Dramaturgy - Mobile of Ideas

Scores 2010English
Scores no. 0, theme issue ‘The skin of movement’, autumn 2010, pp. 37-47

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I first developed the thinking on dramaturgy as a kind of mobile in the context of the working process of reportable portraits (2007), a project by deufert+plischke; see: Kattrin Deufert / Sandra Noeth / Thomas Plischke: MONSTRUM: A book on reportable portraits, Gemeinschaftspraxis Hamburg 2009.
Dramaturgy – Mobile of Ideas was as well the title of a workshop on the relationship between dramaturgy and choreography that took place at Tanzquartier Wien from 02 – 06 December 2009 and has been chaired by Slovenian director, performer and author Janez Jansa.

» A › mobile ‹ does not › suggest ‹ anything: it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. › Mobiles ‹ have no meaning, make you think about nothing but themselves. (...) No human brain, not even their creator’s, could possibly foresee all the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and they are left to work it out for themselves. What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of the day, the sun, the temperature or the wind. (...) It may be possible to discern the composer’s theme, but the mechanism itself introduces a thousand personal vibrations. It is a fleeting snatch of swing music, evanescent as the sky or the morning: if you miss it, you have lost it forever. (Paul) Valéry said of the sea that it is a perpetual recommencement. A › mobile ‹ is in this way like the sea, and it’s equally enchanting: forever re-beginning, forever new. No use throwing it a passing glance, you must live with it and be fascinated by it. Then and only then you feel the beauty of its pure and changing forms, at once so free and so disciplined. «
Jean-Paul Sartre 1

          Shadows of monstrosity

          Dealing with dramaturgical thinking and practice in artistic and more specifically in choreographic working processes reminds me the image of a mobile – a toy and tool developed originally to train children’s eyes and reflexes while hanging above their beds and cradles.
          Accommodating the seducement of this analogy, the mobile proposes an operating field, a sphere of  activity, a metalinguistic structure of single and singular elements that are attached to one another by visible or hidden threats: Reacting to, interacting with and influencing each other, it points out the dense, multilayered and flawy texture of a creation process – materials, ideas, gestures, movements, sounds, space and time, figures and narratives. At the same time, the mobile’s movement is directly linked to the outside.

Dramaturgy in the context of our artistic proposals focuses on how a piece articulates all of its elements as well as on its artistic purpose. Every piece fits a question we ask. However, it is not important to answer it but to propose certain elements and materials and to let the audience make its own arrangement. So we are not looking to tell anything to the spectators but we prefer to produce doubt about the scenic reality that they perceive. This lack of resolution is important as it creates movement in the perception, the thinking of the movement.
(Geisha Fontaine & Pierre Cottreau)

The most important thing for me is to break down barriers and to research together in order to develop strategies and maybe to change something. Because for me the purpose of art is not only to make one’s own work, to create one’s own dramaturgy, to make something new and extraordinary but to engage in very ordinary things and to create together conditions to exist.
(Lia Rodrigues)

          It borrows and uses forms and qualities of its environment and brings in professional and private lives and experiences of all involved as well as more general politics and conditions of production and distribution, of markets and institutions.
          The elements the mobile is constructed with are specific to every process and defined in an ever specific landscape. Even though they may repeat themselves, reoccur and thereby suggest to create a kind of poetics or any other identifiable and repeatable system or corpus, they don’t necessarily allow or ask to deduce fixed concepts or categories. In this sense, the dramaturgical mobile rejects the hermeneutics of a closed and stable system of signification. With each step of formulating and reformulating language and movement, the mobile rather constructs a choreography of ideas, a continuous movement to be originated and brought into being in moments of encounter and being together:

It looks like that the term dramaturgy that has been introduced more than 200 years ago needs a kind of re-articulation or reconsideration especially because it is welcomed in artistic productions and practices which do not at all employ › drama ‹. Or, how can a term, a concept, a practice survive once it loses its ground, once situated in a place that actually is not a place of prodigy?
(Janez Jansa)

We invented the process of reformulation because we trust in the weakness of our collaborators which we share with them. In the beginning of an artistic project we all know that we do not know what it will become. The non-knowledge that we have in common is the only common ground of the work. We also strongly defend the independence and separation of the art work and the person of the artist. We consider us more as mediators of something that can happen. Especially in artistic dance practices we mistrust two forms of » knowledge «: the esoterism of empathy (I know how and what you feel) and the obscurantism of virtuosity / trainable techniques (show me what you can do and I will appreciate what I have seen). Reformulating enables a process that starts with the empty paper, that collects ideas in a horizontal way and that proliferates and later selects material that is composed and organized by all contributers together. Not in the same way but in the same form. Reformulation is a non-democratic but also non-hierarchical process. 
(deufert & plischke) 

