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Dance Dramaturgy: speculations and reflections

Dance Theatre Journal 2000-04 Dance Theatre Journal, vol. 16 no. 1, 2000, pp. 20-25

The choreographer working with the dramaturge in a creative role is a relatively 'new' phenomenon - something which has been taken up in the last decade firstly by a few and now increasingly more choreographers. This 'newness' and the elusiveness of the definition of the task of the dramaturge (i.e. what are his/ her methods, materials, responsibilities, etc.) bring a sense of instability and intrigue onto the landscape of dance making. The questions are many. Who is qualified to perform this role and why? What is the impact on how and what a choreographer makes? Is dramaturgy interference, intrusion or is it filling in where there is a lack of some kind? Does it perform a need for the market of dance making? Is the dramaturge a translator, interrogator, a 'prober', interpreter or provocateur? Does dramaturgy function as a support in the lonely act of making or does it split the body of the choreographer in two?

These questions are distilled from a discussion in Amsterdam in March 1999 that took place in the context of the first session of “Conversations on Choreography”.(1) The second session, held in Barcelona in November 1999, focussed specifically on relationships between dance and dramaturgy. The following article draws on both of these events.

Introduction: theatre dramaturgy

The dramaturge has not fallen from the sky.” Pablo Ley (Guest participant “Conversations on Choreography” Barcelona session).

In order to better understand the relationship between dance and dramaturgy it is useful to consider the origins of theatre dramaturgy that can be located in the late 1770s with a German critic named Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Pre-Lessing the notion of dramaturgy is attributed to the work of those seeking to elucidate the rules for making theater, the most well known in the west being Aristotle’s “Poetics” (to which Bharata’s Natyasastra and Zeami’s texts on Noh drama are often compared).

Lessing was hired to serve as resident critic at the Hamburg National Theatre in 1776. There he began to write critical and theoretical essays on theatre that were eventually published in his book the Hamburg Dramaturgy. With this publication, Lessing is considered to have introduced dramaturgy as a word and a practice into the world of theatre, and to have generated the beginnings of “a German tradition of theory and practice that precedes and determines the staging of a play”. (Pavis, 122)

Following Lessing, the dramaturgy profession evolved to establish itself as a profession in the state theaters in Germany. The ”classical” or “textual dramaturgy” derived from Lessing did not concern itself directly with the realization of the performance on stage until the 1920s and 30s with the initiatives of Bertolt Brecht. Brecht, a dramaturge, playwright and director himself, moved the dramaturge out of the

rooms and libraries where the scripts were read, chosen and edited and into the rehearsal hall where the dramaturge could participate in the entire process of making theatre – this became known as “production dramaturgy”. (Schechter, 22)

Patrice Pavis’ in his “Dictionary of Theatre” summarizes the responsibilities of the theatre dramaturge.


Selecting plays for a program on the basis of a particular issue or objective.


Carrying out documentary research on and about the play.


Translating, adapting or modifying the text, alone or with the director.


Determining how meanings are linked and interpreting the play according to an overall social


political project.


Intervening from time to time in rehearsals as a critical observer with a fresher pair of eyes than the


6. Looking after relations with a potential audience.

The practice of dramaturgy in the theatre spread in the 19th and 20th century to other countries, including France, England, Spain and America. In the 20th Century, as the privilege of the pre-written text as the primary source of theatre has given way to new forms of theatrical composition and communication, the job of the dramaturge has changed. In particular, there has evolved a rich diversity of ways to work with text that are closely connected to the dimension of the visual a practice for which Knut Ove Arntzen has coined the phrase “visual dramaturgy”.

Throughout its evolution however, dramaturgy seems to have remained a perplexing practice. Questions about its definition (What is dramaturgy?) and methodologies (What does a dramaturge do?) consistently preface every book, symposium and class on the topic – although it is certainly ‘taught’ in educational institutions in Germany, England and the United States. The remainder of this article will not attempt to directly dispel this perplexity; in fact the same questions are asked of and addressed by our conversation participants in the exchange that follows.

Dance and Dramaturgy

The relationship between dance and dramaturgy originated by most accounts in the well-known collaboration in the early to mid 1980s between choreographer Pina Bausch and dramaturge Raimund Hoghe. Since then, there has been an increasing number of choreographers who have chosen (or have been advised) to work with a dramaturge. Three of these dramaturges were invited for the first session of “Conversations on Choreography” held in March 1999 in Amsterdam – André Lepecki who has worked with Meg Stuart, Francisco Camacho and Vera Mantero, Hildegard de Vuyst who has worked with Alain Platel, and Heidi Gilpin who worked with William Forsythe. As mentioned earlier, the discussion about dance and dramaturgy initiated in Amsterdam was continued at the second session in November 1999 in Barcelona where a series of short experimental working sessions were organized between Lepecki, in the role of dramaturge, and La Caldera choreographers Alexis Eupierre, Sol Picó and Toni Mira.

The remainder of this article has been edited from transcripts and email correspondence to represent an ongoing dialogue about dance and dramaturgy between participants from both of these sessions. The main voices are those of Scott deLahunta (editor), Heidi Gilpin, Isabelle Ginot, Myriam van Imschoot, André Lepecki, Diana Theodores and Hildegard de Vuyst. While the comments and answers are attributed to these individuals, they are in reality often heavily paraphrased.

The Conversation

Diana: I would like to ask the three dance dramaturges with us, André, Heidi and Hildegard to try and tell us what you do in the role of the dance dramaturge and also a bit about how you came to be doing it.

Heidi Gilpin: Well, I was the editor for a journal of cultural criticism that William Forsythe had read and wanted to discuss along with more theoretical ideas. I watched his work and saw that he was actually trying to manifest some of these ideas on the stage. This initiated the endless conversations that eventually led to my working as a dramaturge for him. What do I do? I feel that I help translate ideas that could be linguistic, mathematical, or scientific into another form and try to create a ground with the choreographer where our mutual obsessions can interact. At times maybe I prepare packets of information (text, images, etc.) for the dancers to look over but not to have to understand in a didactic sense. I’ve also worked with other choreographers, and it is different with each one.

André Lepecki: I was hanging out in Lisbon and having conversations with people in the dance world who thought I should be more involved somehow. Originally I had a task that had no name. But at a certain moment as it became part of the institution of production, as one is getting a fee, etc., you have to have a name for what you do. In my case, Bruno Verbergt (former director of the Klapstuk Festival in Belgium) was producing Meg Stuart with whom I was working and he said to me, “You are the dramaturge” and I said, “okay, I’m the dramaturge”. What do I do in that role? Well, what Meg asks me to do at the beginning of the process is to be in the studio constantly. After that we talk a great deal. She asks me about what I see happening in a scene, and I come up with what I call “metaphorical explosions” – where I see relations and connections, etc. Towards the latter part of the process we work together to make it more cohesive.

Hildegard de Vuyst: I consider myself the first audience, I ask myself – “what does the work do to me?” I do not go and get my information in the libraries, because it’s not going to be used. But it is as André also says about the process – at first it’s very open with a lot of improvisations and assignments, people are asked to make solos and after that the construction of the whole thing takes place, which we very much do together. I’ve worked with different choreographers and directors and I feel that it works best when I’m not really needed somehow, when I’m not the embodiment of something that is missing. Because if feels like if I’m not necessary in fact then I have a sort of freedom and a playground to stand on.

Scott deLahunta: That reminds me that in both Amsterdam and Barcelona, we have discussed the difference between a dramaturge and dramaturgy, that there might be a situation where there is dramaturgy, but no dramaturge. This relates to what one of our guest participants in Barcelona, Maria Muñoz from the dance group Mal Pelo, said about the dramaturgical vision of the choreographer becoming clear only after the performer creates the bridge between choreographer and the public.

André: The dancers in most contemporary works today have to produce the material, to think about the scenes, they have to choreograph themselves. So, it ends up that the dancers are also making dramaturgical decisions in a way. They’re making the choreographic decisions and they come up with ideas to solve the scenes sometimes.

Hildegard: Well, in the case of Alain Platel’s work, there is a lot of dramaturgy involved in first choosing the dancers, because he really relies on what the dancers bring in, their personal histories. He works with difference, so he needs people with different natures, different religions, of different colors, different cultural backgrounds, because in that choice he already brings in a lot of material. So, there’s a lot of dramaturgy before the production starts and then gradually there’s different kinds of dramaturgy that get applied.

André: It occurs to me that for the choreographer finding a dramaturge to work with is like the way you choose to work with some dancers and not others. Thinking about what Scott just said, with Meg Stuart’s collaboration with the video artist Gary Hill there was no dramaturge in that collaboration, because there was no need. Gary Hill was the privileged interlocuter, and he was interfering with the making of the choreography in such a way that it was not appropriate for me to collaborate in that process. But each situation is different. Meg worked with another visual artist, Ann Hamilton, in her last work and there was in that situation a space for a dramaturge.

Isabelle: It seems to me that the role of the dramaturge is merely to be some kind of other. Maybe that’s why when there is a visual artist or when there’s a writer or maybe even when there is a text, there’s not that need for a dramaturge. Then you have to ask maybe there is no more room for a dramaturgy? This other may not be called a dramaturge, for example, if the other is a dancer, we may call him assistant choreographer or whatever, but then maybe it’s not dramaturgy anymore?

Myriam: I am thinking about this relationship between a choreographer and a dramaturge and about something we were discussing yesterday, about feeling lonely in the process of making. I can imagine that someone making a work, even though there are plenty of dancers or a set designer or whoever just feels the need to have someone to talk to, whatever this function may be. I would think of this as a social need. Another need might be on the level of skills, that apparently there is a need for some kind of skill, and I think of the traditional dramaturgy that is still linked with some kind of intellectual skill, or intellectual capacity. But this also suggests that there is a skill that exists outside of the body of the choreographer and a division of labor is taking place.

Isabelle: There seems to be this evolving relationship between dance and dramaturgy in Germany and Belgium and maybe elsewhere, but in France this does not seem to be happening, and I am wondering why. Maybe it is because dance in France has been recognized as another way to make theatre, wordless, but fully expressive and carrying something theatre may have been looking for and struggling with because of its traditional link to text. So, as a part of investing in theatre’s space, dancers in France have also had to defend the idea that dance could carry meaning. As a part of this, the choreographer was seen as the author and responsible for the entire work in the style of the « cinéma d'auteur » including responsibility for its meaning. The making of this meaning arrives through association, collage, weaving, contrasting, mixing, etc., and this is what we call, in France, choreography. So far, choreographers there have not asked to have someone else come help them with this job. It seems that in the dance in France this splitting of the choreographer’s labor and body into two as suggested by Myriam has not happened.

André: I’m fascinated with this idea of the choreographer’s body being divided somehow and want to return to that later. While you were speaking, I’ve been thinking about this relationship between the dramaturge and intellect and it made me recall this experience I had as a dramaturge with Meg when she was asked to choreograph for Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Company. This was a very difficult experience and one of the reasons is that there was no intellectual sharing with the dancers. Therefore the intellectual role of the dramaturge was pushed in my direction much more heavily; the performance of being an intellectual you have to write, you have to research, you have to translate, etc.

Hildegard: In the work of Alain Platel, and from what I understand from you André about Meg Stuart’s work, the intellectual responsibility of a piece is shared with the whole group. It is not singled out into my position and my function.

André: This issue of the intellect and the dramaturge also has a political dimension related to the privileging of knowledge. Several years ago, a consortium of three European producers approached the Portuguese choreographer Vera Mantero about making a group piece. They asked her to work with a dramaturge from the north of Europe. Her question was “why do I need a dramaturge and why should he or she be from the north of Europe”. This was clearly a case where a dramaturge was desired by the producers in order to fill in a lack or a perception of a lack of knowledge or information.

Scott: One can see why it is that the public or even producers accustomed to the idea of a theatre dramaturge might have preconceptions about the role of the dramaturge in a dance project. There was evidence of this in Barcelona when Alexis Eupierre, one of the participating choreographers, was interviewed on a local radio station about the conference. He was asked if the purpose of the dance dramaturge was to “help make the dance more understandable to an audience”. Historically, we can see that this may have been or still might be the role of a theater dramaturge at a particular time and place, but the role of the dance dramaturge as I see it is decidedly not to provide an interpretation or explanation of the dance for the audience.

André: This question of making art readable for an audience is really a complicated one. To polemicise

we could evoke people like Walter Benjamin who said that art is never made for the public, and that the power of art is precisely because it’s not made for the audience and therefore the questions of interpretation or explanation are problematized. For the people I work with, Francisco, Meg and Vera, the audience is an invisible ghost. It’s always there and we always keep coming back to asking ourselves is this clear, how might that be interpreted, etc. The problem is that we are all displaced so that the audience, the people are absolutely vague to us. In talking to Myriam the other day, she mentioned that Marianne van Kerkhoven, a dramaturge in Brussels who has worked with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas for instance, has recently written an essay where she compares the mirco dramaturgy in the rehearsal with a need for a macro dramaturgy of the social.

Diana: That is a very expansive idea of the role of the dramaturge. I was just thinking about trying to summarize a bit some of the key points being made here: 1) there is a political dimension to the relationship between dance maker and dramaturge; 2) there is tradition of dramaturgy in the theatre that attaches itself in different ways to the relationship with dance; 3) that the practice of dramaturgy involves seeing and watching, lots of talking and maybe writing the employment of language and discourse; 4) the dramaturge also helps to organize and order, to structure or weave together the performance. That is a partial summary anyway. What I feel we have not done is discussed whether or not a dance dramaturge enters the rehearsal studio with a particular way of seeing or looking at movement and gestures, stillnesses and physical distortion, in the case of Meg Stuart. Presumably seeing would generally precede talking in the relationship between choreographer and dramaturge wouldn’t it? Is it a special sort of seeing, a new way of looking?

André: This talk about ‘seeing’ bothers me. I deeply believe dance dramaturgy implies the reconfiguration of one’s whole anatomy, not just the eyes. When I enter into the studio to start working on a new piece, the question of anatomy becomes a very important and quite literal question. We talk about the body of the dancer, the body of the choreographer, the body of the piece. But what is the body of the dramaturge? How does the dramaturge adapt his or her body to the dynamics in the studio? First of all I think the body of the dramaturge is not that anatomical monstrosity, the “external eye.” I believe it is crucial to say this. The “external eye,” an expression that so frequently describes the position of the dramaturge in dance (and, quite interestingly for me, is not invoked so much in other dramaturgies) reminds me of Descartes before writing his “Meditations,” experimenting with eyes from corpses, and trying to understand perception through these dead eyes. As if perception was a detachable function, independent from the rest of the body, mind, soul and passion. Now, you could tell me – “Dance is an image-based art form. You must rely on the eye.” And my answer, of course, would be, yes I have to engage my vision. But the question is how I want to engage the senses. If I enter in the studio and the work being done at that moment requires a critique, or an expansion, of the visual field, I obviously have “to enter” with the eye. The thing is that I can reinvent this eye. For instance, I can make it listen. Or I use it to lick and taste the scene. So, to summarize: I enter in the studio as dramaturge by running away from the external eye. Just as the dancers and the choreographer, I enter to find a (new) body. That’s the most important task of the dance dramaturge -- to constantly explore possible sensorial manifestoes.


- Scott deLahunta. “Conversations on Choreography” organiser. Independent researcher and lecturer in performance and member of Writing Research Associates (

-Heidi Gilpin. Guest at the Amsterdam session. Associate Professor/University of Hong Kong, dramaturge for William Forsythe.

- Isabelle Ginot. Core Group Member. Dance writer/ researcher, associate professor at Dance Department of University of Paris VIII.

- Myriam van Imschoot. Core Group Member. Dance critic/ researcher/ theorist, University of Leuven, Belgium.

