THE WAY OF ONE SITTING INTO THE UTOPIA OF
By Norma Jean Sedlmayr
Today I'll become a dancer. I'm pondering
this sentence, and I like it. In reality I'm not a dancer, and I know that it
takes years to become a dancer fit for the art market. Perhaps on occasion of
my coming out some will say: "It's too late, you should have started when you
were five years old." Ballet school and so on. Apart from that I like to smoke,
and I certainly don't eat vegetarian. I don't have to in order to become a
dancer, I know that already. I'll do it another way then. Yesterday I saw "Swan
Lake" in the St. Peterburg version by Konstantin Sergeyev from 1950. The
Mariinsky dancers really are professionals. During the performance an elderly
woman is sitting next to me, addresses me and rhapsodises about the discipline
the Russians still have, and the stage setting which reminds her of fairy tale
books. I'm rather undisciplined. And dance for me isn't telling fairy tales. I
can write about dance and art, but today I've decided to go a step further.
Okay, I can't do anything. Consequently, I
got myself an ImPulsTanz workshop folder which is called "First Steps". I'm
standing up from my writing desk and trying to imagine what "first steps"
means. I can decide whether I'm making those steps with the intention of
wanting to show them, or consciously under the aspect that what I'm doing now
are my steps, and how this feels. I'm trying out both for a while, and I think
I understand why Steve Paxton once maintained that one could put thirty years
of research into what walking is, and even that wouldn't suffice to know it.
Walking, I'm telling myself, is
subanatomical. It is important – I'm walking with closed eyes now – to grasp
what happens beneath the function of walking during the act of walking.
Actually, my talents rather lie on the theoretical side. So I'm a good sitter.
Imitating steps is hard for me. But I believe that after all if I'm a body then
it would be able to dance. I decide to take a subanatomical approach to the
matter, and I'm leafing through the folder, very nice, glossy, lots of pictures
and brief texts. I open up a chapter which leads me away from the table of
contents: "World". I also find "AllAbilities" and "Golden Age" very appealing.
Under "world" I immediately find something
captivating: Gumboots. The rhythm of the mine workers in their gumboots, danced
morse code. Not knocking, no, stomping. Africa is the cradle of mankind, they
say, and my soles are evolution products from the savannah. Africa.
Colonialism, exploitation, post-colonialism. Mines and minorities, skin and
colours. Colour signals something. There are no blue people, no green and
violet ones. Man is coloured from nearlyblack over all shades from brown to
yellowish, reddish, pink and nearlywhite. Fair-skinned people like to become
brown when they're on holiday – racists, too.
I find that the first thing I have to be
interested in as a dancer is in which society I, the body lives. In the
Historical Lexicon of Switzerland I read: "… only
since the 1980ies, in the course of the ‘anti-essentialist' feminist theory
(gender history), of French post-structuralism and neohistoristic culture
history, the body itself became suspected of historicism: No longer did it
appear as given before every story, but as a product of historcal developments
even apart from its biological evolution. This turnaround manifested threefold
in historiography. Firstly, the body was paid regard to as a privileged
metaphorical carrier of meaning for political and social conditions verifiable
since the High Middle Ages. (…) Secondly, especially feminist research and
(social) constructivist science history provided evidence that natural
scientific statements about the biology of the body and especially about peculiarieties
and differences of gender depended on historically changeable systems of
statement and representation. (…) And thirdly, the historicisation of the
body has led to the question how bodies not only were represented differently
throughout history, but also were created, even produced as different ones in
the framework of certain power or knowledge dispositives."
How do I change body
history when I become a dancer today? Gumboots have become part of South
African body history. Mamadou M'Baye writes the sentence I need here: "If you
can walk, you can dance." Dancing belongs to African everyday culture and to
European entertainment culture. In Europe it's knocks, in the South African
mines a stomping communication developed which today even invades entertainment
as a historical phenomenon. Bollywood dance! (By the way, who knows that the
world's third biggest film industry is situated in the Nigerian capital Lagos:
Nollywood.) Bollywood specialist Terence Lewis writes me: "I challenge you and
will make a diva out of you!" My sympathy is with Shiva, standing on whom the
goddess Kali is often depicted. Kali means "the black one", but also "play
acting" (e.g., in "Kathakali", "Katha" standing for "Story"). I want to be a
Kali dancing like Shiva! Terence would laugh at me, I think and I'm beginning
to speculate whether I shouldn't sign up for Mårten Spångbergs "Choreographer's
Venture" where they're making a film ("SWEAT – The Movie"). In any case I would
bring gumboots and introduce myself as Shiva-Diva.
