A kind of trans-like, euphoric feeling appears, an elevated state where I move without thinking.
And when I sit on the floor to take a short break, I see the beauty of the individual bodies’ individual choreography. The difference between club and cultural institution suddenly feels very small.”
11.04.2021 : The manufacture of our dressage
This text was first recorded as the soundtrack for the performance of (Black) Ribbon Dance at Marabouparken in the frame of the exhibition Centauring by Marie Fahlin.
Once and for all, the closing of theaters due to the ban of public events and gatherings of more than eight people in Sweden is a political choice, not a public health measure. To believe that the closing of theaters is an efficient public health measure is nothing more and nothing less than turning the necessary work of addressing the current health crisis into a fight against windmills. Anyone who is neither a politician in power, nor a leader in a governmental agency can tell that there is absolutely no logic in term of public health to have bars, restaurants, shopping malls and art galleries opened while theaters are closed; while theaters staffs, artists and spectators are compelled to go digital as the promise of a new, safer world; while universities, teachers and students struggle between IRL classes that became optional and the parody of a learning environment, which remote education is. Justifying that difference of treatment by a difference of status in the law is a bad excuse. The current pandemic law shows us perfectly that exceptional laws can be implemented anytime, even the most absurd, inefficient ones or the ones that tend to breach fundamental rights that are supposedly protected, constitutionally. But let us not defend the use of exceptional laws. Let’s not defend any kind of state-of-exception. Let us go over the divide between the essential and the non-essential. Let us go over the opposition between conspiracy theories of all kinds and the defense of the current health policies as the only responsible answer to this crisis. This is not about defending individual, personal freedom. This is about claiming back the possibility of a democratic debate, the possibility of political agency and autonomy, in times when democracy is reduced – quoting the philosopher Isabelle Stengers, to the “art of administrating a herd”. This is about addressing the political and cultural disaster that goes hand in hand with the health crisis we are enduring. As the HIV/AIDS crisis showed us in the last four decades, a health crisis is always a political one. This new virus is not the cause of this health and political crisis. It is a symptom of it.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, when public events were limited to fifty people, theaters closed, although a strict ban of performances hadn’t been enacted. This can be understood, on one hand, as a cautionary measure taken by the venues and the staffs running them, as we didn’t know much about the new virus yet. It was also for sure a response to the injunction to working from home, which basically made artistic work and its public presentation impossible, if followed. For the bigger, state-funded venues, it was also a consequence of their direct supervision from higher authorities. The direct dependence on higher authorities is also what led to the immediate closure of universities. In the rest of society, the ones who could work from home did and the ones who couldn’t, didn’t. Bars, restaurants, streets and public transports remained mostly empty. Social distancing became the rule and the choreography of our lives, that is to say the way we move individually and collectively, changed drastically, with our environment becoming invaded by all kinds of reminders of the commonly named protective measures. The so-called “Swedish soft touch” was pointed at as the “Swedish experiment” in the international press, which completely missed out how much it resembled a stricter lockdown for many of us and that breaching the restrictions imposed on public events could be punished by fines and jail sentences. We were told to follow the measures in order to not put strain on the health care system. Similarly to many countries, a visiting ban at care homes for older people has been implemented. The most fragile to the virus died alone.
What have we learned since then? We know that the virus doesn’t affect everyone the same way. We know that the combination of age and a variety of chronic illnesses characterizes the vulnerability to the virus. We know that persons of color and specific professions are over represented in the victims of the virus. We know that socioeconomic and environmental factors are at the origin of chronic illnesses and of the vulnerability to the virus. These facts, which came to the surface not only in Sweden, led Richard Horton, the editor-in chief of The Lancet, to argue that Covid-19 is not a pandemic but a syndemic: “A syndemic is not merely a comorbidity. Syndemics are characterised by biological and social interactions between conditions and states, interactions that increase a person’s susceptibility to harm or worsen their health outcomes.” In the case of Covid-19: “Two categories of disease are interacting within specific populations—infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and an array of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These conditions are clustering within social groups according to patterns of inequality deeply embedded in our societies. The aggregation of these diseases on a background of social and economic disparity exacerbates the adverse effects of each separate disease.” So far, this knowledge hasn’t been integrated at all in the governmental responses to this crisis, except in the form of a weak mea-culpa. That kind of weak mea-culpa is never followed by any kind of concrete political action, except an endless list of plans and steps for making all of us pass from the status of battery-raised to free-range chicken. As Richard Horton points out in the same article quoted above, not even a vaccine will free us from Covid-19 if these social disparities are not addressed. The governmental responses, “driven mostly by epidemic modellers and infectious disease specialists, who understandably frame the present health emergency in centuries-old terms of plague”, are missing that point. The argument that we cannot expect vaccines to be the only exit door from this crisis makes even more sense at the light of the delays in the vaccination schedules and of the refusal from the pharmaceutical industry to share their formulas and move towards generic vaccines.
