In this little series of mine, I am focussing on bodies and language. My last post I looked at the strong presence of language in performance and what it can do (or not do) to a performance. Today I’m thinking about the sometimes disappearance of language in dance, the existence of something entirely physical and temporal that allows for another non-linguistic sort of communication. The piece I’m going to write about, What They Are Instead Of was created and performed by Angela Schubot and Jared Gradinger, two artists/choreographers/dancers. Like Cheap Lecture it was created in 2009 but I feel that might just be the only thing these two works of art have in common.
Sadly, I have not managed to see the piece live nor have I found a full-length version on the web. I have only managed to desperately piece the work together with various short YouTube clips so I cannot say with confidence there is no dialogue or language in this piece, but from the short extracts I have watched, it has managed to come across as a piece that says a lot, with not one word exchanged. It is loud and shocking, so many intimate dynamics and conversations happen between these two bodies albeit it the conversation is not exactly verbal.
Various write-ups I have found on the net about the work, discuss themes of co-existence, intimacy, the extent to which we can fuse with another person and what remains of individuality. All of these things are true and valid aspects of the work. One word that hasn’t seemed to appear in my reading about the work (and this makes me feel a little crude/dumb/obvious, perhaps I am not reading carefully enough) is ‘sex’. The heavy breathing, thrusting, constant pulsing and the amazing sort of dialogue and negotiating; negotiation specifically of position and of rhythm. All this does not only uncomfortably and brilliantly reference the most obvious of intimate acts, but it also seems to ask the viewer to ‘go there’, to think about immediately about sex, to think “Oh, this piece is about sex” but never seems to actualize this powerful theme, leaving the viewer thinking, “Oh no – actually, it’s not about sex.” It’s not sexy (sex rarely is) and it doesn’t even seem to be ‘sexualized’. It is just what intimacy exactly is: terrifying, awkward, possibly violently horrifying and always a negotiation, a dialogue, a giving and a taking. And this is what I think makes the work so effective, it perfectly expresses an intimate dialogue, a history of relationship and togetherness, with no words, just with the body. This is a very difficult thing to achieve – this expressing non-verbal dialogue, wordless negotiation and communication. It can so easily result in sort of choreographed-mimed-body-language-signing-exaggerated-winking that is always unconvincing. This piece is wholly convincing, honest and brave, leaving the audience (perhaps slightly) appalled and nervous.
However, do remember that my written opinion here is based on short extracts, a weak and feeble review. I am always loathe to write about a work that I’ve never seen properly, and I apologize that I have to do it. We could say I am simply writing about the following clip. That may just be a safer approach. Also another self-protective gesture, if you are rather timid and unconvinced by performance art as a valid feature of society, I suggest maybe don’t watch the video? Otherwise, if you are not this person, please watch it, it’s quite incredible:
PS. Next post, I am going to do my best to use no language whatsoever. I will be posting a sort of playlist of dance films, some of my favourites, all of them wordless, just movement (although some do have titles in the beginning or at the end). Think of it as a DJ set but with short dance films instead of songs. I’m going to be brave and write not one word about any of them. (!)
Also – I forgot to add that if you’d like to see a longer trailer of the piece from Jared Gradinger’s wesbite look here.