Article by Bojana Cvejić on
Weak Dance Strong Questions
Can one dance the logic of scaffolding dance?

Some Q&A on Jonathan Burrows / Jan Ritsema /Weak Dance Strong Questions. First published in Frakcija Performing Arts Magazine, No.24/25, Autumn, 2002

“Good evening, my name is Jonathan Burrows, the name of the performance is Weak Dance Strong Questions and it lasts fifty minutes.”

I see two men suddenly walking into the white, evenly and brightly-lit space from aside in a manner of taking their positions to perform. As they begin to move in the silence of the empty space invaded by the visual and sound noises from open doors and windows to the street, I ask myself if it is improvised or choreographed for what looks like a compelling direction in the unintentionality of movement. Am I content in recognizing Burrows as a trained dancer who is now moving in such a way that one might describe as ceaseless de-framing of whatever his body 'knows' as dance, while Ritsema’s pedestrian body is ‘dancing dance’ with no pre-studied vocabulary knowledge? Or do I no sooner have to dismiss my clinch with ‘the difference’ between the two as the only obvious preconceived condition of their piece so as to learn that it is more striking beyond the given how this duo draws somewhat an imaginary dance-scape of movements appearing and dropping before they could acquire a form? In order to understand ‘the task’ that brings them into the activity of ‘moving in the middle of’ yet without a clear structural end, do I have to notice that both dancers are separately and independently immersed into the same production of body-utterances void of any meaningful purpose except to be uttered, stammered or danced out loud and abolished before they could establish full ‘sentences’? And to wonder how this dance stands as a duo where the two never communicate but still develop dance-noises, which do not clash or deny one another? Do I have to think about ‘the task’ that this tacit agreement rests upon?

He draws his legs together, how will he undo the knot now? I would probably shift with the right foot forward, but what is he doing, he begins jumping with both feet glued together and suddenly stops and looks at the hands he held his legs with. Now my gaze passes over to the other, who is fumbling with his fingers to his back pocket and clinging to it as if all his body had to turn to his bottom. Does he stop because he realises what he is doing or because he knows how this feels so his body ventures in a leap forward and stumbles once, twice? Is he frustrating his own move or this occurs before he could control and stop it? Can I follow what I see? If my hand cannot register competing with the speed of change, can I even see it complete? Or am I overwhelmed with the excessive pace of change, this dance like a live landscape different from one moment to another, from one performance to another, from one viewing angle to another, not only to me and all the other spectators but to the makers as well? Do you think this then an accurate description? Or are you wondering from what point I could be inventing an automatism of writing a dance derived from an open concept of what dance is? Would it be boring or exciting to read or watch it further on when you picture it? Or is one bored when one is not invited to decode and translate what is presented into the intentions of the author, specific meanings to interpret? Or when the dancer appears in the role of ‘reading dance’ while making it at the same time so that the producing/distributing/consuming like thinking/making/dancing/viewing/dance happens for performers and spectators as well as an all-in-one-process with an indistinguishable product? Is it annoying or highly pleasurable then to sit at a distance of the difference between the performer who dances what the spectator (can think and imagine) as dance (s)he could be dancing?

My ‘writing’, willing to capture and discuss the performance WDSQ on the phenomological level, is of course a strategic failure with which I would like to argue for a Wittgensteinian model of interpreting this work as dance that presents the logic of making dance utterances. Contrary to what seems to narrate another end to dance in the terms of choreography, composition, authorship and interpretation, I propose a zero-degree departure in which WDSQ draws a limit to movement as dance – no, not to danceability as such (about which we cannot say anything) – but to the expression of movement against the resistance of the body. If I borrow Wittgenstein’s words, I can say: We cannot think dance, which we cannot dance; so what we cannot dance we cannot think as dance either(1) . Perhaps we can dance ‘thinkdance’(2) as showing the logical scaffolding of dance.

In order to determine in what way the improvisation in WDSQ is restricted or stays open, each utterance can be regarded as a proposition in the terms of analytical philosophy, in which every movement, like any object, contains the possibility of all situations. Every movement writes into the virtually white sheet of the empty space one possible state of affairs in what can be danced. The possibility of different configurations of movements is not only thought, imagined or interpreted consequently, but it is uttered and shown in performing. Thus every utterance articulates a proposition: how movements are, not what they are. In each proposition a set of movements occurs as possible when uttered, but it is important that in every instance there is also what Hans-Thies Lehmann calls “the experience of possibility as such”(3) ; that every movement springs out of the knowledge of uttering an arbitrary something that will be soon abandoned or substituted for another something(4) . “A proposition is incomplete”, albeit “a complete picture of something” , which is echoed in what John Cage states as: “Anything goes, but not everything happens”. Therefore, one dispenses with searching for internal properties, which one might find comfortable to examine as the personal input of the dancers and judge within one’s own ‘like or dislike’. Nothing fixed or essential to this work or the subjectivity of these dancers cannot be determined for all the material features emerge in the form of proposition. What is then the form of proposition that WDSQ adopts? Or could I simply ask the question as what is restrictive or does stay the same in the abundance of improvisatory variability?
What Burrows and Ritsema call ‘dancing questions’ (and what we can find in the title of the performance) is exactly the expression that presupposes the forms of all the dance-utterances in which it occurs. Every dance proposition asserts this general form of the question: “Is this how things stand?” So, what is materialised in every single movement that is arbitrarily chosen is a certain logical prototype of the question: “Can this dance? And can this be dance?” Within this general propositional form of question everything remains variable, because every movement is subjected to a proposition of logic that says nothing itself or that, in other words, is a promise of everything, tout et rien d’autre (Jean-Luc Godard).

