YES CONTOURS TIME DISORIENTATION XT took place at Heizhaus, Uferstudios on September 18th, 2021.
Upon entering the space of the old industrial site, you enter a space of softness. Softness as a promise: “You will become part of this very soft architecture,” you are told as the piece opens. But before this promise can be fulfilled, even before you hear this sentence, the space – with its high ceilings, stone walls and chilly temperature – hardly makes for a particularly cozy or welcoming experience. Softness will only slowly make itself perceptible throughout the four hours of the performance to come.
The architecture’s softness is first felt when you sit down on one of the pillowy sitting bags arranged in a square marking what will be the performance’s stage. More bags are piled at the room’s center. That’s it. Nothing else populates the space. Sinking into the big seating bag the feeling of softness is accompanied by the sleek, cold, smelly experience of plastic. These bags are not made of cushy fabric but of black plastic wrap. Whoever said that softness has to be cozy? Or that flexibility comes with warmth? The soft architecture promised in YCTD XT is inviting without being intimate and accessible, without flattening the space.
Once it gets started, YCTD XT’s softness consists of more than pillowy seating. Three dancers extend the bags’ softness into their movement. They move the bags around, using them to support each other’s movement by piling them up and (collectively) falling into them. The performed choreography becomes a soft architecture across the dancers’ bodies, the bags and throughout the space. Like the seating arrangements, the movements are inviting and create access without engulfing the audience and dancers in the cloudy mist of infinite inertia. At every moment, the performance allows and even emphasizes a reaction to the desires of the dancers’ bodies as well as to those of the audience. Water, food, sugar, rest and touch do not interrupt the performance but find their place in the choreography’s softness. YCTD XT is activating and enabling, full of movement and full of soft sensation.
To think of choreography in architectural terms, as the opening lines of the performance suggest, allows one to address the space-making effect of moving in and with space. It is a thinking that expands choreography from a field limited to the movements of human bodies by connecting them with the multiple elements of the environment they are moving with. “Mobile Architecture” is – as Erin Manning proposes – “another way of conceiving the choreographic when it becomes an event not for the individual body but for the ontogenetic architecting of environments in the moving.” 1 In YCTD XT, this other way of conceiving choreography opens up the movements to questions of access, support and care. And it does so by means of softness. How can movement be inviting for multiple bodies? How can it be supportive? What choreographies are needed to move and to move together? How does its support activation without knowing how the forms of activity will look like?
Enter, again. Enter, four times.
Four times will the choreography of YCTD XT be performed. Each iteration starts with a short monologue, read by the four participants (Tanja Erhart, Juli Reinartz, Hanna Kritten Tangsoo dancing, Iftah Gabbai producing music) of the performance, inviting the audience to YCTD XT: “You are […] invited to hang out here quite low and support yourself with soft architecture. Search for your favorite perspective to look at us. We recommend to stay low and avoid being upright. One can get high like that.” It is a caring invitation, one that speaks to the multiple desires the audience might bring, immediately addressing the questions: “Are you comfortable in your seat? Please get comfortable but do not get too comfortable, you might still want to change perspective. The architecture of the space might still be changing. Maybe you want to change with it. Please let us know if you would like us to help you out with changing.”
After the opening, three dancers start moving: individually, collectively, supporting each other with and without the black pile of soft black bags. Three bodies, different in their training and abilities to move create an architecture that – in the words of choreographer Juli Reinartz – constantly allow each body “to find moments of new affinities.” What movement is possible for which body and which constellation? Choreographing with each other’s bodies and with the bags’ softness, relaxing, tender movements become as much a part of the choreography as falling and jumping do.
Even though repetition is an organizing frame for the evening (the performance is shown four times in a row), no rigid choreographic structure emerges. Individual desires of energy, rest and closeness are given space inside the choreography. They shape the movements and make them soft. By now, softness has flooded the room and into the movements, using access to build the choreography’s architecture.