Something we knew already at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis is that the health care system, in our rich and developed countries, had been thoroughly sabotaged by decades of new public management and neoliberalism. This sabotage took the shape of cutting down the number of hospital beds (the Swedish statistics are overwhelmingly shocking) and of an ever-growing strain put on healthcare workers. Our healthcare system was already in crisis before this crisis and the origin of this initial crisis is to be found in the neoliberal politics that redefined healthcare by substituting a logic of stock by a logic of flux, as the philosopher Barbara Stiegler describes in her book De la démocracie en Pandémie (Of democracy in Pandemic). At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, it became immediately clear that the healthcare system would collapse. This imminent collapse justified the injunction to not put strain on the healthcare system and the healthcare workers. That injunction seems rather ironic considering the disastrous public health politics that were implemented during the last decades, by one government after the other. Isabelle Stengers, a former scientist who moved to the field of the philosophy of science and production of knowledge, in an interview conducted by L’atelier des droits sociaux, puts into perspective the measures taken in rich, developed countries and the threat of a healthcare system collapse. She argues that the awareness that “public order would be devastated if the healthcare system was overwhelmed” led to the isolation and the invisibilization of the most vulnerable to the virus (the elderly), that is to say of the ones who “threatened to manufacture the scandal of a healthcare system that collapses”. The arsenal of coercive measures and the isolation of the vulnerable is thus to be understood as “an indifference to all that is not the upkeep of public order”.
As numbers of deaths and infections decreased at the beginning of the summer, theaters started opening again or at least started planning their re-opening. What became evident through practice is that theaters, their staff and artists were very skilled at implementing sanitary protocols, beyond the scope of the rules issued by authorities. Spectators willingly participated in these new choreographies that allowed them to be spectators again. Physical distance was possible, not at the expense of social contact. Theaters didn’t become what is called “clusters” in the Covid-19 newspeak. What happened by then is an example of what collective care and collective intelligence can achieve, as long as it is given room. Unfortunately, the political power and the experts who are currently choreographing all gestures of our everyday life are masters at cutting themselves from this collective intelligence and from the kind of solidarities that incubate in it – something that Isabelle Stengers also points at.
By the end of October, just when the Swedish government had planned to allow bigger public events and gatherings, the second wave started to hit the country. The government performed a drastic U-turn and by November engaged in the implementation of an ever-growing list of new measures, stricter than the ones in place so far. These measures are typical of the so-called “Swedish soft touch”, which consists for example in implementing a curfew without calling it as such. This undercover, “soft” curfew is the consequence of the ban of alcohol sales after 8pm, which has been followed by the closure of bars and restaurants at 8:30pm. These measures include the current ban on public events and gatherings of more than eight people. Theaters are closed since then. Taking a look at what this ban encompasses is very informative. Public gatherings include demonstrations, all that concerns freedom of assembly and the expression of opinions, lectures and speeches (for teaching or public and civic education) and religious practice. It also includes: theatrical and cinema performances, concerts and other gatherings for the performance of artistic work, and circus performances. Interestingly enough, the Swedish lawmakers didn’t put dance performances in this category but in the public events category, which includes: competitions and exhibitions in sports and aviation, fairground, amusements and parades, markets and fairs and other events not regarded as public gatherings. They probably missed centuries of documented dance history and believe that dance cannot be an art. They also probably think that dance, sports, amusement parks and undefined public gatherings are not relating to politics. In relation to dance, it is interesting to put this in perspective with the ban of spontaneous dancing in bars and restaurants in Sweden, a ban inherited from the 30s and that is the object of discussion in the parliament for a decade, without it being completely ditched yet, in spite of the fact that a bill, which abolished it, was voted in 2016. In the meanwhile, we are blamed and called lazy by our elected political leaders.
