Text on Traces, for the catalogue of Siobhan Davies material/rearranged/to/be, Curve Gallery Barbican Centre, 2017
Dance has passed rapidly from limited techniques
to a workshop culture of baroque excess.
We're overwhelmed by physical information.
And at some point in this expansion we began to speak of body as archive,
when it finally got recognised how we carry our library with us,
and what a mess the library turned out to be.
I was talking to Joe Moran and he said you know,
'The quality of dance is that it's fantastically unstable',
there's always a lot going on under the surface
and it's hard to pin down.
So we invented choreography and techniques and concepts
to hold it somewhere so that we could read it,
but it's only ever half the story.
And there's a radical joy in our instability.
I'm practising some kind of daily dancing in my living room,
and I've got some Joan Skinner instructions from Gaby Agis,
and they help me keep my hands off what I'm doing
for long enough that I keep doing it.
And I'm trying to notice what my archive is throwing up,
and it's like shining a torch into fog.
And I came away with one thought,
that this thing where I lift up my arm belongs to Denis Greenwood
and it always has.
Every time I do it it's his.
But if you do it, it's something else and someone else's,
and if you watch me do it you neither know nor care whose it is,
it's just another familiar movement.
For me it's like a taste in my mouth.
I started to copy the way Chrysa Parkinson dances
and it seemed recognisable.
I'd tasted it before,
it's what I do when a familiar movement rears up in the fog
and I swerve to avoid it.
And every swerve triggers the start of another familiar movement,
stored in my archive from some past dance,
and I swerve again.
I let the Denis Greenwood arm in and I don't know why,
but the rest I tend to avoid.
I'm like a traveller who doesn't want to be a tourist
in his own body.
The map has the attractions marked but I keep to the backroads,
and the stuff there curls around and is mostly of only vague interest.
The stuff there is for the people who like lost places,
decay and wilderness,
places that aren't bounded
and there are no signs or the signs are faded.
So I wouldn't always know what's in the archive really,
or only by the shape of it's absence,
because I'm circumventing it.
I let in the arm that belongs to Denis
but mostly I dance in the gaps between.
And the wilderness has a taste and you can taste it when you watch it,
and eventually a bit of wilderness gets tamed
so I start taking another path round about that area,
and my avoidance has a taste.
And I chose the word taste to describe the sensory quality of a movement,
because I don't have another word for it,
but it's the wrong word.
Pattern is the wrong word for what happens between my motor cortex
and the world into which I move.
Motor is the wrong word for my movement.
Skinner Releasing Technique says an idea changes everything,
so when you're moving and this becomes that, then a new world is formed,
or for Stockhausen a moment is forming,
and one moment overlaps with another moment or other moments,
but comes a tipping point when a change has happened
and we're somewhere else.
Or something like that.
And we're somewhere else,
and mostly it's a place without a name
but place is the wrong word for it because it's gone already.
And the sensory cortex tracks it and the motor cortex catches it eventually,
and it passes into the unconscious until the next time a moment occurs,
which may or may not be the same moment.
And the motor cortex throws up old stuff to help me with new stuff
so nothing is untainted by history,
but history is the wrong word for it because it's activating here and now
and the body makes no judgements about time.
And research is the wrong way to think about what it means
to shine a torch into all this fog.
Whenever I dance I'm confronted by who I used to want to be,
and the future wish I had for myself returns as history
and I wrestle with it.
And it's from this place of negotiation with what never was
that choreographic decisions get made.
And the desire to strip dance back to a disinterested mode,
is born partly out of this refusal to succumb
to the overwhelming sense of lost and wished for self
that floods us when we dance.
And the mass of barely readable emotions.
And the flickering references.
And the mad sensitivity of skin.
And the stumbling we call gravity.
And the terrible self-consciousness.
The dancing body isn't really an archive in any conventional sense of the word,
and Warburg's mad blackboards of connected images might be closer to the point.
And dance techniques are a clever way to make sense of the sensory overload,
until they burn their way into our motor cortex
and become so unconscious they start to feel natural,
so we have to practice authentic movement to shut them up
and then the authentic movement starts to feel natural,
so we have to lie on the ground and have a rest.
And a strong concept is just another frame for the unstable body.
And a good concept draws lines between the pictures on the blackboard,
so that for a moment we can see.
And Aby Warburg called his blackboards an atlas,
being a way to look at different things at the same time in the same space,
and when I move I look at different things at the same time in the same space,
and look is the wrong word
because the memory of a movement is not an image.
And the sensory is knowledge but not as we know it
and we're not quite ready yet for all that,
but dance has been out there shining torches into the fog for some time now.
And the older dancer with her dug up, archeological movements
shining out from a small and quiet place,
is a pin up for how quick we like to read the traces of things
no matter how fragile.
Dance is one place from which we can critique the gospel of the new,
and memory is more radical than we thought.
And to watch a dance is to lazily trace relationships
that amount to something that might mean something
but are quickly wiped away.
Or something like that.
The meaning is just the recognition of a something
that isn't the previous something,
and the change is everything and also nothing.
And the dancer appears to be moving forward in time,
but we look on like Warburg at his blackboards
and the lines of connection go in all directions.
And the signs and referents and representations are weaker than we want,
so we invented choreography to freeze frame them
and it never quite works which is why we keep on working.
I'm trying to think what this motor cortex looks like,
and a black box flight recorder is the obvious image
but completely wrong.
It's not a box and there are no patterns.
The logic of it resides all over me,
and I recognise things I'm doing which I never did,
I only saw them in photographs or films,
but there's a coordination encoded somewhere in me that seems similar.
The movement memory is hard wired,
but there is no wire
and there are no memories,
and the idea that we never forget how to ride a bike is useful
but there is no bike.
The ways in which I negotiate my own staircases
or drive a car,
are connected to all this but in a different way from my dancing.
And each pattern that isn't a pattern
seems to trigger more recognition of more patterns,
and it gets confusing but my body isn't confused.
More recognition of fragments of starts of possible connections,
and I only have to think them to find them
and then they're gone,
and the practical ones attach to objects
but many don't and the dancing patterns usually don't.
Or something like that.
And it's both inside and outside,
and the dancing seems more interior than the other stuff
and the interior quality of it is resistant to packaging.
And the subjectivity is embarrassing
I have route maps of current and past pain
that tell me where to go or not.
I have route maps of past shame
that I have to argue with daily.
I lay on the bed just now and thought myself a ballet without moving,
and the synapses fired and it was clear as day,
though I haven't crossed the floor jumping for a long while.
And many dancers will recognise the way a sequence disappears
until the other people who do it are there doing it with you.
Or the way a sequence disappears
and then reappears intact the moment the performance starts.
And a lot of people I've met quite like slow learning,
how an anchor forms and you feel momentarily held,
but in a good way,
until the pattern passes back into the mess of other patterns.
And drunk dancing at a wedding is unstable
and the illogic of it is encoded somewhere.
And you can commodify dance,
but its instability outwits the market
and it wobbles its way sideways to somewhere else
and hard to market,
Which is not to invite complacency
but to remember what it is, this immateriality,
which feels at times quite material to me,
it just depends how you look at it.
And it represents something beyond all this monetisation,
which is maybe why everyone wants a bit of what we've got.
With thanks to Joe Moran for the expression 'Why everyone wants what we've got', as well as Katye Coe, Siobhan Davies, Efrosini Protopapa and Matthius Spurling who also gave helpful comments on the text.
© Jonathan Burrows 2017