Dance across Europe: Critical issues on the geography of the body

In the last decade we have been witnessing the emergence of new choreographing practices in the performing arts. There has been a great shift in choreographic scores and it is becoming commonplace to consider dance a hybrid art exploring the many possibilities of physical articulation. We no longer experience the body’s conformance to an ideal aesthetic; on the contrary, we see many new choreographers constantly redefining the perspective under which we are called to identify a performer’s body on stage. Not only do we engage ourselves by seeing but we also learn to change the perspective from which we stand as mere viewers, as if we are metaphorically asked to “step inside” a performance, to take up a position as represented within the work and to see as if from there.

Apart from the prominent technical proficiency of the performers, the body can be a generative source of a wide spectrum of ideas: we have seen it transform into a post-human being, in the example of Euripides Laskaridis’ Relic, or into a rocket of parodic virtuosity exploding on stage, like in Hodworks’ Conditions of Being a Mortal Movements I & III, or even into a site of exploration about the notion of “love”, in Tabea Martin’s FIELD. The above three shows all had in common the layering of music, movement and spoken word. Euripides Laskaridis made a unique use of mundane objects while testing our opinions on the culturally constructed self or even annulling our system of identification with what is human. Hodworks concentrated on the idolisation of perfection and virtuosity in melodramatic theatre and ballet: it manipulated certain balletic-operatic imagery to produce a sense of rupture in certain cultural norms. It was an exhilarating non-conformist assault on all the classically biased equations of physical dexterity with artistic value. Tabea Martin, for the most part of her show, presented us a body caught in a traffic of emotional intensities, striving to impose itself on the (battle)field of love: it struggled, it failed, only to muster its resources and throw itself again into the complexities of an erotic triangle.

What is undoubtedly worth noticing in the above examples is the imagery of an uncertain body, positioning itself in the constantly widening perspective of performance. Incorporating an extremely wide range of discourses, thus reminding us how fragile and incomplete it can sometimes appear, the performer’s body is still a precious asset for grasping the meaning inscribed in our lives. This partial opacity between real-life and nearly-real-life on stage is where a transformed ontology of the body could begin. Surpassing the original experimentation with technical skills or the mechanics of movement, we have reached a point where dance offers a broader view on the human condition. We could even talk about a reciprocal gaze, as dance practices inform our practices in everyday life, and vice-versa. This might demand a higher commitment by both artists and audience and a greater responsibility regarding political and social issues raised via the performing arts. Moreover, it is worth realising that the crossings of stage and reality offer a better understanding of a given situation, as they often lead to a multiplication of viewpoints and a dialectical approach to life. This becomes most acute at moments of confrontation with something that does not fit the ordinary or meet our expectations as viewers. Only then it becomes apparent that the stage is not just a way of representing things, but also a means to adjudicate different understandings of reality.

Anastasio Koukoutas