- André Lepecki. Core Group Member. Dramaturge for Meg Stuart, Vera Mantero among others, dance critic/ theorist, based in the USA.

- Diana Theodores. Core Group Member. Dance writer/ researcher, Reader in Theatre at

Dartington College of Arts, UK.

- Hildegard De Vuyst. Guest at the Amsterdam session. Dramaturge for Alain Platel/ Ballet C. de la B.

Citations and Bibliography

Adolphe, Jean-Marc. “Dramaturgy of Movement”. Ballett International/ Tanz Aktuell. 6/98. pp. 26-


Arntzen, Knut Ove. “A Visual Dramaturgy: equivalent elements”. European Performance andTheatre Towards the Year 2000. ??, ?? (circa 1990). Conversations on Choreography. Transcriptions. 27 March 1999 [Amsterdam session] and 19-21 November 1999 [Barcelona session]. Gilpin, Heidi. “Shaping Critical Spaces: issues in the dramaturgy of movement performance”. in Dramaturgy in American Theater: a source book. Eds. Susan Jonas, Geoff Proehl and Michael Lupu. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997. pp. 83-87. Jonas, Susan, Geoff Proehl and Michael Lupu. Dramaturgy in American Theater: a source book. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997. Kerkhoven, Marianne van, ed. On Dramaturgy: Theaterschrift. Vol 5-6. 1994. Lehmann, Hans-Thies. “From Logos to Landscape: Text in Contemporary Dramaturgy”. Performance Reseach. 2(1), 1997. pp. 55-60. Marinis, Marco de. Dramaturgy of the Spectator. The Drama Review. 31(2), 1987. pp. 100-114. Pavis, Patrice. Dictionary of the Theatre: terms, concepts and analysis (second edition/ translation). Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1998.

Schechter, Joel. “In the Beginning There Was Lessing… then Brecht, Müller, and Other

Dramaturgs”. in Dramaturgy in American Theater: a source book. Eds. Susan Jonas, Geoff Proehl and Michael Lupu. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997. pp. 16-24. Wesemann, Arnd. “Keeping the World at Arm’s Length”. Ballett International/ Tanz Aktuell. 6/98. p. 25.



The “Conversations on Choreography” is a series of ongoing discussions of contemporary dance making with a focus on European contexts. It does not function in the traditional format of a conference or a symposium, but seeks innovative ways of organising an evolving dialogue and exchange of knowledge related to choreography. Keeping the practice of choreography close to the centre of the discussions and debates is essential to the aims of this extended discussion. Invited contributors are writers, educators, dramaturges, choreographers, performers, critics, organisers and researchers.

The first session of “Conversations on Choreography” was held in March 1999 at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Presented as an improvised conversation in public, the event lasted for two days and derived its broad thematic foci from other dance related activities (including a workshop on dance and dramaturgy lead by Hildegard de Vuyst) happening at that time in the city. Four guests joined the core group, and several choreographers were invited to make ‘interruptions’ at strategic points throughout.

In November 1999, the second session of “Conversations on Choreography” was held in Barcelona for two days at La Caldera A.C.D.A.C. (Cultural Association for the Development of Choreographic Activities). Artist members of La Caldera and three guests from Spain joined the core group to continue and extend the discussion that began in Amsterdam with a primary focus on the relationship between dance and dramaturgy.

The third session of “Conversations on Choreography” will take place 19-22 October 2000 at the Firkin Crane Choreographic Research Centre, Cork, Ireland.

Doing Time Tim Etchells

Volume 14, Issue 3, September 2009, pages 71-80

Contextual note

This text was the script of a lecture performance given at the conference European Dramaturgy in the 21st Century in Frankfurt am Main, 27-30. September 2007

Official / Unofficial

Officially I am here to speak about dramaturgy and will do so in a voice that lends itself to such a task, here, sat at the desk, perhaps with some quotations or examples, making statements, constructing theories. Unofficially though I might break the ranks I establish, tell something about myself, let slip a phrase or story, come round to sit at the front of the desk, whisper or yell, confess a little or accuse, lose it (as in lose my place), think that I am somewhere else, slip off the map of my discourse, lose something like my temper or my marbles, get a bit lost, digress, get very lost and then very very lost and then pause and find myself, suddenly, as it were unaccountably, here before you, without the costume of my reason, without the camouflage of my stated purpose, without the professional stratagems, structured modes, behaviours that would shelter my being here from you, or that would filter my self from the scrutiny of your gaze, my self from the full risk and nakedness of encountering you more directly, here now, in this moment.

As if all discourse were a matter of surfaces. A surface being a code, an agreement, a formal instruction expressing expectations about what will be said or otherwise expressed here and how. And as if our dramaturgy might be the controlled and deliberate setting up and then cracking of these surfaces, the slow and/or rapid breaking of these agreements, the dynamic play between what is legally, officially said here, and that which is not meant to be said, that which is denied in the situation, that which is too much or too little for the context, that which is illegal, literally ‘obscene’.

As if now, having said this much, I might say without further warning that at the airport this morning I was suddenly and unaccountably extremely tired of all this travel and that I would have paid good money then and there for the flight to be cancelled, which would have provided an excuse that I could not be here now to speak about dramaturgy. Or as if I might say now that I scrolled through the texts in my phone as I sat there at the airport looking for something and that by accident I read what X wrote me as she sat in a cafe on such and such a street in such and such a city and that I was suddenly thinking of her, and the time we first met, properly, I guess the time we first slept together in such and such a town. That was something, the sex then, on a wide bed, with an open window and the sound of wind in the

trees and sunshine outside. She was jet-lagged and we hardly knew each other, then. I said maybe we wanted to wait till later. If we fucked right then, it would have to be a rush. I had to leave for something. But she said no, no, let’s not wait. So we rushed, wonderfully. On the wide bed, with the open window and the sound I mentioned before, which was wind in the trees. Or whatever.

Such a crack in the discourse serves to say, perhaps, that I, who came here to speak about dramaturgy, might also be some kind of person, a human creature with a life that extends beyond this small room and with interests that extend beyond the topic we are supposedly here to discuss. It serves to say that I am flesh, and bones, not just ideas, that I’m guided as much by a body as by a mind, by my thinking, which is what, officially speaking, we might think we’re here for. A digression like this might also serve to suggest or threaten that there will be more here than was bargained for, more put on the table, or perhaps not ‘more’ but something altogether-else spilling over, or more ventured, and that the venturing will take us off somewhere else, somewhere more-or-less unexpected, at least in the frame of what was established initially. We came to talk about dramaturgy, and now he is talking that he had his doubts about coming here at all as he rode here in the taxi from Sheffield or sat in the terminal at Manchester Airport to get the Lufthansa Flight operated in conjunction with British Midlands Airlines, and about fucking someone in an apartment, not a hotel, in Vienna in 2001. It’s getting more specific also. It’s not even hidden any more, the name of the city or the year. If this goes on, then soon he will do names, dates, flight and telephone numbers.

As if all it were our dramaturgy was the positioning of information, the positioning for the most part of some things as being more proper, some things less proper, or maybe some things apparently more real, some things apparently less real than others. A matter of giving weight to information, of creating hierarchies. A matter of sequence and managed revelation arranged across time. First the dramaturgy, then the airport, then the bedroom. The official for us then, might be (now and other occasions) not much more than a place to hide behind, an excuse or a prop for being there, a ‘McGuffin’ i as they say in Hitchcock narrative terms a place to stand or a tree to stand under, a thing that simply buys one the right to be there the clearing of a way, or the opening of a space.

In the work of Forced Entertainment at least we used many official positions to hide behind centres that bought us the peripheries we were interested in, fronts deployed to simply hold the stage and then crack as the other stuff we wanted took place. Seeming diversions. I saw an interview with the visual artist Walid Raad who talked about one of his pieces Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31). About assuming the voice of a hostage in that work, about appropriating it as a recognized mode of address – describing this appropriation as ‘a strategy to delay challenge’.


We loved them. We could think of a thousand things to do at the edges of the stage or a thousand more to do in the background at least ‘while someone else does something in the middle’. We were, in a

certain way, all edges, all peripheries. As if the official did not suit us much. Time after time after time after time we built stages in rehearsal little platforms, little nightclub stages, little amateur theatres, placed them in the centre of our own larger stage and then groaned under the misery of thinking up anything to actually do on them. What belonged on these smaller stages was pure official after all acts, songs, speeches completed and proper things that knew what they were and why they were there. We had a million figures that loved to be sat or wandering at the edges, making cheeky unofficial comments, but the centre. Ughh. It put us in a cold sweat.

Even when we did have a centre a person, a place, a strong official reason we were often quick to forget or threaten it. The guys own the show in First Night, officially speaking, Richard and Robin with their bitter double act or violent ventriloquism at the centre of the whole performance as failed vaudeville-cum-cabaret but most fun and of most interest to us are the women, the ones who should by all rights be manequin-still, and totally silent – the magician’s assistants, the score-card girls. Those are the ones we really want to hear from though, coming out, from the periphery, laying waste to the show, speaking that hate and disdain for the audience that the guys can only hide, internalize, direct backwards at themselves.

As if our dramaturgy were all positioning of information, not just temporal (first the lecture, then the airport and the bedroom) but also physical a matter of where things are coming from. You notice a tendency to occupy the centre or even the strong place stage right at the front, there as framing position, as MC, as narrator but a simultaneous tendency to make a mockery of it, or to abandoning it in favour of other places. In Bloody Mess, Cathy after a lot of standing in the middle of the stage and diva-esque ranting and critiquing and demanding of how-it-should-all-be-otherwise looks like she might be there to run the show, but after two such interventions or outbursts we have her wander off to the edges, making vague statements as she goes that she has to lie down, that she will come back ‘later’. Here’s a beautiful thing – how much attention one pays to that figure sat on the side, or at the back, the one who, one has been told ‘is not important right now’, the one who is there improperly in some way, off-duty, or illegitimate, the one who’s ‘not really in it at this point’.

Is it because getting tagged this way as ‘not really in it’ ascribes an authenticity? A not-intended-ness and therefore invokes a ghost of something real? Or because ‘not in it’ (watching from the sidelines, changing costume, having a beer and waiting) such figure(s) on stage are (in some partial and temporary way of course) released from the tyranny of representation, released simply into being in place of ‘meaning and showing something’?

I can’t be sure.

Perhaps the dramatic attraction to that figure at the edge comes because the watching eye (in some consistent perversity) prefers to find things rather than be shown them? And that thanks to this, the eye

always strays from the centre (literal and otherwise), away from the thing it’s being sold, off, away and out to the sides, to the background, in search of something it might like to find.

ones at the back of the stage, sat chatting, or the ones who speak when they ‘should not’ (or who don’t speak when they should) are still part of a representational mechanism, still part of a machine that makes meaning. Still foot-soldiers in an army of meaning. It’s not real life back there; those asides, those upstagings, those wanderings off from the point are all planned, those cracks in the surface aren’t fundamental.

But still despite all this it’s hard to doubt the charm and the charge that goes with position and energy – periphery, downbeat, human scale and back there, versus more theatrical, more placed, out there in the centre, or sat here at the highly officialized lecturing desk – still that charm and charge of the edges can’t quite be dispelled, at least (I guess) if you build your use of space as we did, on these dramaturgical ergonomics.


I know that often I talk about mistakes in performance (or in text), about errors, and about the liveness

and dynamic force (of rupture) that comes from those things

kids’ pantomime Aladdin – late last year I was suddenly aware of how controlled the work I’ve done, alone and with Forced Entertainment is, always, in fact how very stage-managed and on top of the

game we like to be. That first night of the pantomime a performance involving thirty-eight kids was

a huge rolling exhibition of distraction, nervous ticks, absent-mindedness, costume-tangles, nose-

picking, disputes about cues, mis-timing and generally ill-advised stage behaviour. I’m sure it wasn’t at all out of the ordinary as a performance with kids goes, but it was pretty complex.

about error’s fecundity

but watching a

My favourite scene was the one where the whole of the Royal family, the court, Aladdin, Widow Twankey and a motley crue of hangers-on, servants, merchants, dancing girls and townspeople were supposedly frozen into statues by a spell from the genie, as instructed by the evil Abanazer. The sight of thirty-eight kids on the stage, thirty-six of them attempting to be perfectly still was pretty captivating, mainly because so few of them could even get close to it. Almost everywhere you looked there was wavering and blinking, fidgeting, cramping or just a good-natured lack of concentration. The kids performing were so very very there in it though, so revealed, so visible in everything they did, intentional or not, that it was impossible not to love this scene, for all its failure as an illusion of magically induced stillness.

I guess the big difference (between the kids as performers and ourselves) is that if we ever did such a

thing as this ‘frozen scene’ in improvisation for a theatre performance we’d very likely spend the next six weeks studying the tape of it, notating and plotting the timeline, trying to understand its dramaturgy, isolating key or feature moments, comparing one improvised version to another and another and another, cherry-picking good bits. This done, we’d probably end up trying to fix some things, or simply letting

them settle by dint of repetition, so that in the end the scene’s broad shape could be more-or-less reproduced (a scene with a structure, a piece of time that unfolds with a particular direction, a piece of time with a particular weight that can be used as an element in a larger dramaturgy) even though the

scene’s detail would stay live, playable, endlessly contingent in the way that performance always is.

But in any case, maybe this whole thing about mistake might best be seen as a rather particular version or a special case of the official/unofficial dynamic I mentioned already. The mistake the thing that apparently goes wrong as the unofficial, unexpected, unwelcomed. Apparent mistake as the intervention of that which the discourse seemed to deny ineptitude instead of mastery, slippage, fracture and weakness instead of control, strength and singularity. The placed mistake, the deployment of something that seems to fail, seems to court failure like the English comedian Tommy Cooper perhaps a means of mastering the stage by apparently falling apart on it, or a Zen model of weakness deployed as a strength.

Sense / Nonsense: The art of starting badly.

We at Forced Entertainment had, by our own description, a penchant for unpromising beginnings, beginnings that floated impossible combinations of persons and actions, inaudible or otherwise troubling dialogues and texts, mystifying dances, high-speed events that appeared to take rather too little account of the viewer, seemingly incompetent and thoroughly doomed performance projects, initiatives, ideas.

If ever things somehow started well, they had a habit of going wrong, very wrong, quite abruptly and very deeply. In First Night they get to the front of the stage, there, in their sequinned suits and their broad rigor-mortis smiles and stand proudly before us. So far so good. But from this precise moment only a fraction from the start – they are already well on the slippery slope downwards. There’s long silence that does not get filled, except with nervousness, fidgeting, the endless re-stating of the ‘welcome’ smile as if it, blank and alone, might be enough. Then the painfully slow realization that one of their numbers is missing, and that he has to be fetched, dragged from backstage in a headlock, and the words of welcome must then be forced out of his mouth by a petty violence of finger-twisting and strangulation.

At the start of Club of No Regrets Terry remains behind the house, crossing and re-crossing, muttering, reading from texts and then hurling them across the stage in frustration only to start again in some other

unrelated place. Alone on stage and thrown to us as a central figure/narrator, she’s already a disaster. But when her stage hands and actors arrive the latter are gagged and bound to chairs and things go from bad to worse. The flimsy scraps of text they are supposedly meant to perform are inaudible, muffled, hopelessly garbled, the constant arrival and shunting of props by the stage hands makes the whole thing almost impossible. ‘Good’, says Terry, apparently pleased or at least satisfied with their lifeless, cut-up and incapacitated rendition a satisfaction that doubles the strength of our own feeling from the outside

as we think ‘oh dear, oh dear’. This ‘does not bode well’ for what follows

The gloriously bad.

We were drawn to some strange dance between what could be called sense and what could be called non-sense, drawn to present things, which perhaps, in the first instance looked ‘unresolvable’.

