We post the first part of the text Microchoreographies: the dynamics of virtual corporeality as a means of structuring visual [social] spaces (2018) by Moscow-based dance-artist and theoretician Dasha Iuriichuk.
Annemarie Mol and John Law in article “Embodied Action, Enacted Bodies. The Example of Hypoglycaemia” show how practices define boundaries of bodies. They outline a shift from substantialist to processual concept of body – body we do. Concepts of body which is not a bounded whole, occur in a wide range of theories of such authors as for example Erin Manning or Donna Haraway. According to Mol and Law, body does not hang together as a matter of course. To keep itself together and constantly reassemble itself in leaky boundaries is something the embodied person needs to do. Body-we-do is a performing body. But if the body is constantly re-assembling itself, could we imagine such an experimental reassembly that would provide strategies for escaping from prescribed assemblies?
Contemporary dance could be an experimental field, the laboratory of new assemblies. Contemporary dance is important to us by outlining a certain range of methods and practices, and having its own conceptual history. It creates new practices and, therefore, has the ability to shift the boundaries of the body, inventing it, thus, anew.
Choreography is one of the structural elements of contemporary dance, which can be used as a tool for managing new practices. Also choreography is integrated into the public sphere, which makes it possible to transfer its strategies to everyday life. Social space is choreographic but that is what often ignored. The oblivion of the dynamic connection between thinking, seeing and moving prevents the ability to give the choreography back to person. “Social choreography” is a subject and name of Andrew Hewitt’s book. According to Hewitt, ideology needs to be understood as something embodied and practiced, not just as an abstract form of consciousness. Embodied practices of power are observed by Foucault: “An entire ensemble of finalities, techniques, methods: discipline rules in schools, in the army, in factories. It is extremely rational techniques of dominion.” And he emphasized it’s rationality: “The power of reason is a bloody power”.
Medicine and politics cover almost the entire field of normalizing physical practices, by limiting assembly of bodies by several prescribed boundaries. Social choreography, on the other hand, allows us not only to grasp, but also to prescribe the social order, thus taking part in the constitution and re-constituting of social order . Social transformations can not occur only in a discursive way: if ideology is embodied and practiced, it is important for any changes and re-constitutions to be also embodied. Contemporary dance has a fundamental mistrust of well-learned movements: whether it is virtuoso dance, mechanical daily movements or schematic acts of communication , so it could become a laboratory for the development of new body practices.
To use dance practices as such example it is firstly needed to take them critically. Contemporary dance has its own conceptual history, which includes a critical attitude towards choreography. In the 1950s and -60s, the dance was considered a sphere of freedom. It was the time of praise of improvisation that was seen as a way of releasing movement from the dictatorship of choreography. Authentic movement was intended to free body from the homogeneity of post-military society. Deleuze and Guattari are consonant with this idea: for them structure totalizes certain unchangeable relationships . Today the idea of choreography as a rigid structure as well as authentic movement are criticized: authentic movement today seems to be an essentialist approach, and radical oblivion of structures also needs revision.
Microchoreography is the idea of emancipative choreography, which offers opportunities instead of discipline: instead of conforming to it, we can use it as a tool for mapping our movement from an internal perspective. This inalienable choreography, co-produced with corporeality that actualizes the virtual as a sphere of possibilities, connects thinking, seeing and movement into a single cognitive process.[…]
Chapter 1. Post-dance strategies
1.1 Choreography problematised
Renaissance did not associate choreography directly with dance and defined it only secondarily in relation to movement . According to Lepecki, connection between dance and movement is a historical phenomenon of modernity, associated with its basic desire for movement. In the introduction to “Post-dance” Andersson notes that the split of dance and choreography is back, and an expanded use of a concept of choreography gives new opportunities to artists. In his lectures and texts Swedish choreographer Mårten Spångberg, one of the creators and ideologists of the conference and the book, emphasizes the importance of such a division as it gives a chance to develop both dance and choreography. Choreography can be connected with dance but does not have to do it. Choreography is the structure and possibility of organization, a set of tools “with which you can analyze or produce anything.” Structures need to be expressed. But dance is not the only way of expressing choreography. So, for example, a score is already an expression of the structure / choreography, which does not necessarily become a dance. Choreography as a tool can be applied to anything. It is knowledge, approach to the world that can produce its own languages .
But the dance does not need choreography to be a dance. In the 1950s, dance aspired to free itself from choreography as disciplinary structure through improvisation and authentic movement. Choreography was assigned with fear of movement and attempt to tame it, colonize it. Spångberg argues that today any liberation turns only into a new market niche, being immediately commodified. As an example he cites an ambiguous role of identity politics proposed by Judith Butler: the authentic performance freed from ideology falls into the paws of capitalism. Such criticism elaborates the logic of anti-representationalist concepts of dance, starting from Yvonne Rainer manifesto (No Manifesto, 1965) to the developments of conceptual dance (think-dance) that works with ready-made movements only.
