Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faki: Untitled

Some performances don't ask for criticism - they just need someone to write down what happened.

You could pick out stylistic or technical elements of Elisa Arteta's dance experiment Untitled - some kind of hypnotic, repetitive rhythm of feet-on-floor, the artist's address to us also seeming to tumble along perpetually. The fact that the seating was in-the-round.

You could pick these out - but it would be irrelevant. This work, like any political work, is about you.

Photo: Merima Salkić


A grey, flourescent-lit room. Arteta, dressed in sweatpants and a pink hoodie, warms up as the audience enters, before gently evolving this into her 'work' - literally, a simple dancer's exercise in leading with body parts and weight-transfer. She begins to speak a text - a response to Judith Butler, some loosely connected thoughts surrounding her 'political body', and the various ways in which it may be formed or employed.

Then she says "you can leave when you want". And she keeps working.

And now, it's over to you.

We sit there, and I become conscious again, through the inactivity, that my own body exists. I begin to think. I was talking with the perfomer earlier in the day, I know she is ill, and I get the feeling that no-one was going anywhere any time soon. So I begin desperately fighting the my instincts to intervene.

I look around. Within the room, in the bleached-out aesthetic, it suddenly seems like a scene from the horror film Saw. Why were we sitting there? Some sort of punish-the-dancer? Because we were scared to leave?

I turn to my fellow audience member sitting next to me, and suggest we leave, explaining my reason. She agrees, and I look around at the rest of the audience, wondering how I can also encourage them to leave.

At this point, someone intervenes. Another fellow audience member asks a question, to which Arteta replies. I don't hear it properly, so I ask her - feeling like I'm bellowing across the room - to repeat, which she kindly does, only I again can't hear. (In my mind I think 'that's democracy').

Elisa continues, a little tired now. Then she says "You can dance as well if you want".

There's a long, pregnant pause.

Finally, I can't take it any more. I get up in the circle and begin to dance, and I'm suddenly free. The initial delight of the audience turns to a quiet observation as, to my surprise, (or is it my imaginiation?) my movement manages to capture the essence of the performer's, creating a kind of bad copy of her rhythms, of her intentions. Not a copy in skill at all - but in consciousness, yes. I feel "with" her, for a moment.

And then I have to sit down, because I am embarrassed (I hate performing).

Another long silence - and another audience member cracks and begins dancing. This goes on for a while, and Arteta is now becoming very tired indeed, and it no longer able to exercise fully. I still feel the need to dance with her. (Could I dance in the hidden space around the corner, I wonder?) I decide to explain myself. "I want to dance out of solidarity, but I don't want people to look at me" I declare. "There's a space around the corner" Elisa replies. "Yep" I say. I get up, move to the corner, and continue the dance. Pretty soon others join me, and there's a kind of spin-off group.

This goes on for about another 20 minutes, during which time I become thoroughly lost in my simple mission to transfer weight and lead with different body parts. Others are more communicative. It has the feeling of a school dance. Finally, an exhausted Arteta says "You will just keep going, won't you?" "Yes" we reply collectively.

She sits down. Everyone claps.


I have many questions about this. In short: have we 'defeated' the performer here? Was it truly a collective action, based on free will, or was it some festival phenomenon? Why were only half the audience dancing?

But these questions seem somehow irrelevant or too cynical. We had been asked a question, and we responded, as collectively as we could, as politically as we could. There are ways we could have been better, there are ways we could have been worse. There are ways I could have been better or worse, too.

Whatever. Learning occurred, and a small revolution. As always, the event matters . but our focus, or greater intent, and our challenge - is always what comes after.

By Elisa Arteta

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