Displaced bodies

Audiovisual traces between dance and performance, 1963–1986

June 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25 and 29; July 1 and 2, 2015 - 7:00 p.m.
Videoframe of Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance), 1967-1968 de Bruce Nauman. © Bruce Nauman, VEGAP, Madrid 2015. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York
Videoframe of Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance), 1967-1968 de Bruce Nauman. © Bruce Nauman, VEGAP, Madrid 2015. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao (October 19 - November 24)

Gabriel Villota Toyos

A debate runs through a whole century of images of bodies in movement: that which refers to the correspondence between these bodies in live performance (on stage, in the gallery or museum) and in film. Through this question, the aim is to elucidate whether the audiovisual record of practices in which the body is at the centre – contemporary dance and artistic performance – faithfully reflects its apparent inherent truth.

This series aims to highlight the different moments across the history of art, cinema and contemporary dance that have become unique landmarks from which to observe this discussion. Moreover, and in line with the above, it endeavours to present, through a historical journey, how the debate between dance and presence in performance, on one side, and its filmed records, on the other, would be overcome by everything that happened in the 1960s surrounding the reciprocal contamination between diverse expressive mediums, ultimately shaping a new sphere defined as intermedia.


Actividad pasada June 8, 2015
Session 1. Precursors

Series presentation: Gabriel Villota, series curator.

Martha Graham and Alexander Hammid. Night Journey. 1947-1961, 28’

Maya Deren. A Study in Choreography for Camera. 1945, 3’

The three pieces that make up this first programme possibly foretold the paths that would be taken by the primary manifestations of film and dance in video over the course of the second half of the 20th century. Alexander Hammid’s production of Night Journey by Martha Graham, who rejuvinated modern dance in the first half of the 20th century, anticipates what would later become classic TV productions of genre, while A Study in Choreography for Camera by Maya Deren, a choreographer and experimental film-maker, observes the widespread potential of the Avant-grade in serving a new way of conceiving the dancing body on screen. Likewise, this became a precedent for new forms of cinema and dance in video in the decades that followed. Moreover, Anna Halprin, from her radical position on the periphery, knew how to take these bodies dancing for the camera outside the studio or the stage in works like Hangar, offering conceptual and expressive tools for a new generation of choreographers who would be on the verge of turning things around a few years later.

Actividad pasada June 11, 2015
Session 2. Around / From Black Mountain College

Robert Rauschenberg. Pelican. 1963, 2' 19''

Robert Rauschenberg. Linoleum. 1967, 13’

Merce Cunningham and Richard Moore. Assamblage. 1968, 58’

The courses and encounters that took place across the 1950s at Black Mountain College represented a key moment in understanding the progression of the second wave of avant-garde movements, as well as explaining the emergence of a new sphere of artistic experiences that would erupt in the 1960s, in which the overlap of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, Allan Kaprow and Stan VanDerBeek, and many others, would articulate previously unseen levels of collaboration. This climate enabled the advent of the first happenings (Kaprow), the foundation of Merce Cunningham’s company (together with Rauschenberg as stage designer and Cage as composer), and numerous other pivotal experiences in the years that followed. Thus, there is a need to stress how the development of this milieu was decisive in body arts, performance and presence gaining particular relevance, whereby filming the pieces would add a new degree of complexity.

Actividad pasada June 15, 2015
Session 3. The Audiovisual Canon of Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas. Blue Studio: Five Segments. 1976, 16’

Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas. Fractions I. 1978, 32’59”

Beyond his participation at Black Mountain College, the choreographic work of Merce Cunningham was visibly unparalleled over the decades that followed. Regardless of his permanent interdisciplinary collaboration with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Stan VanDerBeek, there is a strong need to study how his works designed for the camera evolved over the years. Following the first tentative phase, in the first half of the sixties, it would be in the next decade when, in his collaboration with the producer Charles Atlas, Cunningham’s dance videos and films would start to provide, for the first time, a whole repertoire of expressive possibilities based on the use of camera movement, the search for an almost physical viewpoint, joined to the dancer’s body, and the articulation of film space through montage. This method would ultimately become established as a type of canon for him and for the next generations of choreographers with an interest in understanding these new discursive artefacts (video pieces) as something more than the simple recording of actions.