In the early rehearsals for Bloody Mess, Richard and Robin danced with some bedroom exuberance to the Heavy Metal anthem Born to Be Wild, meanwhile Cathy lay centre-stage on the floor as though dead and Terry wept above her as though grieving, splashing her face with bottled water to stand in for tears, while on the far side of the stage Claire stood, eyes toward me, the audience, took off her own clothes and stepped into a gorilla costume. By maybe one third into the track the mask would be on, gorilla face covering her own, making her blank, unreadable.

What I loved was the way my eye roamed the stage of this triangle moving from the dancing men (all air-guitar and head-banging) to the complete stillness of Cathy as corpse to the opera-cum-pantomime of Terry’s grief to the blank figure of Claire – the gorilla stood still, completely impassive. And that then my eye would trace back again and back again and and back again from one of these things to another again as if, I think, endlessly trying to reconcile them, to find some point of connection or reason, delighting in the way that they were there together but that I could not really find a way to close down or account for that simple fact the fact of their vivid co-presence. That one’s attention was not directed to one particular of these three actions more than another that instead attention is endlessly dispersed and deferred. The things are unvalues, we liked to say. Simply present. That the ‘story’ – a ‘dead’ woman with another grieving her, a gorilla, two men dancing all of this in no context – that this ‘story’ would not come, would not appear, would not stabilize.

The bare stage then as this place a container in which one can say simply these things are here you have to deal with it you, watching, must find a way to reconcile. I guess we loved the abruptness, the vividness, the directness of this. Richard steps out in front of the stage in Showtime wearing a fake bomb cartoon dynamite and ticking alarm clock. Then come the trees, Cathy as a dog, and Robin as a cartoon bank robber with stocking mask and stomach wound. There are nursery songs Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes dances and questions about diverse topics, a conversation about suicide. The question in a certain way remains as with the initial triangle of material in Bloody Mess how, if at all, can these things be together, how they can chime with, speak to or even co-exist with each other. As if our dramaturgy, dramaturgy for us, were at first the creation of precisely this tension this unresolvability (at the level of genre, at the level of ontology, at the level of narrative) and from there the maintenance, development and expansion of this the unresolved.

In many (but by no means all) of the shows it’s an approach much like this one – the disparate and irreconcilable elements are placed side by side and left to fight it out. Connections are encouraged to emerge, parallels, echoes, fights, conflicts in the strands of material are teased out. But the whole is not allowed to cohere. The aim is that the mixture by our will, our dramaturgy is kept in a kind of indefinite and always-dynamic suspension. The task of making sense is delegated elsewhere.

Ron Vawter told me once, when I interviewed him in Belgium, ‘What we tend to do in the Wooster Group, and in my own work, is to appropriate from several different sources at the same time. That way we can juggle all these separate things until the weights are familiar and then a new kind of theatre text is created between these different places.’

I love this thought that the text is what happens in between the material the friction, the sparks, the silences that happen when two objects pass by each other.

Each bird has its own branch

Separations are proceeding. Each alternative Zone speeds away from all the others, in fated acceleration, red-shifting, fleeing the Center… The single roost lost… Each bird has his branch now, and each one is the Zone.

That’s what Thomas Pynchon writes in Gravity’s Rainbow, and we used a badly remembered version of this in describing some of the shows and the structuring principles behind them. Each bird in its own tree we said. As if to say little or no social cohesion, little or no group project, little or no shared understanding of the situation on-stage, little or no shared grasp on anything.

In these shows it’s an art of making things almost-meet, of making narratives or worlds or textures that cross each other without quite touching a dramaturgy of ontological tension, a dramaturgy that knows the viewer will have to be active, will have to make her own connections.


You can perhaps afford a place where the lines and echoes/mirrors you are tracing get broken. A gratuitousness, a space, a shift of tack. The random pop song. The lone actor in a lengthy aside to the audience, apropos of nothing, a dance, a 5-minute video. A long conversation about something not strictly relevant.

A way to bridge from one thing to another. Creation (literally) of space. A buffer/barrier between two

longer movements. Middle Eight.

This too can be dramaturgy. A break of the logics that otherwise you are trapped in. Or perhaps a return

to a mode that you had more or less forgotten.

I have to go faster.


It took us many years to realize that time, more than anything else, was what we were dealing with. The

unfolding of actions over duration, the economy of events in the frame of hours, minutes, seconds and split seconds. Our work, our trade, our business, like that of drug dealers, certain doctors and psychiatrists perhaps, musicians, filmmakers and choreographers is the slowing of time, the shattering of

it, the stretching and the speeding of it. The forgetting of time, the strange yet necessary job of making

time drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.

And if we were, as a strategy and as a manifesto commitment, off-hand about the other materials in and with which we worked (crudely hewn fragments of text, second-hand costumes, homemade props, a halogen lamp for lighting, a bunch of cardboard boxes stacked to make a wall), we learned that time at least could not be cheated or faked, that the good things (good shows, good actions, good gags, good moments, good lives) take their own time, the time they need.

Trash (and time again)

A favourite dream was that all the material used in a particular project could be ‘weightless’, trash, nonsense or throw-away, but that somehow the arrangement of these pieces would make them sing. Pure dramaturgy. An art of unfolding. The dream that somehow the fact of its arrangement alone would make the show a hundred or a thousand times more articulate than any of its raw materials.

Thinking this way, performance for us was always closer to certain schools of painting or musical composition than it might have been to drama. Less a case of narrative structure than an art form based on the dynamic deployment of pictorial and non-pictorial elements across the surface of a stage, building layers, contrasts, echoes, repetitions over duration, or simply: the structured unfolding of text, action and image over time, or more simply: doing time. Pure dramaturgy. Making shape out of seconds.

This fantasy show constructed from trash would resist scrutiny, so that any part of it, if pulled from the ‘mess’, would seem unsubstantial, weak, disposable, even absurd, but once placed back in the whole would continue to play its part in the confoundingly articulate structure. In some ways, perhaps, each show we have ever made has been an attempt to realise this fantasy. Some more overtly so than others.

I have to go faster.


Starting with lines, coherent groups, social contracts, communally held beliefs. Going to (or at least through) chaos, social fragmentation, the chaotic, the unruly.

Or. Starting with the unruly, the over-the-top, the impossible, the explosion of action. And then entropic decay to stillness. Collapse of the theatrical. Huge pretences crumble to show ‘people underneath’.

Two stories. One on top of the other.

Liz Lecompte says somewhere that there are two stories in Brace Up. The story of the Three Sisters and the story of the actors making their way through the Three Sisters.


Thinking of our own Speak Bitterness, 12am, Quizoola! or And on the Thousandth Night

proceed from a single rule that determines and governs the possibilities for speech or action. Or Jérôme Bel’s the show must go on, with its dances to a sequence of thirteen pop songs, each dance a literalization of the lyrics. Or of Eva Meyer-Keller’s Death is Certain, which enacts death on thirty-six cherries burned, crushed, skinned, car-crashed, buried, eaten in inexorable sequence.

all of which

In each of these cases the show is at first teaching or establishing a rule, expanding upon it, developing its possible uses a rule the public soon knows as well as the performers, and thanks to which there are no surprises as such. No variety, except within the frame so clearly marked out. These pieces enemies of the gratuitousness found elsewhere in artistic expression serve instead as fully functioning diagrams of dramaturgy.

Schematics with moving parts. Strange, but something like this, as cold and formal as this, can really send shivers down the spine, make you cry.


I had this uncontrollable crying attack for no reason that I can explain in front of a painting by Cy

Twombly one afternoon last year at the Guggenheim in New York. A big picture of white scrawl and scribble overlaid a million times on a dark gray ground. Like chalk traces. A filling of the space and an

over-filling of it. My parents were there, they were ahead of me, I sat on a bench. V. came back to find me, I kind of waved her that I was fine. But I couldn’t move.

I remember that after a time I was distracted by thinking about the security guards. I wondered how often they saw this happen. If maybe they had training for it. What to do if people were somehow overcome, there on that functional bench.

There’s something overwhelming about that picture, I don’t know the title. I get the same thing with Basquiat. I can’t explain why. Do you think there’s a dramaturgy to painting? There is time in the Twombly for sure. All those marks you feel the hands, the work, the presence.

Sequence (not rule). And time again.

That in any case what you do first sets the frame on the stage and what you do second develops it. That what you don’t establish or get on the table in the first, what? twenty? thirty? minutes is probably hard to get on there later. Because of the gratuitousness problem no one wants to see something where anything can happen. It sucks. And in any case right from the get-go you’re making your ground rules, setting up your set of permissions on how to use this space. Creating an economy, a practice, and you can only do that, in this performance, once, in this particular piece of unfolding time, tonight. You can

only start once, only open and develop the dialogue once. Only build your track, your line, your trace the one time. Starting with A. To B, to C. There is no undo. You can go back to A and try again, but there’s no undoing of what has already occurred.

We joked about and pointed to this to the binding and absolute nature of what has taken place already in The World In Pictures where Jerry, after almost killing the audience in a headlong imagined-plunge

to the ground from atop a tall building then abandoned his narrative millimeters from impact at the

pavement and asked them to ‘put what he’d said to the back of their minds’ and allow him to start again, to ‘forget everything’ and so he could begin again in earnest. But there is no undo. The time has elapsed and a line has been drawn through it, bring us to here, now in this room.

I should go faster. I am typing on the plane. Looking out of the window. I am typing in the cafe down the street. I am reading back and changing things in the apartment just up above the theatre. I am reading back again and rewriting, and reading back again. I am thinking of this and how this can be spoken, how these words will fall in your ears, in that room which by the time I speak it anyway will be this room.


That there is a thickening. For all I love the one-rule shows I mentioned above, with their schematic and sequential iteration of variables inside a form, I’m also drawn to more complex, less apparently rule- driven structures. Here rather than the line A B C D we have A and also B and meanwhile C, the one running through the other.

The fact of me here and you there.

So in Bloody Mess the clown’s long-expected fight erupts in full violence just as the big dance number

of Terry, Jerry and Davis goes all over the stage and at the same time as Wendy’s lecture or workshop

about tears and how to make them hits its climax and the song that plays for all of these things

song that plays into all three narratives is Cry Baby by Janis Joplin. What follows then is at once a scene

and somehow a different event for three, maybe four separate people or pairs on the stage

happening that takes places somewhere in three worlds, or in none of them. I guess what I am interested

in here, is that multiple stories are advancing at the same time

gets overlaid with the camp rock spectacle of Terry/Jerry/Davies diva-esque burlesque, all flashing stars and rock chick antics. It’s all overlaid. The stage is not so much a sequence as a tangle of diverse intentions.

A threading, mirroring, echoing, space.

A dramaturgy of knots, collisions, tangles.


a hybrid

the brutal conflict between the clowns

What if the end were the beginning?

Or what if the beginning were the end? Or what if the middle were not the middle at all? Or what if the

thing you long have tagged as an aside is in fact the frame for the whole thing? Or what if she took all his text and vice versa, of if he did her dance? What if that scene played twice, three times? We were always shunting things around on the timeline, dragging them backwards and forwards, dragging them to the trash and then dragging them back again.

Close to me / Far from me.

Or Talking to me / Ignoring Me. Or frame / content. Stuff that supposedly helps me read what’s

happening, and stuff that is just stuff

is frame though). Things that are up at the front of the stage, very concerned with the audience, speaking

directly to them. And on the other hand things that are pushed deep into it, away from them, pushed back into fiction. Imagine even here if my table were back there what would I be trying to say? Space is already dramaturgy.

exposition and otherwise. Talking and not talking (not all talking

Going faster and faster. I am in Frankfurt.

I am doing time. Which is what this is anyway, and what, I said it already, we were always dealing in. Time and its unfolding. Making the seconds tick. Making the minutes go faster and slower. Making an hour disappear. Making a moment seem to last forever, a year. Bending one moment into another.

Doing time. There on the bed in 2001 rushing and rushing but making the rushed moments of that fucking there on the bed somehow last longer than any others in the whole world. The way she touches

me. Looks at me. The way time slows. The space of the bed. The space of the room. The space of the building, the neighbourhood, the city. The space of the room. The sound of outside. It’s not a theatre but

I guess there is a dramaturgy to it. An arrangement to these events, a rhythm, a way through. The way

the check-in leads to security, the security leads on to the waiting areas with their cafes and shops, and

these in turn lead on to the gate. Feeling the seconds tick in all of that. Bringing me closer to you, and doing time.

And then almost resolving, for a moment.

By the end of Bloody Mess the tension is still there Richard as rock gig roadie is still doggedly asking John (as creation of the universe-lecturing clown) if he is going to do an encore, if he needs a guitar, if he’s the lead vocalist – goading him as he has done through the whole show, goading and pick pick picking at his reality.

RI: Why is it that the best bands always split up?

JO: I don’t really know. I’m not really interested in that kind of thing.

RI: Yeah. But why is it that the best bands always split up?

JO: I just said, I really don’t have an interest in that kind of thing.

RI: If you had to have a guess.

JO: Well I guess it’s because they’re not having any laughs anymore. No more laughs, no fun. Is that it?

RI: Can you say more?

JO: They’re too sad to carry on. Just too sad.

RI: So tell me. Are you0 thinking about pursuing a solo career?

JO: I’m not in a band am I?

RI: Well, Not anymore. Not now the band’s split up.

JO: I’ve never been in a band. Can I ask you something?

RI: Sure.

JO: That’s not really your own hair is it?

RI: It is human hair.

JO: It’s not your human hair though is it?

RI: Its 100 per cent human hair.

JO: It’s a wig.

RI: Can I ask you something?

JO: Yeah.

RI: Have you got any big shoes?

JO: No.

RI: Have you got a funny little red nose?

JO: No.

RI: Round the back of the theatre at stage door have you got a funny little car with a funny little horn on it?

JO: I can see where you’re going with these questions – you’re trying to piss me off, now aren’t you?

RI: Will you be doing an encore this evening?

JO: I’m not in a band am I?

RI: Oh. Come one. It’s late. Let’s be friends. Come on. What do you say?

JO: Yeah. OK.

RI: Come on. We can’t sit here chatting all night - someone’s got to clear this shit up. Come on. Let’s go, let’s go.

And they walk off together.

RI: So. Are there any girls in the audience that you want me to invite backstage for the party?

J: 1 think I saw some twins, wearing green, in the fourth row somewhere.

And with that line he bends a little, accepts Richard’s absurd desire or misapprehension that this has all been some sort of rock gig. A kind of making the peace, and a making of the piece.

European Dramaturgy in the 21st Century Marianne Van Kerkhoven

A constant movement

Volume 14, Issue 3, September 2009, pages 7-11

Contextual note

This text, slightly adapted for publication, was the opening keynote at the conference European Dramaturgy in the Twenty-first Century, Frankfurt am Main, 2730 September 2007.

I want to start by going back to the previous century. In 1988 I wrote a text with the title: ‘Wenn ich still stehe, verstehe ich nichts words borrowed from Hans-Magnus Enzensberger (2006). The subtitle of the article was: ‘Short comments on the notion of European dramaturgy’. Today – almost twenty years of dramaturgical experience later I still do not know properly what dramaturgy is let alone European dramaturgy. Not only the subject but also the object is constantly moving, not standing still. If there is one thing we can say with certainty about dramaturgy, it is that it is constantly moving, that it is movement itself, a process. In the encircling movement executed in this text of 1988, an attempt to get a little bit closer to the heart of what European dramaturgy could possibly be at that moment, there was the matter of different artistic points of view, which could be traced in the work of leading European artists of that moment. There was the matter of the fading away of the borders between different disciplines, of a narrativity torn to pieces, of a growing impact of sensuality, of a focus on the materiality of the used elements, of a straight choice for the work-in-progress-method and, concerning the content, of the handling of the paradox of hope. On the organizational level, the conscience was present that production circumstances have an influence on the creative process. Most of the artists mentioned chose not to work in big institutions or established companies. Together with organizers and programmers with whom they shared the same ideas they created their own structures in which they tried to realize their work with as much as possible of artistic freedom.