At the end, what is happening in Sweden is not much softer than what is happening in other countries. It reveals the same fundamental political issues. In her book mentioned above, Barbara Stiegler, who is an academic specialized in both neoliberalism and questions related to health, care and ethics, takes stock of these issues in the most convincing way, with France as an example. Starting her book by quoting Richard Horton’s claim that covid-19 is not a pandemic but a syndemic, she argues that “if we don’t live a pandemic, we indeed live, however, in Pandemic (…) a new mental continent, departing from Asia to cover Europe, then imposing itself in America (…) in which “the pandemic” is not anymore an object of discussion in our democracies, but where democracy itself, in Pandemic, became a questionable object.” She highlights how governments “chose the repression of citizens over education and prevention” and how the socioeconomic disparities that the virus reveals are worsened by governmental measures. In this new continent, in which the fear and illusion that we are all equally susceptible to die has been injected in us, “gatherings, public spaces or universities are labelled a priori as infectious clusters, whereas high-schools, public transports and supermarkets are reputably secured”. As she dissects the lexicon of the language of this new continent (lockdown, quarantine, clusters, contact tracing, relapse…), she shows how it replaces concepts that were central to healthcare: “The informed consent of the patient, inherited from Nuremberg code, the respect of autonomy and the construction of a health democracy, conquered through hard struggles thanks to the HIV crisis, brutally appear, in Pandemic, as obsolete and out of context.” Barbara Stiegler also shows how the healthcare system has been dismantled by neoliberal management and that the arsenal of coercive measures didn’t protect the most vulnerable at all. She suggests that the plan for exiting this crisis should include “an environmental approach of health questions”, “a health and social system that supports the patients” and that such a politics “would have supported more than ever all the vital activities of the whole population: work, education, research, culture, social life and politics in general, without which any social organization can only self-destruct in more or less long term.”
Barbara Stiegler also excavates the theoretical foundations of neoliberalism and their practical implementation in techniques of governance. She demonstrates how the governmental responses to this crisis find their origins in the neoliberal governance project and its evolutionary sources: we have to adapt to a new environment and for this we need policies designed by experts, implemented by a strong state that manufactures our consent. As we are supposedly full of cognitive biases, which make us inapt to this new environment and to move towards a better future, we need to be put on the right track by the state and its experts. For this, our behaviors and our consent are manufactured through different techniques, in a soft way or in a more authoritarian way, as we see today. These techniques include manipulative techniques of incitation coming from behavioral economy, as well as coercive measures. The question of the manufacturing of our consent is pregnant in a specific way in Sweden. Besides the repressive measures in place such as the ban of public and private gatherings of more than eight people, many of the measures that are enacted are recommendations. In the official texts, it is explained to us that recommendations are something we are not obliged to follow. Yet, we must absolutely follow them. Whereas we are not running the risk of a fine if not following them, they are not optional. In that sense, public health is reduced to our individual choices and responsibility. But our choice is actually not a choice, as there is only one option to choose from. In a typical neoliberal fashion, we are tricked into becoming ourselves the agents of the so-called “new normal”. This reduction of public health to individual choices is particularly alarming in a country where around half of the households are single person households, who are told to meet only one or two persons outside of their homes.
So what are we consenting to? We are consenting to the definition of art, culture and democratic debate as non-essential. We are consenting to the closure of all spaces where we collectively reflect on and make sense with our experiences, where we elaborate -sometimes in conflictual ways, our present and future together. We are consenting to the digitalization of healthcare and education, which was already a project of the Silicon Valley before Covid-19, as Naomi Klein points at in many recent articles and interviews. We are consenting to live art becoming the next market of the Silicon Valley. With every zoom class, we are committing to the neoliberal conception of education, which is, in Barbara Stiegler’s words, “emptied from all collective content, in order to be reduced to a consumption of contents and to a capitalization by individuals and their families of a “competences wallet” or a “training capital” allowing everyone to adapt to a competitive and uncertain environment.” We are consenting to live art becoming “contents” we even don’t watch till the end but on which digital platforms capitalize, at each of our clicks. We are consenting to capitalist surveillance and to a digital dystopia, in which QR codes will control the movements of us all as potential Covid-criminals. We are consenting to the pairing up of governmental authorities with tech companies such as Palantir, for which our privacy is the least of their concerns. We are consenting to have no democratic control on the technologies we are using. We are consenting to the shopping mall as our only horizon. We are consenting to a pharmaceutical industry that puts profit before our health and before the equal access to treatments. We are consenting to the discriminations and inequalities that constitute the core of this crisis. We are consenting to billionaires becoming richer while the vulnerable to Covid-19 die alone. We are consenting to the destruction of ecosystems, which in return pay us back with new viruses.We are consenting to the loss of all that is collective, including the collective elaboration of knowledge. We are consenting to our silencing. We are consenting to our isolation. We are consenting to the manufacture of our dressage. We are consenting to a present and to a future no one wants to live.
