CONCEPTS AND THEMES
A discussion on the relationship between (show) format, consumption, control, and oppression.
“BEING” AND “SHOWING”
We are interested in the relationship between Being and Show in our own field of contemporary dance, but also as a factor in show formats such as sports, self-produced material for social media, live streamed pornography, surveillance footage. And in show formats where humans are not the primary performative subject / object such as in dressage, nature documentaries, zoos and such.
In the contemporary dance field “Show” is generally considered to be superficial while “Being” is often attributed higher value. To Be is equated to understanding it, to being deep, real, and authentic as well as being more aware and intelligent. In opposition to that, to be in a Show often reads superficial, fake, artificial, unaware or simple.
All dance performances are shows regardless if its creators and performers would name it so. You always Are and there is always some form of Show when a dance work is being performed in front of an audience. Being and Show are therefore not two diametrically different experiences of reality, but ideas and concepts enmeshed in the performers and in the performance, which act as labels enabling categorization and signifying value. Quite often these labels are not necessarily a part of the choreography itself, but additions allowing the choreography to be accepted and valued by the culture in which it wants to exist.
In many of the show formats we study, the diametrically different descriptions of reality could be: True / False, Authentic / Artificial, Wild / Domesticated, Untrained / Trained, Free / Constructed, Unaware / Aware, Pure / Tainted, Natural / Unnatural. In Animalarium we explore all these constructed binaries, but we will for the most part continue to name it Being and Show throughout the text.
THE DANCERS PROCESS OF EMBODIMENT AND REPETITION OF BEHAVIOUR
In the process of rehearsing and internalizing something to the level of being able to “be'' it, it becomes a reality and a permanent part of you. Or in other words: you become the behaviour you repeat.
Embodiment requires that you have faith in and are loyal to the concepts, ideas and aesthetic ideals of the dance technique or the dance work you are assimilating. To do this the dancers must believe and accept it as a truth. Sometimes this is a true belief and sometimes it is a temporary suspension of disbelief enabling you to reach embodiment. Regardless, dancers must let a dance work get very close to them to be able to embody it.
Through these skills we create the performative presence of that specific dance work. I as the dancer am not being myself, but a created self for this particular dance work. I am that dance works’ showbeing.
THE POWER OF THE SHOW
In Animalarium we explore how different show formats (in its broadest sense) have different set ideas, values, ideologies, narratives and histories that will dictate what is good or bad, right or wrong, desired or undesired, and how this shapes the behaviour, thoughts and emotions of the performing subjects.
What is considered to perform / not perform, succeed / fail or comply / rebel in a particular show format? How does the framing of a phenomenon shape narratives as well as bring forth particular kinds of performativity? How do formats and labels shape our behaviour? How does it relate to power hierarchies?
The relationship between Being and Show becomes convoluted when we think or experience that the performing subject has some kind of asymmetrical relationship to the audience. Such as in shows with other animals or when the performing subject is a person with real or perceived lack of power such as children, people with e.g. neuropsychological disabilities or where people are truly unaware that they are in a show such as with surveillance footage and in recordings of unconscious or dead people.
This is when we can become unsure about the ability of the performing subject to fully consent to performing and question their ability to know or be in control of the context in which they are being viewed. As well their awareness of how the show format is shaping their behaviour, emotions and thoughts. It also raises basic questions about what it is to perform.
CONSUMPTION, CONTROL AND OPPRESSION
How is control and oppression linked to consumption and show formats?
Our idea is that to be able to successfully consume something, it needs to be controlled and therefore it needs to be oppressed. For something to be pleasing, understandable, desirable and satisfying for a consumer, it needs to be cleaned, reduced, tamed or domesticated thus inviting an overt and/or covert oppression to take place. The show format enables the transaction and acts as a domesticating force recreating the phenomenon into something that can be categorized, valued, and sold.
Through Animalarium we want to problematize and explore the methods used by humans to consume nature and other animals. This is one of the key entrance points into our work. It is also the analogy we use to turn the gaze back on our own species and question how interspecies consumption, control and oppression happens between humans.
DANCER WOMAN ANIMALS
We research formats created to enable human consumption of nature and other animals as well as to propose to view ourselves as domesticated human animals. We are interested in the ambiguity of how performing simultaneously is to be in control and to be controlled i.e. oppressed.
