Measuring the temperature of the ethico-political body of dance in Berlin

In the frame of Tanznacht Berlin 2016 I have started a series of video interviews with people that, in many different ways, are engaged in Dance in Berlin. The interviews are not meant to be portraits of particular people. The attention is not put on them but rather how can we see dance in Berlin through them, as if they would be a filter or glasses that render visible a particular perspective of dance in Berlin. This blog brings all the interviews together within the frame of a research with the following double question in mind: in how many different ways is and can the ethico-political be articulated in dance in Berlin?

The question is double because first, it attempts to make a diagnosis of how the ethico-political “is” already articulated and how in the present time things operate and function, what are the bad habits and the main obstacles to confront in order to not reproduce power relations based on the dominant ideologies of success, the demands of the market and the logic of networking and competitiveness. And second, it is also asking how the ethico-political body “can” be trained differently: how can “we” be united while being increasingly different? How to maintain alive heterogeneity and singularities when there is a dominant homogenization that make individuals desire the same things? How can “we” dance politically and act/do politically? What are these other forms of imagining the political and constructing dance in Berlin based on alternative metaphors,logics, paradigms of being, dancing and making work together?

“Measuring the temperature of the ethico-political body of dance in Berlin” serves as a metaphor to imagine every single interview as a chance to insert the thermometer and to measure the temperature of the levels of engagement, pathos and the different intensities that are rendered tangible through a conversation; what are the ideas that heat the conversation up? The conversation is trans-personal and travels through different bodies with different voices. This project is an attempt to render tangible a diagnosis of the different intensities and tensions that resonate behind such a continuous murmuring.

This project also wonders what “local” means in times of global economy. On one hand, during several decades, Berlin has been selling out to the world its cultural artistic creative scene for the sake of gaining an appealing city-image with the economic rewards that this implies. Berlin has become a paradigm of post-fordist social organization. There is a problem of continuity, people are not in Berlin all the time and the level of personal engagement and reliability is always relative. There is a continuous flow of people from an international network moving in and out of the city generating short term alliances in the so called ecosystem of cultural industry. These ecosystems tend to homogenize the individuals that are part of it by imposing models, ideas, ways of being that constitute the norm, for instance, professional standards. On the other hand this context allows the generation of alternative heterodox practices that claim to constitute an alternative to the dominant logic. Do they succeed on their attempt to escape from being absorbed by the processes of homogenization? However, it exists an urgent need to claim heterogeneity and a constant process of resingularization.

What is a “scene”?

One of the starting points was to find out what do we mean by the term “scene” when applied to dance in Berlin and what are the alternative metaphors to it. I did not want to take for granted that such scene or scenes already pre-exist. The scene is not one and neither a totality, the scene can not be reduced to a network of people that belong to it, the scene has no master plan and there is no inside neither outside and yet it is possible to identify degrees of engagement and levels of implication. What seems to be important is to generate the conditions for saying “we”, regardless of who this people are. To able to say “we” also means “mutual encouragement”: to encourage each other to dare/attempt to live and work in heterogeneous ways. To support each other does not mean to be similar or identical but rather to reinforce our singularities.

The problem of the term “scene” is that immediately implies a game of “visibility”, being on the stage and the paradigm of vision as the main parameter to understand co-existence. Hence, people have to manage the tension between being seen and not seen (scene and obscene). In addition to that problem, the scene actually functions also as an “ambient” for individual “ambitions” to fulfill particular desires to spread oneself around as much as possible. Ambition and ambient share the same etymology which means “going around”, not only as being seen but also in terms of how much your name-brand is being mentioned and called around when people talk about it or when the name is written anywhere. To be famous in the scene implies foremost that a name is constantly being heard and resonates in the ambient.

What happens if we replace the term scene by other terms such as environment, home, collectives, politics of friendship, companionship, ecosystem, communities, complicities, orbits…? How much does it change the scenario of personal aspirations and ways to relate with each other? For instance if we apply the metaphor of the earth that needs to be nurtured. To take care and nourish the conditions we work exercise togetherness within a local frame and assuming the challenge of keeping the continuity of the engagement/commitment towards constructing together such a conditions.