In today’s horsemanship and horse riding practice, the word “whip” is not used anymore, but has been replaced by the word “motivation stick”. This semantic shift resonates with the continuum between the more authoritarian techniques of governance and the more incentive, but nevertheless manipulative techniques, which a new virus is bluntly revealing before our eyes. Interestingly enough, in Sweden, the now world famous state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, gave us a perfect summary of what these techniques of governance consist in, in an interview on Sverige Radio: “The whole time, it’s a balance between how much you ‘scare people’ and how much you use ‘carrots’ and tell people we’re doing a good job (…)” A few days before, a regional infectious diseases doctor gave us a good example of how to scare us, stating publicly that we must “enter a personal lockdown” and “consider all human as a potential risk.” We are afraid we have to prove him wrong: not all humans are a potential risk but some are a real threat to our lives, regardless of carrying a virus or not. The ones who construct us as potential enemies, the ones who infantilize, control, manipulate and gaslight us, the ones in power who make public health an individual responsibility instead of looking at their shortcomings, as well as the ones who steal all wealth are the risk. Let us tell them that horses are not fooled by semantic shifts. Let us, we the horses, tell them that a society that defines art, culture and assembly as non essential is a moribund society. And let us tell them: you cannot fool horses.
22.12.2020 : A letter for dancing after the grand conjunction
Dear friends and colleagues
In many aspects, 2020 has been like working with a bad, controlling choreographer. Who every second day recklessly changes the score you have to follow as a dancer. Who doesn’t really know what to do, but hides that ignorance under a flood of authoritative rules, trying to save face. Who polices every single move. Who makes you feel like you constantly misbehave to the point you can’t stop monitoring yourself and don’t really know how to move anymore.
I will remember 2020 as that year.
Also as the year of buried minks rising from the dead somewhere on the other side of the bridge that connects, but also separates the city and the country where I live from the ones I see on the horizon when I walk on the beach.
As the year when this bridge became the symbol of many cliffhangers, continuity errors and dramatic license in the series entitled The closings and openings of the Danish-Swedish border in pandemic times.
As the year when the Turning Torso, the highest building in Sweden, located by the seafront in Malmö, strangely reminded me of Romero’s zombie movie Land of the dead.
As the year when I witnessed that no government is even able to think that one of the first measure to take in the midst of a health crisis would be to restore a healthcare system that has been meticulously sabotaged by new public management and neoliberal politics for decades, and that fighting tax evasion and taxing billionaires, who got even richer during the pandemic, would be part of this project. Something we learnt from the AIDS crisis (which is by the way, despite major progresses, not even close to an end) and from other pandemics and epidemics, is that it is social justice, the commitment to dismantling discriminations and the access to healthcare and treatments that are key to addressing a health crisis. But what do we see today? In countries such as France, during lockdowns, citizens are fined for coming back home ten minutes late and the systemic racism of the police seems to find a fertile soil in the pandemic. Somewhere else, a reckless, toxic leader and his no less reckless enabler, who were both contaminated, received the latest and priciest top-notch care and treatment while certain social categories, not having that kind of privilege, are overrepresented amongst the victims of the virus. And so forth… The list is long.
As the year when I heard way too many patriarchal speeches about the management of the pandemic.
As the year when Elon Musk rose delusion and gaslighting to the rank of high art, when declaring “Mars, here we come!” right after his spaceship exploded. Unfortunately, he is not the only one to have achieved that in 2020.