A lot of dance training is about developing a high self-awareness of how you are perceived. The teacher, the mirror, the choreographer, the audience are all gazes you learn to both manipulate and to please. It involves learning to know how you look and to know what the gaze(s) desires. Performing is therefore simultaneously an experience of feeling it from the inside (being) and knowing / editing how it looks from the outside (showing). Very rarely do you as a dancer have an experience of performing that does not include some kind of outside perspective of yourself. As a dancer we find that there is great pleasure in doing this well and that it can create a slightly perverse relationship to control.
We also experience a similarity between the professional skills used to become a showbeing and the skills needed to become a successful, attractive woman object. A woman's plight and a dancer’s skill are to have: seamless internalisation of aesthetic ideals / ideas. A masterful skill of reshaping yourself and making your body, emotions and behaviour fit the “show”. Utilizing self-awareness to monitor how well you succeed in doing fitting the “show”. Constantly sensing gazes upon you. Knowing what would be most pleasing to the gazes. Manipulating the gaze so that it sees that which is “most pleasing”. And to do all this hiding effort as well as the skill needed to make it look like authentic and natural behaviour.
OTHER ANIMALS: ANIMALARIUMS MAIN CONCEPTUAL ENTRANCE
A discussion on the categorisation of Animal / Human and its relationship to the phenomenon of “Show”.
Humans are animals, and to lump all other animals into one single category diametrically different from human animals is a part of the human-centric story about the relationship between “man and nature”. A story we in Animalarium reject as false and extremely dangerous as it is the narrative that has allowed humans to develop cultural and industrial practises leading to the current ecological crisis.
Furthermore, the categorisation human / animal is very imprecise. A human e.g. shares far more physically and cognitively with a dog than an earthworm. And more with a dog than a wolf, since the dog has evolved in symbiosis with humans for a long period.
In the end we all die, rot, and become earth. In the end we are the same matters, and humans are no different from the grass, the wind, and the sun.
By representing something more unconscious, unaware, wild or free the animal as a symbol is more associated with Being. And the human is, in this diametrical symbolic relationship, more associated with Show. When an animal is put in a show format, created by and for human animals, the relationship between the presence of a being and the shaping of the show format can become more visible.
In shows that contain domesticated and tamed animals we believe that some of these animals do know they are in a “show”. But our thought is that the horses, bears, dogs, monkeys, elephants etc. perceive the show they perform in from a different standpoint and therefore their perception on what it is they are doing in the show and why the show exists will be different than the humans doing or watching the show. This can differ from show to show - the dog and the human doing an agility competition together, probably has a quite similar perception of what the show is about. While the circus bear is probably unaware of the symbolism of wearing a pink tutu and how the tutu colours the human impression of the bear's actions.
Other animals also create and perform shows either for their own species or for another species. There are mating shows, threatening shows, I-am-too-strong-and-healthy-to-be-chosen-as-a-prey show etc. created to communicate ideas or impressions of desirability, strength and such. The Thomson´s gazelle jumping high when discovering the lions are performing an interspecies symbolic show of strength and agility meant to communicate that they would be an unwise choice to try and catch. How “aware” the Thomson´s gazelle is of its choice is perhaps not so interesting to answer, more to observe that there emerges a moment of show between the gazelle and the lions as a part of the hunt. And that jumping high in a stylized manner is a very effective symbol of strength and agility reproduced by many species, including humans.
The difference between human animals and other animals is perhaps that human culture, society, and institutions are largely created by and maintained by various narratives. Shows are an expression of culture (or narratives) and because humans are a storytelling animal and we have many, many, many shows with several layers of meaning attached to them.
For Animalarium we have particularly focused on the riding horse, or the human idea of horse, and the format of “dressage”. How is the human ideal of Riding Horse articulated through the training and performance of dressage? What aspects of Riding Horse are highlighted and what is removed here? And in contrast to in dressage, what is the horse when it does not have a human gaze upon it?
