Collectivity in dance
The possibilities of togetherness

“Experience #1” by Isabelle Schad
“Experience #1” by Isabelle Schad | Photo (detail): Kailai Chen

With its streams of data and traffic, the present age is creating new forms of community. Contemporary choreographers take them up, seeking the essence of togetherness.

The relationship of the individual to society has always influenced art. This discourse is currently being picked up in a very particular way. The globalised world’s networks and streams of data and traffic have unexpectedly formed a collective being out of the autonomous subjects of modernity. Means of communication and transport are creating completely new forms of permanent, yet temporary, community.

Thus, singularity has become an exceptional state, and connections with diverse forms of community – whether through Twitter or Facebook, on an underground train or an aeroplane – have become the rule. No wonder that so many artists are currently grappling with the question of what it means to be or to form a community, and deal with the possibilities of being and working together. Choreography as the organisation of bodies in space and time seems especially predestined for dealing with contemporary questions about the forms and possibilities of community. In dance in particular, it is also practically impossible to separate the working methods from the subject, as dance productions are always the result of cooperation. In recent years, not least for economic reasons, the stages have been dominated by small-format pieces such as solos and duets. But today, contemporary choreographers are once again endeavouring to work with groups. They no longer address only questions of the individual, but also of togetherness.

New dynamics

The Experience #1 project by Berlin choreographer Isabelle Schad, for example, may be described as applied swarm theory. At the beginning, 26 dancers form a pile of bodies from which first individual limbs, then individual bodies emerge, straighten up and swarm. Individual dancers make new movements, providing impulses that the others quickly pick up, repeat and vary. Their togetherness takes the form of an ongoing movement that follows simple patterns, but also gives individual dancers scope for improvisation. The dancers share their momentum and the qualities of their movements, creating the image of a swarm, an organic surge, in which all the dancers form a common body from which individual cells emerge to prompt new forms and dynamics of movement and to blend back into the crowd.

Creating new forms of collectivity

Laurent Chétouane’s Sacré sacre du Printemps also experiments with new forms of community. Using the theme of Le Sacre du Printemps by Igor Stravinsky and Vaclav Nijinsky, he seeks a new ending to the familiar story of the spring sacrifice. Dots and lines of colour on the dancers’ faces recall the archaic aspects of Le Sacre du Printemps. The round dances, reminiscent of folk dance, become spirals and the dancers overwrite recollections of Nijinsky’s choreography. Through their gazes, they also draw the audience into the new community that is created in the theatre. Finally, Chétouane adds a new ending to the piece. The foreigner is not sacrificed, but nor is she integrated, which would be tantamount to suspending or eliminating her foreignness. Rather, her foreignness prevails. Thus, the dance takes on a Utopian dimension, and a vision of a new community is sketched out in movement.

In her treatments and sketches of community life, Isabelle Schad, like Laurent Chétouane, specifically aims not to abolish the individual in a community based on an ideal of replacing and overwriting individuality. Rather, they experiment with leaving the individual in the group, thereby designing a more complex model of collectivity consisting, as it were, of surges - inflows to the group, and sometimes isolation from it. Community thus becomes a temporary state, a process. Consequently, its external borders are porous and its interior is not dominated by homogeneity. It is open to influence and change.

New forms

This discourse is based on the being singular plural theories of contemporary philosophers such as Jean-Luc Nancy, Giorgio Agamben and Maurice Blanchot. Richard Siegal also refers to them in his long-term co-Pirates project, which has been under way as part of a three-year artist-in-residence programme at the Muffatwerk in Munich since 2010. In a series of local editions, he tears down the invisible wall between the stage and the auditorium, opening up the collective process of dance to social, political and cultural groups such as folk dance groups and Attac choirs. They share their specific knowledge with the others, and in passing on this knowledge it is directly combined with other knowledge. A community is created that resembles temporary and contingent online communities. This community takes up the latter’s sharing strategies and brings them back into the theatre, creating an extremely lively event that includes elements of performance and show, discourse and disco. “Sacré sacre du Printemps” also uses this gesture of showing and sharing, with dancers presenting, repeating and appropriating movements. Thus, the practice of sharing returns from virtual space to the real space of the stage. Knowledge transfer, choreography and collectivity are the coordinates involved when contemporary choreographers’ address the theme of globalisation.