Spångberg proposes the following alternative: today dance should not free us from anything, but it should be freed itself from us with the help of choreography. Bojana Cvejić, dance theoritician, supports this: speaking of the problem of authorship in contemporary dance, she emphasizes the need to abandon author’s figure in favor of choreographing a problem: the work is created not by a choreographer, but by a problem. It is the problem that structures the process and finds its expression in dance . For Spångberg, dance is not an expression of Self, a representation of one’s own authenticity, on the contrary it is an opportunity not to be yourself and anyone else: not to perform, but just be, be present. Spångberg offers a metaphor of a zombie – dead, but still existing, though being unconscious. […]
1.2 Choreographing affect
One of the authors of “Post-Dance” choreographer Ana Vujanović also refuses primacy of rationality and searches for other ways of cognition. The article “A Late Night Theory of Post-Dance, a self-interview” produces itself as a practice of her ideas: she breaks her self interviews with the description of her feelings and the atmosphere of her room. According to Vujanović, conceptual dance (think-dance) completed its historical mission. She sees the task of post-dance in the expansion of the very sphere of knowledge, which is habitually understood as the storage of the rational conscious cognitive practices, and offers to go beyond by opening dance practice to everything that does not concern rational thinking. Her reflections are consonant with the text by Professor of Duke University Katherine Hayles. In her article “Cognition Everywhere” she notices that one of the global tendencies is connected with the shift of cultural formation in attention to cognitive nonconscious, which challenges not only rationality, but also cognition in general. She opposes habitually distinguished “conscious” and “unconscious” levels of consciousness to the cognitive nonconscious, for which there is “no sense in sense” and which operates on the lower levels of the organization and is not available for self-analysis.[…]
Cognitive Nonconscious is an enlarged knowledge beyond knowledge. Cognition is a broad term that does not necessarily require consciousness,s but has the effect of performing complex modeling and other informational tasks. According to Hayles, cognition may be located in the system as well as in the an individual. An anthill or a beehive can be examples of such systems. But not all material processes can be considered as cognitive. For example, a glacier sliding downhill is not cognitive, since it lacks adaptive behavior. Cognitive systems (both conscious and unconscious) operate within evolutionary dynamics, they are adaptive and complex, their parts interact with each other in multiple recursive feedback loops, so they show results that can not be predicted and exceed their parts.
The term cognitive nonconscious does not specify whether cognition occurs inside mental world of a participant, between participants, or within the whole system. Gregory Bateson suggested to redefine cognition as not only a feature of the brain, but as immanent in the whole body and elso the environment. A unit of survival is not just a human, but a human in a very specific environment. Choreography of post-dance can be considered similarly. Microchoreography is a principle of designing such systems, creating environments that involve assembling bodies that depend on these environments. Microchoreography can adopt cybernetic information theories, system theories and environmental philosophies. This approach also helps to rethink the role of a viewer, who is now thought not as an unengaged observer, but as a part of a system. […]
Hayles’ main idea is that cognition is broader than human thinking: animals, natural systems and technical devices are engaged in the processes of cognition and interpretation. These interpretations intersect and overlap each other, thus affecting conscious and unconscious interpretations of people. Search for meaning than becomes a comprehensive activity of people, animals and technical devices – of many types of agents that contribute to the rich ecology of layering interpretations. The epistemological shift that Hayles suggests, concerning understanding that cognition is not equal to thinking, would allow dance to become a full and legitimate way of cognition. The objective of contemporary dance rarely consists of obtaining the ultimate aesthetic product only. Various laboratories devoted to the study of different “life in the body” aspects, movement research and practice with composition as a system can be considered one of the types of practice of interpretation and cognition. […]
Hayles mentions Stanisław Lem’s “Summa Technologiae”, in which he notes that society confrontes “information barrier”: not everything can be calculated with mathematical methods, whereas there are many instances when body solves complex problems effortlessly by nonconscious means. For example, with mathematical equations a jump of a rabbit chased by a coyote over a chasm would take considerable time, but an animal does it instantly and without a single calculation. Vujanovic also refers to the pioneers of the inactivism Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and their theory of embodied mind, according to which any organism, not necessarily conscious, in interaction with the environment adapts to its changes in a reasonable way, while continuing to reproduce itself. The environment interacts with living organisms by numerous internal structural changes that compensate those effects. Vujanovic notes that post-dance works similarly. Choreographer creates conditions, an environment in which dance can arise: “What we see on stage are choreographic conditions. Sets of elements in certain relations that trigger, associate, call, evoke or invoke certain movements of human cognition, a vast variety”. Curiously, this approach redefines dance as such. For Vujanovic, it can happen “not on stage, not in the bodies of dancers, not in front or around audience, but directly in their imagination” . Choreographer’s task is to create sensual conditions for a multi-sensory experience. She describes it as a interweaving of experiences and sensations: “two streams, almost opposite, which act simultaneously upon one’s body. One stream tends to close in on itself and protect the individual body from others, while the other ultimately opens the body to an irresistible belonging to everybody”. As an example she describes an impression from her childhood that influenced methods of her work as a choreographer: combination of afternoon dream sensations while lieing in a large bed alone and the sounds of the market coming from the street through an open window . In the same way affects and personal feelings of a spectator’s’ experience overlap. […]
The focus on constructing spectato’s experience is an important trend of post-dance. But unlike representationalist concepts that imagine body as a medium for transferring emotions from the dancer to the viewer (hoping that it goes without any distortion), post-dance constructs situations through affects. Affect, being autonomous and impersonal, generates certain relationships and processes in the environment created by the choreographer.