As it is that in logic there can be no distinction between the general and specific, for “to be general means no more than to be accidentally valid for all things”(5) , the next question is: how is questioning expressed in dance? What does it look like to dance questions, not particular questions, but the form of questioning?

The form of questioning in WDSQ is embodied in a type of syntax of interruption. Every utterance breaks at the point where its shape tends to acquire an intelligible form, a form that could be recognised and reflected upon by the performers, and varied or repeated at worst. As if it attempts at suspending the mind’s control, each movement stops at the point where it gains the self-consciousness of the performers – which could be considered as the achievement of the modernist ideal of pure dance language. However, what is alien to this modernist quest in WDSQ, is that this dance seems to be scaffolded by the logic of an external philosophical concept. Although Burrows and Ritsema do not stress a conceptual urge to discuss dance and the attribution to Wittgenstein’s analytical logic is solely of my interpretation, what they certainly show is a discursive involvement with examining the body-mind relationship in the production of dance. That their interest prevails in the phenomenon of making such a dance could perhaps be pinpointed in the difference between the question that they do not ask: “What can I dance now?” and the question I presume they might be asking: “What am I dancing now?” Now, now, is the word that compels me to present tense when I write about WDSQ, as if I am blinded by the smooth and decisive continuity in which it proceeds in all its duration. How do these dancing questions follow? What is the operation that connects the alternating fluxes and interruptions of the dance?

As “all propositions are of equal value” and “hierarchies are and must be independent of reality”(6) , so does the variability of movement from one utterance to another reveal the operation of deriving one question out of another, question on question on question etc, in a chain of successive applications of questioning equivalent to the concept ‘and so on’. “There is no compulsion making one thing happen because another has happened. The only necessity that exists is logical necessity ”. When there is no way to ask what the causal relationship would be behind, for instance, the left arm twitching after the right leg made a circle, the only urge that drives one movement to another is a necessity to question, to shape dance in the propositional form of ‘question’. Who seeks for the suspense of predicting what could come next will be bored, for the new in each instance is not the expectation of the ‘not yet’ or surprising. If logic is prior to every experience, concerned not with ‘how’ but with ‘what’, why do we celebrate then each something that every dance-question raises? This is where WDSQ clearly shows that the conceptualist declarative statement: “This is dance” is insufficient, and that so forth Burrows and Ritsema choose to search and undergo this process of questioning rather than show or state. Wittgenstein writes that every possibility must be already written into the thing itself, “what is thinkable is possible, too”(7) , but what in logic is process equivalent to result, in dance it is in the experience of dancing that makes possibility arise or question prove its form.

Instead of making a Barthesian ‘after-the-death-of-the-author’ conclusion, laconically saying that it is up to the viewer to give answers, I will provide two possible responses of the enjoying spectator.
As “a proposition includes all that the projection includes, but not what is projected”(8) , I as a viewer am triggered to extend and complete each perceptible utterance into a possible situation. My method of experiencing the concept of projection would be to think of the sense of each proposition by placing, seeing it ‘in’ or ‘as’ each movement in an imaginary dance-scape. Thanks to the deliberate weakness of the subject, committed to a paradox of unintentional, almost indeterminate chance-like self-expression, I am admitted into WDSQ as the subject that sets the limits to the work, or rather to my understanding of what I perceive from it. Although it always seems to be the case, here I am strongly encouraged to complete the work alone. On the other hand, I may as well decide to allow it to resonate with me in an anti-interpretative manner. I do not ‘participate’, I do not feel the compulsion to finish the incomplete, ask questions or pursue the process of investigating my own capacity to imagine. Instead I indulge in a game of doubling this dance-noise similarly to how one enjoys an instrumental melody. While I am listening to it, I am repeating it to myself so as to preserve or prolong the imprints of the sound. Or as when I enjoy listening to a language I understand but cannot speak, my tongue is secretly mimicking the morphological moves of the speech. Or, finally, as what Susan Sontag describes as interpretation that endeavors to repeat the ‘working’ of the work. In the dance that scaffolds the logic of expressing thoughts like dance utterances, I am tempted to play this game of silent stammering after the speech, trying to recapture every small step of change before it escapes my senses. There I find my jouissance squeezed in the short delay between the ‘now’ of the dance as it is making itself and the immediate syncopated ‘after-now’ of my soundless re-sensualising repetition.

© Bojana Cvejić, 2002

1) 5.61 “We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, Routledge, London and New York, 1974.
2) I owe this term to the American dancer and philosopher Jill Sigman who I recall using it.
3) Hans-Thies Lehmann, “Fragments on Considering Theatre as a Realm of Possibilities”, Theater etcetera zum Theaterfestival SPIELART, Muenchen 2001, 25.
4) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus…, paragraph 5.156.
5) Ibidem, paragraphs 5.4541 and 6.1231.
6) Ibidem, paragraphs 5.5561 and 6.4.
7) Ibidem, paragraph 3.02.
8) Ibidem, paragraph 3.12.