By Anastasio Koukoutas
The text that follows is a response to a workshop Alexandra Waierstall assisted in PLYFA — a former industrial park in downtown Athens. The participants, all SNF ARTWORKS Fellows, were introduced to the basic kinetic-sensorial approaches the choreographer has developed in relation to Rita McBride’s monumental modular sculpture, “Arena”¹ (1997): starting from the solo “Sounding Silence” (2013), to the cyclical encounters “Bodies and Structure. Intervention” (2018–2020) and its staged version (2019), to the most recent one, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Moment” (2021/22). Although the word ‘arena’ is mostly related to competition, favouring maybe the excellence of the one instead of a plural co-habitation, here the example is reversed, addressing the intricate relationship of bodies and space, or more accurately, of bodies embodying space, allowing thus different temporal fragments to emerge, crisscrossing each other so that moments purposefully defy the theatrical apparatus to become eventful encounters. In this sense, dancers are called to create a temporary space for its own emergence; a kind of sensible space, which could also resonate with the concept of the public space.
Thinking about the choreographic process as a sensible space, where multiple singularities can emerge, could provide us with a motif to openly redefine the singular, authorial figure of the choreographer, but also engage deeply with the immersive commonality of both performers and audience, so that the space emerges as discursive, proposing different readings of representation and spectatorship. In this sense, the stage is proposed as a highly visible site of encounter, allowing a kind of deleuzian approach to the actualization of ideas; this method of ‘dramatization,’ as Deleuze calls it, enables the emergence of subjects and ideas through the “the agitations of space, pockets of time, pure syntheses of speeds, directions and rhythms.” ² The effect of this quasi-choreographic approach is to emphasize the temporal fragility of space, namely, a space where subjects are called into encounters, but whether these encounters would emerge or disintegrate into obscurity becomes a question of political act. Political, in this case, stresses the possibilities inherent in the theatrical space and the problem of representation itself: possibilities (un)marked by the event of visibility and/or visuality.
As Maaike Bleeker³ suggests in her seminal book, “the adjective theatrical can refer both to a particular quality―its being ‘of the theatre’―and to failure: its failure to convince as authentic and true. Thus, the staged character of the theatrical event makes it by definition antithetic to modernist notions of authenticity and truth, so much so that theatre is marked by anti-theatricality. Her elaboration of the concept of ‘visuality’ is not so much to condemn the theatrical but to expose that the very fact of seeing always consists of seeing more/less than what it is ‘there’ to see. Instead of opposing the two realities―the staged and the real― the question lies exactly in how the real is (already) staged, allowing certain representations while others remain impossible. To bring back the conversation to Waierstall’s workshop, I am suggesting seeing plural/singular not as opposing, as if in ‘many’ we could automatically see a staged version of plurality, but as a way to elaborately perceive negotiated moments and heightened qualities in a choreographic score as moments of ‘dramatization,’ eventful encounters through which subjects (not necessarily singular) emerge. So, during the workshop, one could experience entrances and exits, highly articulated soli, joint intentional actions―such as the group jump―in which individual bodies focused on the same joint goal and through their concentration became one ‘higher-level entity.’
While the score is practiced during the workshop, one could observe how the space ‘breathes’ and how the highly trained dancers bring in different intensities every time; this type of floating concentration demands that every-body listens carefully to the evolving structure of the dance, but most importantly this shared attentive process heightens the relation between moving bodies and space. Actually, it becomes evident how both are already in process, namely, how both bodies and space enact relations that could be defined by physical boundaries (what takes place ‘there,’ on the stage) but also by the capacity to affect and be affected; what happens ‘there’ becomes a moment situated in the ‘here and now,’ speaks of the possibility of an encounter. In reference to the aforementioned, what seems to be in the heart of (of the heart of) this process is not so much the division between solo and group action, as if in a settled, pre-structured choreography, but the affective qualities raised within and during the evolving process, as if both bodies and space co-produce one another through gestures, movements, joint actions and stillness. Even though the monumental modular structure is not there, so as to perceive how bodies interact with it and how they are moulded with it by way of their interaction, one could still grasp in some cases the ‘presence’ of the sculpture, its affective traces imbued in the dancers’ bodies.