According to Spinoza, affect is related to the ability to act: sadness weakens the ability to act, and joy increases it, all sensations of the body are related to consciousness and action. “By affect I understand affections of the Body by which the Body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections” . Deleuze in his reading of Spinoza’s philosophy draws a parallel between differentiation of affect and feeling, and desire and pleasure: desire is impersonal, and pleasure is the way a person adapts it. Affect, in this sense, is also impersonal, while emotion is the way a subject interprets his affect. Therefore, we do not assert ideas in ourselves, but ideas assert themselves in us. Affect, thus, being autonomous, lies at the heart of emotions and actions and dance becomes the place of assembly of the body, the idea and the affect.
In her article on the hierarchy of feelings Laura Marks describes affect as a terrain where conventions cease to function. Affect is understood as a territory of freedom: sense of the potential of virtual – the broad realm of possibilities, one of which can be called. Affect arises from a break in the continuity of experience. Because of this, it has a critical ability to disrupt the clichéd narrative of daily life. Marks describes work of affect the following way: at first you experience the disruption, then you feel the emotion, and after that you identify the source. The example she gives concerns the way smells work: someone passes by, leaving the smell of her mother’s perfume, and then there comes a feeling (between real and virtual) before the memory of the mother comes.
Before awareness comes a bodily reaction. Both Katherine Hayles and Brian Massumi mention the “missing half-second”: perceiving a cup handle triggers an impulse in muscles in half a second before conscious decision to take the cup is taken. The same mechanism is activated when the subject sees someone performing. Such mental re-enactments are integral parts of cognitive processing, including even thoughts pertaining to highly abstract concepts: before they pass into the realm of consciousness they pass through bodily states and actions . This remark makes us look at the role of the viewer in a new way: “… sensation, irrational experience. It falls into us, bypassing consciousness, and evokes reactions, to which we are not ready and which are not accustomed”. The spectator encounters the reaction of his own body, which shares the sensory experience of the dancers. […]
In her book Bojana Cvejic shows how choreographers go on from choreographing emotions (being Self and expressing Self and emotions like Martha Graham – metakinesis described by John Martin) to choreographing affects, from self-expression to constructing the situation that these affects generates. Affects are the subject of work by, for example, a swedish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen, who experiments with materiality and the body, experiences, affects and sensations as being social/cultural objects. Affect is filled with social meaning as virtual experiences it evokes are actualized . The presence of affect is sometimes qualitatively equals to the presence of community. Mette Ingvartsen notes that working with affects is possible, because they are predicative, preconscious impulses that have not yet become emotions or feelings . In the 50/50 performance her naked body becomes a surface on which various cultural covers of affect are projected as if onto the screen. The surface, thus, becomes an interface between the sensible world and the viewer. Giuliana Bruno, visual studies scholar, suggests the concept of “fabrics of the visual” to describe images that are getting around today on a variety of surfaces . A wide range of objects of her research include visual arts, architecture, as well as fashion, cinema, and new media. Video projections and screens deserve particular mentioning here. Screen-membrane, widely spread in modern design and art practices, acts as connective tissue transforming architecture and art objects into flexible planes of moving images. The body of a dancer can also turn out to be such a screen that, despite its nakedness, repels the view shifting the viewer’s attention to the affect that it temporarily integrates in itself. Thus, in dance there are always two cognitive realities – actual reality and virtual one. […]
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