As the year when theaters and dance floors closed, while shopping malls and IKEA didn’t face exactly the same treatment, at least not on the same scale. When I see how performing arts venues have ingeniously adapted to the situation, implementing good protocols for creating safe spaces by mobilizing all their organizational knowledge (and choreographic skills), I really wonder about that kind of discrepancies.
As the year when I saw several sports teams at the airport, while I was about to perform a solo version of a group piece because the current restrictions and their consequences wouldn’t allow us to bring a team of twelve artists.
As the year when it became evident that if the independent art scene would be properly subsidized, up to the level of the activities we actually conduct and the work we actually do, there would be no need for crisis support. I do think we have to strongly advocate for this.
As the year when I deserted social media, didn’t send newsletters and refused to participate in any online event or project.
I will also remember 2020 as the year when dancing was almost impossible. Yet…
Dancing happened. Sometimes in unexpected ways.
I want to share with you some of the dance experiences I had between March and now, because the current restrictions on dancing and seeing dance, which they were subjected to and conditioned by, evoke other underlying issues. Most of all, I also want to share them because they sharply reminded me that dance is essential.
I remember my last club night in Malmö, on March 13. Before going to the club, I heard that Denmark had just announced that the country will close its borders the next day or within the next two days (I can’t remember exactly). When I heard the news, I knew that it would be my last club night for long. Clubs hadn’t shut down yet in Sweden, but it was obviously about to come. We were maybe six people on the dance floor. The expression social distancing and self-isolation hadn’t become omnipresent in our lives yet, but considering the number of people on the dance floor and the space between us, it was de facto already put into practice. I remember my dance that night. There was something both desperate and irreducible in it. Months later, in Helsinki, I realized that it was not at all foreign to how I understand the act of dancing.
Mid-November, I had the pleasure to participate in the festival Moving in November in Helsinki. It was the only international gig I was supposed to have after March that hadn’t been canceled. Yet, it didn’t happen exactly as planned. As the festival had invited international guests, the program was harshly jeopardized. Nevertheless, the festival, together with some of the artists, initially invited, who could stay on location for the extra days that quarantine rules required, managed to maintain a part of the program. And I have to say, it didn’t feel like the left-overs: it was a full, consistent and incredible program. It has been wonderful to participate in it, both as a spectator and as an artist. I have seen so strong performances and heard so strong voices during the artist talks I attended. I witnessed so much political awareness and so much determination and care, both from the team of the festival and from the artists. It was amazing to see dance, to experience its political relevance and the kind of social bound it can incentivize.
Initially, I was invited there with Weld company to present Tribute. Due to quarantine rules, it was not possible to bring such a big team. Therefore, Kerstin Schroth, the artistic director of the festival, commissioned me to make another version of the piece. I came up with a solo version, jumping from one role to another. I augmented the piece with a recorded text, which the audience listened to in the dark, as an introduction. The text I wrote and recorded, in which political questions show through in filigree, starts with contextualizing this solo version in relation to the group version but soon wanders into the territory of the experience of dancing in relationship to viruses, from HIV to Covid-19. Entering this territory felt evident. In the piece, several materials are a tribute to Dominique Bagouet, my favorite choreographer who died of AIDS in 1992. The dances of Tribute also reflect my experience of dancing to techno in clubs and raves. This experience is strongly linked to the AIDS crisis because for the queer person I am, who started to have sex and go to clubs in 1990, the shadow of the virus has never left the dance floor. In the midst of that crisis, the dance floor has been for many a space for building solidarity and community. It was also evident to enter this territory because almost as a negative of the AIDS crisis, the current situation and the almost inexistent space left for the shared, collective experience of dancing, raise questions about our responses to different viruses and how we look at dancing. My monologue also points at the general indifference and at the authorities shortcomings that the persons at higher risk with HIV have been facing during the AIDS crisis. I also point at how certain official discourses put different generations back to back in relation to Covid-19. It pays tribute to all the older persons I have seen on the dance floor and insists on the fact that dancing is not as frivolous as one might think, but rather the opposite. It is a matter of individual and collective survival.