Actividad pasada June 18, 2015
Session 4. Performance, New Dance and Minimalism I

The Living Theatre. Realization: Gwen Brown.  Emergency . 1968, 29’

Robert Morris and Stan VanDerBeek. Site . 1964, 18’45”

Simone Forti. Solo no. 1 . 1974, 18’40”

The tumultuous scene in the 1960s would continue to generate forms of artistic behaviour that would coincide with performance and dance, in reference to the centrality of the body and the intrinsic difficulties in any of its forms of representation. Artists from the field of sculpture, for instance Robert Morris, and those that crossed through the eruption of Minimalism, would find in collaborations with performers such as Carolee Schneemann (who came from a Judson Dance Theater context, despite not being a dancer) and film-makers like Stan VanDerBeek (from Cunningham’s company) an open channel of work, in which the visual results of pieces like Site occurred simultaneously with what dancers like Simone Forti were experimenting with inside the framework of the Judson Dance Theater in that decade. Similarly, the Living Theatre can be found on this common ground between artists and collectives, although their radical experimentation would come from a seemingly distant tradition, for instance theatre. Emergency, clearly indebted to Direct Cinema, displays a repertoire of political actions through the individual and collective body that are confused with the approaches of Schneemann and Forti, among others.

Actividad pasada June 22, 2015
Session 5. Performance, New Dance and Minimalism II

Bruce Nauman. Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance). 1967-1968, 8'

Trisha Brown and Babette Mangolte. Watermotor. 1978, 7’

Yvonne Rainer and Sally Banes. Trio A (The Mind is a Muscle, Part I). 1966-1978, 10’30”

Steve Paxton. Realization: Steve Christiansen, Lisa Nelson. Fall After Newton. 1983, 23’

When speaking of contemporary dance and experimentation from corporal practices, we must refer to a moment in time that stemmed from the Judson Dance Theater collective, and the time when, in addition to Simone Forti, other choreographers appeared, for instance Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown, as well as dancers from Cunningham’s company, such as Steve Paxton. All of them rejected any idea related to academic virtuosity (from the perspective of traditional ballet, or from modern dance), and in pieces such as the three selected for this programme they looked to draw inspiration from daily life, directly experimenting with the space encircling study and fully simplifying gestures. These interventions converged with actions explored by some artists from minimalist sculpture, for instance Bruce Nauman, and from seemingly remote starting points. For most, the appearance of portable film formats (super 8) and video (portapaks) would be key to recording their artistic explorations in a much more dynamic and participatory way.

Actividad pasada June 25, 2015
Session 6. Rereadings of the Triadic Ballet

Debra McCall. Realization: Robert Leacock. Bauhaus Dances. 1986, 30’  

Gerhard Bohner. Realization: Henk van Dijk. Das Triadische Ballet. 1970, 70’

One highly exceptional case in dance cinema is made up of audiovisual pieces produced at different times through the notes, jottings, photographs and drawings that Oskar Schlemmer would leave from his Das triadische ballett (Triadic Ballet) in 1922. A part of the Museo Reina Sofía Collection, the Triadic restored, through the syncretic spirit of the avant-garde, the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Wagner’s “total work of art”), bringing the new representation of the moving human body into the foreground, hybridised using the technique fostered by modernity. These characteristics saw it become a compulsory reference point in contemporary dance, rescuing it at different times. In these two examples a type of out-of-the-ordinary and transhistorical connection materialised, where the spirit of the Bauhaus appeared recovered in televised filming, first in the 1970s by Germany’s Gerhard Bohner – a dancer and pupil of the expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman – and later by Debra McCall, from North America, who in turn would receive classes from Merce Cunningham, and would reconstruct these pieces in the 1980s. Both works hit the mark in transferring experimental offerings to our world, from more recent audiovisual language, focused on the body and the machine that were so commonplace in past avant-garde movements.

