RE: undemanding fish

Johannes Birringer (
Wed, 25 Aug 99 02:16 +0100

Doug seems to complain about the same situation (lack of critical discussion of
work) as I did. I did not hear his manifesto at IDAT99, but read it here in our
list and was a bit surprised about the strong tone, and decided not to answer

I quote..

<...[..] The problem lies in not whether it is or is not dance, but rather in
<our inability to critique its success or failure as a work of art. It is
<also beyond time to cease using the argument that if one does not
<understand the technology one can not adequately critique the work.

...>Or even worse still, we do not critique the work at all and buoy the makers
<spirits by congratulating him/her on a great new success. We are caught up in
<the allure of technology, in the utter sexual seduction of it, much like a fish
<is entranced by a shiny spinning lure and bites down hard permanently
<attaching himself to the object of his desire.

Yes, agreed, we often do not speak up to raise critical questions in situations
like IDAT where those of us who know each other or want to know about each
other's ideas or have worked together.... tend to be supportive and more
cautious, forgiving. We see ourselves, our experiments, reflected in the
glass of the fishtank

Sometimes we have strong reactions or are irritated, and I remember that I was
impatient or dissatisfied after the piece that Doug and Ellen Bromberg showed at
IDAT on the 'Avtive Stage,' and in the discussion period afterwards I tried to
articulate why I thought the different languages used in that multi-media dance
work (interactive design/light/sensors, video projections, video testimony,
narrative, modern dance) did not become integrated or necessary, in my opinion,
and I observed an ill-at-ease conjunction of the video testimony of the young
people (subjective, sometimes very emotional biographical utterances or
confessions) with the more abstract modern dance vocabulary in Ellen's
choreography, which seemed to want to tend towards physical-emotional
expressiveness but got rather stuck in the surface of vocabulary-movement or
emoting, with oppressive solemnity, all of which took place partly obscured or
hidden or layered by the scrim/gauze material that was hanging everywhere
(naturally, for the front and upstage video projection). Some of the video
sequences were very beautiful, and the sound track (with recorded voices and
whispers) was dense, complex and intriguing, but the mediated images and sound
were stronger than the dance and so the dance stuck out, for me, as a language
that either merely weakly illustrated what we had already seen in the video, or
it failed to speak on its own terms in a reflective or ironic or other
relationship to the content that was biographical. There were, after all, three
narrations going on at least.

[the post-performance discussion did not go well; understandably, we all feel
vulnerable about our work after a premiere, and we should have waited till the
next day.. I have encountered very similar problems in my own work when I try to
interlink film projection and performance, I currently feel that video or
digital media may as well go on their own, as projective medium, as
installation; on the stage they will always create problems for the live
dancers or they will look decorative and irrelevant to the core of a
choreography, if indeed there is a strong choreographic signature and a
dramaturgy for a work]

Narrative content in contemporary dance (or performance) interests me immensely,
and we have seen how it was also used (as transformed testimony) in Bill T.
Jones's "Still/Here", or say, in Steve Reich's The Cave. But narrative or
expressionism (re. tanztheater) do not go well with modern dance, while
Cunningham and others in the postmodern field now seem to have discovered the
logical extension of abstract or pure movement -- namely motion-capture,
handdrawn (computerdrawn) spaces, LifeForms, and various software applications
that further mathematical, abstracted, geometrical or content-less movement,
even though i know that one can see content (in visual art terms) differently
and it can reside and resonate very well in color, line, gesture and movement
dynamic, as those who saw the current Pollock show in Germany will confirm.

Recently, when I asked whether anyone had seen "Biped", several of our colleages
responded and wrote very good reviews, I found that encouraging.

At the same time, we could push on and ask what kind of contemporary narratives
we see in performance, how are they transformed by or interacting with digital
media? What kind of abstraction do we see, and how is it related to the
underlying language of programmers or designers, how is *design* (interface
architecture) becoming a specific method of composition, how do choreographers
and digital artists understand movement in a nervous system, how has mocap or
BigEye or Imagin/e helped us to train our dancers or create our works with new
methods, how do we conceive our new work with composers and programmers and
designers, and is there a new multimedia language, not just of composition, but
also of expression that can reflect on our late culture, not merely by virtue
of being high-technologically mediated, but by recreating or decomposing major
forms of communication in our societies, such as song, story, ritual, dance
drama, the solo, the duet, the group, social dance. Abstraction, I fear, is not
a major popular genre. It is good for theoretical astrophysics, though.

I end by quoting a Japanese writer who recently reviewed two new multimedia
performance pieces by NEST ("Trial 100/Sine Wave Filter") and Gesshoku Kagekidan
("evil"), arguing that "dance or art, it doesn't matter what you call it, what
matters is how these works address current themes or the inner crisis of the
social body, and how they pose questions through an exchange with the audience"
(Akiko Tachiki).

So we could listen and also ask ourselves what is posed (not with Poser) in a
work like Ghostcatching or Biped or Borderlander or Vera's Body or White on
White, and I am always curious to hear you speak about your new work, since we
have all discovered our shortcomings and our stumbling blocks (aside from our
undemanding innovativeness).


Johannes Birringer
AlienNation Co.