Access describes the barriers created and destroyed through choreographic means. How are dancers and audience enabled or disabled? How are they made to move and feel? Most often the concept of access is defined in spatial terms: it describes the thresholds that hinder entrance and the way they can be flattened. But movement is not an object that can be entered from the outside. Movement does not exist without those moving. Neither does choreography. How, then, is access created in and as choreography?
In her book Mobility Justice, Mimi Sheller proposes to think access of movement and transportation in relation to space and subjectivities. Instead of using access as a concept to link subjects and spaces to pre-existing forms of movement, she writes: “we need to understand the ways in which uneven mobilities produce differentially enabled (or disabled) subjects and differentially enabling (or disabling) spaces.“ 2 Building on this account of the productivity of movement beyond any traditional notion of access, one can differentiate between two forms of access: access-to and access as a generative force. While the first follows a traditional notion of access as a way to enter movement from the outside, the second one describes access as a choreographic force at work in movement itself, a force I have called choreopower elsewhere..3
This second concept of access as a generative choreographic force is at work in YCTD XT. Instead of asking: How can the dancing bodies access the choreography? the question is: What bodies, what subjects and what spaces does choreography produce? And what modes of access are immanent to them? By shifting these questions, the concept of access changes as well as the notion of choreography. While the first question presupposes a structure that can be accessed in one way or another (or that cannot be accessed by some subjects at all), the second question addresses the diversifying process of choreography itself, not as a coherent event but as a process of constant differentiation producing ever-new constellations of bodies and space and infused with possibilities of access in unforeseen ways.
One effect of these differential body-movement-assemblages is described by Reinartz as disorientation: “YES CONTOURS TIME DISORIENTATION XT is a performance on choreographic strategies of disorientation, not only in space or time but also in feeling. […] Disorientations make it possible to search for locations that accommodate our bodies.” Often, disorientation is seen as the opposite of access. To access something, you need to know where access is possible, where to go and were to find it. But what if neither access nor the accessed exists before you access it? Rather than offering access through orientation, YCTD XT creates accessibility in the very act of disorientation. In tumbling, falling, carrying and being carried away, the rigid structure of normalized choreographies loosens. Softness gives the support needed to move on, to not break down and to move with other bodies. Soft bags dissolve the separation of lying, standing and moving. Soft movements are elastic and able to attune to other movements, infusing them with a moment of disorientation. Together these dancing bodies – human and nonhuman – create the relational field of the choreography’s soft architecture.
Following the choreographic techniques of soft architecture at work in YCTD XT, it shows that the performance is an investigation into the question of access. Softness is the site as well as the means to explore access beyond its dominant understanding of access-to. While access-to only operates in levels of access on a linear scale (in/decrease of access), Reinartz is interested in the manifold modes of access created through an interplay of supporting structures and the spaces that open up beyond these very same structure and bodies: access beyond support, made possible through support. Softness makes the beyond of support perceptible: neither rigid nor airy, softness is different in every situation. Different forms of elasticity, different rhythms and dynamics of movement, different ways of holding each other and moving together.
YCTD XT engages with forms of access created through differences in bodies, movements and abilities. The performance exceeds the logic of granting access to an otherwise unchanged choreographic system: instead of creating access only for the event of the performance, the exploration into practices of access can impact every situation where the mobile architecture of choreography is at work. That is: every situation. Beyond dance, movement is regulated, normalized and controlled in many different ways. Yet, all of these politics of movement can be described as choreographic. The rethinking of access in choreographic terms is an important contribution not only to dance, but to the entire field of choreographic politics. How is access created or made impossible in and by movement? How can methods of softness be put to work outside of dance to challenge the normalizing power of choreographic politics, the normalized movement patterns it creates as well as the normalization of moving bodies? These are the questions YCTD XT explores.
- Erin Manning. Always More than One: Individuation’s Dance. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 100.
- Mimi Sheller. Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in the Age of Extremes. London: Verso, 2018, p. 28, my emphasis.
- On the concept of choreopower see my book: Gerko Egert. Choreopower. On the Politics of Movement, (forthcoming). On a more detailed discussion of the concepts of access-to and access as generative force of choreography see chapter “Choreography and Planning”.