LAURENCE LOUPPE DISCUSSES CONTEMPORARY CRITICAL BODIES
By Jeroen Peeters
Yet another dance book. Even one that calls itself consciously La suite. The prominent French dance theoretician Laurence Louppe wrote a sequel to her poetics from 1997, but she doesn’t make much of a difference this time.
The idea behind part one was to provide a frame of reference that allows careless spectators to navigate through the shattered field of contemporary dance, with the aim to arouse deeper insights and experiences through continuity. The sequel embroiders on the same principle, but as a catalogue of contemporary productional modes, especially from dance makers that stage ‘critical bodies’. Louppe skirts the landscape superficially and indulges in stringing quotations, which results in endless enumerations rather than strikingly succinct formulations. The short, associatively constructed chapters end up entangled in the dispersed field they aim to analyse. What is Louppe’s point?
Unveiling unexpected traces
Not only the discursive charge of performances, but also the ‘dance talk’ among choreographers and dancers deserves attention: “These conversations equally nurture a ground of shared references and contribute to the sharing of a memory and a culture. That ‘culture,’ in the anthropological sense of the word, nourishes itself with a History (of dance, of art), memories of performers, dance experiences, and the intimate rapport with the body. (…) This speech of dance will step by step, as I hope, be able to make itself heard through infiltration in the dominant cultural discourse.” (p. 64) Louppe’s position is reminiscent of Foucault’s genealogy: critical historical labour that unsettles grand narratives and unveils unexpected traces and connections via attention for myriad details and practices. Louppe’s research isn’t systematic, nor an in-depth analysis of a limited corpus, but often departs from her personal archive and experience. Her interpretations are singular in that she takes choreographic practices as a point of departure, in spite of the whirlpool of theoretical references. Ideologically, Louppe’s feminism is present in a fervent anti-essentialism and proclamation of difference.
When it comes to writing history, Louppe explores the thesis that the generation of dance makers coming of age in the 1990ies has a similar sense of radicalism as the modern dance from the 1930ies and the American choreographers from the 1960-70ies. This is an interesting point, especially seeing the fact that Louppe mostly discusses French choreographers (including Alain Buffard, Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Christian Rizzo, Myriam Gourfink and Boris Charmatz). In France, Cunningham is omnipresent in dance education, while also the artistic dialogue with (post-)Judson artists and their legacy is vivid and crucial. Louppe creates perspective by extensively discussing the work of American choreographers still active (Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, Lisa Nelson, Anna Halprin, Simone Forti), but doesn’t quite point out the many differences with the younger generation, both aesthetically and ideologically.
Concretely, Louppe constructs her chains of associations around a series of productional modes. She discusses scores in relation to limits and possibilities, internal trajectories, tasks, objects, and the legibility of processes. Affinity with the visual arts is a recurring theme. Presence is addressed as a series of techniques developed by performers on stage, to share an imaginary body and view with the spectators. Invisibilia, heterotopias, the body as cartography. Or proto-choreography: unwitnessed choreographic moments, spontaneous organisational forms, compositions balancing at the brink of the visible. Think for instance of pedestrians in the city, their bodies witnesses of spatial and social organisation. Challenging concepts, but they remain sketchy.
Louppe’s discourse engages explicitly with choreographers interested in creating ‘critical bodies.’ “A critical body, that is the artist who serves her/himself of their body to elaborate a thought about the world. It is reconsideration based on the movement of each procedure (including non-movement). It is a body that obstructs habitual schemes of self-representation. (…) It is a body that questions the productional modes of the spectacular, departing from the experience of the body itself.” (p. 9) Here we find a key for Louppe’s catalogue principle: body experiences and representations are connected with specific practices and techniques, and thus not to be generalised. With the dispersion, Louppe also celebrates a multitude of imaginary bodies and eagerly embraces the blurring of borders between categories, cultures and species, which entrusts us – after Donna Haraway – with pleasure as much as with responsibility. This post-modern truth can’t justify Louppe’s superficial writing though.
Laurence Louppe, Poétique de la danse contemporaine. La suite, Brussels: Contredanse, 2007, 180 pp., ISBN 2-930146-27-3. www.contredanse.org