Acts of Abandon
The Kiss as an Element of Performance and Choreography

“Romantic afternoon” by Verena Billinger and Sebastian Schulz
“Romantic afternoon” by Verena Billinger and Sebastian Schulz | Photo (detail): © Billinger/Schulz

The subject of kisses is on everyone’s lips. Far from being a romantic or erotic gesture, it is establishing itself on the stage as an act that puts the body up for debate even more radically than speech or song.

Kissing, like food intake and articulation, is one of those physical techniques performed by one's mouth, which can widen in the process. Yet while articulating and eating usually leave one’s sovereignty unaffected, people surrender to others in a kiss. Kissing not only means penetrating another person in order to gain pleasure, but also to make oneself an object, a gift.

Self-abandonment in a kiss

This abandonment goes through a number of stages. It always starts with the lips, which have a suction effect through their elasticity and contraction, ensuring adherence to one’s counterpart. The play of tongue and teeth that follows is a universal language that has to be played without words. This feeds the suspicion that it is based on a carnivorous urge and that its original purpose was liquidation. A kiss involves not only an exchange of smell and taste, but also salivating, nibbling and biting. Thus, in a kiss, the body is experienced as something that can be ruptured, softened and sucked. Finally, kissing takes your breath away. The occupation of one’s respiratory tracts by another person’s lips and tongue calls for pauses to breathe or synchronise with one’s counterpart. The organism sometimes has to make do with the quantum of oxygen left over by the other person.

The end of a globalised phenomenon?

The kiss is not a universal anthropological practice, but a symbolic act. There is much evidence in writing, pictures and sculpture indicating that it is a widespread practice, but its global triumph stems from the cinema. Thanks to Hollywood, the kiss is omnipresent and has become synonymous with a happy ending. The French philosopher Christian Lacroix complains that the art of kissing came to an end in film – a mistake. In dance and performance, the kiss is currently being used more frequently, played out in ways remote from cliché in their ambivalence – as a gift and as a weapon, as seduction and as disappointment.

Being kissed - an affront

In 2001, artist Nezaket Ekici, wearing an evening dress and blindfolded, draped herself on a chaise longue in a Belgrade museum. The title’s instruction Catch a turkish kiss made people reflect on the violence and force required to carry it out. Blind to the attacks and endeavouring to maintain her composure, Ekici showed that abandonment in a kiss is subject to a certain etiquette and that it can be demanded not by brute force, but at best by guile.

In 2011, Russian activists transformed this intimate gift into a weapon. The militia women in the Moscow metro were overpowered by spontaneous kisses against which it was practically impossible to defend themselves. Through this attack on “state bodies“, the individuals behind the uniforms emerged for a moment, and their commitment to the state and its authority was disavowed. This performance was also explicitly targeted at observers, and the kiss attack only functioned because of its media presentation on YouTube and its exposure of those kissed.

Kussoffensive in der Moskauer U-Bahn (

Momentous, empty kisses

Under these circumstances, it is only consistent that the kiss is no longer used as a playful feature, as in operetta, but becomes the central action. In Romantic afternoon by Verena Billinger and Sebastian Schulz, the choreography consists exclusively of kisses in which everyone on stage is equally involved. But the kiss threatens to slide into pose as soon as exhibition becomes its sole purpose. Consequently, it is no longer an act of debordering, but an empty formula of desire applied to anything that has a mouth

This idling is the quintessence of kissing. According to psychoanalytical theory, desire aims to holistically encompass the subject, but remains damned to doing so via the detour of the other person. Actual closure can only be achieved in death. This is the premise taken up by the duo Gradinger/Schubot, whose spiritual exercises in self-relinquishment also culminate in a kiss. Far from being romantic or erotic, the kiss becomes an expression of disappointment and disillusionment. Weakened by their efforts to synchronise, the dancers trundle around one another mouth to mouth, two singular bodies, bound in rotation.

In another play in this cycle, calledLes petits morts – I hope you die soon”, a third body results from the attempt to relinquish self, torpedoing the autonomy of the two original bodies in its massiveness and lethargy – a realistic and shrewd commentary that once again raises the idea of the game of desire and abandon. The same could be said of This is concrete by Jefta van Dinther and Thiago Granato.