          Mobile, immobile, form, content and an idea of movement are interconnected as much as the working processes of a multiplicity of the works in contemporary choreography and performance work are. Artistic processes are often no longer distinctly separable from the edited work which has always already started when the participants come together, when the performers enter the stage, when the public signs up to activate its spectatorship. When steps and tasks related to the research, conception, training, creation, production and publication of a performance interweave, blend and combine, it influences not only the artists’ position that changed noteworthy throughout the last years2 developing finely distinct individual and collective working protocols, but also the discourse and practice, which engage less in insisting on their difference and complementarity. The material of choreography though is unstable, it redefines its starting point again and again and it is this unsecured element that vitalises and brings the piece, the body, the voices into movement.

The desire to control what you do is normal in the creative process but at some point or in some durational formats it is not possible. You need to let some things occur. You can ’t control everything, you have to trust, let the inner organization of the work arrive. One of the principal questions then is: What is dance? – We don ’t know. We are always looking for what dance, what art can be. This is part of our dramaturgy.
(Geisha Fontaine & Pierre Cottreau)

          Thus, the term and the practice of dramaturgy also need to be revisited: This is primarily less about defining a single person’s profile and role in artistic working processes, but about focusing on a certain function within the creation in order to set up a dramaturgical thinking corresponding to the specific context. Dramaturgy then designs more than keeping the singular elements together. Moreover, and resembling a mobile, it is looking for the responsibility of everyone for and within it, examining the balance, the statics and the weight of the equal elements, the dislocations and changes that they cause and that force them into reaction.
          This is an attempt to think of choreography as something that would neither necessarily design a repertory in the sense of fixed movements nor follow a structured flow of movement improvisation. Instead of creating a fixed vocabulary, the mobile of ideas throws its shadows on the walls;

Dramaturgy is probably the place in the artistic process where knowledge and nonknowledge meet and become articulated. Not knowing is not like knowing nothing, but a very specific kind of knowledge which is over-estimated in the poetic, dreamy sense as a place that I don ’t know and under-estimated in the sense of how we work because we mostly work with things we know and not with things we don ’t know.
(Janez Jansa)

          trying to integrate the unknown, the unpredictable, the vague and the unstable, thus that has not yet been achieved, into our view3: Ranging e.g. from the feeling of being betrayed by the narratives of the others to the challenge of taking misunderstanding not as an aim but as something productive or the question to which extent allowing and accepting the other’s voice in one’s own work. – These shadows witness the monstrosity and the usuriousness of every (artistic) encounter, the simultaneity of loosing, of floating grounds and creating forms, the effort of binding together the co-existence of the autopoiesis of art and the concrete of the outside, the instability of life itself. 

Weakness, poorness, tiredness these are precisely the attributes that are in our opinion important for art and its production, because these are the states in which other forms become visible, these are the states of turbulence. They are the attributes of first emergence, the moments when a form just asserts itself. Aren ’t it the moments of great fatigue, that we switch of the filters of personal likes and dislikes, of expedience, that we stand besides our so-called selves? Isn’t it that, when we can ’t afford certain production means, we have to look for other solutions, for something else? These are the moments when other relations become possible. For us these moments are of great importance and they bear a potential for critique in the field of art, where the representation of strength, virtuosity and bigness is still dominant, where it be in the strong voice of an actor, the solid technique of a dancer, the big gesture, the huge leap, the great talent, the big format, the tabula or rasa.
(deufert & plischke)

          Without formulating a too easy promise or illustration of flexibility and hybridity, they also make us sense the potentiality of choreography beyond physical bodies – in between regulation and permeability.
          Dramaturgy, consequently, is not about efficiency, imitation or well-directed quest. There is no a priori to dramaturgy. Approaching it means observation. Within its ever changing structure, it asks for precision and decisions: It does not mean not making decisions and it does not exclude failure; however it tries not to admit too fast own and others aesthetics, formal, personal or other likes and dislikes and assumptions.

