Being Danced by the Dance
The following text is a transcription of Daniel Blanga Gubbay's contribution to Authors of the Future, a study-day organised by Constant in 2019. We asked ourselves what a decolonial and feminist copyleft license could look like, and in what way we could propose entangled notions of authorship.
When I was nineteen, I came across a text by a Muslim Andalusian philosopher, Ibn Rushd, who is often referred to as Averroes, who lived in the 12th century. Ibn Rushd is a very prominent figure and a common reading in Arabic speaking communities. I remember that back then, I was interested in his specific texts and I read a comment that Ibn Rushd did on the animal of Aristotle, where he speaks about the collective intellect and he argues that there is only one single human capacity for human knowledge. It’s the idea of a kind of common intellect, which is one and the same for all human beings. This intellect is eternal and continually thinking about all that can be thought. Sometimes he refers to it as a kind of cloud that thinks beyond the human being. What was interesting for me is that in one passage, Ibn Rushd explained that the intellect, so these entities, uses faculty, human faculties, such as the brain of an individual human, as a basis for its thinking process. So we are not thinking, but it’s the intellect that thinks through our brains. The process that happens in the human brain, so what we do, is called fikr in Arabic, it is sometimes translated as “thinking”, but the most appropriate would be “imagination”. So the act of imagination would be the idea of being connected with the thinking entity that exists beyond the human being. The integral intellect uses the human brain to think, and its use of human faculty explains why thinking can be an individual activity or individual experience.
As I said earlier, I speak today coming mainly from my practice, which is one of creating and performing arts, so I’ve been accompanying artists and the process of artistic creation. But the reason why I decided to start with this reference of Ibn Rushd is because I realised that in my practice or in my travelling within the discipline of performing arts, I often think about this quote of Ibn Rushd and this image stayed with me, more specifically because it contains these two terms: the idea of collective and the idea of imagination, that are at the core of the practice of performing art, being a kind of imaginative practice and being also a kind of collective practice. Indeed more than other artistic practices, the one of performing art has a collective history and I’m referring here mainly to the history of the performing arts in this specific tradition and geographical contexts in which we are today: mainly Western performing arts because there's a lot of literature about how the collaborative nature of theatre raises questions about the complexity of authorial practices and Western visual art, so the emergence of the author in the late Renaissance.
In the performing arts we speak about authors way later, only in the 20th century with the idea of the emergence of the metteur en scène or the choreographer. So it’s a rather recent history, the one of the emergence of authors, in the deeply collective practice of performing arts. In recent years I've been working with several persons working within performing arts, that question this idea of individual authorship that is imposed in the artistic creation and that reclaims different collective practices.
Before jumping on the more philosophical aspect, I wanted to name one of them that I would like to discuss further in the afternoon, if we will have the occasion or later. It is a practice that has been initiated by Eleanor Bauer, which is titled Nobody’s Dance. Nobody’s Dance is an open source platform for sharing methods of artistic practice where performers, artists and dancers can meet on an equal ground to share practical tools and knowledge. So I share a movement, or I share a specific form of warming up, or a method of composition. It’s a kind of platform for sharing and Nobody’s Dance exists to facilitate a space for lateral exchange outside the economies of workshops, which is very common in performing arts, where information is generally unidirectional and outside of the logic of creation. So the idea that the workshop has to support a single authors practices or pieces. Nobody’s Dance is a platform that we facilitated in Kunstenfestivaldesarts last year, every participant had the possibility to propose or to share a practice and to be nourished by others, but the important thing is that in the act of sharing the practice, it is archived and becomes ... nobodies. The principle of the school, is a deliberate negation of the notion of authorship and individualism on this practice, so that everybody has the same authorship on this practice. As I was saying, this for me is one of the examples of how some choreographers are thinking today, how we share knowledge and what it means to be the owner of a certain artistic practice or methodology.
But what I would like to do is mainly something that was also mentioned in the introduction. How can we see choreography as a field where we can question the anthropocentric notion of authorship? This is something that is happening a lot nowadays in the field of choreography, what are the limits of imagining other forms, non-human forms that are contributing to the idea of artistic creation? In order to do this, I would like to start with a text by Graham Harman, which is titled Ontology and choreography. It’s a text from 2012 where Harman proposed, or raised the question: Can we imagine movements not as quality? So the movement not as a quality of an object, like the quality of an arm, but rather as an object in itself. It’s a rather difficult exercise because the movement always appears through the body in motion, being my body, a planet, a leaf. The movement always appears thanks to or through a body motion, so it’s rather difficult to imagine the movement independent from the body through which it appears.
What I would like to propose is, let's imagine all together to be sitting in a theatre, we are looking at a performance where for example a dancer engages in a choreography and suddenly, he or she makes a series of flamenco movements appear. The question is, do these movements exist before their appearance on the body of the person who is dancing? This is the main question that has been raised. And what Harman says is: Do these movements simply allude to the dancer as an absent underlined force capable of generating unforeseen movement? Can we disconnect the existence of this movement from the body on which they appear? Indeed, if we imagine a stage where the dancers engage in specific movements, such as escobilla and balanceo y vaivén, a movement of flamenco, these movements exist before their sensible appearance on the body. So dance has to reclaim the existence of two possible elements: If the body in motion is a clearly perceivable element of dance, dance has to include as well and might be thought through movement that exists before the appearance of the body in motion. It is like the idea of two bodies interacting together. So dance is composed of sensible objects, such as my body or another person dancing and other objects that exist before their appearance.
