International Performance Research

Roberts 1

Alexander Roberts

Sruti Bala

Key Theories in International Performance Research

 

3rd July 2011

Locating Community in Dance for Apartment

1) Introduction

A small crowd, including myself, is standing outside an apartment in Rotterdam waiting to

be invited in by choreographer Paloma Madrid. We’re attending a dance performance created by

Madrid entitled Dance for Apartment. The performance is part of Rotterdam’s International

Community Arts Festival 2011, and operates in such a way that a choreography has been made with

a group of dancers and is now available for anyone from the city to take out on loan. There are five

dancers in the performance and only one of them has received professional training prior to this

process. In the past, when performed in other places, the loaning has been made available for loan

in libraries. The loan never requires a monetary exchange, and specifically what is loaned is a live

dance performance, which is then brought to the loaner’s home and performed in and across every

available space. In the case of ICAF 2011, the performance was made available for loan from the

festival, rather than a library, but operated in the same way. It is the performance that I attended at

ICAF that I plan to discuss in this essay.

Under the banner of a community arts festival, and created officially by Sweden based

theatre company Botkyrka Community Teater (co-established and run by Madrid), the performance

is strongly framed as a community theatre project. Madrid herself, is noted on the ICAF website as

“one of the pioneers of community dance in Sweden” (‘Botkyrka’). Considering this, this essay will

depart from the notion that Dance for Apartment is a ‘performance of community’, whilst not

making any immediate assumptions about what conceptualisation of ‘community’ Dance for

Apartment operates from, and similarly therefore, what can be understood exactly by the term

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‘performance’. Consequently, this essay will construct a discussion around the following question:

What conception of ‘community’ does Dance for Apartment perform?

To address this question this essay will first outline an initial performance analysis paradigm

for approaching Dance for Apartment as an object of study, and also provide a theoretical

framework for this essay’s exploration into the term ‘community’. In order to do so, this paper will

take its lead from two sources, which together sparked my initial interest in this research. The first

is Baz Kershaw’s book The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention, and

the second is Jean-Luc Nancy‘s ‘Inoperative Community’. Both studies provide conceptions of the

term community that drastically contrast one another, and consequently alter enormously what the

term ‘community theatre’ and ‘performance of community’ would be taken to mean. In addition

Kershaw also provides a performance analysis paradigm that will be useful for approaching Dance

for Apartment as an object of study.

This essay will start by discussing Kershaw’s performance analysis paradigm, and consider

how it implicitly frames a particular understanding of community. This paper will then apply this

paradigm, and its definition of community to an analysis of Dance for Apartment, and explore the

extent at which it allows us to locate its performance of community. Then this essay will turn to

Nancy, and using his argument, this research will set out to make a critique of Kershaw’s

performance analysis paradigm and seek to reconfigure it based on Nancy’s definition of

community. This will be followed up with a second performance analysis of Dance for Apartment,

using the reconfigured performance analysis paradigm. Finally this essay will conclude by drawing

together reflections on what this research has revealed about Dance for Apartment’s performance of

community.

2) Kershaw’s Performance Analysis Paradigm

This first section will begin by outlining Kershaw’s definition of performance as an object of

study and then it will go onto consider how the paradigm formulates the relationship between

theatre, performance and community.

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2.1) Kershaw and Performance as an Object of Study

Kershaw’s definition of performance as an object of study can be seen as two interconnected

parts. The first part is what Kershaw terms the ‘production’, which in “Western theatrical terms [is]

the most concentrated part of the performance event” (22). Kershaw argues that in this context…

…performance can be most usefully described as an ideological transaction between

a company of performers and the community of their audience…. [It’s] ‘about’ the

transaction of meaning, a continuous negotiation between stage and auditorium to

establish the significance of signs and conventions through which they interact. (16)