After many years of collaboration and co-authorship: Dramaturgy happens in dialogue. It is a place of reflection where conceptionally and practically key decisions are made.
(Janez Jansa) 

What is the role of the dramaturge? For economic reasons simplified to the third eye, the role is bigger: He or she is there to fight for the risk – to stay with the original concept, keeping it as wide as possible.
(Janez Jansa)

          Shared responsibilities
          The workshops and research at Tanzquartier Wien dealing with dramaturgy try to open up the practice and the notion anew and to implement a long-term reflection about this field of activity. Taking off from concrete individual artistic experiences and methods out of different disciplines, artists, theorists and students are invited to share and discuss their practices and thinking. The first of these research events was prepared in collaboration with Slovenian author, director and performer Janez Janša and the invited artists deufert+plischke, Claudia Bosse, Geisha Fontaine & Pierre Cottreau as well as Lia Rodrigues. Like a mobile, the present text records and resembles in its very environment statements and questions that emerged out of this working week. Binding them loosely together, this landscape of ideas proposes not a certain logic or strategy but intents to bring up – in a non-chained, non-coherent and uncommented way – some of the various approaches, questions, challenges and topics relevant for dramaturgical textures within contemporary performance and choreography.

I have one strong question: For whom do we play our pieces? What is the place of the public, how can we touch people, in which way can we create a dialogue?
(Lia Rodrigues)

          Thus, as does dramaturgy, the mobile keeps up a strong relationship to its outside.
          Working, being together constructs a mobile of ideas. A structure clearly anchored in our individual work and lives that, however, loosely bound to one another, invites all participants to follow the mobile’s movements: to circuit in a meticulously balanced way, to get tilted in reaction to the others and the time shared, to throw gravity deep in the grid of fibres, to detach one from another and to get tangled up in each other. With the first gust of wind, the threads that keep the mobile together can merely be recognised. It is surprising and lively, organic and flexibly interweaved and still, in this interconnectivity, equips its elements with ever-proper dynamics.

          More than fixing a movement’s form or searching for aesthetics by dealing with consensus or the question of authorship, the mobile is writing on a protocol that develops within the time shared, the brought vocabulary and the generated material.

In creation: How can we talk about subjects like dramaturgy, representation or the operation of being a community during the piece? – Everything is not separated and I sometimes feel torn apart.
(Lia Rodrigues)

          Dramaturgy means thinking of these traces of transmission, sharing and treating the material; it testifies closeness and distance, detects overlappings, denseness and distances without trying to stylise the absent into the utopian, without wanting to affirm choreography as a strange place located opposite to everyday life.
          Dramaturgy is not synonymous with mediation, but moreover a » shared intellectual and affective responsibility « 4 dedicated to participation, in the sense of Methexis, as well as the state, the need of always dealing with different options and possibilities. It says a lot about the way information is generated, given, rejected, recycled and finally put on stage.

In general mythology plays an important part in our artistic work. It is not so much that we are interested in staging mythological plots or matters like they appear in plays or music. We are fascinated by the heterogeneity that myths contain in their unsecured tradition. They always already questioned the position of a fixed singular authorship because they only exist via a proliferation of versions. These versions coexist even though they partly contradict each other, relate to one another or complement each other. If you aim to take myths as raw material you need to accept the merging of various text forms, the plurality of voices. (deufert & plischke)

          Within this model, all involved are actors and authors at the same time. The texture of their encounter replaces › drama ‹ – the text in the sense of an identifiable authority with a certain logic or narrative to be followed.

          To deal with dramaturgy means dealing with the noncontingent, with the emerging. It means, more concretely, becoming tangible; being » close by «5, participating not by dissolving and spreading singular responsibilities, but by trusting in a kind of friendship that is an emancipated one. Dramaturgy, moreover, means changing positions and not cementing them. It is about a reciprocal involvement with one another, including the wiping and the loss of control. What is at stake there, is a practical notion of responsibility for one’s own work as well as for the interaction of the elements and the temporary community created within this process and the protocol of the human as well as artistic encounters.

          This moment of participation is not hermetic.

Where I see dramaturgy is: To what extent can you influence, be aware of and work with the conditions for the meeting of artists and spectators to happen?
( Janez Jansa)

          It is open for everyone and demands passive listening and passive waiting as the only possibility that would enable encounters beyond expectations. It enters an already existing movement and strolls through it. It spreads out as something third, absorbing its permeability impulses – accompanying them in order to let them go again, to follow them. The mobile replaces representation: It doesn ’t create any specific associations nor does it intend any defined emotional states. It accesses an other, a common body, organises contrasting movements and bodies and modifies relationships in space.