In order to fully test this theory of the interaction between two different objects, the real or the human body and the object or the movement, we can try to apply to the idea of the quality of circulation to the movement, as other objects. The question is: can the movement circulate between different bodies? And again, we can find conceivable that in a famous ballet, one dancer might be replaced by other dancers that reproduce the same element. So more than to deny the importance of the dancer, what we are trying to do here, is to emancipate the movement further from being a property of the dancing body so that somehow the movement is not anymore a property of the dancing body.
In doing so I would like to refer to another text because I have the impression that this movement that we are doing, equals Vilém Flusser’s attempt to emancipate the act of speaking from being a property of the speaker, within the book of gestures. Flusser says that we do not possess our own words in the act of speaking since the words that we use have been used by others and pre-existed the activity of speaking. So I am speaking right now with words that do not belong to me, but that are circulating amongst different speakers and that I am using now. The notion of circulation is crucial to the question of non-impression and hence autonomy of the language and autonomy of movement, helping this idea of emancipation from the body. This is the reason why Harman, in his text, also raised the question: ‘Can we replace the dancer with inanimate objects or computer generated shapes, and will the essence of the original choreography somehow still be there, even with some difference?’ Harman inserts here a non-human body to accentuate the possibility of emancipating the movement from being a property of a dancing body. What we are proposing here, or what they are proposing here, is a kind of shift from the idea of expression that somehow has been at the core of the Western idea of dance, to circulation or from property to use.
The movement is not the movement of the body, where it is a belonging of authorship, but is a movement by the body, it is rendered visible by the body but it is not of the body. Dance is made of an encounter between real objects, the movement and sensible ones, which are the bodies. If so far we thought of dance as the movement of the body, we can now think of it as the movement of movements among different bodies. This is a form of circulation of movements, somehow the movement moves among different bodies.
I think that as soon as we pronounce this, we also have to see another aspect. Imagine that right now someone like you or me produces exactly the same movement that I saw in the theatre one month ago. So the question is, am I in front of the same life, or is it another one, this life of the movement, or was the movement still existing while being invisible and not being produced by someone else? Maybe we have to imagine this continuous life of the movement that exists independently of its appearance, or somehow a ghostly and subterranean life, a single life that is lived by many bodies. Or a ghostly life that exists beneath its central appearance during which it can live days or centuries before accidentally or voluntarily reappearing through another body. I’m saying that this inverts somehow the idea of circulation, because one possibility would be to not think of dance as a circulation of movement amongst several bodies, but maybe rather as a circulation of bodies inside the life of one movement. So bodies are circulating inside and outside the life of a movement.
Dance is a movement in which the bodies occupy the movement. In this sense we can say that dance does not coincide with the life of the movement, but rather visualises the life of the movement at a certain moment. A life that exists independently on me dancing that movement. I like this idea because the movement is often seen as an element that helps visualise the life of the body. She moves, she’s still kind of alive. And here we are turning because somehow it is the body that helps visualise the life of the movement, but it is something that exists independently on the body. Through dance, the movement might no longer appear as the movement of the living body but somehow as a living non-body or a non-corporeal and yet recognisable life. This is where dance gives the possibility to exceed the anthropocentric perception of life.
The last element that I would like to bring up concerning this question about the movement and the body, is a reflection that started from an article, which is called In Human: Parasites, Posthumanism, and Papatūānuku by a very young theoretician whose name is Emily Rākete, she's a coordinator of several Māori organisations in New Zealand. She investigates the possibility of political agency of non-human forms and she describes ... she reclaimed the possibility of acknowledging and simply recognising political agency emerging from specifically non-human elements. Imagine how life is nothing but human forces and non-human forces interacting together. I've been working through the theory of Emily Rākete to understand what this interaction between human and non-human forces might mean.
I have the impression that we can describe dance as two different forms of life: a human life and a non-human life, the life of the movement. These are not two autonomous forces or lives because if the body depends on the movement, the life of the movement depends on the encounter with the body. We do not engage in a passive way with the movement but we deviate it’s life, we interact through contributing and transforming it. The movement is not simply my movement, at the same time I have the impression to enter its life in the same way it enters mine. All of a sudden we are not independent entities, but interdependent ones. This is a further precision of this idea of circulation, that appears in the life of the movement. What I’m experiencing while dancing is not simply a circulation of movements among different bodies and throughout time, nor simply a circulation of bodies inside the same movement, but dancing may be the circulation of lives in other lives, a circulation of movements in human lives and a circulation of human lives in the life of the movement. When I start dancing, start lifting my arm, I lose any possible and impossible idea of independence to experience an interdependence, a moment that I’m sharing with another life, which is a non-human life. In this sense, dancing is an invitation to rethink our life as an interconnection of lives even beyond the body movement relation, it might exceed it’s territory to help understand this form of interdependence and to overcome anthropocentrism. Rākete describes this as a kind of porosity or a kind of being parasite. We are parasites of a space that is parasiting us and maybe this describes what is created by dance: we parasite the movement and we are parasited by it.
I would like to conclude that thinking about co-authorship in dance means also to recognise the movement or the existence of the movement beyond the body, as something autonomous that dances with the body. A space that brings together human and non-human life, where we see the cohabitation of living bodies and on living bodies. It’s like two or more lives dancing together and opening a space beyond anthropocentricity.
- Authors of the future. Constant, Brussels (September 2019) https://constantvzw.org/site/Authors-of-the-future-Re-imagining-Copyleft.html
- Graham Harman, Ontology and Choreography, text presented at the conference Choreography as Expanded Practice. Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Barcelona, Spain. March 29–31, 2012.
- Flusser, Vilém (2014). Gestures. University of Minnesota Press.
- Rākete, Emily (2016). In Human: Parasites, Posthumanism, and Papatūānuku