What remains when you are dancing under a star?

  • MARI-MAI CORBEL – mouvement.net – 2009


At the Mettre en Scène Festival Rémy Héritier presented the fifth version of a solo he created at the Tanzquartier in Vienna (2008). It changes in each iteration, depending on the space where it is performed and its challenges as perceived by the choreographer. Disposition(s) #5, November 17- 19, 2009. Le Garage /Musée de la danse.

There is a poster seen in Disposition(s) #5, the fifth iteration of a solo which changes according to its venue, a commission from Tanzquartier (Vienna), created and perfomed by Rémy Héritier. The image is of a large university in Moscow, in a non-urbanised environment, photographed at a time when absolutely no one is around. The massive Stalin- era building has a central tower thirty stories tall, on top of which is an arrow with a red star on it, giving off an ominous strangeness. The empty desolation of the building’s surroundings is most striking, accentuating the fictional nature of the photo. It has to do with the insane power of revolutionary construction, the power to create a void, to distort the space. “The poster is a document,” says Rémy Héritier. “A document which, when brought into an artistic research context, not historical, academic, for the press, or documenting something as it was probably intended to do — begins to mean something else. Art creates meaning by the association of ideas, according to a theory which has the ‘witness’ completing through his or her own associations the train of thought, thus setting it in motion.” The red star cannot help suggesting to such a spectator or witness – given the choreographic context associated with Disposition #5 — something vaguely relating to the Ballets Russes and what happened to them, shattering for the dancers, for all of us. Then there is the fact that the choreographic context is in fact a space in the ex-CCNRB (in Rennes), rebaptised the “Museum of Dance” by its deadpan new director Boris Charmatz – giving even more weight to the speculation. The document is also given meaning by the fact that the dancer is alone, that he has emptied and lit the space, rendering it as minimal as possible, suggesting perhaps a space that has been abandoned, or filled with absence, as if exorcised. Must we again dream of metamorphosis into a faun or a swan? Have we truly been abandoned by the stars? Where do we go, how do we move? Crawling? Jumping? Where is the way out?

There is also a souvenir of the only recording Virginia Woolf ever made for the BBC in 1937, “Words don’t live into dictionaries but into minds,” something like that. Rémy Héritier has translated the entire interview into French, replacing the word “word” with “movement.” Before dance can be an aesthetic it is a form of poetic speech which has the capacity to speak without speaking. To work off a document allows Rémy Héritier to undo the hierarchy of dance, to divest the dancer of sacred significance, to not make him a subject of speech and especially to avoid any aspiration toward idolatry.

Using this term, “document,” he establishes a different perspective on a rather too in vogue documentary aesthetic which insidiously negates the very principle of art, in its insatiable appetite for the “real,” according to an indefensible oxymoron which posits that the real does not require that one believe it but that it be encountered, touched. With a grandly eloquent liberating gesture, he opens the bay windows upstage onto a bit of lawn, allowing the space to incorporate some of the ‘outside.’ The document has the same weight as that Stalin- era university, using a double language, realism being only one way to impose a fiction. This must be refuted. When Georges Bataille founded the revue Documents he sought to displace the very concept of documents, during a time of rationalising folly – the 30’s — having them enumerate the monstrosities of reality which were outside the knowledge of the day. The idea was to strike a blow against the anthropomorphism of the bourgeois representations of the human form, pre-supposing a natural-realistic ideology in which that which exists is true no matter how misleading it is, and religious – man in the image of God being of course perfect. There was one bit which stuck out, one might curse it but historically it always managed to creep back. This monstruous aspect of the real in Disposition(s) #5 smolders in the photographic reflection of that disconcerting Stalin- era edifice. How? This building, so closed-off and obtuse? A university?

What remains of so-called “classical” dance once ballet is restored to its place in mythology and European high-class folklore? Which it was. How many children play at becoming an étoile in a big ballet company? Rémy Héritier as a dancer mimes this profoundly sad childhood, imitating and looking for movement in the collections of documents on the subject, when that dream was still possible … Then comes the gawkiness and vagueness of adolescence, when the body is too big and the crammed-full brain a bit too small. Wrists, fingers, legs, thighs, back – they are all articulated in resisting the dream of the sleek, nearly boneless body of the ballet star. Rémy Héritier is less interested in the history of his field, more in how it shows a historicised, pathetic relationship to movement, how the body is torn apart in its desire to be reassembled, to hold up, coordinated correctly. Instead of the so-called revolutionary dance which is classical ballet today (an art form predicated on discipline and exclusion), Rémy Héritier is seeking a documented dance, allowing the spectator to follow the movement he or she generates through his or her own thought, research and documentation. It is a choice of modernity which is not in the least avant-garde. Rémy Héritier is not proselytising about an aesthetic dogma dictating what dance should be, instead he is showing us how dance is prolonged by those who are watching it, in the traces dance leaves in the shadows, but not unconditionally. Dance only survives in our memories because it creates that which is Open — as Rilke called it, the grace of a dancer who died young, the terrible Angel. The art of interior space before designing it for the stage, a space whispered, a barely secret sigh.

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