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.