‘A dance studio is not just a dance studio any more – it’s a hybrid space,’ says choreographer and curator Karina Sarkissova during a panel discussion at MDT theatre in Stockholm. This is the second day of the POST-DANCE-ING conference, and my impression is that we are in a mess; but this remark suddenly grabs my attention and puts everything in its place. A studio is not just an area demarcated by the walls and the floor, but also a laptop screen connecting the dancer with the images, affects and informational noises of the ‘outside world’.
For the last fifty years, this world has been changing dramatically: from industrial production with guaranteed jobs to mostly intellectual, ‘creative’ freelance labour; from colonial dominance of European countries to a postcolonial state of affairs and fierce migration; from mostly patriarchal rule to the new feminist uprisings; from beliefs in eternal progress to awareness of ecological catastrophe. It’s always changing in terms of technologies and media, which in many ways have influenced politics, social relations and the balance between private and public life.
Our habitual ways of living are not valid any more – and neither are our accustomed ways of dancing. How can we face those challenges as dance practitioners?
It seems that such questions could describe the vague intentions of the POST-DANCE-ING conference, held at MDT from 23 to 25 October 2019, which gathered together more than 150 professionals: dancers, choreographers, curators, managers, and theoreticians. Although the term ‘conference’ often refers to scientific discourse, this gathering was in no way academic. Instead, this meeting proved to be more like a choreographic piece than a consistent set of reports – and this is directly related both to the ‘postdance’ concept and the complicated set of circumstances which it tries to explore and illuminate.
What was it about? Huh, that’s a difficult question, and those seeking answers might find them on the livestreamed video (online until 24 November 2019). We’d rather ask how it was functioning and what it did do for the attending people. But before we go into details, it’s worth saying a few words about its origin and background.
A container, not a concept
The term ‘postdance’ appeared in 2015 as the name of another conference at MDT, curated by Danjel Andersson (who back then headed the theatre), along with Cullberg ballet artistic director Gabriel Smeets and theoretician André Lepecki. No one could say exactly what postdance actually was – and such exposed uncertainty was indeed the very idea of the curators. According to Andersson, ‘postdance’ is a container, not a concept, which probably means that this term tries to grope towards and map out current situations in dance rather than define it in settled terms.
The word ‘postdance’ was vague but nevertheless exposed several issues which were and still are relevant for experimental dance, at least in Western countries. In the book of the same name, published by MDT two years later, there were texts dealing with queer and feminist strategies in dance, precarious freelance labour, the affective turn in arts and culture, dance in the era of post-internet art, imagination and knowledge production, the aims of choreography, somatics and the issues of power. In such a context, dance found itself sensitive to changes and shifts in today’s politics, aesthetics and social life, but also specific in its relation to bodies, imagination and affects.