What does the South
African Pantsula have to do with the Austrian Krocha? Youth culture, rebellion
and dance. "Bam, Oida!" from Johannesburg I could learn from Via Katlehong. I'm
no Krochar, but probably that which Krocha and David Brooks would term "bobo". Wikipedia
says: "In Vienna especially the vicinity of the Naschmarkt and the
Museumsquartier, also frequently called ‘Boboville', as well as parts of the
inner western districts and the Karmeliter quarter in 2nd district as ‘bobo'
districts. In Berlin that's mainly Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Friedrichshain and
Kreuzberg. There, bobos mostly are called ‘Schwaben' by the inhabitants."
Aggrieved I'm opening
the chapter "Golden Age", although I'm much too young for it. No, not yet 55
plus, but still Eva Hager-Forstenlechner would be dead right for me. The
sitting body ages faster, is desensitised and very bobo (e.g., because of its
workaholic lifestyle). Eva: "It's never too late to give up bad habits and
retune the body to a more sensible energy usage." And I will try Pantsula, and
also Helmut Köpping of the Theater im Bahnhof in Graz, because he says:
"Putting something up together." How to make a piece in five days: "No matter
if it gets mangy." That's something I understand. As a dancer, too. "Moving
On", like Alito Alessi says under AllAbilities. Alessi is the classic. I
remember how two years ago, Charlotte Roche (I like her Kracher book
"Feuchtgebiete" – Quote: Hygiene's of little consequence with me – very little)
in Harald Schmidt's talkshow took out her incisor prosthesis, threw it in the
air, caught it with her mouth, set it right again with her tongue and said:
"One has to be able to handle one's disablements." Typically bourgeois
bohemian. But a Kracher, too.
I take a walk (!) to my
bookcase to fetch Foucault's "The Utopian Body". As a dancer I will keep to
this motto. The ballerinas of the Kirov, too, are utopian bodies, renaissance
born and impregnated by enlightenment, who show that aimful training under the
right conditions is capable of building a body like that of an elf, a paradise
and angel body which the sleazy stares of the balletomaniacs glance off from as
long as it moves on the stage (= utopia). The ballerina as an image is, so
to speak, the counterpart to the protagonist in "Feuchtgebiete". For the
ballerina is an Odette, a white swan, while Odile, the black swan, serves as a
metaphor for something that must not be. Odile is Kali, but Odette is pure, a
true soul. Foucault writes about the soul: "It is my shining, purified,
virtuous, alive, mobile, warm, fresh body. My smooth castrated body, round like
a piece of soap. And lo and behold, thanks to these utopias my body has
I want to be a dirty
dancer. But there's no workshop for that, so I'll let off steam at Keith
Hennessy's Contact Improvisation, and tune my voice with Angela Willkie, that
much is clear. Maybe I'll even try ballett, for example with Zvi Gotheiner. I'm
entitled to do that although I am a first stepper. I'll be a dirty but proud
ballerina, a soiled swan of doubtful elegance. Training and theory do not
gainsay each other. And Zeus seduced Leda in the shape of a swan. Small wonder
that christianity has banned the Olymp to Hell and that Lucifer, the bringer of
light, is depreciated as seductor and temptator. For an atheist those are very
beautiful metaphors. Bollywood dance with Terence Lewis will infuse me with the
correct mudras, i.e., gestures of the hands.
Again I'm standing up
for a little walk. Dancing is my utopia. With Ko Murobushi I will experience a
transformation because I believe that Butoh suits me well. I will empathise
with the shape of a used piece of soap and from there write my mudras into the
air. The I'll think of them when I'm practising percussion with Mamadou M'Baye.
Dance lives from inner images, which I want to transport into my intense
"Creation for Beginners" with Marion Ballester. Foucault writes: "The body is
the zero point of the world, the place where paths and spaces cross. The body
itself is nowhere. It is the small utopian pip at the core of the world, from
which I'm setting out, out of which I'm dreaming, talking, fantasising,
perceive things in their place and also negate them through the boundless power
of the utopias I'm thinking. My body resembles the Sun State. It has no place
but all possible real or utopian places set out from it like rays." As of
today, I'm a dancer.
Michel Focault, Die Heterotopien. Der
utopische Körper, Frankf./M: Suhrkamp 2005, p.28 and 34.
(July 6, 2008)