The second dimension of Kershaw’s approach to performance analysis takes its lead from the

writings of Richard Schechner and John McGrath. Kershaw makes a distinction between the

production and the activities that “are done in preparation for, and in the aftermath of the

production”, but both are “part of the performance and may affect the socio-political significance,

and its potential efficacy, for the spectators” (22). In making this claim Kershaw is stating that any

performance analysis will “need to take into account all aspects of the event, which bear on the

ideological transaction between the theatre company and the community of audience in any cultural

context” (22). It emerges very strongly that the definition of performance that Kershaw wishes to

operate from is explicitly geared towards trying to formulate how theatre, as a socio-political

project, transacts with the larger social order he locates it in. In order to more fully understand what

Kershaw is proposing it is also useful to consider more closely what Kershaw means by ‘ideology’.

2.2) Kershaw and Ideology

“To put it at its simplest”, he writes, “ideology is any system of more or less coherent values

which enables people to live together in groups, communities and societies” (18). Taking this

definition as his foundation, Kershaw seeks to establish a suitable theoretical paradigm for

understanding how ‘ideology’ operates in contemporary Western societies. Departing from

neo-Marxist theories that claim that society is subordinate to the dominant ideology of a ruling

class, who ensure the maintenance of a particular ideology “through a process of hegemony” (19),

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Kershaw argues that “the evidence for at least a set of dominant ideologies, if not a single ideology,

is much too great to be ignored”, and adopts the term “’status quo’ to suggest that those [dominant]

ideologies are mutually reinforcing” (20). He combines this claim, with a post-modernist counter

position, developed from the work of Charles Jencks and Jim Collins, envisaging that there exists a

“pluralistic and de-centered competition of cultures and ideologies, within a society which has a

multiplicity of orders in constant conflict with each other, thus precluding the possibility of a

dominant ideology” (19).

In drawing these two counter positions together, Kershaw produces a way of understanding

‘ideology’ as it operates in Western contemporary society, as a system that dictates a particular

hegemony constructed upon a set of dominant ideologies, but is also challengeable, attackable, and

changeable through the emergence of subcultures.

From this position Kershaw argues that it is the performance of ideology-based systems and

structures that actualise dominant and sub-ideologies, and states:

Cultural institutions and products are clearly central to the maintenance of dominant

ideologies, and are frequently the locus of ideological struggle in society. In particular,

theatre and performance are major arenas for the reinforcement and / or the uncovering of

hegemony. (20)

It is on these terms that Kershaw begins to imagine how “ideological efficacy” can take place.

Kershaw is thinking of ‘ideology’ as the foundation for hegemonic orders that are maintained

through the performance of dominant cultures, but also as the foundation for the performance of

subcultures that are able to counteract the dominant social order. He pursues the notion that within

societies that are hegemonic, the dominant set of ideologies can be re-fashioned through ideological

transactions with the performance of alternative ideology-based acts, structures and systems.

It is, as part of this transactional process between the micro-performance of theatre and the

macro-performance of Society that Kershaw constitutes the purpose and function of community

within his paradigm.

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2.3) Kershaw and Community

Kershaw argues that in order to evaluate a theatre performance’s ideological efficacy, it is

necessary to formulate a concept that can explain how “the experiences of individual audiences” can

be mediated to “the structures that shape society as a whole” (29). Kershaw argues that

“community” can serve as this “conceptual lynch-pin which links the experience (and action) of

individuals – including that of performance – to major historical changes in society” (29).

Taking his lead from Raymond Williams, Kershaw states that community’s “fundamental

structural and ideological function [is to serve]…. ‘as the necessary mediating element between

individuals and large Society’” (29). And goes onto define community “as the concrete medium of

face-to-face interactions through which we transact ideological business with the wider social

structure” (29).

