An interview with Richard Siegal
A cross-cultural Palimpsest with my own Body
For his performance “Unitxt” at the Bayerische Staatsballet the American choreographer Richard Siegal chose music by Carsten Nicolai that casts a destabilising light on terms such as noise, music, signal. These electronic layers of sound meet up with movements by the dancers that are between classical ballet and contemporary dance styles. In an interview Richard Siegal explains his method of working.
One of the most regarded books on music in the last years was Alex Ross’ “The rest is noise”. The title refers to Hamlet’s “The rest is silence”. In your performance “Unitxt” for the Bayerische Staatsballett the words “noise” and “silence” are projected on stage. Noise is often distinguished from music, silence is a main part of it. What is music for you?
My point of departure was not Alex Ross’ excellent book but Nate Silver’s The Silence and the Noise, an extension of an ongoing fascination I have with the subject of prediction as described by futurists such as Alvin Toffler and more recently Nassim Taleb. Having said this, I am aware of the musical discourse I incite when I decide to juxtapose these three words in performance. It is also a proposition as to what place Carston’s music might hold in an historical context. It seems to me that the music, Unitxt, is emblematic of a future in music that John Cage predicted and worked to usher in.
Ballet.TV: „Unitxt“ by Richard Siegal at the Bayerisches Staatsballett, première on June 25, 2013 at Prinzregententheater, Munich (Youtube)
The electronic music by Carsten Nicolai you used in this performance establishes a strong beat, works with noisy patterns and also some spoken words and numbers. Why did you choose this music for your choreography?
It moves me. That’s my most fundamental prerequisite when I choreograph to existing music. It has to make me want to dance.
Carsten Nicolai’s music reminds one of club sounds. The first movement on stage could also be seen in a club. The different layers of sound bring different references of movements on stage, especially from classical ballet. How would you describe this map of movements?
The first section, interestingly, was sketched out on a group of African dancers during a visit to Lagos at the invitation of the Goethe-Institut. Though the vocabulary came from my body, I sought their comfort zone by finding what I thought would be the overlap in our respective dance styles. Later, when the same choreography was mapped on to the dancers of the Bayerische Staatsballett, classical vocabulary became apt since this is what I have in common with those dancers. The process turned out to be very interesting, something of a cross-cultural palimpsest with my own body as the mediator.
You created your own method called the If-Then-methodology. Could you please explain it? Did you use and develop it in “Unitxt” as well?
Though the process of creating Unitxt did not engage the If/Then as a working method, the coordinative principle of If/Then, which expresses choice, multiplicity, collective responsibility was very much a driving conceit as an artistic attitude. One project The Bakery has undertaken was to document and analyze five years of work based on the If/Then Methodology. The DVD booklet, If/Then Dialogues, defines by example this artistic attitude. If/Then Methodology is a game-based, syntactical, and notational system. As a choreographic approach it began with the duet, If/Then (2005). The tactic is to allow the practitioner to inscribe causal relationships between events of varying predictability.
If/Then is concerned with the order of things, but not the nature of them. It is ambivalent toward conventions and classes of ideas. Rather, it is predicated on indifferentia and the primacy of choice. It is a randomizer of input that assumes the validity of Whatever, contenting itself by simply enacting communication. A participant’s agency is elicited in proportion to their idiosyncrasies and ability to cooperate within the system.
To date, this is best expressed in the performances Stranger (2004), Civic Mimic (2011), and The World To Darkness And To Me (2013, Gotebörg Danskompani). When performed by large numbers, the dynamic tendencies of groups are fostered: ©oPirates (2010), Critical Gaze (2010), Logic Gate (2010), Set of All Sets (2010). As If/Then is fundamentally dialectical and content is immaterial, cross-disciplinarity and collectivity are implicit. All branches of knowledge are potentially constructive. The working method is articulated in ever finer detail with each artistic process: performance, publication, installation, public talk, workshop, and website.