Actividad pasada June 29, 2015
Session 7. Post-modern Dance and Musical Minimalism

Anne Teresa de KeersmakerRealizatión: Thierry de Mey. Fase. 1982, 52’

Some years after (almost a decade) its influence was left on the North American scene, it is interesting to observe how Minimalism would reach Europe from a different perspective, this time influenced by the music associated with this style. In particular, it is worth highlighting this audiovisual piece by Anne Teresa de Keersmaker, a milestone from that period.  Based on the rhythmic patterns, serial progressions and structural growth through loops that characterised the music of Steve Reich, it opened up a new and especially fruitful path in the Central European scene in the years that followed. Despite the fact that there was already previous contemporary film-making on choreography, it wasn’t until 2002 when Thierry De Mey, a regular choreography collaborator, finalised the comprehensive version of the piece, adding locations that differed from the originals. Faithful to the spirit inherited from Minimalism, de Keersmaker would strive to emphatically mark the geometric appearance of her choreographic creations, on this occasion as a counterpoint to the starkness of diverse national and industrial scenes the film-maker searched for.

Actividad pasada July 1, 2015
Session 8. Le Sacre du Printemps

Maurice Béjart. Le Sacre du Printemps. 1970, 36’

Pina Bausch. Le Sacre du Printemps.1975, 37’

Another anachronistic moment that enables us to jump from the first avant-garde movements to post-modernity came from the production of these two television reconstructions of Nijinsky’s ballet for Igor Stravinsky’s work, which, in 1913, caused a huge scandal, created more by the choreography than the music score (Le sacré du Printemps would be performed for a long period only as an instrumental piece, until Léonide Massine produced a new choreography in 1920). The freneticism of dance, the excessive sensuality and primitivism of bodies was too much for the Parisian audience of the time. Not keen to search for a historicist reproduction, Maurice Béjart adapted his interpretation of the work – conceived at the end of the 1950s – to the television medium in the 1970s, and from an Apollonian perspective of dance (gymnastic, muscular, predominantly virile). A few years after Béjart’s television adaptation, Pina Bausch took up the same challenge, obtaining a radically different result from a perspective that was much more Dionysian and in some ways symbolically feminine.

Actividad pasada July 2, 2015
Session 9. The Appearance of the Voice and Language

Samuel Beckett. Not I. 1973, 10’

Charlemagne Palestine. Body Music I.1973-1975, 13’

Vito Acconci. Open Book. 1974, 10’09”

Meredith Monk and Robert Withers. 16 Millimeter Earrings . 1966-1979, 25’

Laurie Anderson. O Superman. 1981, 8’30”

Trisha Brown and Jonathan Demme. Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor. 1985, 10’12”

Anything classical ballet and modern dance have in common rose to the fore well into the 1960s when both disciplines worked from a concept of the silent body. Nevertheless, the revolution of forms and concerns that would emerge in these years contributed to bodies being heard, not just because of their movement on the floorboards, but also for letting their voice, and with it their language, be heard. Although it was in the Judson environment where this happened for the first time, for instance in some of Trisha Brown’s first pieces, it would become more pronounced in works where the performer’s voice was directly blended into the music, as in the work of Meredith Monk. Here the results were confused with what the experimental artists and musicians from the time, such as Vito Acconci and Charlemagne Palestine, experimented with in their video pieces, which would also have heavy repercussions on certain artists from the next generation, like Laurie Anderson. In their works we hear an acousmatic voice, which becomes independent from the body and speaks from an unknown space, the same space as the voice which, foreshadowing this journey, comes out of a bodiless mouth in certain adaptations of Samuel Beckett’s works for television.  This disembodiment would define one of the most significant approaches in the years that followed.