Having this in mind and trying to elaborate it in relation to Bleeker’s notion of visuality, one could easily sense that there was something more to perceive in the room but that more was ‘missing,’ it may not have been visible in ordinary terms, but it could somehow resonate with other senses, it could be felt but still not confined or contained within the limits of the dancers’ bodies. Just like the fragments of music that seize us but only momentarily, allowing a re-organization of the space and its felt qualities, movement has been negotiated in thresholds of awareness, momenta of thickening the liveness of the space and the bodies that inhabit it. Therefore, “the heart of the heart of the moment” becomes an invitation to contemplate the eventfulness of movement, to approach experience through this processual ‘opening’ beyond the common self-conscious aesthetic practices of dance.
Open studio with Alexandra Waierstall along with Rita McBride, Scott Jennings, Giorgos Kotsifakis (SNF ARTWORKS Fellow 2021) and Eftychia Stefanou (SNF ARTWORKS Fellow 2019) took place during the 5th SNF Artist Fellowship Program by ARTWORKS at PLYFA in Athens (February 3rd, 2023) with the participation of the following Fellows: Konstantina Barkouli (2022), Stella Dimitrakopoulou (2019), Alexis Fousekis (2021), Myrto Grapsa (2022), Venetsiana Kalampaliki (2022), Christina Karagianni (2019), Xenia Koghilaki (2022), Alexandros Nouskas Varelas (2021), Konstantinos Papanikolaou (2021), Elton Petri (2019), Christina Reihardt (2022), Eliane Roumie (2022), Natasha Sarantopoulou (2020), Marios Stamatis (2022), Maro Stavrinou (2021), Alexandros Stavropoulos (2021), Anastasia Valsamaki (2020), Sophia Danae Vorvila (2022), Andi Xhuma (2019). The open studio culminated in a group discussion moderated by Anastasio Koukoutas around the ideas and values of democracy, the evolution of the arena concept, spaces within spaces, the economy of gaze and the importance of momentum.
Anastasio Koukoutas is working in the field of dance theory, dramaturgy and writing. He studied (BA) Communication and Marketing at the Athens University of Economics, (MA) Performing Arts Administration at Accademia Teatro alla Scala (in collaboration with Bocconi University), Ethnomusicology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (within the e-learning course Greek Music Culture and Education). He has worked, in the publishing field, as a contributor and editor, for art institutions and organizations, such as: Athens & Epidaurus Festival, Stegi Onassis, Dimitria Thessaloniki Festival, Megaron — The Athens Concert Hall et.al. He has worked as a dramaturg in theatre and dance performances (Athens Festival, Stegi Onassis, Experimental Stage of National Theatre in Greece, Arc for Dance Festival, Porta Theatre — Athens et.al.). He writes frequently about dance for the websites springbackmagazine.com, artivist.gr, und-athens.com, and teaches Dance History at the dance college ΑΚΤΙΝΑ. Last but not least, he has worked as a performer for Denis Savary (Lagune –National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens — 2016), Virgilio Sieni (Biennale Danza / La Biennale di Venezia — 2016), Pierre Bal Blanc (documenta14–2017), Dora Garcia (Megaron, The Athens Concert Hall — 2018) et. al.
¹ On the occasion of the recent acquisition of Rita McBride’s “Arena” by Dia Beacon, during the upcoming exhibition (July 2023–September 9, 2024) there will be a series of performances developed in collaboration with the artist, choreographer Alexandra Waierstall. For more info: https://www.diaart.org/exhibition/exhibitions-projects/rita-mcbride-exhibition
² Gilles Deleuze, “The Method of Dramatization”, in Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953–74, Semiotext(e), New York, 2004
³ Maaike Bleeker, “Visuality in the theatre; the locus of looking”, Palgrave McMillan, New York, 2008