After four days of quarantine, two negative tests, and six days of festival, I came back to Malmö, where stricter rules for public events started to apply. I was supposed to do a series of my one-to-one performance, Unclouded dances, in a small room at Frank galleri. Weeks before, I avoided marketing the event because I could smell that it would not be possible to do it as planned. To be precise, it wouldn’t have breached any rule applying to public events, but the idea of spending an hour in a small room with a total amount of around forty people over height days didn’t feel so reasonable, for obvious reasons. At the same time, I was disturbed (that is a euphemism) by the recent rules and recommendations, which on one hand didn’t directly ask venues to close but limited the number of participants to public events to height persons, and asked people not to attend any performance on the other. Those rules and recommendations made me feel that I had, as we say in French, le cul entre deux chaises (the ass between two chairs). As I was seeing theaters and museums closing their doors one after the other, I decided that the best way to extricate myself from that uncomfortable position was to do something anyway, to find a solution that would be safe for everyone. After all, why not presenting a dance performance in a safe way, when it is possible to go to IKEA in a less safe way (the rule of height doesn’t apply there because going shopping is not a public event or gathering)? And well… is IKEA-the shop that makes every home look the same- more important than dance?
Frank galleri has the particularity to have a space, leading to its entrance door, which resembles a garage, with a big sliding door that allows this space to be completely open to the street. Being in this space is basically like being outdoor, but with a roof above your head. In this space, there is also a wooden construction that resembles a small stage. I decided to create a new one-to-one performance specific to this space. The spectators, one at a time or two if someone would bring a friend, family member or partner, were about four to five meters away from me. I danced for them with eyes closed for twenty minutes, to the music Fiedel composed originally for Unclouded dances. As I am away from social media, and as it was too late to market it through other means, I started to send text messages to friends and acquaintances, who in return texted their friends. I ended up being fully booked. What I keep with me after this experience, is how much seeing dance was vital to the persons who attended the performance. I called this new performance Penumbral Dances – Public Service. The performance was for free. Dance as a public service.
Let me go back to the first months of the pandemic. In the midst of the first wave, when all theaters were closed, Rachel Tess and I presented a four hours dance impromptu, which we made in one day and a half, recycling materials from our pieces. Initially, a public exhibition was planned at MARC, the residence space that Rachel is running in Knislinge, a small town of three thousands inhabitants somewhere in Scania countryside. The pandemic decided otherwise and the event was cancelled. Nevertheless, Rachel and Sven, MARC’s landlord, were keen on making something happen, in a safe way. This is how Rachel and I, wearing lumberjack shirts, found ourselves dancing in the frame of a container stripped from its walls, attached to a red tractor, both provided by Sven, on the parking lot of COOP (the supermarket in Knislinge). These four hours revealed the pure and vulnerable magic of the encounter between dance and everyday life. With no crowding, and no live-streaming.
The next four months were for me pretty much about working behind the scenes, and making dances without knowing at all if and when they would be presented publicly. As for all of us in our field, they were also about spending week after week following the waltz of quarantine rules and of borders openings and closings, the latest statistics and the evolution of local regulations concerning the reopening of venues. About washing our hands and applying for crisis subsidies.
It was a relief when finally, beginning of the fall, my team and I were able to premiere my new piece Warriors: Chiron in Aries, Recital #1 at Inkonst in Malmö, almost according to plans as the shows were luckily scheduled during the little window when venues were open (we also presented the piece at Skogen in Gothenburg and at Weld in Stockholm). Almost according to plans, indeed. Elizabeth Ward was unfortunately not able to join us and dance in the piece. Elizabeth is an American citizen with a renewable one year residence permit as an artist in Austria. In July, as we were trying to figure out if she could travel at all from Austria to Sweden mid-August, it came to our knowledge that as a consequence of her legal situation in Austria combined with the Austrian pandemic regulations, she would not be covered by her insurance if she would travel to Sweden. In addition, coming back from Sweden, she would have had to quarantine fourteen days, something that would not have been imposed if she had a permanent residence permit. Since then, the legality of that denying of insurance has been put into question in Austria. No comment.
It felt very special to share with an audience the intense, dramatic, angry yet vulnerable and almost sacrificial dances of the piece at that precise moment and to feel how much everyone was so thirsty for seeing dance after those six months of closure of cultural venues. Although we didn’t make the piece in relation to the moment, it instilled a whole layer of meaning into the dances. The dances became even more about perseverance, resistance and insistence.