Where are we today? The world has changed profoundly in these twenty years I do not need to enumerate the changes we experience, we live through them ourselves every day, we feel them until deep in the twistings of our brains. However, it seems inevitable to me that if we want to get closer to an answer on the question of how to define and actualize the notion of European dramaturgy, we have to focus on dealing with the actual relationship of the artist with this world, on the dialogue, that is or could be held between the artwork and the audience, on the relationship between theatre-practice and its theoretical questioners, on the conversation we have to carry on with or about Europe etc.

Probably I’m not the only person who is worried about the world, worried about what the arts and all other spiritual values still can signify in this world. I do not want to talk about the precarious situation of nature on this planet, nature on which we have inflicted probably irreversible damage. I want to talk on

that which I consider being the phenomenon, the motive, responsible for this damage. Since the decline of Communism there has been an overwhelming élan of the neoliberal political and economic forces that supported by the superfast development of technology have spread the modules of unrestrained production and consumption all over the globe. The growing attention today for the work of a thinker like Antonio Gramsci, for instance his theory of hegemony, points to the rediscovery of the complex relationship in a society between the economic basis and her different political, social and cultural superstructures and of the determining influence of the economic organization on culture and on arts.

It seems that one of our first tasks is to examine how the economic foundation determines our daily work. The marketing philosophy has indeed become so powerful in our society that no social sector can escape it. The management philosophy also leaves its mark on the functioning of theatres and companies. Even in Europe it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the level of artistic budgets, although compared with the United States many theatre institutions or structures get the biggest part of their income from the support of authorities and therefore still dispose of a relative autonomy, autonomy necessary to be able to create and to take artistic risk. The fact that it is difficult to evaluate artistic matter by quantity is in this context one of our biggest weaknesses but also one of our biggest forces.

Symbolic capital is not the same as financial capital. It functions according to its own rules and laws, however much it is tried from different sides to declare them as equal. For instance, when innovation in the commercial world almost always results in more sales, an innovation in the arts often has the contrary result. Experimental work most likely generates rather less audience than more. Symbolic credit most often is inversely proportional to economic profit. Compared with twenty years ago it becomes every day more difficult to resist the pressure of the marketing philosophy. Nobody is immune to this. We in theatre, we produce too much and too fast; programming is done too far in advance: long before the creation starts, marketable concepts are written down in promotion texts, and after that we fill in these concepts. We produce more and more formats that have proved to be successful; the time for research becomes shorter etc. This pressure is so much heavier, because the production mode inherent in theatre is in fact an aberration, an anomaly in this time. This mode of production, which we can qualify as artisanal, is old-fashioned but inevitable. Each performance is a handmade product, good work is always a pièce unique.

One of the actual key notions in the organization of economic life today is this magic word of flexibility. Workers must be able to function in often varying tasks. Labour is shifting from fixed-function labour to taskoriented labour. Speed, adaptability, short-term vision, superficial knowledge are today the qualities that managers expect from their workers. The building up of experience and the development of a genuine professional history lose all value. In the United States and in the United Kingdom interim employees are already the group of the working population that grows fastest. They are not able to invest themselves in their work, not able to develop long-lasting social relations with their colleagues. Getting to know and to trust the people you are working with, developing an emotional relationship with your task as part of a bigger process these are all qualities that in a creative process (such as it happens in

theatre) play an important part. Artists are longing to research in depth; they need time to construct a language; they have a need to develop themselves in continuity. In Parallels and Paradoxes the book in which are collected the conversations between conductor Daniel Barenboim and literary and culture critic Edward Said – Barenboim says: ‘I think that in every process, whether it is a cultural or a political process, there’s an absolutely innate relationship between the content and the time it takes’ (Barenboim and Said 2004). The fight against velocity, against the pressure to produce, the fight for time that can and may be spoiled, for time in which research without an aim and deadline can take place, is probably one of the most important battles the arts have to fight today.

But there are more things to fight for. Apart from the economic pressure there is also the political pressure in the form of increasingly omnipresent social control, of the increasing number of rules, the increasing amount of bureaucracy. This pressure results in imposing, compelling frames by which initiatives coming from the bases of different social sectors are almost excluded. All these small but important forms of freedom and autonomy of the citizen that seemed to be acquired since the period of May’68 are disappearing. A striking example is happening in Flanders at this moment: the renovation – in fact, it’s an act of restoration – undertaken in the public radio and television institute, a media business, entirely supported by the authorities. According to commercial and promotional motives, which they no longer even try to hide, the management, ignorant of the knowledge and the know-how about making creative radio and television programmes, proclaims that from now on everything has to be funny and certainly not too difficult. Expertise is banned, people who through years of hard work have collected experience and inside knowledge in a certain area are dismissed or discouraged and replaced by easily chatting presenters who excel most in promoting and selling themselves.

The mere quantity of how many people listen to the radio or look at the television programmes, supported by many completely useless but very expensive enquêtes on what the people want, justify the renovation of this institute, which probably is the most powerful political and ethical body in our society at this moment. But of course you know about or recognize this kind of story. Never have there been so many people in our society holding a university degree and never have the anti-intellectual reflexes been so strong as today. Instead of choosing the long and work-intensive way of searching which possibly might bring some clearness in the complexity of society, time and again the choice is made for the fast, short-term vision, the easy way of simplification of reality, for clichés and slogans, which popular politicians of all kinds gratefully use. Quantity is more easily achieved than quality. To give more voices the opportunity to express themselves, more time and space is needed than just to give the opportunity to one voice.

Again, nobody us included is immune to this kind of phenomena. Do we not have to screen our own practice to see if these social influences are also present in what we do? What about the relationship between theory and practice in the arts, for instance, and more precisely the academization of the high schools involved in arts education. Although during my entire professional career I always tried to bring theory and practice, art and science, closer to each other, I am very suspicious about this rapprochement that takes place in the high schools of arts. Artists suddenly longing to develop an academic career are

questionable. The contrary phenomenon, professors or theoreticians suddenly feeling the need to create a performance are questionable as well. I can assert, with a lot of certainty, that the overwhelming majority of talented artists is not interested in making an ‘arts doctoral thesis’. Is this careless handling of expertise the same as what happens with experience, tradition and craftsmanship in other sectors of society? Or is this compelled standardization of art and science hiding some motives of bureaucratic control? Of course the uniform bookkeeping is easier to handle. This bunch of measures, elaborated far from the practical reality somewhere in an office in Bologna, seems to ignore the difference in nature between a place for reflection and distance at one hand and of action and emersion at the other hand. Will these measures not result in a devaluation of the doctoral proof, a proof of autonomy in searching and thinking? And are we not going to breed a group of frustrated people who will be neither scientist nor artist? Is this not a perfect soil to develop and perpetuate a bureaucratic climate? And as we know, bureaucracy is power in its most stupid and probably most dangerous form.

The question is how we can get rid of these kinds of useless pressures in order to spend our energy on the real and permanent conversation between theory and practice that we urgently need. In his text ‘Eupalinos, ou l’architecte’, Paul Valéry makes his character Socrates pick up a shell early in the morning, walking on the boundary between sea and beach. ‘Un pauvre objet, une certaine chose que j’ai trouvée en me promenant. Elle fut l’origine d’une pensée qui se divisait d’elle-même entre le construire et le connaître’ (Valéry 1924). A poor object, a certain thing that I found while walking. This object was the origin of a thought, which divided by itself between the building, construction, on one hand and the knowing on the other. ‘Construire ou connaître?’: to make, to create something or to recognize, to understand something? How did you become?this is what Socrates asks the white shell as he revolves

it on the palm of his hand. And he realizes that there are two ways, two methods, to find an answer to

that question: ‘connaître ou construire?

Perhaps today there are even more possibilities for art and science to meet. Very exciting things, for instance, are happening in the blending of scientific research and artistic innovation. Artists, mainly those who want to work with highly complex technological means, are looking for the help of scientific

researchers in order to explore the possibilities of new media and technologies. Vice versa, scientific researchers often as well-educated in arts as in technology get caught by the charms of new media as

a poetic force. Due to the material needed and the long time needed to explore it, these are very

expensive projects and their funding is often realized by joining University funds, artistic and industrial

budgets. From these initiatives new ways of producing are emerging on the creative level. People with very different backgrounds, knowledge and capacities are meeting each other in an intensive teamwork. In his book Internet et globalisation esthétique, the Italian philosopher and aestheticist Mario Costa speaks of a transition of the artistic personality into an aesthetical, epistemological researcher, or of teams consisting of technological artists and aesthetical technological researchers (Costa 2003). Science has reached the point at which it is discovering more and more keys to the secrets of life, the secrets of becoming. Does this also turn the existence and functions of art upside down? At least grammatical changes already become visible in the language of scientists.

Researchers, for instance, who are involved in nanotechnologies by developing chips on silicon disks in clean rooms, use the verb ‘to grow’ in a transitive way. Normally we can say ‘we grow’, meaning ourselves becoming bigger or more mature. Or ‘we grow’ in the sense of ‘we make plants’ or ‘we grow crops’ as farmers do. Those researchers, however, talking about their chips say, ‘We grow them.’ This seems exactly the unison of ‘connaître et construire’ in one process of growing, of becoming. Science and art are two different cultures. In fact by using the word culture we could say that in their trying to live together these two cultures suffer under comparable problems as the different ethnic, religious and political groups in our society. In society most often these problems are handled in two different, equally fast and simplistic ways. The two answers are either racism or compelled assimilation. Edward Said remarked about this: ‘I think that the real problem today is that there is no mediation between these two extremes. Either there is homogenization or there is xenophobia, but not the sense of exchange’ (Barenboim and Said 2004).

However fluctuating an identity is, however difficult it may be to define, what is peculiar to a group of people, to a culture these identities, these difficulties do exist. We can throw stones at each other over the wall separating the two gardens, or we can be forced under control to bring down the wall and declare that all the gardens from now on are one single park. But other alternatives are possible. Approaching each other takes a long time. Perhaps we have to grow a hedge or some bushes instead of the wall. Where the wind can pass through, where between the leaves we can have whispering conversations. We can make small doorways in the hedge, openings where the bushes have disappeared because we cross them and wear them down so many times. We have to give time to the talks, so that slowly hesitation and fear can turn into clarity and pleasure. Sometimes it will succeed, and sometimes it will not. Will we get somewhere? We’ll see if we get somewhere. Just like Jerôme Bel and Pichet Klunchun who, in the performance ‘Pichet Klunchun and myself’, are together on the stage having a conversation about each of their practices and who absolutely do not grasp what the other one is talking about. But every night, evening after evening, they are able to be on the stage together, sharing their not-understanding with the audience.

Concerning Europe it’s important to consider the whole of the continent, not only the west but also the east, the north and the south, and to stay aware of the rest of the world. Europe has been a colonizer in the past, but there also exists a kind of culture-colonization, and it has a tendency to continue its life long after colonization proper has come to an end. I hope that our Eurocentrism will not be the standard by which we will measure all things. I hope that artistic Europe will remember the possibility of whispering conversations through the leaves.

And to conclude: what about dramaturgy? Twenty years ago we spoke not only about the emancipation of the performer but also about the emancipation of the spectator. Collecting the fragments shown on stage, it was the spectator’s task to construct his own performance. This movement is continued today, but in full consciousness that in these twenty years we were almost drowned in a torrent of images, in full consciousness that media-culture, in all its forms, is dominating our thinking. Looking through a camera or looking through a screen, we are always confronted with something that is framed. The frame

has become the basic attribute of our perception, but the frame, inevitably, also means to exclude, to direct a look. First to look at this and not at that. It prevents us from looking in a critical way, from deciding what we want to see and what not, which leads to a de-politicization of our looking. In theatre, however, there remains an opening, a chance to reconquer the political countervoice, the voice of the reflecting individual.

However much the social power of theatre is limited, to question the political importance of theatre all the time also means to question its relationship with the audience. Many theatremakers today are asking questions like ‘How and what do spectators see and hear? How to develop strategies of perception?’ By slowly transgressing the borderlines between visual arts, dance and theatre, installations and performances come into being in which the spectator alternatively is brought into a theatre or a museum context, with an alternation between ‘looking at something’ and ‘walking in something’, an alternation between observation and immersion, between surrendering and attempting to understand. And in this way, the spectator can determine independently his own standpoint. Perhaps more important than the here-and-now-character of the theatrical experience is today the consciousness of the spectator that, in or inside a performance, he can alternatively be alone, individualized, and together with other spectators. The dramaturgy emerging from this situation is a dramaturgy of perceiving, a dramaturgy of the spectator. What more about dramaturgy? Dramaturgy is for me learning to handle complexity. It is feeding the ongoing conversation on the work, it is taking care of the reflexive potential as well as of the poetic force of the creation. Dramaturgy is building bridges, it is being responsible for the whole, dramaturgy is above all a constant movement. Inside and outside. The readiness to dive into the work, and to withdraw from it again and again, inside, outside, trampling the leaves. A constant movement. Wenn ich still stehe, verstehe ich nichts.


Barenboim, Daniel and Said, Edward W. (2004) Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in music and society, London: Bloomsbury. Costa, Mario (2003) Internet et globalisation esthétique, Paris: L’harmattan. Enzensberger, Hans Magnus (2006) Ach Europa! Wahrnehmungen aus sieben Ländern, epilogue 2006, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Valéry, Paul (1924) ‘Eupalinos, ou l’architecte’, in Paul Valéry Eupalinos, ou L’architecte, précédé de L’âme et la danse, Paris: Gallimard.

Heterogeneous Dramaturgies Jeroen Peeters

Maska 2010-09-01 Maska 131-132, Summer 2010, pp. 17-27 (theme issue on 'Practical Dramaturgy')

Asked to share some thoughts about dance dramaturgy, I will not provide you with a history of it, nor with an attempt at an encompassing definition I think it is difficult and somewhat problematic to speak about ‘dramaturgy at large’. I would like to speak from practice and from my own experience with dance dramaturgy, both within artistic projects and as a teacher of ‘physical dramaturgy’ in art schools and workshops for dancers and choreographers. This entails a fragmentary and specific view, one that even harbours conflicting views or practices. Yet I hope to propose a few statements that exceed the scope of particular processes and give a sense of what dance dramaturgy is or can be a dramaturgy that is already happening as much as it is one that I’m hoping for and trying to contribute to.

Dramaturgical activity doesn’t always involve the actual position of a dramaturge: therefore I will address not so much the function of the dramaturge but dramaturgy as an activity pertaining to artistic processes.(1) Dramaturgy concerns the development of a common ground for the production of meaning, which I’d like to regard as a shared responsibility of all the collaborators. Moreover, dramaturgy pervades all aspects of the artistic creation process and ties itself to materials and media, bodies and space. How to develop a method that is singular to the piece to come? How to create a shared ground where experimentation and exploration, desire and doubt have a place? And how do these elements transpire once the piece is being performed on stage?

