SQUEEZING SWEAT OUT OF A BODY-

(Subjective, Non-Linear, Responsive Rebounds from Jan Martens SWEAT BABY SWEAT) 

I crave the simplicity and clarity of three words.

A little trinity upon which to prop up my aversions. 

Perhaps seeking some kind of justification or explanation for my own responses.

(Although I was only just saying to someone last week that my dance is an accumulation, rekindling small flame of unjustifiable actions.) 

I message a friend. He said to me he searched for 3 things in a performance…

BEAUTY, RIGOUR & the 

M word …

(which  he couldn’t remember)…

Was it MAGIC or MYSTERY?…

Perhaps the stencil of the last word is something actively undefinable. 

 

Yet Beauty, Rigour, Magic/Mystery can be crystallised, infused, compiled with a myriad of valuations, ideologies and aesthetics. 

 

Yet perhaps I seek from Art something which dismantles, undresses my perceptions, thoughts, ideas, feelings through some little undefinable and unknowing vivification.

 

“In much the same spirit, the theatre is your world, and you attend your navigation by keeping the question current. It is to question that guides you through the night of Beauty. To answer the question is to narrow the immensity of it’s beauty.

-Deborah Hay

 

(This is a response to SWEAT BABY SWEAT by Jan Martens, which attempts to be more transparent and inclusive of  the connections, reverbs, tensions and inquisitions- infusing currently with my life. They are explicitly a point of departure- and reveal as much about my own thoughts and feelings which wrangle between life and art, as about the work itself.  Quotes are for “better or worst trampolines” rather than justifications.) 

 

There is nothing unsuccessful about this performance. 

The dance is impressive, intimate, intense, incredibly focused, connected, concentrated and controlled. Executed with a mastery of Beauty, Rigour, Magic/Mystery… fully realised by the innate sensitivity and commitment of the performers.

 

SWEAT BABY SWEAT appears as a painstakingly reconfigured PAS DE DEUX- where the dancers bodies are compressed, bound and intensified within the enclosures of time, space and the intimate, sexually charged polarities of a romantic relationship. Aesthetic reminiscences of Circus, Bausch and Butoh appear- reimagined meticulously and incrementally. 

 

There is an intense and incredible charge which manifests within the confines of the choreography.  A prolonged kiss extends and transforms itself into an implement of bondage. Performed almost entirely in profile and augmented by their focus and attachment to one another, the 3rd wall remains unbroken, minimalistic and indestructible.

 

There is a moment in the piece where she seems to hover horizontally- like an ornamental, aerodynamic ironing board, a domestic appendage from his stoic, vertical, subtly sculptured brunette form. And yet she is not hovering; she is a fixture. She repeatedly throws herself against him and clings to him. He repeatedly overcomes the magnetic forcefields of attraction and attachment- casting her down to the ground- after carrying her away. 

 

Palpating thrusting and exchanges virtual mock penetrations are played out and displaced into the dancer’s torsos, from their sexual centres…. yet this gives a strange sense of their disconnection and disembodiment from their libidos. A veering off course from their sexual centres. Despite their intense connection to each other they seem to be acting out pleasure and pain for an outside eye.  On their best behaviour. There are no obscenities, no real difficulties, no questions….the bondage involves no real struggle; consenting adults whose only surrender is to the consensus, to the safety of the Status Quo and complicit with the soft side of the lowest common denominator.

 

Though the dance is executed with control… perhaps even with love, it seems channelled into a soft focus establishment, neo-classical pastiche. The work feels governed by aesthetics rather than life, love, sex or relationships.

 

The truly authentic aspect of this performance takes place in the dancers’ journey…sadly all the paradoxes have been polished out or remain unattainable…elusively flickering behind the scenes. The dancers’ authenticity is used as a special effect- a smoke screen, rather than a means of dismantling or questioning ideologies.  

