Theater der Zeit

SCORES – Insert Tanzquartier Wien

The insufficiently clear

Notes on the performance I Dance Therefore I Talk

von toxic dreams

Erschienen in: Theater der Zeit: Hasta la vista – Bierbichler, Fiebach, Kuttner, Quiñones, Vanackere. Ein Brennpunkt zur Neubesetzung der Berliner Volksbühne (06/2015)

Assoziationen: Österreich Tanz Tanzquartier Wien



»Disagreement is not the conflict between one who says white and another who says black. It is the conflict between one who says white and another who also says white but does not understand the same thing by it.«
Jacques Rancière

1. I Dance Therefore I Talk; a series of staged essays, several contradictory approaches to the same problems: How do we talk about performance? What kind of language do we use on stage? What sort of text runs inside our heads? Is it a text we are too embarrassed to spit out?

Parts of the text are intended to be tonguein-cheek, a take on language that is standard poststructuralist theory. Other parts are the exact opposite, the criticism of those who despise that language and view it as emptying the stage out of any coherent meaning.

2. Which leads me to one of the points of departure for the show. The debate between celebrity dissidents Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Z iz ek. The esteemed linguist Noam Chomsky slammed the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Z iz ek, along with the late French theorists Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, for cloaking trivial ideas in obscure and inflated language to make them seem profound. This is a pure leftist discourse, no one else is really interested in the relationship between theory, ideology and reality.

»There’s no ›theory‹ in any of this stuff«, Chomsky said to an interviewer who had asked him about the three continental thinkers, »not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Z iz ek is an extreme example of it.«

There is an old joke that goes »the Anglo-Saxon philosopher will accuse the continental of being insufficiently clear, while the continental philosopher accuses the Anglo-Saxon of being insufficiently.«

I’m, for one reason or another, in the ›insufficiently‹ camp. Sometimes when I read performance text, program notes, performance theory, I feel like Chomsky, and I was twelve, 40 years ago.

Of course, when people look back from the future they will probably laugh about these debates and perhaps wonder whether they were the reason great beasts like this eventually went extinct; but to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, somebody has to do the dirty work so that »those who come later« can look back and laugh.

As an admirer of both Chomsky and Zizek, I think that it is possible to productively engage this heated exchange in such a way as to avoid much of the bloodletting and to emerge on the other side with a better sense of how their seemingly opposed intellectual projects actually complement each other.

Hence, I Dance Therefore I Talk, where the ›insufficiently clear‹ and the ›insufficiently‹ get to dance on stage not as a case of an irreconcilable contradiction but a case of different dimensions. They are operating from different levels of abstraction, both of which, I claim, are important and necessary for political struggle.

3. Sample text. Spoken by an ›insufficiently‹ art critic:
»Sorry, I would like to interfere for a second, I have something to say…
We were literary people, academic literary people. We didn’t watch television. If we were interested in cinema it was on the level of avant-garde film, not Hollywood. And we didn’t like junk. There wasn’t this horrible levelling, where everything is as important as everything else. There was a sense of the hierarchy of values. We felt that we had to make a distinction between South Park and Virginia Woolf. There’s a generation now that feels you don’t have to make that distinction. South Park, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Duchamp, Lady Gaga, Mozart, Amadeus, Jay Z, it’s all going on at the same time, and it all kind of means the same thing. For that, you have Andy Warhol to thank. I also think Susan Sontag was very influential in giving permission to so-called educated people to watch trash. Her article Against Interpretation said that this idea of highbrow and lowbrow didn’t matter any longer, you could just love everything that is going on, you could be positive and optimistic and just love it all.

This attitude enables critics to kvetch soulfully about the dissociation of signs and meanings, and to praise what all good little ›deconstructors‹/artists would call their ›refusal of authoritarian closure‹ meaning, roughly, that they don’t mean anything in particular… But, they were doing it in style…

There was, suddenly, a taste for the raunchy and the outrageous. But fashionable art functioned very much the way junk bonds functioned in the financial markets. I don’t buy all of this levelling everything and everybody… I don’t believe in democracy in art. I think that when elitism got bad name in this country, it was the beginning of the end of Western culture… thank you…«

4. An interview with two members of the ›insufficiently clear‹ camp (not included in the show):

Q You guys are so modern. What do you look for in a performance? What qualities?

Member 1 Right now we like either non-dance dance, material-dance empty of materiality, or non-generic dance.

Member 2 We’re pretty anti-dance as far as non-generic dance is concerned.

Q By generic you mean dance as ›dance‹ rather than modulations of it?

Member 1 Yeah.

Member 2 So many artists bring us dances that are just like a klatch of bourgeois plagiarism. These poor young dancers are out there going to the performance places and they say: »This is what I have to do to have a show.« So they run to their studios and dance what they saw. Quotation that’s what they do. We don’t want that, we want stuff we’ve never seen in a performance space before. We want a counterfeit gestalt.

Q And what do you think is the best dance? The best counterfeit gestalt? What influenced the shaping of your taste?

Member 2 Right now, we like pretty classic late modern stuff: Socialist Pop Art kind of dance, like Duchamp’s urinal but in a dancy form.

Member 1 We also think that Op Art is highly underrated. That’s corporate psychedelia, the orgasm of modernism.

Member 2 We started the new performance space because we really just wanted to get our voices in.

Member 1 And chose the name »Dance Morte« for its Fifties-jazz, pseudocontinental appeal. Ersatz European. Franco-American Chef Boyardee.

Member 2 We wanted to be the off-generic place of the off-dance scene.

Member 1 But then I thought of a more conventional bohemianism kind of space. A space for theory and non-theory and non-generic-theory.