Kershaw’s conception of community is further consolidated by his definition of community

theatre. Keshaw argues that the central…

…intention of community theatre is to strengthen the self-determination of the

community, to contribute to the empowerment of community, and through that augment

the ideological survival of the community – within – or against the dominant socio-political

order. (66)

From this definition it becomes clear that Kershaw envisages these concrete groups (communities)

as socio-political bodies, and consequently community, community theatre, and the participants of

both are all bound by Kershaw as constitutionally subject to the socio-political order.

Within this frame, Kershaw is imagining that as it is the individual and collective

performances of people that constitutes society, it is possible through performance in the theatre to

transact oppositional and resistant ideology-based performances with concrete groups of people,

which in turn mediate these ideologies through performance to re-fashion the macro-performances

of Society.

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3) Kershaw’s Dance for Apartment

To consider Dance for Apartment, as a performance of community, within this context

would be to approach it as a socio-political project that is seeking to transact ideologies with

communities that reinforce, strengthen, or challenge the current ideology-based performance

discourses that constitutes those communities. The intention of this is for those communities to

mediate these ideologies in order to refashion, or sustain the macro-performances of Society. This

paper will now consider Dance for Apartment on these terms, and explore whether Kershaw’s

paradigm can reveal a particular perspective on what community Dance for Apartment is

performing. In order to give the analysis focus, the essay will focus on the ‘production’, as Kershaw

conceives of it, as this is the part of the performance that I have had most contact and experience of.

To do so, I will begin by writing a short account of the production as I experienced it.

3.1) Dance for Apartment Production Description

An audience, of which I am a part of, is invited into an apartment by Madrid. The first space

we enter into is very sparsely furnished with a piano, some white seating benches made of wood

and a wooden armchair. The space is roughly 10 meters by 5 meters, with a low ceiling, and almost

all white. We do not meet the owner of the home. There is no obvious place for the group to take

seats, so people wander in the space, waiting further instructions. Meanwhile there is one young

woman slouched on a large white wooden chair (furniture of the home) making very soft and fluid

movements with her arms – tracing the edges of the chair with her fingertips. There is no music.

Madrid after a few minutes brings the group together in a standing circle – the young dancer is still

dancing in the chair. Madrid hands us all a piece of paper with five notes on it. We are invited one

by one to read a line from the document, which appears to be a sort of dramaturgy for the event we

will all participate in. We read in a loop until everyone has spoken aloud one line:

Note: The movement may change but the choreography itself does not change.

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Note: If I can manage my perception of time and space to inform my body then I do not

have to think about what movement I am doing. What I mean by my perception is that it is

passing.

Note: What if where I am is what I need?

Note: My head is free to look down, anywhere. It is not fixed.

Note: My choice to walk around and experience this material requires catastrophic acts of

being in the now. (Dance for Apartment)

Following this reading, the audience is asked to collectively count down from ten to one,

with Madrid explaining that the performance will begin after the countdown. At one, a further 5

dancers appear, and just as the notes reveal, the dancers follow the choreography, with movements

that are invented live in response to their “perception of time and space”. They travel across every

space in the house, from the living room, to the office, to the bathroom, to the bedroom. The

performances from the dancers gives no sense of centre to the apartment as a space, and often there

is a different dancer in every room, which leads the audience to all occupy different rooms

simultaneously, based solely on their own wish, rather than by some explicit guidance, or indication

from the dancers about where we should be. Occasionally, I’m in parts of the apartment, standing

on my own, with no audience, and no dancers – just the space and I.

The performance continues like this for roughly an hour, with various physical interactions

taking place between the audience and the dancers. For example, audience mirroring the dancers

and vice versa the dancers mirroring the dancers’ movements, and an interaction between one

dancer and one audience member, which involves the two playing piano together. All interactions

are seemingly spontaneous. The performance comes to an end, with a countdown initiated by the

dancers. Paloma Madrid then conducts a conversation with the audience about their experiences. It

is at this point that the owner of the apartment was introduced to us.