What I consider a work of art that might be called contemporary implies the structural inclusion of the spectator. Entering the relationship between artists and spectator, dialogue, is possible but not obligatory for the work to function: it doesn’t have to be done, it isn’t obvious, but it is welcome. It puts the spectator, on different levels, in a kind of negotiation, in an active position that is constructed and that is about something that is in the work of art. The question is always: In which kind of communication act do you want to enter? What do you produce in the spectator?
(Janez Jansa)

          This moment takes place between intention and non-intention, liveliness and mechanics.

What is dramaturgy in choreography?
What are the structural decisions during your working phase?

1st: It is about the DEFINITION OF INTEREST which can be a material, a text, a political interest or just a kind of desire which is much more vague as a formulation, and about the definitions of the questions that follow.

2nd: Is it a dramaturgical decision to CHOOSE THE SPACE – theatres, city spaces, vast land – with its dimensions, its institutional conditions, its way of dealing with conventions and historical backgrounds which are always inscribed.

3rd: In which SURROUNDING OF BODIES do you work? How do the bodies work together within the process – and then, who is doing the technical and spatial construction? – and what occurs when confronted with the outside? What are the decisions to be made with regard to the spectator’s situation?

4th: TIME. Its rhythm – if e.g. you work only during night time, if you make a two-month research process – and its duration as well as the way how you deal with the needs of the body like sleep and food are part of the dramaturgical construction of a performance.

5th: The question of structure concerning the COMMUNICATIONS and the ETHICS of your working interest as well as institutional matters and the question, to which extent the institution is willing to agree on a kind of ‘dance’ of formats and structures. What are the formulated and nonformulated rules of the working conditions, how can you reflect them in a conscious/unconscious way?

6th: What is the MATERIAL of the work? What are the body techniques, the historical references, language, text, who are the partners of feedback? What is the base of agreement, how do you contextualize and what and where do you want to engage in the fields of contemporary performance and historical movements?

7th: What does performance produce in social space and what is the meaning of it? How precise, within creation, do you have to be and how do you deal with non-control when it mixes with the social, when the spectator comes in.

Dramaturgy is a work on relationships and contagiousness and about how to structure them. It is about a microcosm of decisions and manipulation integrating concrete information and conditions of live performance. You know what you want to construct, what you try to communicate, but you don’t know what will happen, but all these elements re-inform the aesthetical as well as the social production of the work.
(Claudia Bosse)

          The dramaturgical, though, is still busy with the gaze although it is ready to leave its position as » first « or historically assigned » objective « observer. It is involved in following the process, strolling through it, without taking over the territories. More than creating an unison, its interest is to unfold decisions, to clarify intentions and to generate questions.6

          The relationship between dramaturgy and choreography is amicable. Dramaturgy doesn’t aim at reprimanding choreography or keeping it arrested in aesthetics or techniques of dance. Neither does it search for it within the virtuosity of forms. Dramaturgy is not interested in upending, in bringing into form. When encountering choreography, it is not about agreement or consensus. Moreover dramaturgy is functional and not personal (reserved to one person), it is wandering around, changing actors, it is lying in the space, drawing itself backwards, intervening, participating. It is not a closed system but can be observed from different perspectives, like the mobile that reacts to wind and temperature and the outside.

          The resemblances of dramaturgy to a mobile are not only an image as they are not limited to the order of the visual. It is not interested in pictorial terms and refuses the seduction that a symbolic turn could offer; it is more an impulse than a theoretical framework. Dramaturgy does not belong to anyone. It is monstrous – a ghost. It is not merely a theory and not merely a practice; yet it is weaving belts between the actors, it discovers links without soliciting comprehension, it builds paths through the topographical landscape of the performance. It leaves behind a suction (of gazes), traces and references of transmission and of our politics of decisions.


1Jean-Paul Sartre: Calder’s Mobiles, in: Alexander Calder, Buchholz Gallery / Curt Valentin, New York 1947, See: http://calder.org.
2And in resonance to more general socio-political and deep transformations in the order of the world that as well effected the redefinition of closed concepts of knowledge.
3See: Pirkko Husemann: When the dramaturg becomes obsolete, the dramaturgical remains important, in: » On Dramaturgy «, Performance Research Vol. 14, No. 3, Sept. 2009, pp. 52 – 53.
4Christel Stalpaert: A Dramaturgy of the Body, in: » On Dramaturgy «, Performance Research Vol. 14, No. 3, Sept. 2009, p. 123.
5See: Bojana Kunst: The Economy of Proximity: Dramaturgical work in contemporary dance, in: » On Dramaturgy «, Performance Research Vol. 14, No. , Sept. 2009, pp. 81–89.
6See: Jacques Rancière: The Emancipated Spectator (2010) and The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991).