Folding in: context process material

Let me start with a few lines by choreographer Boris Charmatz and dance scholar Isabelle Launay, a reflection that has profoundly marked my understanding of dramaturgy: “The scenographic and dramaturgical context is not elaborated alongside dance. In this sense it is not what one would normally call a ‘context’. So the light and the music do not ‘colour’ a dance that remains both fulfilled and itself. The ‘context’ is not around, it is not an addition, even less surroundings for the movement. It changes its meaning, it is inside of it.”(2) In an interview Charmatz elaborates on this: “Things that go beyond the mere image of a moving body are constantly drawn upon: it is all about the whole history attached to a gesture, its cultural embeddedness, and its reception in the theatre. As a dancer you are permanently organizing your inner space, by incorporating the space, the light, the cultural framework, and so on; it is therefore not a feeling that adds itself to the gesture, but on the contrary it changes everything you do internally, and at the very moment itself. So the dramaturgy and the whole meaning potential are already contained in the gesture, the whole time.”(3)

For Charmatz, dramaturgy is intertwined with the body, meaning is a matter of embodiment and embeddedness. His is a truly physical dramaturgy that remains active on stage and incorporates the viewers’ projections, but it also works in an archaeological sense. The whole meaning potential is already there in the material from the very start; all one needs to do is look closer into it, exhaust the lingering meanings and make them explicit. Here, dramaturgy is a process of close-reading.

The claim that context is not around but inside also twists a traditional notion of dramaturgy, understood as producing meaning by framing the movement material, by contextualizing it, by colouring it with discourse. Such a view tends to reproduce the practice/theory divide, a modernist specialisation and distribution of knowledge (and hence of power) as underpinning of clear roles for the choreographer and the dramaturge.(4) Yet from Charmatz’ view I’d like to retain another element: he focuses on the exploration of the material itself and only via that way of the arguments, frames, canons, institutions, etc. that grant it intelligibility. It therefore resists dramaturgy as a didactic tool reaching out towards the viewer, it thwarts meaning as something fixed and clear. Some questions arise. How can one, through the analysis of culture at work within the material, discover the inner logic of the piece in the making? Can material have a right in itself, and if yes, how to turn that into a dramaturgical strategy? And what is this notion of ‘material’ actually?

Over the years I’ve developed a host of practices in collaboration with choreographer Martin Nachbar under the banner of ‘physical dramaturgy’, both in artistic and pedagogical contexts. Many of these relate to ‘reading’, such as exhausting the meaning that is already there, which can be applied to movement material or bodies engaged in choreographic activity. A few years ago we taught a workshop, Backtracking,(5) that departed from the standing and the lying body, as two poles framing movements such as falling or stumbling, which in turn can be regarded as choreographic operations deconstructing this frame. To simply exhaust this point of departure could have taken forever and took up most of the workshop. A standing body hosts a whole array of quotidian associations, but it also plays a central role in Western art: it is the position of a viewer in a museum; it is a bodily stance that resists gravitation and relates in a certain tradition to an ideal viewing position; it functions as an analogue for the image, refers to architecture, verticality and the proscenium frame of the theatre, and so on. A lying body can be associated with rest, sleep or death, but also with gravitation and the horizontal plane of the dance floor, perhaps with the horizontality of the drawing board and an equal distribution of signs, and so on. The literature on these topics is endless, and so are the ingrained associations and viewing habits they all resonate along, even before the first movement in the studio or on stage takes place.

While Charmatz speaks about an archaeological reading of bodies and gestures in the first place, I feel the need to extend the notion of ‘material’ to source materials, and the exhaustive reading to the analysis of texts and images. In order to surpass the approach of discourse framing movement material, we’d also need to address philosophical texts, theory or concepts as material, that is as something to work and tinker with, as something that can be used as a choreographic score and not only as something to construct an argument with. Exercises we do address literary and theoretical texts on three different levels: first a reading of the text’s argument or narrative (if needed with clarification of terms and of the

discursive context); second a literal reading: a focus on the language used, especially the spatial and corporeal metaphors; and third: a physical reading, which takes the literal reading onto the dance floor. Reading the work of philosophers like Bataille, Deleuze or Sloterdijk one comes across a great deal of writing about the body, yet developed at a writer’s desk: putting their metaphors and thoughts to a physical test is an interesting strategy to develop movement material and more messy and exploratory than attempts to illustrate or stage theory.

Now, through these various reading procedures there is already some traffic going on between different materials, between theory and practice, between producing movement and reading movement. The dramaturgical process is situated in this back and forth, embedded in the very choreography. And it gains a life of its own, which also moves beyond archaeology into the imaginary and into new meanings, to be sure. Exhaustive reading leads to various ways of digesting, unfolding and articulating material

(conceptually, formally, spatially). It also means that one takes things seriously, even the stupid ideas

it is research-driven and grants a certain autonomy to the artistic process, even independent of the piece

that will be its outcome. I believe that folding in the process and following its meandering course yields specificity and clarity. Yet for this, time is needed: if we dispense with the idea of dramaturgy as applying knowledge or concepts, then allowing for a process is a prerequisite and a challenge. The process has a right in itself it has an internal logic that helps one move beyond the canon, habits and fixed positions, beyond what one already knows.

An open question is the key for reading and for collecting, selecting and developing material:

dramaturgy is also related to thematic research, which requires that one symbolically marks a theme.

Reading keys might be partly intrinsic to the material, but even then they will be combined with the thematic and formal interests of the process. The point I’d like to make is that material also has a right in itself, which gives us perhaps a clue about what is peculiar to how dance and choreography can function dramaturgically. The word ‘material’, omnipresent in dancers’ jargon, subverts what is usually understood as ‘subject matter’: not the construction of an argument is what constitutes a dramaturgy, but

a shared fiction or concept as sedimented in particular images or movements. Moreover, material stands

in opposition to the notion of the ‘ideal piece’, the spectre of a material-blind dramaturgy that is obsessed with projecting meaning from an outsider’s ideal viewing position.

Reflecting on his work with choreographer Meg Stuart, dramaturge Bart Vanden Eynde points to a third position besides framing material dramaturgically and considering material as something with a right in itself pertaining to the process-internal dynamics and how it transpires on stage: “This brings us to a third element that complicates the organisation of material. When you are looking at a piece as a spectator, you are an outsider confronted with a result, uninformed about the history of the creative process. Certain scenes are in a strict sense not necessary for the dramaturgical unfolding of a piece, yet they might have been vital for the creative process. A performance is always the result of a process, which means it contains scenes that derive their necessity from that history, which is something other than a dramaturgical or a formal, choreographic urgency. To take out those scenes would restrain both the creative process and the eventual performance.”(6)

Note that Vanden Eynde says ‘performance’, not ‘piece’ – pointing towards the imaginary space of the performer on stage. When brought to the stage this third kind of material can be a burden often it concerns scenes that spectators regard as superfluous, too long, etc but it also has potential: this material includes the performer’s perspective and history with a creative process in a piece and therefore embraces a heterogeneity that questions the allegedly ‘ideal’ viewing position of the spectator and hence (por lo tanto) of the first spectators as well: the choreographer and the dramaturge. Here we’re close to a paradoxical idea of a ‘self-resisting dramaturgy’, a strategy I see for instance at work in pieces like It’s not funny (2006) by Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods, or Les assistantes (2008) by Jennifer Lacey and Nadia Lauro, in which process and material play an active, recalcitrant role in the resulting piece.

A shared ground, familiar yet foreign

How to discover things one doesn’t know yet? How to create a space for that? When working in a collaborative manner, which is common in today’s performing arts, the question of defining or discovering the method proper to the desire of making a particular piece is a collective one. The collaborator’s intuitive knowledge and embodied poetics that guide this process, have to be shared. The availability of all the materials to all the collaborators has a practical aspect to it: scraps, books, texts, video tapes and photographs lingering in the studio are material traces at hand for everyone, they constitute an embodied archive of the process itself. All the rest is memory, individual processing, mutual witnessing and continuous exchange. Harder to grasp is precisely the ‘shared dramaturgy’, that sense of a large area, disparate and excessive yet nevertheless shared, upon which the process thrives.

Dramaturgy and the production of meaning require multiple symbolical markings: next to the theme (which can be a formal interest), there is also bringing together a group of collaborators, and there is the development of an imaginary space, a common ground. This process of constructing a ‘dramaturgical object’ by all the collaborators exceeds the perspective of the materials and also of the method. It demands a space in which everyone can construct their ‘private dramaturgy’, that is their own understanding of how to create dance material and deliver it in performance, or the inner logic of a light design, a set design or the music. This shared ground is both familiar to the collaborators and foreign to them it affords to move beyond habitual choices and taste in order to discover unknown things, it is at once a space of exploration and of clear decisions within that. I call it a ‘dramaturgical object’ to point out its foreign character, that it concerns a third element the collaborators have to relate to and negotiate with. Perhaps we could say that, just like the process and the material, this imaginary space or object that shelters the piece in the making also has a right in itself. While the material acts on a micro-level, the shared common ground acts on a more global level and both are crucial for making and performing a piece, for keeping the process alive in either of them. These levels of the material and the shared ground are to a large extent intertwined, yet they don’t coincide. I give two examples.

Working in 2007 with Martin Nachbar on Repeater, a duet with his retired father, a man of 68 without experience with making art or performing, we had several questions on the table: how to avoid a

psychological or confessional approach? How to create a space in which an amateur performer would be at ease without diminishing complexity? How to structure the materials at hand? Almost by coincidence

I came across a paragraph in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1984) that provided us with a

‘dramaturgical map’ and helped us to clarify our intentions throughout the process, so over time. Precisely because it was a foreign element, it would also perform a certain resistance, and insist that we keep questioning things.

“This was the night the insane asylum burned down. Heinrich and I got in the car and went to watch. There were other men at the scene with their adolescent boys. Evidently fathers and sons seek fellowship at such events. Fires help draw them closer, provide a conversational wedge. There is equipment to appraise, the technique of firemen to discuss and criticize. The manliness of firefighting the virility of fires, one might say suits the kind of laconic dialogue that fathers and sons can undertake without awkwardness or embarrassment.”(7)

The words ‘laconic dialogue’ became a key for reflecting upon the relation between a father and son and how to stage it. It is an interesting case because we found our ‘dramaturgical map’ as a kind of

readymade to which we could relate most of the other materials we had gathered or developed. I would like to call this paragraph a ‘conceptual scene’ – and in the case of a process in which this scene takes on

a more heterogeneous, composite form and the dramaturgical object is more complex, a ‘conceptual

landscape’. Concepts have physical, spatial and dynamic features, so material qualities, which come to the fore by considering them a space. A conceptual landscape is a space of thought in which one can take a walk not just any walk, but along certain pathways afforded by the particular concepts at work.

In creations and workshops, the choreographers deufert + plischke have developed during the past years

a working method they call ‘formulating and reformulating’. Over a long time, notebooks circulate in the

studio, with their text always being reformulated by someone else. For the directory trilogy (2003-06), personal memories were the point of departure, which after repeated rewriting got removed from the original and gained a more accurate, fictional form. Being created in this collective practice is a shared diary or archive of the process itself which as a medium contains the notebooks, writing and the intervention of other people. It is a way to construct an imaginary space with a group of people, share responsibility and authorship, and keep track of it. The notebooks yield stories and performance texts, but also movement descriptions and choreographic scores.

Equally important is the radical perspective upon choreography: deufert + plischke don’t develop movement material through video, nor via showing and imitating, but only through a collective writing process. In that respect, the notebook opposes also the use of media, which by their technological nature strongly influence the result. In deufert + plischke’s words: “There is no visual regime of imitation in our work. For us, choreography is not a reconstruction of an original (as it is the case with video), but a process in which response is central, and hence responsibility and subjectification. How can you avoid the way you are conditioned to present your likes, dislikes, and the image you have of yourself?”(8) The inner logic of deufert + plischke’s work is anti-visual, which allows them to renegotiate the visual

regime of the theatre and the ideal viewing position it presupposes. The common ground carried by the notebooks is foreign as well as heterogeneous, in that it didn’t come into being through discussion and striving for consensus. All the efforts of negotiating one’s place in that foreign world is processed through writing.

Shared responsibility

Dramaturgy as a common ground for the production of meaning should be a shared responsibility of all the collaborators – so not only of the dramaturge and/or the choreographer. This doesn’t mean that the process has to become necessarily collective in the final decision-making. Endless negotiation is highly impractical in large-scale group processes, just like democracy and consensus are not always the best tools to spur on creativity. Authorship in a more traditional sense still plays a role in creating a particular view and making radical artistic choices.

It is also not my interest to fire the dramaturge right away, but rather to deconstruct the dramaturge’s position as one of knowledge and overview. Philosophically speaking this means moving away from the position of the enlightened subject of knowledge, self-fulfilment and transparency. If dance and choreography today seek to question such a view of man on stage, that is on a representational level, then the question is how to be consistent with this on the level of method, process and production? Does it make sense to hold on to the dramaturge’s as a disinterested outsider’s position within a creation process? How can dramaturgy remain at work on stage in order to arrive at a complex, heterogeneous view? I’ll juxtapose some of the elements I’ve laid out and see whether my insistence upon material, process and a shared yet foreign ground as the elements constitutive of dramaturgy contains perhaps an answer.

As the carrier of a truly physical dramaturgy, material has a history that lives inside of culture, but equally reflects the intuition, desire and history of the performers and the collaborators material has an opaque aspect that resists legibility. As such, material becomes a space of negotiation for the performer:

it is at once familiar and foreign, it affords a reconsideration of the common imaginary space.

Brought onto a wider plan, material becomes a space for negotiation that resists the ideal viewing position of the dramaturge or spectator and claims space for the perspective of the performer, who also plays an active part in the production of meaning – by ‘working’ on stage rather than delivering and serving the projection of an ideal piece. Making the production a shared responsibility indeed entails redistributing knowledge and validating other positions as well, including the ‘limited insider’s view’ of the performer. This will require a conceptual mobility of the dramaturge and ultimately of the spectator.

In both cases the material acts as a third party, displacing the process of negotiation from quarrels over likes or dislikes, or power games between collaborators defending their place in the work, to a

negotiation with culture at large and with the specific inner logic of the piece. How to avoid that performers become self-indulgent and forget to ‘work’ with the material?

Equally important as a third object of negotiation is the shared ground. It functions on a more global level as a filter that guides the decision-making in the studio and on stage it encompasses the questions and the ‘why’ of a process. It is a conceptual landscape, at once familiar and foreign: it isn’t flat or fixed, but invites to take a walk, to work with one’s imagination and keep the production of meaning alive.

A piece combines both material and a conceptual landscape. By insisting on process as that upon which the inner logic of a piece thrives, it is clear that it is infused with time time of digestion, articulation and unfolding, but also time that still continues on stage. The internal logic and the realm of meaning are temporary and unstable, they never crystallize into something like a fixed, ideal piece. A piece only comes alive in the performance, a social event in which the imagination and the production of meaning are at work. The shared responsibility makes this a collective undertaking and imbues it with the multiple views that come with collaboration. And all of this makes the spectators active co-producers that are also negotiating the realm of meaning and take up their part of the responsibility instead of passively consuming an ‘ideal piece’.


(1) Myriam Van Imschoot discusses this shift from the dramaturge to the ‘dramaturgical’ in ‘Anxious Dramaturgy’, Women & Performance, no. 26, 2003, pp. 62-65 (2) Boris Charmatz and Isabelle Launay: Entretenir: A propos d’une danse contemporaine, Paris: Centre national de la danse / Les presses du réel, 2002, pp.158 (3) Interview with the author, Paris, September 2004 (4) Cf. André Lepecki: ‘Dance without distance’, Ballet International, Febr. 2001, pp. 29-31 (5) Backtracking, a workshop organized by the festival Tanz im August and the Co-operative Dance Education Centre Berlin, which took place in Berlin from 21 August to 1 September 2006. (6) See Jeroen Peeters (ed.): Are we here yet? Damaged Goods / Meg Stuart, Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2010, pp. 140-141 (7) Don DeLillo: White Noise, London: Picador, 1999, p. 239 (8) From a public discussion after a performance of deufert + plischke’s Reportable Portraits at the Steirischer Herbst festival in Graz on 24 September 2007.