 

There is little sense of the autonomy of the dancers. They are constrained by the aesthetics of representation and control.  Bound by narrow confines of gender, power, sexuality,  by a sucked in violence and the barely perceptible respiration in their trembling forms. There is an atmosphere of imposed missionary position about the sexual dynamics which play out…despite the innate sensitivity and agility and of the dancers. I am sitting at a distance…yet work doesn’t seem to sweat or move through any element of fluidity or fluid exchange.  In terms of being guided by the sensually perceptual, SWEAT BABY SWEAT is a non-porous production.

 

In the post performance talk Jan Martens speaks about making a piece ‘for’ the dancers. (A piece which came into being following his own experience of an intensively loving and difficult relationship.) Of his wish to make a work which could meet the difficulty and struggle of romantic/sexual intimacy- rather than melting into manufacturing this with the techniques and affectations of contemporary dance…which are wrapped in the pursuit of effortlessness, ease, release, weightlessness, desire, fluidity and pleasure. (If the work is truly a collaboration, I wonder about the branding of the piece bearing the title of choreographer rather than performers.) 

 

And yet the approach seems to limit and even shut down the paradoxes, nuances and dynamics of desire. Something in the very casting of the dancers and the playing out of their very typically gendered roles feels so right- as to be wrong. The male part a lithe swarthy hero fawn archetype, the female of a fair sylphlike complexion. Yet the potential complexity of their archetypes are not laid bare. They keep their underwear on like two little dolls manoeuvred by children playing out ‘bad’ acts on their ‘best’ behaviour. The choreographic framework seems passive aggressive and subliminally repressed.  The dancers feel implicitly used like living breathing, gendered, contemporary rebranded artefacts of the Pas de Deux. 

 

“A Pas de Deux is a dialogue of love. How can there be a conversation if one partner is dumb.”

-Nureyev.

 

Something else reverbs…perhaps misremembered from Nureyev… 

 

“A dancer’s task is to make the dance look difficult and not easy”

-Nureyev.

 

Neither player is dumb yet they are captive subjects to a prudish, pornographic interplay. As performers they embody this authentically, with evident commitment, sensitivity, tenderness and self reflection …yet there is no sense within the machinations of the choreography…a questioning or interrogating of the established, patriarchal, engendered dynamics which play out between a man and a woman. The dancers are consenting adults… the less plastic, european, more palatable, shadowy forms of Ken and Barbie….maybe a Bardot-esque Cindy and her Bow.  

 

“It’s woman against man, now and ever has been.”

-Ford Madox Ford. Parades End.

 

SWEAT BABY SWEAT seems saturated and deodorised by so many of the prescribed rules, regulations, decorum and propriety of subliminal pornography we are fed from childhood. Though far from unique in utilising the reproduction of gendered roles as collateral, the radical choreographic aesthetic seems to promise something potentially different, whilst replicating standard hierarchical gender rules and regulations. 

 

“If you want to provoke, you should provoke someone who is stronger than you, otherwise you are misusing your power.”

Lars von Trier

 

In a LARS VON TRIER film the dynamics of power and freedom between the players and director are intensified to such an extreme degree as to invoke the viewer to revolt against the plot which is being played out in the characters fates and destinies. The fault lines, strings, buttons and controls are explicitly displayed in looming, dooming inevitabilities of the characters ends. Accountable Visible Voodoo….at least I can see the misuse of empathy at play. 

 

True values entail suffering. That’s the way we think. All in all, we tend to view melancholia as more true. We prefer music and art to contain a touch of melancholia. So melancholia in itself is a value. Unhappy and unrequited love is more romantic than happy love. For we don’t think that’s completely real, do we?…Longing is true. It may be that there’s no truth at all to long for, but the longing itself is true. Just like pain is true. We feel it inside. It’s part of our reality.

Lars von Trier

 

How can the suffering of longing, love and attachment play out in the way we are imagining ourselves and each other, rather than the way in which we create and manufacture images?

 

SWEAT BABY SWEAT represents the current Van-Gard. It dapples in the subversive but ultimately hails the conformist principles of a hierarchical establishment. The dancer’s skill and beauty are used as images to coerce and evoke a particular interpretation. The choreography completes an image…rather than displacing the audiences imagination. We are struck a soft blow by fascistic aesthetics. Maybe it feels good? 

 

My joy is as painful as my pain. 