3.2) Dance for Apartment as Kershawrian Community Theatre

To employ Kershaw’s paradigm to question what community Dance for Apartment is

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performing splits the question into two. Firstly there is the question of whether of not Dance for

Apartment can be interpreted as a socio-political project, and secondly there needs to be a

consideration for what type of socio-political community as a socio-political project is Dance for

Apartment performing. To address these questions it is useful to place them in reverse, and

therefore seek to diagnose which socio-political community is being performed, in order to argue

that Dance for Apartment is operating on Kershaw’s terms. Consequently this paper must ask what

ideologies are being transacted, and how?

As the dancers movements can change every time in response to the space and the audience,

the specificity of the movements cannot be read as “signs”, rather the “sign” is surely the moving

dancers themselves. In this case, rather than making an analysis of narrative construction,

dramaturgical structures, or movement quality this paper will seek to ideologically transact with

Dance for Apartment, by approaching the ‘performers’ as the subject of the production.

The most pronounced performers in the production are the five dancers. The ensemble is

made up of three female dancers and two male dancers. Two of the three females are black skinned

and the other is white. The two male dancers are both white. The age range seems to be from

around 20 to over 80 – with the white lady in her early eighties, the other two female dancers both

early to mid-twenties, and the two men both in their mid-thirties. They are all wearing what appear

to be their own clothes. I would argue that there are two other performers in this production: the

audience, and Paloma Madrid. The audience is implicated as active participants in the performance

from the beginning, when invited to speak, and then left to move freely throughout the production.

The audience is free to interact and exchange with the dancers in as many ways as they wish.

Madrid is serving the role of host, and guiding the performance structure, in between Madrid

assumes a role as part of the audience.

To seek to find an ideological transaction within in this, the meaning that seems to emerge,

is that Dance for Apartment could be said to be promoting social cohesion through the promotion

and empowerment of diversity within individual subjects. To take one performer as an example

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subject, the elderly white lady represents a marginalised member of many Western societies. The

layers of subjectivity that are placed on her, even in this description reveals the social groups she

represents, by being placed in this palette of social diversity, which Dance for Apartment can be

described as. The stereotypes that come with being a white, elderly lady are perhaps that she is

likely to be unable, and perhaps unwilling, to interact with younger generations; that she is likely to

not have much physical ability to express herself; hold old fashioned views; and is quite possibly

passively racist. In this production this white, elderly lady performs against these prejudices, and

performs herself as active, creative, spontaneous, and open to interaction with people of different

race and age. The female performer does not free herself from the stereotypes she is a subject of;

rather she presents an alternative ideology for these stereotypes to operate from.

The audience can be read in this sense as society, within which the subjects the dancers

represent and are permeate. In this sense the ideology of social cohesion and harmonious diversity

is performed in, around and with the audience. To pursue this perspective from the perspective of

Kershaw’s paradigm, it would have to be said then that the socio-political project here would be to

produce an ideology rooted the possibility for social cohesion and harmony among different social

groups. Ideally, this ideological transaction will now manifest itself in the audience, and inform

their own performance as a community, in the communities they are part of, mediating its way to a

greater or lesser extent to the macro-performance of Society.

This is one way of thinking about Dance for Apartment, and it is clear from the analysis in

this paper that Dance for Apartment can be framed by Kershaw’s paradigm. However, this paper

will now introduce Jean-Luc Nancy’s ‘Inoperative Community’, and consider how this might alter

the way Dance for Apartment can be conceived of as community theatre, and as a performance of

community. In order to consider Nancy’s ‘Inoperative Community’, this essay will bring Kershaw’s

arguments and Nancy’s discussion into conversation, and attempt to reconfigure Kershaw’s

paradigm on terms laid out by Nancy.

