A Political Act

This text is an excerpt of the report of Inventur#2 by Pia Bendfeld. Download the full text on this page.

Public space as an area for dance and performance sometimes emerges to the focus within the debate. During the “theory” panel under Susan Leigh Foster’s direction, artist Janez Janša brings up the problematic relationships of contemporary performances in a neo-liberal society. The freedom to be, at all times, “at the right spot at the right time”, acting artistically, refuses any provocative possibility. He demands performances and actions that disrupt fundamental structures by means of perceived misplacement in social structures, forcing the systems to react. This efficacy can only be possible outside of a comfort zone, he claims.

"Political power is not inviolable" - Janez Janša

In the following conversation, choreographer Meg Stuart describes an action she and a number of young people conducted at the Natural History Museum of Vienna, an action that was stopped by the institution itself. After this, the performance relocated to a public fountain, where it was misconstrued as an event by passers-by. Action in public space that does not offer any obstacle might not be able to move anything. “Political power is not inviolable”, emphasises Janez Janša, motivating the attendees to become active in performance and dance as well as to find means to rupture patterns to ensure the developement of dance does not just tread water.

“Dance is my form of political activism. It is not how I dance or why I dance. It is that I dance” - Debora Hay

Yet, can dance itself already be perceived as a political act? “Dance is my form of political activism. It is not how I dance or why I dance. It is that I dance”, American choreographer and Judson Church legend Debora Hay, who just recently guested in Düsseldorf with a premiere, claims. Public excess already marks the departure from socially accepted norms, while they are permitted within an artistic framework. It remains questionable, though, whether the sheer existence of performance and dance in these politically fraught times achieves any effect. This is not about the legitimacy of dance through political relevance but rather about the course of action that it implies.

On the panel Social Practices and the Inherent Politics of Dance, those questions exactly come into focus. The choice of certain performers, of music and topics may already be political, as well as the early conceptual stage itself. This also needs to be discussed. What can be viewed as political? Opiyo Okach notices that the African body must not be reduced to its political aspect. Still, it remains important to include marginalised groups in choreographies. Additionally, choreographer Dan Daw, who himself suffers from cerebral palsy, questions the political dimension of his own performance. Is the representation of bodies restricted by disability as well as the representation of bodies beyond generally accepted beauty ideals on a stage a political statement?

This is one aspect which tanzhaus nrw staged with the “Real Bodies” series during the current season. The unconventional format and its exterior presence on advert posters wer cause for reactions, sometimes outraged.

Postcolonialism, neo-liberalism and racism

Xenophobia, prejudice and sexism have become ubiquitous again with the American presidential election and the European refugee problem. Philosopher and performance theoretician Bojana Kunst asserts that the general public has not yet grasped the full extent of postcolonialism, neo-liberalism and racism. One is stunned when confronted with the global situation, incapable to react adequately to these unsettling developments. Should the performing arts take cues from political protest to take a stand for openness and tolerance which define the essence of art?

Carolee Scheeman advised the young artist generation to quit the arts in order to become activists. Due to the generally low fees of dancers, they are reliant on private subsidy, which makes it harder to realise social critique in productions. More often than not, supports and institutions are disinclined to finance radical concepts as they are not easily accessible to a classic subscription audience. Fearing financial loss through declining ticket sales and low response, established venues will rarely take a risk and will instead stage compliant, aesthetic pieces.