Fernando Pessoa

 

Pleasure and Pain receptors are possibly synonymous:

 

“Slavery is the only law of life, there is no other, because this law must be OBeyed; there is no possible rebellion against it or refuge from it. Some are born slaves, some become slaves, some have slavery thrust upon them. “

-Fernando Pessoa

 

My daughter is asking why FUCK is a bad word….

I am turning it over in my mind….maybe because it ‘should be’ (in the limitations of my subjective desires)at least I wish it to be… a beautiful- loving- and mutual exchange,  conversely ending up to be the opposite… an act of violence and a violation.  

Maybe sometimes people need to know they can be violated or violate and somehow keep breathing, surviving- loving even….maybe to fuck rather than to love is to dispel or repress mortality, animality, vulnerability, sensitivity, fear. 

Maybe  ‘’FUCK ‘’ is more affirmative in its certainty. 

Maybe FUCK doesn’t need to embrace curiosity or doubt. 

 

Penetration. Power. 

Privilege is not the same as Pleasure.

 

A possible misquote- (I often use as a trap door to fall off stage:)

 

“Everything in the world is about sex- except sex. Sex is about power.” 

  -Oscar Wilde.

 

Perhaps this “Everything in the world” and between everything in the world, is originally engendered by a kind of high frequency vibration of cellular innocence.  

Perhaps sex itself is a desire to surrender to, channel, and embody this cellular innocence. 

 

Politics relates to power,  to hierarchical structures- operating upon the vertical axis. 

We live in the reverb white noise of Edenic dynamics- how currents of power encounter and connect with circulations of innocence and desire. 

How can we navigate as beings, who at once inhabit the horizons of an obscured wilderness, whilst occupying- living and breathing within the mantle of civilisation. 

 

“But that’s how all of life is; at least that’s how the particular way of life generally known as civilisation is. Civilisation consists of  giving the inappropriate name to something and then dreaming what results from that. And in fact the false name and the true dream do create a new reality. The OBject really does become the other because we have made it so. We manufacture realities” 

-Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet

 

*OBSCENE  

*OBSCURE

*OBJECTIFY

*OBSERVE

 

“”Ob” designated a subterranean spirit, It is probable that the wizards who consulted the dead were ventriloquists, for Isaiah…. 

Probably the ventriloquist impersonated the dead as speaking in a faint voice from the ground, whence this description….

 “inquiring of the dead,””

Emil G. Hirsch, George A. Barton.

 

Though the work represents dynamics which mutate and replicate themselves through every relationship…. Jan Marten’s work claims and justifies itself through a dilute and insoluble moral collateral which I cannot believe in.  Perhaps I am yearning for work which allows and illuminates its way on the shadowy, flickering luminance of OB- less clearly defined by appearances, less constrained by the aesthetics of completion and success. Somehow the aesthetics and meaning of this work are in duplicitous misalignment.  

 

….not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

September 1, 1939

  1. H. Auden

 

This work brings to mind the works which were suckled by matriarchal and patriarchal figure of Diagalev…the contrasting streams of imagination which his nurture snuggled together….a litter of fosterling artists. He was a sensationalist who struck against the moral constraints of a society whose desires were well swaddled, tailored and girdled.

 

As Stravinsky describes Diagalev’s “Gay Tyranny”( and there are so many sexually specific tyrannies at play in society):

 

Diaghilev was surrounded by “a kind of homosexual Swiss Guard”, which was akin to religion. A religion which conferred power on its priesthood, and demanded loyalty and self-sacrifice from its servants. Diaghilev’s physical relationships with his dancers, which to outsiders might have appeared scandalous, were thus given a metaphysical sense of purpose.

Sergei Diaghilev: First Lord of the Dance

Luke Jennings in The Guardian 

 

Although Diaghilev in many ways was an autocrat, who owned his dancers lives and liberty …they had a creative autonomy of expression as individual performers, thinkers, choreographers and artists. Perhaps freedom was a more unsubstantial and boundless entity… a question, a feeling, a flickering- rather than a right or commodity with absolute political coordinates. There was a threadbare transparency interweaving between the dancers’ roles and lives. 

