For all of you dance lovers…

Conceptual dance exists everywhere, all around you, and is most probably the first type of dance you have ever experienced: dance with a meaning, dance that does not care about its shape, dance that’s a result of your thinking process.

The term “appeared” in the 90s, and I would agree on the fact that its use is rather ambiguous.

There has been, and still are very fiery discussions about what to call conceptual in the dance world, and about where the border has set itself. Unfortunately it is not resolving, as the possibilities for performing arts keep on growing and offer new kind of performances.

But I decided to write about that
subject because of the comments I have heard in the past few months,
within my social circle, and on online platforms. I believe that
every artistic work has its role to play. Of course, I also have my
very own opinion on whether I like or dislike some content, or
performance. But I think that kindness and respect are keywords for
watching conceptual dance
, in the performing arts. Obviously, people are entitled to their own opinion. But we live in the world where destroying the work of others has become way too easy, so let’s rewing backwards, and look at the situation.

If you ever find yourself disliking a
conceptual dance performance, or even performing in it, then find a
reason for you to either give it a second or third trial with another
artist, you might get good surprises.

Working at the Biennale di Venezia.

For whom?

Unlike what the general opinion tends
to think, conceptual dance is for everybody. It sure isn’t open to
all kind of audiences, depending on its content (such as nudity, which is so very taboo although TV and social media bombard us with that), but it does target all kind people. However, it is not senseless and
easy-access, it is not the result of our western capitalism: it
rejects the mass consumption effect.

As a matter of fact, conceptual dance
is research from which an artist, or a group of artists, agreed to
develop a meaning, a thinking process, a philosophy, and present it
to an audience. In most cases, its basis is found dealing with a
sociopolitical inspirations. The range of this theme is of course very
wide, and will go from gender equality, to the importance of our
species on this planet, only to quote a few examples. Even some people would like to
think that it includes some other metaphysical/ scientific ideas,
such as nature, and the universe in general for example, but even
then, one will always find a link with the way human societies
resume, and how humans interact, communicate and strive.

So far so good, quite simple. But, this
field within the performing arts, claims to be more intellectual itself,
not in the way it is presented but with the thinking state the
artists create and invite you in their universes. And on that note,
one shall understand that a conceptual performance will not
necessarily involve dance in its traditional representation. Quite
the opposite actually. IT will most probably be an attempt to
separate itself from the already living repertoire, and create a gap
with what has already been done. Of course, movement remains in some
cases, but I think it is very important to understand that one is not
invited to go and watch a performance for the sake of sitting and
being visually pleased.

This however, does not mean that
conceptual dance gets rid of movement as time goes. There are
actually various alternatives to its development, and one might have
the choice between very physical (technicality, heavy, muscular
performances for example) and very abstract (minimal, lack of
movement, almost can’t be seen), among many other possibilities.

Why? What for?

The reasons are very different from
artist to artist of course, but most would agree on the fact that the
main grounds for creating such content/art, is to keep the question
mark hover above it, whether it is dance or theatre, or both. This
can be explained with the way conceptual art was ‘branded’ in the 60s
and 70s, defined as art being presented as a thinking process, not
anymore as a craving for aesthetics, an urge for materialistic
representations.

It is a way to constantly renew, or
refresh, the already existing part of the performing arts, asking new
questions, raising new debates/ keeping them alive… Conceptual
dance actually has a very important place in society.
I
hear my peers screaming in horror already, but dance was conceptual
at its beginning
(if we can even talk about a beginning): it
had no rules, no predefined sets of movement, and was performed for
its audience/ its performers to resolve social/ religious/ political
arguments. Most of the time, that was performed by ‘artists’
considered then as shamans, wise… His/Her ideal was to transmit a
succession of ideas, thoughts and actions. Note that the importance
of the performers remained very strong throughout history, up until recently.

Therefore, already thousands of years
ago, conceptual dance existed in order to question daily situations,
or problems related to us, social animals. How did the status of
the performer change? This is a question that our present
society will most probably argue for a very long time still.

But here is something to ask yourself :
why is there such a strong need to make this art form so inferior and
lower it at the moment ? Is it for us a way to deny our
origins? Say that we are better than this ‘easy’ and ‘shallow’
art form? Or even for ballet/contemporary performers to
establish a hierarchy within the dance sphere, and feel more
important, more valuable…?

What to expect from conceptual dance?

The answer is also here a bit tricky. I
would say it depends on what one decides to go and watch. Most of
all, I would say that one shall expect a thinking process from
conceptual dance (hopefully). One should go and watch a performance
with a need to let this art trigger ideas within his/her head, and resolve daily/ personal challenges.

And if you are scared to end up watching a performance where nothing happens, well you never know before watching a
show for the first time, a conceptual piece might actually be made of
movement only, in which case it has a meaning as well of course. And yes, you might also find yourself sitting for a really long time, hoping you would be somewhere else. But hey, why not make the best of your time, and still try to figure what is offered to you as the performance goes?

Galleria Rankka, Helsinki.

The artists behind it?

The dancers/ performers behind
conceptual come from very various backgrounds. When you actually go
watch a happening, a performance, an event and so on, you might actually go
watch people who have done everything and nothing at the same time.

The professional range is rather
diverse
. Some artists will be beginners, without even a dance
background, some others will be retired artists from ballet, modern,
and contemporary dance. Yet, I have met so called beginners who were born to do dance, and they were going at it in conceptual pieces.

One of my examples, for my fellow
dancers, is William Forsythe, who created a series of conceptual works, right at the apotheosis of his
career, involving movement far from his usual aesthetics, a
lot of theater, a lot of speech and so on. I quote here one out of many You made me a monster for example. And I quote his work just
for you to understand that artists sometimes feel the need to take
other roads, and separate for simply creating movement that will
satisfy you visually, in order to go deeper in processing artistic
ideas, and let these grow.

So no, conceptual dance creators are
not simple hillbillies
who felt the need to go crazy by making a
dance piece. Well, in some cases maybe, but still, they are actually
voices to be heard, with a content, a statement, or even perhaps a
singular idea.

Working at the Biennale di Venezia.

How to look at conceptual dance?

Stay open-minded, it is the first key
to appreciate the work of others. It did happen for me, to be sitting
in an audience where I was literally thinking of something not even
related to the performance I was supposed to watch, yet at some point
in the performance, I was able to find the trigger and let my brain
enter the key-hole, allowing me to finally understand that
performance.

Respect, it is also an important word,
to consider the work of others, which are offering it to you as a
gift. As much as a ballerina who worked for hours, conceptual
performers thought and discussed, rehearsed and practiced for hours.

There is no bad conceptual performance.
Actually most of them have either been funded by cultural organisms
or by sponsors, which already proves that there is a necessity for
whatever you will watch. Also, I must add that many events you will
participate in are presented by people, like you and me (who have
normal lives) who have worked for a various amount of time, most
probably getting very little money. And I think that presenting
something that has been studied, and thought through, with the risk
of not being financially comfortable, and with the knowledge that
what you presented will be highly debated, is very brave. Not because
it falls in the social myth of the artist (poor people who think they
are doing some good to society), but because it is the manifestation
of human beings still wanting to question the world we live in, by
presenting art as life itself. Artists involved in conceptual dance do
not attempt to please their audiences, and I would hope they strive
for the opposite.

At last, yes, you might attend
performances that have been improvised, also under a large spectrum
of professionalism and work, but I will talk about this with my next
blog, offering a summary of my improvisation performance at Galleria
Rankka, in Helsinki, Finland.

Feel free to comment and share, whether
you just liked this blog, or even if you disagree with me, I would be
more than happy to hear your voice as well…