4) Kershaw’s Community and Nancy’s Community

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This essay will seek to identify the key points in Nancy’s tour de force ‘Inoperative

Community’ that deconstruct Kershaw’s paradigm. Central to Kershaw’s argument is the notion

that community and community theatre are ideology based socio-political projects, which can

empower groups of people to resist hegemony. In contrast, Nancy argues, “a community is not a

project of fusion, or in some general way a productive or operative project – nor is it a project at

all” (15). Whilst Kershaw puts forward the notion that it is performance that produces, strengthen,

and maintain community as a defined group foundered on ideology. Nancy argues that community,

conceived of through these discourses, “in which above all it [plays] back to itself, through its

institutions, its rituals, and its symbols, the representation, indeed the living offering, of its own

immanent unity, intimacy, and autonomy”, is not community, and rather it is a socio-political

phenomenon that “we should be suspicious of” (9 – 10).

It is not that Nancy denies this phenomenon occurs, to the contrary, Nancy fully recognises

it. The disagreement lies in the fact that this phenomenon is used to conceptualise community as “a

community presupposed as having to be one of human beings”, which consequently “presupposes

that it effect, or that it must effect, as such and integrally, its own essence, which is itself the

accomplishment of the essence of humanness” (3). Community, on these terms, is foundered on the

basis of the individual subject – which means that Being becomes falsely contained and constituted

as a subject of “economic ties, technological operations, and political fusion” (3). What Nancy is

seeking to achieve through ‘Inoperative Community’, is to reclaim community and the essence of

Being from notions of subjectification and individuality:

I is not – am not – a subject…. Community is not a space of egos – subjects and

substances…– but of I’s…” (14 – 15)

In order to do so, he launches an attack against the individual-subject as absolute, pointing out the

impossibility and contradiction of the absolute needing to be the “absolute of its own absoluteness,

or not be at all” (4).

Using this as a launch pad Nancy take his initial steps towards reconceptualising

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community, and states that exposed by these impossibilities “Being ‘itself’”, must be thought of “as

relational, as non-absoluteness, and… as community” (6). ‘Being’ as Nancy conceives of it, is one of

“singularity” (6). A notion he explains as the state of being that implicitly emerges from the

impossibility of being either absolutely indivisible, or absolutely fused. As such ‘Being’ is not

constituted as individuality, or absolute immanence, but as relational – singularly plural perhaps.

On these terms, Nancy states:

Community is made up of the interruption of singularities, or of the suspension that singular

beings are. Community is not the work of singular beings, nor can it claim them as its

works, just as communication is not a work or even an operation of singular beings, for

community is simply their being – their being suspended on its limit.

The community Nancy is conceiving is communication, and on these terms “communication is the

unworking of work that is social, economic, technical, and institutional. (31)

As such, from Nancy’s perspective, community is the very opposite of how Kershaw seeks

to understand it, and use it. Community, as inoperative, is not a component of the socio-political,

and can never be, because the socio-political relies upon the performance of the individual subject.

Therefore the phenomenon that Kershaw promotes as a route to resistance against hegemony is

actually in itself the foundation of the hegemony, because it confines and constitutes Beings as

subjects.

Performance of community as a socio-political vehicle becomes entirely discredited based

on Nancy’s argument, as oppressive and a perpetuation of any hegemony it seeks to resist. Instead

any performance of community would have to be performance of an inoperative community, a

performance that “unworks” socio-political performances – from the micro level of the theatre, to

the macro performance of Society. This essay will now approach Dance for Apartment once more,

with the same aim of identifying what community it is performing, and how? In complete

contradiction to the demonstration that this paper has already conducted, which involved seeking to

show how Kershaw’s paradigm could be located within Dance for Apartment, this paper will now

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argue that Dance for Apartment seeks to be the opposite of a socio-political vehicle, and rather,

seeks to perform community as the unworking of socio-political operations.