The impossible pas de deux of looking and writing

Sarma 2002-11-01

Contextual note

This "poetics" on Peeters' critical writing was commissioned by Sarma and translated by Julie Bryden. Published on the occasion of Sarma's launch in November 2002.

Beyond fascination. “Now I’m really quite curious what you’re going to write about this!” It’s a statement that I heard almost weekly for many years from spectators searching for elucidation, since shortly after a performance they aren’t sure precisely how to trace out the lines plotted out by that event, at least not in words. Also, since dance performances can be very complex and sometimes innovative too and more probable still, since the casual observer ends up entangled in his own fascination for all of that. How in heaven’s name does the critic manage to take distance from the event, to neatly map out all the points and besides that, communicate them intelligibly by way of an article?

When I began writing about dance for the weekly magazine Veto, during my student days, I did indeed wrestle with a comparable problem of fascination: during a performance I would constantly be thinking over what it could all mean, what to write about it, and in this way I actually missed the boat twice. The looking was constantly disrupted in its concentration, disturbed and infected by an investigatory thinking that was all-too-often out to project its own logic thus also its limitations onto the performance. Hence afterwards the writing fell back finally onto a thought process that referred more to itself than to the performance, due to the fact that the looking itself had never really been the order of business.

Looking and writing are two. The period in which I gained competency in writing about dance coincided with an exhaustive study of the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and his art-critical oeuvre. His thoughts provided a key to the problem that I had been confronted with in writing, and has thus strongly influenced the course of my own art-critical poetics. For Lyotard an artwork does not allow itself to be translated into words without excess. In one’s approach to the work of art, he foundationalizes the reciprocity of the visible with the viewer and of the sayable with the speaker and with this, the congruity of both groups as well. However, we must admit at the same time that no reciprocity exists on the level of the whole of experiences, vision and speech are each characterized by a different sort of necessity. Or better still: looking and writing are two.

Every perception of art is of course confronted with that paradox, and it is only when it appears in lucidity, that an opening for art criticism can also appear. Acknowledging that writing can never coincide with looking, it falls to the task of writing to untie the Gordian knot of fascination, and to distinguish the writing from the looking. It is precisely then that it is possible to sound the necessary distance between the two and then also to convey the specificity of the perceptual stream, such as it is released by the artwork or by the dance performance in question. The fiction of a ‘pure’ looking is thus

not in any way before my mind’s eye, and looking and writing must above all be independent moments in their own right: first a looking that unfolds itself from out of a foundational open-ness, in light of the scenic events; afterwards a writing that offers a formulation in words one that takes what’s been seen as its point of departure and then resonates with it, rather than wanting to replace it.

A writerly look. The construction of art criticism traditionally consists of three constitutive moments, and that appears to be an effective form even now: description, interpretation and evaluation and yes, in that order, logically speaking. Description determines the specificity of the critique, in that it fosters a proximity to the artwork without actually merging into it; to reverse this, it prepares an interpretation without totally removing itself from the work, which is the case in art theory. Still more, it is in description that writing itself is established, continuously at odds with the paradox that it can never coincide with looking; and even in the light of that consciousness it yet continues to carry on with the attempt. This process transports it to a turning point; namely, it is in the description that the writing becomes autonomous, the text writes itself.

The point at which the text acquires a certain autonomy throughout the writing is crucial, it is at least here that the critique is once-removed from the critic’s taste, and relates itself to the looking and thus to the performance itself. Naturally the writing itself can never be free of the writer and his background, the writerliness of his look is still a multiplicity that is ingrained, and leaves behind conscious as well as uncounscious ‘intertextual’ traces. In description, the looking translates therefore as well into a specific reading of the performance, and in this way it draws interpretation into the process.

Thereby the description leads the way, but it sees its recurrence in the interpretation confronted once again with the tension between looking and writing, between the visible and the sayable: by its linguistic nature the writing easily shapes this interpretation to its hand. In other words: the critic lends the text an autonomy, one that values the writing, but that also often tends to give his stories a conclusive character. That story then sometimes no longer remains loyal to the visible and to the looking; it sometimes even fixes itself onto the ‘textual’ and thus sayable elements that make up the performance, and loses sight of the blind spot that is maintained between looking and writing. And it is precisely the respect for this paradox that the artwork imposes on criticism that is so important: this consciousness is simultaneously the characteristic trait of criticism and its position over against the work of art, which insists upon an open look.

Frames for frames? The paradox of the art critic is of course insurmountable, which doesn’t have to mean that every art-critical text must be a betrayal of the artwork or of the visible. In the end an accessible and coherent form is expected, from a newspaper critique especially, and insight too. In this sense the autonomy of the text is a welcome given, the majority of the readers have in fact not seen the performance discussed, and never will see it either. What is there then to say and what does it all hinge upon, this delicate question of interpretation?

On the basis of the description the critic has to discover the departure points and premisses of the performance in question, and trace their development. In doing this he follows the dynamic of the performance itself starting from his own background and experiences of looking. Therein finally lies the basis for evaluation: by the translation of the course of a dance performance into critical writing, the performance can be judged according to its own merits. The question of the so-called ‘objectivity’ of the critic doesn’t pose itself at all: an evaluation is never gratuitous if it stems from the description and analysis of a performance, such that the work is evaluated within a framework that is all its own.

Does this evaluation in the case of newspaper criticism, not also unavoidably have a political character? For a framework plays along with it that is more expansive than just the relationship beween performance and criticism think for instance of writing or not-writing a review, or of the possible difference in approaching débutantes and established performers. My interest in this problematic has never been very involving, the interpretation itself diverted away most of my attention, and it already spoke for itself. The articulation of this question whether a performance has been successful in the end or not was nothing more than a peripheral issue. The logics of the text did their work, compared frames with frames and brought the evaluation entirely into the territory of writing. And perhaps I liked to think of evaluation as an open question, one that in the end belongs to looking, even though it escapes only sporadically from all these frames. Criticism must remain an impossible pas de deux between looking and writing, this is what sustains it.

Looking without pencil in the hand Marianne Van Kerkhoven

Theaterschrift 1994

Theaterschrift 1994 nrs 5-6: On dramaturgy

“(…) distance is often linked with the most intense state of feeling, in which the coolness or impersonality with which something is treated measures the insatiable interest that thing has for us.” (Susan Sontag)

1. The request to talk or write about it leads time and again to the same awkwardness: the feeling of

being asked to reveal someone else’s culinary secrets or recipes.

2. In artistic practice there are no fixed laws of behaviour, or task that can wholly defined in advance,

not even for the dramaturge. Every production forms its own method of work. It is precisely through the

quality of the method used that the work of important artists gains its clarity, by their intuitively knowing at every stage in the process what the next step is. One of the abilities a dramaturge must develop is the flexibility to handle the methods used by artists while at the same time shaping his/her own way of working.

3. Whatever additional tasks sometimes very practical and certainly highly varied the dramaturge

takes on in the course of an artistic process, there always remain several constants present in his work; dramaturgy is always concerned with the conversion of feeling into knowledge, and vice versa. Dramaturgy is the twilight zone between art and science.

4. Dramaturgy is also the passion of looking. The active process of the eye; the dramaturge as first

spectator. He should be that slightly bashful friend who cautiously, weighing his words, expresses what he has seen and what traces it has left; he is the ‘outsider’s eye’ that wants to look ‘purely’ but at the same time has enough knowledge of what goes on on the inside to be both moved by and involved in what happens there. dramaturgy feeds on diffidence.

5. Dramaturgy is also being able both to affirm and to repudiate at the right moment: knowing what,

when and how to say something. Based on a realization of the vulnerability of the building blocks, but

also conscious that the construction sometimes needs a good pounding.

6. It also invites the building up of a special type of personal relationship, in order to carry on

conversations that are on the one hand highly specific they are, after all, concerned with that progress

of practical work – and on the other very serene and ‘wasteful’ in the ay a very personal contact is.

airing. Whatever he/she writes must be ‘correct’; it must describe the work in an evident and organic way and lend a guiding hand on its way to its life in society, a life which often has a destructive effect on its meaning.

8. Dramaturgy is also sometimes – one is working after all with ‘groups’ – a psychological mediation.

The basis for this lies not, however, in the technical approach of the professional ‘social worker’, but

rather in the disinterested motives of ‘a friendship in the workplace’.

9. Dramaturgy is a limited profession. The dramaturge must be able to handle solitude; he/she has no

fixed abode, he/she does not belong anywhere. The work he does dissolves into the production, becomes invisible. He/she always shares the frustrations and yet does not have to appear on the photo. The dramaturge is not (perhaps not quite or not yet) an artist. Anyone that cannot, or can no longer, handle this serving and yet creative aspect, is better off out of it.

10. Dramaturgy means, among other things: filling in in a creative process, with whatever material

necessary; the assimilation and ‘guarding’ of a project’s ‘first ideas’ in order, occasionally, to restore them to memory; to suggest without forcing to a decision; being a touchstone, a sounding board; helping provide for inner needs. For this reason one of the essential axes on which the practice of dramaturgy turns is the accumulation of a reservoir of material amassing knowledge in all fields: reading, listening to music, viewing exhibitions, watching performances, travelling, encountering people and ideas, living and experiencing and reflecting on all this. Being continuously occupied with the building up of a stock which may be drawn from at any time. Remembering at the right time what you have in your stockroom.

11. There is no essential difference between theatre and dance dramaturgy, although the nature and

history of the material used differs. Its main concerns are: the mastering of structures; the achievement of a global view; the gaining of insight into how to deal with the material, whatever its origin may be visual, musical, textual, filmic, philosophical etc.

12. At present, purely literary or linear dramaturgy is seldom to be found, in either dance or theatre.

Dramaturgy today is often a case of solving puzzles, learning to deal with complexity. This management of complexity demands an investment from all the senses, and, more especially, a firm trust in the path of intuition.

“There is an immense difference between looking at something without pencil in the hand and looking at something while drawing it.” (Paul Valéry)

Statement on Dramaturgy Andrea Bozic

Volume 14, Issue 3, September 2009, p12

Instead of making a statement on dramaturgy, I will focus here on describing the role dramaturgy has had in my own work and outlining a type of dramaturgy that I am hoping will emerge with more prominence in the near future.

A while ago, a friend of mine asked me what a dramaturg’s role really was in theatre. He said that his

first association with the word was that of a Turk who made a lot of drama. When I think about it now this rings quite true. A dramaturg in my process is a kind of a ‘Turk’, someone who is somewhat alien, who maintains his or her otherness and distance from the process in order to be able to ask questions about it. And it is also someone who makes a lot of drama, someone who asks questions about things that might otherwise slip by unnoticed or be taken for granted. Most of my work is concerned with issues of presence and embodiment and procedures of fictionalizing. I often take original material from other sources: films (embodying the movement of the actors), my

private life (moving my furniture into my installation), weather conditions (collaborating with the factor

of its unpredictability and ‘givenness’). Then I set up ‘generators’ that process this material to produce

new work. These generators are, in fact, dramaturgical structures, and their transparency in the work is as important as the material itself. I might call it a dramaturgy of space, which renders both the content and the manners in which that content is produced visible at the same time. Working with a dramaturg is for me as important as working with any other collaborator. I set up a certain dramaturgical structure (a generator), which might, for example, be based on a timeline of a certain emotion. Once this generator is clear to all of us, we use it as an anchor to hold the rest of the elements together, a red thread that runs through the process and the performance and to which everyone can relate. A good dramaturg for my process is someone who manages never to lose sight of this red thread. The second role of dramaturgy in my work concerns the creation of the thread that connects all the individual projects into one ongoing exploration. This refers not only to how this installation or that performance share elements and expand on different aspects of them. Even more importantly, it is about how I can use certain elements from my projects, as well as from other people’s projects, art history, politics, daily news, weather, my friend’s lives etc. in order to contextualize them differently in each new work I make. And further, how these elements can affect and loop back onto the original material they were taken from, and how they can re-appear with each new project. Therefore, this red thread of dramaturgy extends itself through my projects in time. The third level of dramaturgy in my work is the one I find very important for future dramaturgies. By this I mean attitudes that can help make dramaturgies of real-life events transparent. They may include: a dramaturgy of one’s own life (how I fictionalize my own life to give it a grand narrative); a dramaturgy

of community life (that makes visible the strategies of staging, fictionalizing and performing day-to-day

life); a dramaturgy of virtual life (that makes visible the strategies of fictionalizing, staging and performing political and other events through the mass media of TV, film and the Internet). Ideally, this kind of dramaturgy would be capable of underlining the network-like relationship between these three threads and could incorporate them into the art-making process, where not only life is a generator of art but art is a generator of life in a transparent way.

The Ignorant Dramaturg Bojana Cvejic

Maska 2010

maska, vol. 16 no. 131-132 (Summer 2010), pages 40-53

It comes as no surprise to me that we’ve congregated here to speak about dance (and) dramaturgy. 1 We all can proudly attest to having behind us quite a few seminars, workshops, and all sorts of meetings about “dance dramaturgy”. Why the topic draws so much curatorial attention today, however, has less to do with an entirely new practice than with a recently more accredited practice, and perhaps even a profession whose role in the creation of dance hasn’t yet been sufficiently reflected upon. Another approach would demand inquiring how “dance dramaturgy” follows in a line with other curated

concepts in dance since 2000, such as “research”, “collaboration”, "theory", "education and learning", the concerns of which it might actually reformulate and then why. I came here resolved not to pursue the matters like “why dance dramaturgy now?”, “why only now?”, and other such questions, because they would inevitably lead me to deconstruct the subject and the whole debate, so that we could go home with

a little more skeptical and cynical faces than usual. Instead, I accept this as an invitation to think about "What is dance dramaturgy?". However, my kneejerk reflex is to deviate from the essentialist "what" to more than one question. "Dance dramaturgy"? Yes, but by who? For whom? With whom? Where and when? How, in which case, and how much? Multiplying questions makes dance dramaturgy a minor of

a minority (minoritaire) and, hence, a plural affair. Studying many cases one by one, we would

discover how the work of dramaturgy reinvents itself; it is always different, whenever it is truly a matter

of a new creation as opposed to repeating a "success-formula". The temptation of unfolding the many dramaturgies hides the danger of arbitrary relativization everything and nothing is or can be (considered) dramaturgy and one loses a position to defend. Therefore, I'll promptly set out my position and task here: I will contest dance dramaturgy in a specific condition of projectbased freelance work something we used to refer to as "independent". If there should be a dramaturg, she isn't a staff member of a company or a repertoire theater someone who occupies a position of know-how, craft, or métier dramaturg (the bright example of Marianne Van Kerkhoven comes to remind us of the 1980s- 1990s). The appearance of dramaturg in contemporary dance from 2000 on is all the more curious for the fact that choreographers themselves have never been more articulate and self-reflexive about their working methods and concepts. So, why then a dramaturg? My assumption is that we can begin to talk about dance dramaturgy, and try to make this notion more substantial, only when we accept that it isn't a necessity, that a dance dramaturg isn't necessary. Rather than establish a normative definition, I would like here to explore functions, roles and activities of dramaturgy in experiment, how dramaturg becomes the constitutive supplement in a method of experimental creation a co-creator of a problem.