Humans have historically domesticated 14 large cloven-hoofed animals: sheep, goat, cow, pig, horse, Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, llama and alpaca, donkey, reindeer, water buffalo, yak, Bali cattle, and Mithan (gayal, domesticated Gaur). Out of these the horse emerges as one of the most important and successful domestication projects humans have ever embarked on. Successful in that the horse started out as raw material (food, skin, tendons, hair etc) and developed into a “technology” essential for human expansion (transporting goods and material, riding for travel, hunt, war, etc. as well as a tool in agriculture). It is easy for us, living in a high-tech culture, not seeing what a technological revolution the horse was. We can perhaps liken it with a more science fiction idea of an augmented human or an exoskeleton giving an individual human superpower.
The traditional narrative we live with today is that the human species, through their superior cognitive ability, forged their future by taming and harnessing nature and animals. Another, newer version is that the human animal entered a series of relationships and collaborations with several different animals to support one another's survival. According to this new narrative the collaboration with the horse became so “successful” because the horse and the human had an affinity for each other and could collaborate very well. Every time an important technology emerges it changes the course of history and it is justified to ask: where would humans be today if it was not for the horses' collaboration with us?
Although the horse has been replaced by other technologies it has continued to, in many cultures, hold its position as a key symbolic animal. We have a multitude of show formats where the horse is the main performative subject or object such as parades, pageants, sports, circus, as well as being a strong symbol in narratives about cowboys, wars and kings. And stands for freedom, strength, independence, and so on.
As a main signifier and “entrance” to Animalarium, the riding horse resembles and embodies beauty, efficiency, fitness, strength, speed, and grace. For us it seems the perfect example for what we as humans (in western capitalist neoliberal society) long for ourselves somehow. The idea of fitness, achievement and performance, we propose, is something that we, at the zenith of our human lives, strive for.
THE MAIN SHOW: DRESSAGE
Building on the riding horse as a signifier we have focused on exploring dressage as our main horse show.
Dressage (French term, most commonly translated to mean "training") is a highly skilled form of riding performed in exhibition and competition, as well as an "art" sometimes pursued solely for the sake of mastery. Dressage is described as the highest expression of horse training and uses “a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse”. Furthermore, the horse should respond smoothly to a skilled rider's minimal aids. The rider is relaxed and appears effort-free while the horse willingly performs the requested movement.
THE RIDER AND THE HORSE
In the dressage we morph our presence and embodiment as humans and trained dancers with that of the riding horse. This becomes very visible in our physicality, behaviour, patterns, relationality, and choice-making. Part of this is to behave as if we are unaware of the show, as if we were tamed / domesticated / directed from the outside. This morphing practice creates a paradoxical presence and language that we build upon: in Animalarium we are simultaneously the creators of the Zoo and the animal on display, we are masters and the puppets, we are the rider and the horse. And by that we constantly create the ambiguity of who is actually creating and performing what and when.
FROM BRAV TO DRESSAGE, RAPTURE AND DISSOBEDIANCE
Brav is German and can be translated to: polite, obedient, compliant, docile, playable, civil, lamb-like, kind, manoeuvrable, tame, upright, orderly, honest, trustworthy, efficient, steady, pious, enchanting, unimaginative, harmless, home-baked.
Brav is what you ask a child to be, it is what a “good” dog, horse and dancer is supposed and conditioned to become, it is what a woman should have internalized. The child, dog and horse get punished if they do not live up to brav, while the dancer woman might punish herself when not being brav enough.
Through the dressage we dive into the perversity of the pleasure of doing these things well (brav!). Exploring the humans’ or dancers’ perverse relationship to control. We feel pleasure when we are “good” i.e. achieving the objects of what a dancer woman should be. But we also recognise that we have convoluted our own sense of achievement and pleasure that of a woman's plight. In our process we have defined the opposite to this as creating some kind of tear. A tear, tearing us away from the expected behaviour, making us feel exhilarated and filling us with rapture.
In Animalarium we both commit to the pleasure of the (internalization, being, feeling of) brav and the pleasure of the rapture. We search for both the satisfaction of obedience and pleasure of disobedience.
We explore what forms of disobedience can happen in a certain context - not engaging at all or over-engaging, ignoring the camera, running off, overdoing it, stop performing or selfishly occupying the screen... How do we rapture, resist, explore the disobedient?