I will also remember 2020 as the year when I saw beautiful dances, which I will not forget. Calixto Neto arm movements, evanescent and assertive at the same time, at the beginning of Luis de Abreu’s solo; Latifa Laâbissi as a monkey dancing softly with colorful threads of yarn, as if vaguely remembering Mary Wigman’s witch dance; an exhilarating jump dance by the students of DDSKS, boldly projecting themselves into space, in a piece by Samuel Feldhandler; the nerve, the groove and the sensitivity of Fanny Ljäs house dance moves, which transformed a black box into a stripped down club; a lonely man wearing a black hoodie, at six in the morning, walking in the street and repeatedly throwing his arms up above his head, letting them rebound into a balletic couronne just before letting them fall down along the sides of his torso.
Today is not only the winter solstice but also the day of the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets are making out at 0 degree of Aquarius. Considering that this hasn’t happened for centuries, this kiss is no less than the beginning of a new era. In astrology, Jupiter is the Greater Benefic, the planet of abundance and expansion. Saturn represents structure, boundaries, regulations, responsibilities and limitations. Aquarius is the humanitarian of the Zodiac, the sign of social change. Let us be romantic and dream for a second about what this kiss between the two planets at this precise location in the Zodiac might bring to us. And let us be aware that whatever the planets might invite us to, nothing will be achieved without our choices and actions. Social change can go the wrong way.
While today in Sweden, demonstrations are not possible because of the ban of public gatherings and events of over height people (museums, theaters and cinema are closed for the same reason), I read the news about demonstrations of cultural workers in France five days ago. The protesters were pointing at the inconsistency of governmental policies applying to culture, at the fact that efficient sanitary protocols were implemented in cultural venues contrarily to places such as shopping malls and public transport. They were pointing at the fact that this situation was revealing an underlying political agenda, in which culture has very little space. I also read that today in France, the highest administrative court will examine appeals requesting the reopening of museums, theaters and cinemas, pointing at the fact that maintaining their closure might represent a breach of equality, as places of worship and non-essential shops were allowed to reopen.
I remember another zombie movie, Dawn of the dead. In the movie, a handful of people who managed to escape the zombie outbreak find refuge in the shopping mall, where they lock themselves down. They immediately indulge in a comsumerist spree. But soon after, masses of zombies clump together around the mall. It turns out that the only memory zombies have is the place where they mostly went to before becoming zombies. I hope that if one day I become a zombie or have to find a refuge to not become one, the last thing I will remember and do will not be going to the shopping mall. I hope I will remember and go to a communal place where dancing happened. And that we -zombified or not- will dance till the end of the movie, while remembering that dancing is not enough, even if it is essential and also changes the world.
Let’s get our hands dirty.
[link to the audio recording of the introduction monologue for Tribute – the library version: https://vimeo.com/490701281]
20.11.2020 : A trace from Moving in November in Helsinki
It has been so wonderful to take part in the festival Moving in November in Helsinki, which managed despite all odds to remain an international program, even if that meant major adaptations… and quarantine days for the artists participating…
On Nov 13 and 14, I presented an adapted version of Tribute, the piece I have made for Weld company. Instead of the nine dancers on stage, I was alone, jumping from one role to another. The piece was augmented by a recored text that I wrote, navigating in between questions about dance, AIDS, the current situation and ageing. I will soon make it available here.
In the meanwhile, here is the link to a conversation between Kerstin Schroth (artistic director of the festival) and me, on Tribute: a written conversation on Tribute
13.11.2020 : Penumbral dances – public service
Due to the current situation, instead of repeating another round of Unclouded dances at Frank in Malmö, I am happy to offer a 25 minutes dance for one spectator at a time (with the possibility of being accompanied by a friend), in the outdoor entrance space of Frank. It has a roof, but it is completely open to the street, so it is even safer than going grocery shopping and it fits the current restrictions in Sweden.
Sessions are everyday at 5pm, 6pm, 7pm and 8pm. It is mandatory to reserve and it is free of charge.
To book your session, please contact us here, giving your name, phone number and the day and time you wish to attend.
Address: FRANK Ahlmansgatan 3, 214 27 Malmö
04.08.2020 : Premiere of Warriors: Chiron in Aries, Recital #1
Sept 25-27 at Skogen, Gothenburg
Oct 2-4 at Weld, Stockholm
picture: Thomas Zamolo