But before I proceed with that, one more question from my own confusion: how do you write and pronounce this word in English "dramaturg" or "dramaturge"? Adding an "e" appears as a feminine

ending a playful warning against the feminization of work. Gendering the profession doesn't have to reveal a woman-dramaturge sitting next to a man-choreographer; feminization, according to Toni Negri and Michael Hardt 2 , presupposes a transformation of labor from manufacturing objects to producing services. In order to clear the ground of norm and necessity, let me unsettle a few assumptions about the services dance-dramaturg is to provide. The dance-dramaturg has the linguistic skills that place her on the reflexive pole of the tedious mind- body split. This assumption entails a binary division of labor by faculties: choreographers are mute doers, and dramaturgs bodiless thinkers and writers. I will show how the boundaries of these faculties are blurred and constantly shifting. The dance-dramaturg observes the process from the distance of an outside perspective. She is expected to keep a critical eye against the self-indulgence or solipsism of choreographer. But what if the job of choreographer, as Jonathan Burrows recently wrote, is to "stay close enough to what we're doing to feel it, and at the same time use strategies to distance ourselves enough to grasp momentarily what someone else might perceive."He goes on to confer that choreography might be "something that helps you step back for a moment, (long) enough to see what someone else might see. 3 So again, the division between doers and observers won't do when choreographer and dramaturg both exercise the outside-eye. My task will be to discern the more subtle nature of this complicity and affinity in the shared faculty of seeing and reflecting. The previous might be argued against with the following point: the special duty of the dramaturg's critical eye is to go-between the choreographer and the audience, so as to mediate and make sure that communication works on both sides. But this turns dramaturgy into a pedagogy, where dramaturg puts herself in the priestly or masterly position of the one who knows better, who can predict what the audience members see, think, feel, like or dislike. We, makers and theorists alike, are all obsessing far too much about spectatorship, instead of wisely relaxing, as Jacques Rancière wrote in "The Emancipated Spectator" 4 , and trusting that spectators are more active and smart than we allow ourselves to admit. My position would be to fiercely object to stultification of this kind, the patronizing presupposition that audience will not understand if they aren't properly dramaturgically guided. Instead of giving in to the pressure of accessibility were living in this neoliberal age, dramaturgs could be concerned about how the performance is made public. This is to do with more than just publicity; it is an effort to articulate, find new appropriate formats, in order to make public, indeed, the specific ideas, processes and practices the immaterial envelope of labor and knowledge sustaining the very work. I'm not saying that we need dramaturgs to sensibilize those hostile and ignorant spectators… it's more a challenge to combat hermiticism, to think how to make knowledge about performancemaking available and perhaps, even interesting outside of its own discipline. The last hurdle to overcome is the notorious function of dramaturg aka “company psychotherapist”. This dark and shameful side of dramaturgy is worth mentioning only to make crystal clear that the moment that dramaturg is relegated to the role of a "caretaker" of the moods and tensions in a working process a filter between choreographer, performers and other collaborators, for instance she has lost the power of creation, and perhaps, even joy. We dramaturgs probably recall having one such dark experience we'd soon rather forget.

Now that we've relieved our dance-dramaturg from these (traditional) services, are our hands free enough for another undertaking? When asked to define what a dramaturg is, the Dutch theatermaker Jan Ritsema’s statement appears non- specific: a co-thinker in the process. I choose to depart from this, albeit, generic, view, to inquire if dramaturg is the sparring partner in thought, is she then as little or as much as a collaborator? Yes, but a very special collaborator, dramaturg is the friend of a problem. Or more precisely, she is the choreographer's closest friend in producing a problem,a friend in advocating an experiment, and an enemy of complacency. The dramaturg is there to make sure that the process doesn't compromise in experiment. What makes her a friend is proximity in being with and standing under (which isn't always also understanding) the drama of ideas. Giorgio Agamben recently wrote, "calling someone 'friend' is not the same as calling him 'white', 'Italian', or 'hot', since friendship is neither a property nor a quality of a subject…To recognize someone as a friend means not being able to recognize him as something.” 5 I'm engaging with the figure of the friend so as to do away with instrumentality and specialization of the role and relationship of dramaturg with the choreographer. The kind of friendship I'm invoking here begins with ignorance not about what the two can exchange between each other or be useful for, because there must already be some shared affinity to even contemplate working together but ignorance about the work to be made. Hereby, I'm referring to "ignorance" in Jacques Rancière’s parable The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. 6 Emancipation is the pedagogy that Rancière opposes to instruction, because it's a situation of learning something about which both master and student are ignorant. Learning then rests on the assumption of equality of intelligence, as well as on the existence of a third mediating term between master and student, which isrepresented in Rancière by the book that master and student read in two different languages. Dramaturg and choreographer establish a relationship of equals similar to the relation between two ignorant people confronting the book they don’t know how to read. The "book" is the work of research, that something, bound by a radical form of effort that both invest into the process of defining what is at stake and how. The work is the thing, the "book" that choreographer and dramaturg won't read but write together, that third link which guarantees the rule of materiality. Whatever is done, thought, or felt can be shown, discussed, and confronted on the work itself with two pairs of eyes or more.

Now that we've placed dramaturg on a par with choreographer, we have to ask: what does this work of construction they are both dedicated to have to do with producing a problem? When I say a problem, I in fact mean an approach or a method which forces the work on a performance to deviate from the possible, i.e. familiar, operations with: "theme" or what the work claims to be about, "language" or expression means, signature or aesthetic preferences, process or the dynamic in which the work develops, "dispositif""or that which composes the attention of spectators. Listing all these categories already shows a certain stability in a pool of options, possibilities recognizable because: "we know what works, and what doesn't." The production of a problem doesn't begin with possibilities, since they are a matter of knowledge that we account for as the limits to be pushed,but with ideas that diverge and differentiate the conditions of the new. Gilles Deleuze qualifies creation as virtual. To explain the notion of the virtual, he often cites Proust’s description of his states of experience: "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract". 7 The content of an idea is virtual, because it is differentiation, a differential

relation between elements drawn by a problem, a question. The problem lies in the idea itself, or rather, the idea exists only in the form of questions. As questioning nowadays is a domesticated and worn out truism about almost any intellectual activity, questions by which a problem is posed are distinguished by the answers that they give rise to. So the problem is measured by the solution it merits if this solution

is an invention that gives being to something new, to what did not exist or what might never have

happened. Stating a problem isn't about uncovering an already existing question or concern, something

that was certain to emerge sooner or later, a problem is not a rhetorical question that can't be answered. On the contrary, to raise a problem implies constructing terms in which it will be stated, and conditions it will be solved in. The solution entails a construction of procedure and working situation. To orchestrate in practical terms what I coin here as methodology of problem, I will take up the dramaturgy

of the performance And then (2007) by Eszter Salamon. (Frankly, I would much prefer to unravel a

variety of cases and not to risk to idealize one self-congratulating example, but time presses me to choose only one case to illustrate my view, and so it will be one from my own dramaturgical practice).

The project began with a discovery of homonymy, with hundreds of women all over Europe and the U.S. having what the choreographer and eventually her homonyms as well considered a rare and unusual name because it comes from the relatively small culture of Hungary. After Magyar Tancók (2006), a lecture performance about her own experience of becoming a dancer in Hungary, Salamon was interested to further pursue the relationship between cultural contingency and individual agency in her own biography. But after considering how arbitrary and insignificant the results of exploring the fact of having a name were, "what's in a name?" appeared a trivial question, a pseudo-problem. Interviewing more than a dozen of Eszter Salamons, the choreographer Salamon and Iwere facing a myriad of stories

from and about ordinary people : individual, singular, and incomparable. Our initial speculation, that this material could feed yet another solo that voids the identity of a singular by multiple subjects,proved uninteresting, it meant stating the obvious knowledge about identity construction and performative self- determination. The question shifted to challenging the concept of self-identification itself. What does it mean to meet another person whose being doesn’t concern you in any particular way? Isn’t it strange, and rather uncanny, to peer into another person’s life when one has come across evidence of it by pure chance? What makes these women speak like everyone else, as a singular but not a particular person? What makes the expression of each one seem “whatever”, and yet such that it always matters ? Our documentary departure gave way to fabulation, using the trigger of homonymy as the minimum criterion for the choice, the connection, and the confrontation of exactly those different life experiences. “What’s in a name?” became a matter of arbitrariness and coincidence that conditioned the performance, while the name “Eszter Salamon” functioned metonymically – not as a sign of the congruence of the Salamons, but exactly as a sign for individuation among singular homonyms. 8

A considerable part of the solution consisted of constructing a procedure which would choreograph the

fabulation of singularities. And the methodology of the problem involves exactly that, an invention of constraints that would act as enabling conditions. As hiring dozens of Salamons from all over the world

to perform on stage wasn't an option, we decided to ask them to re-enact their spontaneous answers,

gestures and presence from the interviews. Then we filmed their "restored behavior"(R. Schechner) in a

particular studio setting, a mise-en-cadre, in which they moved in a space the audience sees in total,

while the camera shoots the figures off center in provisional shots, simulating the gaze of the theatre viewer, 9 thus the screen could extend into the stage, and vice versa, blurring their boundaries. Performers Eszter-Salamons, the homonyms by name and their doubles as a kind of visual homonyms circulated between the screen and the stage as in one continuous space, split between past and present, documentary and fiction, original statement and self-reflexive comment, non-theatrical imaginary space and bare theater stage. It should be mentioned that apart from the assistance of a professional film- maker 10 , the choreographer and the dramaturg were dilettantes of the medium that they hijacked into the performance. Constructing such a hybrid between theater and cinema meant questioning choreography as well, and when I say that it could have been done only by dilettantes, I'm rhetorically distinguishing a dilettante approach that contests and strives to expand its discipline and medium from an essentialist view on professional craftsmanship. Dilettantes are those who ask questions beyond the specialist truth about the medium. Discerning dramaturgy from choreography would be difficult here, because they both mutated into a composition of movement in text, in camera shots, light simulating cinema, montage between screen and stage, soundtrack, performing modes, gestures and the least of all, dance. A composition of each of these elements, and moreover of their relations, Vujanovic called a choreography of the Deleuzian "concept of difference which through repetition transforms the elements introduced into a process of abolishing self- identity." 11

So what does the methodology of problem generate? Questions that will clear the ground and slowly eliminate the known possibilities to enable the production of a qualitatively new problem. This could be compared with the freeing of hands that I mentioned before. Burrows laconically calls it “relaxing one's grip” 12 and I would say letting go of habits that make the mind lazy and the hands routine. The problem will distinguish itself insofar as it demands constructing its own different, singular or new, but impure and heterogeneous perhaps even hybrid operation. The operation is defined by the specific constraints that secure its consistency. The result is a new dispositif not an architectural arrangement but a reconfiguration of attention, meaning that spectators will also have to experience how differently they see, think, feel, instead of leaning back into recognition. The problem will also have the consequence of problematizing or unsettling views and opinions about either what's being represented or how dance, choreography or performance is treated. Now it will be the spectators who will no longer ask themselves the essentialist question "what is this?" but will, like we did in the beginning with dramaturgy, receive the gift of a problem in a plural of minoritarian questions "who, how, when, where and in which case" isthis about? Is this a performance? etc.

The next series of points concerns the dramaturg in the type of dramaturgy that I conceive as the methodology of problem. How does the dramaturg implicate herself in the production of a problem, and since she is such a close friend of it, how can her position be discerned from that of choreographer? It's important that dramaturg doesn't enter the process because the process is in need of a dramaturg; problems can be created only out of desire without need, duty or obligation. For a friendship of problem two notions need to marry. Affinity will not just mean being close, similar, akin, fond or understanding of something, but having this feeling move forward or toward an end I'm here deploying the French

etymology à fin as a sense of finality. So affinity in a desiring production will provide a built-in constraint limiting the amount of choice and will drive the process with a "terminus" which doesn't however pre-determine the process entirely from the beginning. If affinity is what dramaturg and choreographer share, what is it that they don't share? The motivation of choreographer that might be personal the place where the work affects the maker. But this place isn't essentially the origin of the work, however often it is so claimed. Affinity can help choreographer abandon the personal as a source of solipsistic defense reflected in statements "because I think so, I like it, it means to me personally…" and take an external, constitutive of the work of performance itself, social, political or conceptual, but in all cases, self-reflected position. Affinity then grows into affiliation connecting both choreographer and dramaturg to a framework of meanings larger than the individual artistic fantasy and achievement. Friends of problem are also allies who don't defend a personal ego or mythology of the great artist but certain views, assumptions, questions and criteria. These (views, assumptions, questions and criteria) make them partial and hence, complicit sharing responsibility about affecting a context always larger than the performance only. Again the personal aspect of the relationship is evacuated to make place for a commitment to certain politics, so we can never speak of the dramaturg's loyalty to her choreographer, but rather of fidelity to a position. What about the criticality and critical distance considered as that which makes dramaturg relatively autonomous in her work? Indeed, we now have to reverse the question, what is it that the dramaturg doesn't share with the choreographer? What motivates her, apart from interest in the specific problematic of the work? To observe how thought arises in expression and becomes its material act. This is quite different from the common assumption that dramaturgs come with their concepts and theories and then seek ways to smuggle them in a material form. The problems I'm talking about here do not represent pre-formed concepts, they create concepts in expression, which cannot be separated from the situation in which they occur. Concepts born in expression do not pre-exist and transcend their objects. Instead of the identity of object, concept has for its objective to articulate a multiplicity - the elements which are variable and reciprocally determined by relations. One such expressive concept that developed in the making of And then was "third space", a space which doesn't exist literally, but rather virtually between screen and stage. Marked by various cuts between memory and present, and by voices whose bodies disappear or sounds that come outside of the field (hors-champ) where what can be heard exceeds what can be seen either on stage or screen-image, the third space became a black zone maneuvering between a missing context and the reality of theater. We began to think of it as a construction site for the imaginary, as if it swallowed all the blackouts in a theater where spectators continue to edit the film. I now risk slipping into poetry, but what I'm getting at here is a conceptual imagination that performance theory, when practiced only in cabinets, is dry and begins to lack. We shouldn't forget that many powerful concepts in philosophy were abducted from the non-philosophical hands of eloquent artists who reflected their own poetics, for instance, the infamous body without organs that Deleuze & Guattari revamped from Antonin Artaud. Whether dramaturgs are praised for smuggling ideas and concepts from performances into other discursive sites books, journals, classrooms, and hopefully, other fields of knowledge or they are considered as cheats, because they are always already sitting on more than one chair, occupying several positions through various activities ( teachers, critics, programmers, performers) depends on the ethics of

the choreographer. More and more today, choreographers acknowledge the "opensource" model for how ideas and performance materials are created and circulated. Two years ago, Xavier Le Roy, with whom I worked as a dramaturg on several performances, and I initiated a project that gathered a number of choreographers and performers to work in social and economic conditions drastically different from our habitual mode of freelance nomadic work and lifestyle. These conditions were reflected somewhat in the project title: Six Months One Location (6M1L) 13 One other proposition was that each one of us, apart

from our own project, would engage ourselves in the projects of two other participants. We were to choose or define what role we would play, not just performing in it, but being the dramaturg or advisor

or writer or singer or light or sound designer.

The rotation in function reflected the sense of flexibility, a readiness to "stand in""other roles, that for

most of these artists is the everyday reality of independent, self-organized work; so it was only a matter

of formalizing it and giving it a name. Le Roy then found the notion of "intercessors" or "mediators"

(French intercesseurs) in an interview with Deleuze. Deleuze introduces the figure of intercessor describing his collaboration with Félix Guattari. He writes:

“Mediators are fundamental. Creation’s all about mediators. Without them nothing happens. They can be

people for a philosopher, artists or scientists; for a scientist, philosophers or artists but things too, even plants or animals, as in Castaneda. Whether they’re real or imaginary, animate or inanimate, you have to form your mediators. It’s a series. If you’re not in some series, even a completely imaginary one, you’re lost. I need my mediators to express myself, and they’d never express themselves without me:

you’re always working in a group, even when you seem to be on your

doesn’t "falsify" established ideas. To say that "truth is created" implies that the production of truth involves a series of operations that amount to working on a material - strictly speaking, a series of falsifications. When I work with Guattari each of us falsifies the other, which is to say that each of us understands in his own way notions put forward by the other. A reflective series with two terms takes shape. And there can be series with several terms, or complicated branching series. These capacities of falsity to produce truth, that’s what mediators are about…” 14

There’s no truth that

There are two points that I would like to draw from this notion. Firstly, dramaturgy tends to normativize collaboration in dual terms where the dramaturg is expected to act as an analyst, to make sense of it all. However, as Deleuze says, there's always more than one difference, and it's a series, a multiplicity of voices, those often-unrecognized mediators whose voices we borrow. The other point is to see

dramaturgy against the truth of one, as a path of falsification of the many; sometimes, even literally, to have the luxury of two dramaturgs. Three is merrier than two, because ideas and energy are no longer mirror-bounced, seeking confirmation or receiving doubt, but they begin to circulate, proliferate, and have a life of their own.