5) Locating the Performance of Community in Dance for Apartment from the Reconfigured

Paradigm

I would like to argue that Dance for Apartment is a project of unworking. To consider the

dancers first, from the perspective of Kershaw’s paradigm I argued that each performer performed

themselves as individual-subjects that represented wider social groupings, for example a white

elderly female. Now I will argue that I believe that in complete contrast to that argument, this

performer was seeking to perform singularity, and nothing more. It is possible to apply a

socio-political lens to any act and make it a subject of hegemony, but I believe the acts of the

dancers were seeking to operate before and beyond this frame. In order to illustrate this it is no

longer possible to approach the dancers as dancers that are different from the audience, as this

makes them and the audience subjects, however to discuss what is being unworked, perhaps it is

useful to operate from what is being worked.

Kershaw provides a performance analysis paradigm that works from assumption of theatre

and performance as a transaction that relies of subjectification, and meaning making. In this sense,

the performers, become black and white in race, young and old, male and female; they become

dancers who have been trained, and dancers who have not (dancers and (non)-dancers). The

convention to split the ideological transaction into two roles: the company of performers and the

audience is assumed. Instead I would propose that the Dance for Apartment is nothing more than an

encounter, built upon a score of words that lay the foundation for moving in space, beyond that

there is no meaning, other than the unworking of socio-political structures.

One of the instructions that is given to both the ‘dancers’, and the ‘audience’ as a note for

the production is:

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If can manage my perception of time and space to inform my body then I do not have to

think about what movement I am doing.1 (Dance for Apartment)

The entire departure point for the production is that the actions in the space, in many senses

anti-performance. Nothing is being enacted based on anything other than the person’s “perception

of the here and now”. Consequently all notions of transacting meaning are deconstructed, and

instead we are ideally left with encounters without subjects.

The site is no longer performed as an apartment owned by someone, which brings with it

notions of particular behavioral patterns that should be performed there by the guest of a host, and

the host. Instead the space is constructed by a transaction between the ‘free’ movement of the

singular beings, and the materiality. There is no longer a system, or structure. Additionally, if the

dancers are no longer performing for the audience, or at all, then there is no theatre, but merely

encounters between people through movement. The audience is dissolved into singular beings

alongside the ‘dancers’; everyone becomes a dancer, or perhaps to put it better: no one is a dancer,

but everyone is dancing.

6) Final Reflections

I would argue that Dance for Apartment is most certainly departing with the aim of unworking

socio-political performances, and as such performs community, through working to unwork. In my

opinion Madrid is seeking to unwork every convention for meaning making, ideological transacting

and subjectifying within the production, in order to create interstices which emancipate participants

from the hegemony of subjectification and the confines of the socio-political domain.

However, this paper’s analysis of Dance for Apartment with the use of Kershaw’s paradigm

reveals the ease at which it is possible to appropriate the production under socio-political terms. It is

not only possible to situate Dance for Apartment, and theatre more generally within the

socio-political frame, but more over, it is the status quo. Consequently, I would argue that

unworking remains a departure point, rather than an end.

1 See Appendix 1 for Choreographic Score. See Appendix 2 for Notes for Dance for Apartment.

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Works Cited

“Botkyrka Community Theatre.” ICAF. Web. 03 July 2011.

<http://www.icafrotterdam.com/artists/botkyrka-community-theatre?show=1&gt;.

Dance for Apartment. Chor. Paloma Madrid and Botkyrka Community Teater. ICAF, Rotterdam.

30 Apr. 2011. Performance.

Kershaw, Baz. The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention. London:

Routledge, 1992. Print.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. “The Inoperative Community.” Ed. Peter Connor. The Inoperative Community.

Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 1991. Print.

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Appendix 1

Dance for Apartment Choreography Score (Provided by Paloma Madrid)

Dance for apartment Rotterdam

choreography, text and direction: Paloma Madrid

length: 30 min 15 min talk

With dancers: Vincent Andriessen, Guido de Vente, Charlene Blokland, Anneke de Vries, Caitlin

Schaap

Commisioned by ICAF international Community art festival Rotterdam, Netherlands, 24 mars 2011

SCORE

(is not available)

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