Undertraining 2011
Undertraining. On a contemporary dance. Dijon, 2011, pp. 226-229

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Dramaturgy, in the dance world, is a profession both uncommon and slightly fictitious. Sometimes the dramaturgist is the person in charge of the preparatory work for a piece, undertaking documentary research and reflecting on the orientation of the show. Sometimes the role entails structuring the dance sequences composed by the choreographer and the performers, or being the assistant whose job is to attend all the rehearsals and track how the project departs from its initial orientations. The dramaturgist can also be the very first spectator whose comments get the ball rolling. When, for instance, Angèle Le Grand (who was not present at rehearsals however) took on the role of ‘outsider’s eye’ in the final stages of the Con forts fleuve project, she drew our attention to the discrepancies between what she observed and the project’s initial intentions. On some occasions she also verbalised what everyone was thinking but were unable to articulate, for example that it was time to change something in the process. In fact, in practice, this function can be assumed by a whole range of different people at different points in time, and this person might be a dancer, a friend, the lighting technician, and so on. In Belgium and Germany the situation can sometimes be different due to the fact that a dramaturgist may be attached to a particular theatre. They establish the season’s dramaturgy and in this way, almost have a programming role, supervising the dramaturgy of the shows they schedule. If in Belgium, some contemporary dance companies commonly work with a dramaturgist, in France you tend to speak of 'assistants'. In the 1980s this role was usurped by the all-mighty artist-choreographer-writer figure who tended to work in the immediacy of emotion and the moment. In a manner of speaking, when I was working as a performer, the assistant seemed to me to function as some kind of ‘contraceptive device’ operating between the choreographer and the dancer as if somehow endowed with a preventative, sterilising and sealing function. In a set-up such as this the assistant is a kind of coach, the illegitimate offspring of the ballet master who gets the dancers to rehearse when the choreographer has more important business to tend to, overseeing and checking the work is well done.

So far I have never needed to involve a dramaturgist or an assistant in the preparatory stages of a project, when you define its orientation, reflect on the particular work modes, the relationship to the sound environment and lighting, etc. There is no need for anyone to guarantee the meaning from the ‘outside’, to help organise the scattered pieces of dancing. I believe I am incapable of ‘choreographing' one or several bodies in the sense of drawing and writing the body's movement in space. What I have endeavoured to do is make dramaturgy tie in with the body itself, that is, to focus on dramaturgy and the experience of dancing more than on the ‘choreographic’ dimension (although I continue to employ the term). In other words, the strictly ‘choreographic’ shifts to draw closer to a dramaturgy internal to the bodies themselves, articulating with the entire performance phenomenon.

In the wake of Bertold Brecht’s demise, the role of the dramaturgist had already been widely critiqued within the field of drama itself by figures such as Antoine Vitez who objected to this ‘over-confident cop who controls and acts as an ideological guarantor’. But this is an impoverished, even brutal conception of dramaturgy both from the actor’s and dancer’s perspective. There is a middle-ground between working with someone whose sole purpose is to freeze the meaning, define the scope and the limits of a project and set the ball rolling, and not working with anyone at all. Dramaturgy emerges from within the work itself, it does not force itself like an arrow onto a choreographic picture to control its direction. Whatever dramaturgical choice is made alters the qualities of the gestures and vice versa. Perhaps we are too hung up on the dream of a movement that would contain its own dramaturgy? Can complex ties be established between the global dramaturgy organising space and time in the show, and the dramaturgy that acts on the danced gesture itself? Would such a dramaturgy structure itself by using the dynamics pertaining to the movement of bodies to amplify its effects or contradict them?

For some, dramaturgy is first and foremost a form of musicality. Musical phrasing is an extremely powerful proposition in a performance. You come up against difficulties when you start desperately searching for this phrase by putting sequences together. As a spectator, you then mainly perceive this sequencing that endeavours to somehow or other identify a global phrasing as it was not planned from the outset. Ultimately, the only way to resolve the issue is by a last-minute patch-up job, which can sometimes do the trick. But this is not the way I work.