A lot could be said about the practice of dramaturgy and its various technologies, but one characteristic

seems to me to never be stressed enough: the importance of taking time. If something different or new is

to happen, the working process has to be attended in its duration, and this then enables the perception of

change. By contrast, our production time is driven by efficiency. Therefore, dramaturgs are often asked

to act as consultants to drop into the rehearsal once or twice and give their expert opinion. This occurs

at a late stage, when most of the research time is over, and dramaturg's job falls under the "fine-tuning" of a composition, attitude, and/or performing style. Hence, the dramaturg is relegated to the role of a mentor who comes to supervise the work according to a standard of success. In my own experience, I have struggled against the question I hear every so often, "Do you think it works?"I would answer, "What do you mean – works? My car works, for instance, yes… but could we, please, talk about the performance in other, non-normative terms?" And if we are going to talk about it as a production of problem, then success cannot be the measure of dramaturgy. As a practice, dramaturgy can, at best, be speculative. I developed the thesis about speculative as opposed to normative practices from the Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers, who discusses Nobel-prize winning physics experiments next to American witchfeminists as equally valuable practices. 15 To speculate means to place thought as belief or faith in a certain outcome without having firm evidence. For instance, one speculates on outcomes of one’s application for a subsidy or investment in stocks, or any other venture in the hope of gain with the risk of loss. As a researcher, whenever you coin or decide to apply a method, you speculate whether it will lead to the desired result, or if it will refute a hypothesis, or produce anything at all. The key words to extract from speculation are “uncertainty”, “risk”, “daring”. But to speculate pragmatically is to add not just caution against illusions or wishful thoughts, but a perspective on a situation, a set of constraints by posing a problem, and an obligation to assess the effects of a speculation, a thought, a decision, a method, will have had, in the future-perfect tense of this performance. In dramaturgy, we practice speculation. We practice "standing- under"(support) before we "under-stand". We learn to do and say, “let's think again”, because we don't know now, but we will have known by then.

Notes and References

1 The text was originally written for a lecture for Danswerkplatz Amsterdam, Forum on Dramaturgy on 4 December 2009 2 Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael. "Postmodernization, or The Informatization of Production". Empire. Cambridge, MA & London, England : Harvard University Press, 2000, pp. 280-303. 3 Burrows, Jonathan. A Choreographer's Handbook. London : Routledge, 2010, p. 33. 4 Rancière, Jacques. "The Emancipated Spectator". Manuscript from a lecture held at the opening of the International Theatre Academy in Mousonturm, Frankfurt, 2004, courtesy of the author. 5 Agamben, Giorgio: "The Friend", What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays. Kishik, D. and Pedatella, S. (tr.). Stanford, California: Stanford California Press, 2009, p. 31. 6 Rancière, Jacques, The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Ross, K. (tr.). Stanford, California: Stanford California Press, 1991. 7 Deleuze, Gilles, "The Method of Dramatization". Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 101. 8 Vujanović, Ana. »The Choreography of Singularity and Difference. And Then by Eszter Salamon«. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, let 1., št. 13, , 2008, pp. 123–130.

9 Ibid. 10 The filmmaker Minze Tummescheit was responsible for the cinematography and camerawork in And Then. 11 Vujanović, Ana. »The Choreography of Singularity and Difference. And Then by Eszter Salamon«. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, let 1., st. 13, , 2008, pp. 123130 12 Burrows, Johnatan. A Choreographer's Handbook. London: Routledge, 2010, p. 81 13 Cf. 6M1L Lulu Online Publishing, 2009: Everybodys.


14 Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. Joughin, M. (tr.) New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 125. 15 Stengers, Isabelle. "Including Non-Humans into Political Theory". Manuscript, 2008, courtesy of the author

When the dramaturg becomes obsolete, the dramaturgical remains important

Pirkko Husemann

Observations from choreographic practice

Performance Research, 'On Dramaturgy', Volume 14, No. 3, September 2009, pp. 52f.

1. When Xavier Le Roy planned his production Project in 2002, he didn’t invite a dramaturg to take over the function of an "outside eye" in the working process. He was interested in the idea of turning the production of a dance performance into the performance itself. Ideally, he wanted to produce a presentation format in which process and product would fall together. That is why he was unable to separate the period of conceptual preparation from that of the practical exploration of certain choreographic methods or from that of the analytical observation of the performative result. Accordingly, he searched for participants who were able to play several roles at once. They would be performers, choreographers and dramaturgs in one and therefore would be able to perform, produce and analyse the choreography at the same time.

2. In similar ways to Le Roy, Thomas Lehmen was looking for participants who were willing to be

involved and distanced at the same time. For his project Funktionen (2004-5) he developed a methodological toolbox with a set of choreographic systems that could be given away to other artists. That transfer was meant to lead to a potential multiplicity of improvised choreographies. But these systems were not only productive tools to produce works that were no longer Lehmen’s own. He also wanted them to have the potential to reflect the communication processes that are happening during an improvisation on stage. Accordingly, he did not look for performers who would merely execute certain instructions but for ones who were ‘mature’ enough to contribute to the development of his methodology as well as to its exploration, analysis, appropriation and transformation.

3. In both these cases, I entered the projects with what I had brought with me: my non-professional

dance experience, years of studies in theatre, film and media and a strong interest in Le Roy’s and Lehmen’s work. Even though my official job title was ‘dramaturg’ at the time, I didn’t join their projects in this particular function, because a ‘pure’ dramaturg wasn’t what was needed. So I entered without knowing my own role in advance but it quickly transpired that I became even more than a performer, a choreographer and a dramaturg: inspired by the experience of being involved in the working process on so many different levels (without feeling particularly competent for this triple responsibility) I started to document, analyse and put into words what was going on. This was nothing really special, because it was exactly what all the other participants did too. The only difference was that I slowly began to

develop an interest in theorizing these choreographic modes of work. I asked myself which kind of working processes and methods, which forms of collaboration and formats

of presentation Le Roy, Lehmen and their participants used to approach their conceptual goals. My theoretical interest and qualitative approach emerged from within the choreographic practice and was made possible not despite but through my rather unclear function. From today’s perspective –– looking back at these collaborations after completing my doctoral dissertation on Choreography as Critical Practice I can say that an access to such personal relations and partly fragile situations needs involvement and distance at the same time. One has to experience the creative process, to get fully absorbed, and one has to find a way to withdraw from it again in order to reflect upon it. So what is needed is an understanding through both doing and reflecting. Just diving into the creative process can easily lead to an over-identification with the artistic practice. Just reflecting upon it entails the risk of applying external criteria which may have nothing to do with what is at stake. So theorizing choreographic modes of work requires a constant change of position between an insider's and an outsider's perspectives.

4. This personal story of a dramaturg who wasn’t needed as such but instead as a multi-tasking participant and who turned into a researcher with an interest in theorizing choreographic modes of work reveals one characteristic trait of "the dramaturgical". I speak of "the dramaturgical" here intentionally in order to highlight a quality instead of a function. A dramaturg has much more areas of responsibility than watching, writing and giving feedback but one central aspect of dramaturgical work is the oscillation between inside and outside. Sometimes it is problematic because it is always neither/nor. In other situations this switching of perspectives comes quite naturally, however. And with regard to my particular object of study (choreographies that are made to reflect their own making), the dramaturgical could even be considered as one possible access to a practice-driven theory. Not theory that is imposed on practice and uses it for its own purpose; rather a theory of practice that derives from practice and goes along with it. This kind of theorizing has a lot to do with not-knowing: not knowing which direction a creative process will take and not knowing the result, but still knowing how to deal with such vagueness according to the contingencies of a given situation.

REFERENCE Husemann, Pirkko (2009) ‘Choreographie als kritische Praxis: Arbeitsweisen bei Xavier Le Roy und Thomas Lehmen’, transcript: Bielefeld.

Ten Altered Notes on Dramaturgy Peter Stamer

Maska 2010

Maska, vol. 16, nr. 131-132 (Summer 2010), pages 36-39

Framing Any event that takes place before an audience bears the potential of being meaningful if it is framed by the notion of “taking place within a given period of time”. Thus, during every step of the artistic process, the function of dramaturgy is to take potential and existing framing procedures into consideration.

Translation Staged events are bound to the “sense making” of and by the audience, who through their acts of interpretation become authors of the performance. Thus dramaturgy deals with three issues of translation: 1. How does the artist transform his/her concept into working practice? (translate thinking to doing) 2. Which aesthetic strategies does the artist make use of in the art work? (codification) 3. How does the art work communicate to the audience? (translation of codes)

Sense Meaning is created by paradigmatic substitution of events, with the audience conributing content from off-stage. For example, the spectator reads; this gesture is meant as a salutation, a waving hand, an intentional movement, or the actor's involuntary tick . Sense is a selective concatenation of units in the process of time, the logic of the linkage (enchaînement) or sequence of movements. Sense is not expressed by one single unit, but rather through thesuccession (ordering on a timeline) of these units. Without a unit that follows it, the singular “preceding” unit makes no sense.

Temporality Dramaturgy creates the inherent logic of a (dance) performance by focusing on temporal structures. Whereas choreography produces space, creating it with bodies moving towards and with each other, (dance) dramaturgy organizes the temporality of events in space, their temporal relation to each other, the succession and duration of events that order and hierarchize events in order to become scenes.

Codification The artistic process is the visible result of a double translation from the concept to the rehearsal, and from the rehearsal to the art work. Neither concept, rehearsal process, art work, nor the process of translation reside outside cultural modes. Since the logic of a given artistic practice is conditioned by cultural habits (codes), the process necessarily exceeds authorial intention and is always already effectuated by pretextual acts, incorporated knowledge, and embodied habits. This “double- bind” secures cultural accessibility for the audience if, for example, they share a a similar cultural background and are thus able to follow the codes laid out in the work. Dramaturgy takes on a “binocular perspective” that keeps an eye on both encoding (the inherent structuring of the work) and decoding (the cultural reading of work). If for the sake of artistic innovation, intact codes are violated (as is the case in the avant-garde) or if decoding within the given cultural contract is arbitrarily rendered impossible, dramaturgy has to mark the act of artistic violation “as the act of artistic violation” within the given

codes and to frame the aesthetic aberration as being part of the codification. If not, every intended violation of cultural codes is in danger of failing, becoming simply white noise to the audience.

Ideology If dramaturgy temporalizes events, a process that leads to a structure that orders sense and thus enables encoding/decoding of meaning, then dramaturgy can’t help but bring forth ideology. Dramaturgy is not simply establishing a neutral container of content; rather, it creates content that affirms or defies power structures. the dramaturgy of contemporary dance, for example, often opts for a parataxis of theatrical events in order to refrain from affirming the power of cultural representation.

Practice The work of dramaturgy is a practice as opposed to the analytical theory of performance analysis or reviews. Dramaturgy is emphatically inherent to the artistic process, and occurs in the same time and space as the process. It is never too early (like books) or too late (like analytical reviews); it doesn’t just superimpose preceding academic research or scientific knowledge onto the process. For dramaturgy does not structure established meaning and apply it to the work; it rather creates sense that has not yet been revealed. Let’s call it “performative dramaturgy” from now on.

Visualization Performative dramaturgy doesn’t start with the rehearsal process, since the process of rehearsing is already informed by earlier artistic decisions; these decisions have been informed by a pre- selection that is subject to inclusions and exclusions. So the artistic process starts when the concept is communicated to a third party. What is to be said? How will words be used? How is the concept conveyed? What hasn’t been said? What stays in the dark? Where is discourse precise? Where is it metaphorical, even rhetorical? The dramaturgical take on the process this is decisive should visualize the concept and give it a “body”, materialize it. Which objects are considered to be useful? What kinds of objects are used? More importantly, how are these objects arranged in the space? And what is their temporal relation to each other, the surrounding space, and the users? And later on in the process, if these objects are replaced by bodies, dancers, performers in the given set-up, how would they experience this structural arrangement?

Physicality The role of the classic dramaturge as it is understood by classic theatre is to be half in and half out; s/he looks from outside, from the perspective of an established text, from a pre-existing thought, for the text material is “already-existing”, the sense of which must ”simply’” be transformed into another media, into another container of meaning. The dramaturge in this understanding is like the literary text - off stage. The classic dramaturge thus acts like a defender of the Holy Grail a.k.a the dramatic text. He speaks in favour of the text, the document; his silence is the silence of the text. Therefore, text-based dramaturgy is the work of literature. Performative dramaturgy does not administrate sense that is to be applied from outside the artistic process; it is creative and physical, making form from within. The act of dramaturgy does not simulate a process on a piece of paper; instead it executes form in time and space, and gives a body to thought. A body that literally walks through what can be called a “structure of events” – a layout of scenes, of events on the floor that create a landscape of thoughts in space; a structural constellation of bodies that represent scenes, units, events and their relation to each other. Dramaturgy is visualizing and embodying by performing the structure itself; it

emancipates itself from an idea on paper by placing the idea into time and space, giving it a body. It is sharing creative power, thus sharing responsibility rather than thinking around the process. Developing dramaturgy in a visible group process rather than empowering one single person from outside ‚who knows’. Performative dramaturgy takes the experience and the bodies involved as specific, as singular sites of physical knowledge; instead of merely delivering text books, photos, concepts, or relying on documents, this act is enmeshed in the art process, in its monumentality, in its unsurmountable corpus, and the experience thereof.

Experience Performative dramaturgy is both experimental and experiential. It’s an art form, not a science.

i Un Macguffin (también MacGuffin, McGuffin o Maguffin) es un elemento de suspense que hace que los personajes avancen en la trama, pero que no tiene mayor relevancia en la trama en sí. MacGuffin es una expresión acuñada por Alfred Hitchcock y que designa a una excusa argumental que motiva a los personajes y al desarrollo de una historia, y que en realidad carece de relevancia por sí misma.

El elemento que distingue al MacGuffin de otros tipos de excusas argumentales es que es intercambiable. Desde el punto de vista de la audiencia, el McGuffin no es lo importante de la historia narrada.

Un ejemplo de McGuffin sería la fórmula secreta que recuerda el memorista circense de 39 escalones. Hubiese sido lo mismo si hubiese sido una clave de acceso a un banco, una lista de nombres de espías o cualquier otra excusa argumental.

Hitchcock afirmó en 1939 sobre el MacGuffin: «En historias de rufianes siempre es un collar y en historias de espías siempre son los documentos».

Hitchcock explica también esta expresión en el libro-entrevista con François Truffaut El cine según Hitchcock:

«La palabra procede del music-hall. Van dos hombres en un tren y uno de ellos le dice al otro “¿Qué es ese paquete que

hay en el maletero que tiene sobre su cabeza?”. El otro contesta: “Ah, eso es un McGuffin”. El primero insiste: “¿Qué es un

McGuffin?”, y su compañero de viaje le responde: “Un MacGuffin es un aparato para cazar leones en los Adirondacks”.

“Pero si en los Adirondacks no hay leones”, le espeta el primer hombre. “Entonces eso de ahí no es un MacGuffin”, le

responde el otro.