 

I wonder how we can connect with our cellular innocence, our array of desires… by navigating and exploring our sexuality & sensuality outside the definitive archetypes of attraction which we are bound to, by nature and nurture.  

Can we liberate “OB” as a force subterranean wizardry rather than Obscenity enslaved and defined by human culture and civilisation? 

 

Jan Marten’s work seems content to be impresario rather than sensationalist, steered by Neo Classical ideologies. Perhaps the expense of collaboration should be as explicit as its value. There seem so many short cuts to consent. How are the ‘players’ complicit in the perpetuation of engendered roles and values.  What is the cost of the complicity these apparently and stereotypically ‘heterosexual’ players? 

 

How does the sexual collateral and currency of dance…play out in this work and dance world in general…and in social networks of sexual specifications? Often –  perhaps in general – dancers look too good to be there…a sort of armour of safe absence…. “lay back and think of England”… or wearing a kind of snooty department store sales persona, selling cosmetics or electrical goods with a superior air. Because I am physically better….I don’t really need to be here. Or else a smearing on of emotions to mask, comply and coordinate with the choreographic or theatrical meaning.

 

Though the dancers in this work are definitely not guilty of this, they still appear safely dominated by the aesthetics of the choreography. It suffers from semi authenticity.

 

Admittedly I carried some prejudices with me upon going to see this work. Many times I drive my prejudices into the ditch, dump the vehicle and travel onwards on foot. But not this time… the trailer and Blurb seemed to surpass the aesthetics of a Calvin Klein perfume advert reeking with dance’s subtle scents of…fashion. Perhaps laced with an immunising dose of controversy reminiscent of Benetton’s 90s campaigns. Somehow motivations for this work feel consumeristic within commodifications of a niche Art Scene.  What is the compelling attraction of Vogue?… The best quality compensation prize money can buy me… a voyeuristic connection of flawless freedom, perfectly lit beauty, perhaps a little sprinkle glamorous human struggle and cataclysm. 

 

Aspiration, admiration, inspiration.

 

“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.”

Edward Bernays.

 

We are sold to via the circuitry of our desires… 

Over breakfast my friend was saying… “It is not only about how we are sold to through our subterraneous desires…it is about how our desires are sold back to us…reshaped and manufactured.” (remoulding our perceptions of pleasure and freedom).

 

“So, to know that…” She trails off. “That’s why I don’t want to know my fans, because I don’t know if it’s hurting them or helping them. I don’t know. I don’t care.”

Kym is trying to sound disengaged, but I can tell it is haunting her.

– Don Jonson interviewing Kym (Kym is in her late 20s. She doesn’t perform in traditional porn, only customs and fetish videos.)

 

I eavesdrop ignorantly, remotely, voyeuristically on the moral battlegrounds between Anti and Pro Porn… 

Seeing is not Believing

There is a conflict between image and imagination

Hearing is not knowing 

There is a conflict between linguistics and song/silence. 

There is a sacred mustering between all the other unidentifiable senses…muffled by the subliminal all pervasive pornography we are saturated by, and subject to our whole lives. 

 

Pornography is about dominance.

Erotica is about mutuality.

Gloria Steinem

 

I wonder how PORNOGRAPHY serves and can serve 

Desire versus Civilisation. 

In both its civilian and professional guises…

a potential realm for the shedding of shame and 

for opening our senses and imaginations to diverse life forms of cellular and sexual desire. 

 

My friend who works as a porn artist says,

“Porn is just another form of media.”

 

Why am I writing about Porn….in response to a non pornographic work?

Perhaps it is something to do with branding.

Branding is something to do with ownership… ‘How’ as well as ‘What’ we own.  

 

“By contrast, pornography is the opposite, in that it makes into a commodity that which is obscene, makes the unusual consumable, which is the truly scandalous aspect of porno… Pornography, it seems to me, is no different from war films or propaganda films in that it tries to make the visceral, horrific, or transgressive elements of life consumable. Propaganda is far more pornographic than a home video of two people fucking.”