Member 2 But still a place when you can sit on comfortable nongeneric sofas and drink non-generic drinks.

Member 1 And discuss nongeneric dance.

Member 2 In a new language. The old language of performance is the language of another generation. We don’t use language like that today.

Member 1 We’re a different generation. We’re interested in different things. We speak the language of tomorrow.

5. It is a solo performance. The performer depicts various speakers. She is a ›figure of speech‹ more than a ›character‹. Shifting between different speaking techniques, between contrasting modes of textdelivery. These modes demonstrate the ambiguity and incompleteness of language, but the staging of the text points to the ambiguity of physical behaviour as well.

Sample text. Opening speech: »Dear audience, since you are a very  21st century educated audience… actually, a better way to describe you is: the Godience… so, instead of saying: I want an audience! We say: I want a Godience!… So, as Godience your mind is already working, spinning… What does she want? What does the seating arrangement mean? As Godience you cannot just sit and enjoy the show, you have to decode the performance, your brains are whirlpools of interpretative possibilities… So, let me try to put your thoughts into words… let me try to NSA your brain and decipher the text running inside your head… it probably sounds something like this: (here is a very ›insufficiently clear‹ text)

»The kind of vector that this performance explores is that of vision. More specifically: what it means for vision to be invested with a purpose, so that if we look out into space, it is not just a vacant stare that we cast in front of us but an act of looking that expects to find an object, a direction, a goal. This is purposiveness of vision, or, to use another term, vision’s intentionality. For the spectator of this performance, this space is constantly mapping a kind of projectile of the gaze that starts at one end of the performance hall and, like the embodiment of the concept of visual perspective, maps the path across the room that the spectator will take. In this sweep, which is simultaneously visual and corporeal, the performance describes the body’s relation to forward motion, to the fact that if we move ahead it is because our eyes have already reached out in order to connect us with the place to which we intend to go…«

Am I close?

Did I get inside your head?

Anyway, thank you for putting all of these deep thoughts onto this simple arrangement, but you are overthinking the entire thing… in the end, all of these seating arrangements are just part of, by now, normal, bourgeois theatre cliches, part of the domestic avant-garde… it is a game we play because we have to reinvent the wheel every three days… like smart-phones we have to come-up with new performance models every changing season…«

6. The Almost too Clear or Notes on the TED-›inspired‹ Scene: In search for other methods of speech delivery techniques, I arrived at TED, maybe the most popular and effective public speaking platform today.

When it comes to TED, Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Z iz ek will agree, for sure, that it is too clear (even by Chomsky’s 12 year old criteria), too much of new-age capitalism at its most dangerous form (by Z iz ek’s Communist views).

What is TED’s method? Can we apply it to performance art in order to be effective politically? I looked at some clips and came up with some suggestions, with the help of some of TED’s celebrated speakers.

Performance according to TED:
— Always give the audience something to take home. Always provide something specific the audience can do almost immediately. No matter how inspiring your message, every audience appreciates learning a tangible way they can actually apply what they’ve learned to their own lives. Inspiration is great, but application is everything.

— Ask a question you can’t answer. Asking questions to engage the audience often feels forced. Instead ask a question you know the audience can’t answer and then say, »That’s okay. I can’t either.«

Explain why you can’t and then talk about what you do know. Most speakers have all the answers. The fact you don’t – and are willing to admit it – not only humanises you but makes the audience pay greater attention to what you do know.

— Fuel your mental engine. Let’s start with some preparation tips. Dopamine and epinephrine help regulate mental alertness. Both come from tyrosine, an amino acid found in proteins. So make sure to include protein in the meal you eat before you need to be at your best. And don’t wait until the last minute. When you’re really nervous the last thing you may want to do is eat.

— Share a genuinely emotional story. Now let’s look at unusual ways to instantly improve your presentations. Many speakers tell self-deprecating stories, but simply admitting a mistake is a waste if you only use it to highlight how far you’ve come. Instead, tell a story and let your emotions show. If you were sad, say so. If you cried, say so. If you felt remorse, let it show. When you share genuine feelings you create an immediate and lasting connection with the audience. Emotion trumps speaking skills every time.

— Pause for ten seconds. Pause for two or three seconds and audiences assume you’ve lost your place; five seconds they think the pause is intentional; after ten seconds even the people texting can’t help looking up. When you start speaking again the audience naturally assumes the pause was intentional.

— Always repeat yourself. Your audience probably hears about half of what you say, and then they filter that through their own perspectives. So create a structure that allows you to repeat and reinforce key points. First explain a point, then give examples of how that point can be applied, and at the end provide audience with action steps they can take based on that point. Since no one can remember everything you say, what you repeat has a much greater chance of being remembered – and being acted upon. So repeat away!

— Always, always run short. If you have thirty minutes, take 25. If you have an hour, take 50. Always respect your audience’s time and end early. As a bonus, that forces you to hone your presentation – and to prepare to shift gears if your presentation takes an unexpected turn. Finish early and ask if anyone has questions. Or invite them to see you after the presentation. But never run long… because all the good you will build up could be lost.

7. The writer Ernest Hemingway claimed, in an interview, that his greatest talent as a writer was his own built-in shit detector; he knew what to throw out. But what if, for this show, we turn off the shit detector and put a pile of text centre stage. Let the audience sort it out. Let the public decode the ›insufficiently clear› and the ›insufficiently‹, like a twelve-year-old, without the help of the shit detector.

The performance I dance therefore I talk by toxic dreams / Yosi Wanunu and Stephanie Cumming premiered on 7 February 2014 at the Tanzquartier Wien.

toxic dreams is a Vienna-based performance group. It was founded 1997 by Kornelia Kilga (producer) and Yosi Wanunu (director).



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