Exercising conversation

What kind of ways of speaking do we apply in conversations? How to train oneself in being able to say in different ways? Interviewing each other becomes a way of training the political body and to exercise the ability of articulating oneself in front of a camera that registers permanently (taxidermy) a living speech but also when uploading the interviews online it turns the conversation from private to public. One of the purposes is to bring the awareness on how do we talk to each other and how are the ways of speaking ruled by habits and trend topics. I have not prepared the interviews before hand and in some occasions they turned into a conversation. Most of the times I changed the frame moving away from the interviewee´s face in order to frame the space between us (surfaces of tables most of the time).

I have never done interviews of this kind before and the format has been revealing itself as the project goes. My role has been to travel through different temperatures and enter into different orbits and letting the camera to be the thermometer that registers those intensities. From the beginning I had to allow myself to be influenced by what is said by the interviewees. My function was to make cross-pollination of temperatures possible and to carry with me the pathos and intensities of previous conversations and bringing them to the next interviews. I started without a clear personal agenda and slowly and inevitable throughout the process i have been influenced by the conversations. I also have a responsibility when creating this blog and launching it into the public sphere and I have been confronting my self with the same questions i was asking to others: how to prevent myself from falling into the same bad habits I am pointing out and, for example, to prevent this blog from becoming another frame for visibility in the scene? What notion of ethical and political is this project/blog constructing? How is it articulating the political in a worthy way? Why is it important to continue doing it? What kind of political space is this blog?

Mutual encouragement

To encourage each other seems to be one of the advantages of coming together and be united despite of how different we are. The mutual encouragement reinforces each other´s  driving forces and answers the question why are doing what we do? It is possible to identify also levels of the mutual engagement and social binding within the scene. It is shown below a list of different ways of engagement:

  • Being audience of each other, supporting each other´s presentations, which sometimes implies making work for each other (knowing who´s going to come to see your work)
  • Being engaged on each other’s working processes: playing all possible roles (rotation systems): performing for each other, choreographing each other, advising, giving feedback, making music, lights, etc.
  • Practicing/exercising together: outside particular projects there is an exchange of methodologies, having conversations about work…workshops, learning together…
  • Spending time together: politics of friendship, love and companionship, going out, conviviality…
  • To gather for a strictly political purpose: to engage on common mission transforming the conditions of being together: not only to meet and talk but also to act together.

Professional trajectories and orbital movement

In Berlin there is the feeling of existing a “glass sealing”: at some point there is no more advancement in the career ladder, so “you better go somewhere else”. Is Berlin not the right place for professional career? Is Berlin a city of dilettantes? Is there in Berlin a dominant understanding of how a choreographer´s trajectory should look like? One of the most urgent things to continue talking about is how many different ways of understanding professional trajectory exist or could we propose? The dominant one is career ladder ruled by achievement ideology (success, recognition, symbolic value…) The consequence of this is that main concern for an artist is to engage and invest time and energies mostly on self management. It is urgent to propose other ways of conceiving movement in life. Ethics plays a huge role giving value to “other” ways of understanding what does it mean to be a choreographer or a dancer and not be mainly driven by success achievement and managing one´s own symbolic value. To propose heterogeneous ways of living and ways of being an artist without submitting oneself to the tyranny of professional standards and market demands.

Orbital movement. There is a proposition to replace the notion of “trajectory” for the notion of “orbit”. This implies to replace a linear conception of one´s own life for a “circular” understanding of movement in life and work. Circular movement is endless and does not imply an external goal but rather it is fueled by immanency. The only reason to move is to continue moving regardless of the external position of power one occupies. The idea is to avoid establishing one self as an artist or stagnate in static positions.

Social synchronicity 

What makes people engaged in dance in Berlin to come together? To look at the “scene” as a form of social organization, what divides or organizes people in dance in Berlin? What are the criteria/ parameters?:

  • Somatic practices, methods, techniques, training’s
  • To work or attend the same spaces, venues, Institutions
  • Context of friendship
  • Networks of collaboration
  • Speaking the same language or from the same country (Poland, Spain…)
  • Same generation
  • To have the same status as artist (reputation, recognition, symbolic value)
  • Cultural identity: gender, music…
  • To share the same aesthetics
  • To have something to say in common: a political claim

To be continued…

Diego Agulló, August 2016, Berlin.

Interview with Sheena McGrandles and Claire Vivianne Sobottke from Tanznacht Berlin on Vimeo.

Interview with Sonja Augart from Tanznacht Berlin on Vimeo.

Interview with Alessio Castellacci from Tanznacht Berlin on Vimeo.