– Michael Haneke, interview with Kinoeye

 

Freely available mainstream pornography feels somehow like a subsurface, cellular form of the news- a desensitising propaganda.

There is a lot out of porn ‘out there’…perhaps the most freeing and fulfilling enlightening porn is far more rare and elusive than abusive violating porn…which is the ‘norm’. Perhaps what I am more disturbed by is the pornography we fail to notice everywhere on surfaces of everything – selling us virtual manufactured pleasures, made to become sensually obsolete rather than embody the expansiveness and inclusiveness of the OBscene. 

 

What Pornography actually is… is incredibly subjective  and depends on how one feels about ‘it’- what and how we think and believe about it- as well as know. How can we perceptually inhabit the questions and connections which arise within us through pornography’s incremental manifestations?

 

“In a world grown paralysed with introspection and constipated by delicate mental meals this brutal exposure of the substantial body comes as a vitalising current of blood. The violence and obscenity are left unadulterated, as manifestation of the mystery and pain which ever accompanies the act of creation.”

-Anais Nin, introduction to Tropic of Cancer

 

SWEAT BABY SWEAT is a piece I enjoy, I applause. I appreciate it’s no compromise devotion to a choreography travelling against the flow- and yet all this has risen in me

 

My neighbour enlightens me on some sexual etymologies as he takes off his Dalmatian coat…

I wonder if I could make a dance piece to explore my past romantic and sexual relationships…in ‘collaboration’ with  *BEAR* and *TWINK* archetypes….

A kind of alternate Nativity story… I am sure it could be very beautiful and tender and an array of OB’s.  A dance to discover and unbind so many sexual desires and definitives, cast by nature and nurture in myself and others. 

 

My daughter and I are at a friends house. She is 8 years old, playing on the sofa with her friend a year older and her brother a few years older. They are all wrestling happily with all their might. The girls start shouting “No. No. Stop.” Their mother asks the older boy to listen to the girls and respect their wishes. They protest- “But we don’t want him to stop….we are playing.” Eyes Roll. We Laugh. The game continues. Consent isn’t a document with Yes and No tick boxes….who can read the fine print? Yet consent is something fine, complex, basic and shapeshifting, ever sensing and cellular- rather than a set of absolutes on a spectrum. Consent is perhaps more, a mammalian,  multi tentacled octopus where so much is divulged mysteriously, through our skin’s emotional weather reports. Consent can channel nuance, paradox and curiosity, if not wielded by, or representing the dynamics of power and competition. 

 

What gets under my skin about this piece (as it is far from the only piece that utilises and perpetuates gender stereotypes), is that it may be structurally choreographically radical, but is in fact manufacturing and reproducing the same messages. Its radical appearance has more to do with the inner language of the Dance  Scene than real life, sex or relationships.    

 

Ultimately my instinctive resistance to this work has to do with human fallibility, perhaps the only true freedom we have…the freedom to question- to untether ourselves from absolutes, unbind ourselves from knowing.   

What I seek in work is something which doesn’t simply represent fallibility- rather embodies and is moved by forces of floundering, imperfection- performance which has the courage to orientate itself on an empathetic and self inclusive interrogation. 

 

Footnotes: 

Some kinaesthetic dust I collected, and didn’t get around to sweeping under the carpet:

 

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire…

 

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

….not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone…

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

 

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

September 1, 1939

  1. H. Auden

 

How do they do it, the ones who make love

without love? Beautiful as dancers,

gliding over each other like ice-skaters

over the ice, fingers hooked

inside each other’s bodies, faces

red as steak, wine, wet as the

children at birth whose mothers are going to

give them away. How do they come to the

come to the come to the God come to the

still waters, and not love

the one who came there with them, light

rising slowly as steam off their joined

skin? These are the true religious,

the purists, the pros, the ones who will not

accept a false Messiah, love the

priest instead of the God. They do not

mistake the lover for their own pleasure,

they are like great runners: they know they are alone

with the road surface, the cold, the wind,

the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-

vascular health- just factors, like the partner

in the bed, and not the truth, which is the

single body alone in the universe

against its own best time. 

Sharon Olds

 

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