The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
Critics Page In Conversation

Dance in the Making

<em>Sleeping Beauty Dreams</em>, Choreography: Edward Clug. Digital Avatars: Tobias Gremmler, fuse. Photo: Irina Tuminene
Sleeping Beauty Dreams, Choreography: Edward Clug. Digital Avatars: Tobias Gremmler, fuse. Photo: Irina Tuminene

This conversation between Diana Vishneva, Anna Yudina, and Olivier Berggruen explores the evolution of dance, seen from the perspective of an “art form in the making,” to use William Forsythe’s memorable formulation.

Olivier Berggruen (Rail): How do you find freedom within the “constraints” of choreography?

Diana Vishneva: Freedom comes in stagesfirst there’s the unruly freedom of youth that is disciplined by a coach, then there’s the freedom of mastery. Without the former, you’re only following the rules, which is dull, but with mastery, this concept of freedom widens your perspective. I always sought to work with remarkable choreographers, never limiting myself to seemingly “acceptable” styles for a classical dancer. What attracted me was the artist behind a choreographic language: what drives them? What can I learn? They probably understood this, and were curious about a prima ballerina willing to start from scratch.

<em>Subject to Change</em>, Choreography: Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon. Photo: Mark Olich
Subject to Change, Choreography: Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon. Photo: Mark Olich

It’s a humbling experience. Repeatedly putting yourself in the position of a disoriented beginner is a big psychological trauma, but this was my conscious decision. Shedding previous knowledge with its clichés changes you physically and mentally. Even your unconscious changes, releasing some deep-rooted blocks. A whole new world opens.

Rail: Can a dancer find stillness in movement?

Vishneva: The road to stillness leads through hectic activity and self-doubt, although you only realize this once you’ve arrived. One day a choreographer told me that “less is more”; I couldn’t believe him. But gradually I started approaching inner silence.

Meditation in dance is a miracle happening between the audience, music, and artist; that’s why this process is called “art.” You feel “danced” by some external power. I’ve even learned to enter a meditative state during a class. This has nothing to do with relaxation; it’s more like carefully straightening a piece of crumpled paper, day after day. In this state, I can create what I’ll then “radiate” among the audience. Many things should fuse onstage to make this happen—a doing me, a thinking me, a me observing myself, and a “parallel world” me. Only practice gets you there, still you can never be sure you’ll make it.

Rail: In Multiverse, you quote Charles Sirató, “Instead of looking at objects of art” the human being will become “the center and the subject of creation,” which will consist of controlled “sensorial effects operating in a closed cosmic space.” You also say that the language of any single art form can hardly express the contemporary, “overwhelmingly multidimensional” vision of the world, which requires a new kind of language emerging from the synthesis of the arts, science, and technology. How does dance evolve in this context?

Anna Yudina: In 1946, László Moholy-Nagy envisioned an “integrated life” where we’ll learn “to feel what we know and know what we feel,” and artists will “penetrate yet-unseen ranges of the biological functions…search the new dimensions of the…society, and…translate the new findings into emotional orientation.” His timely words, more than ever before, are echoed by physicist David Deutsch who expects art to achieve “new kinds of unification” and design new senses “that can encompass beauty of new kinds literally inconceivable to us now.” Deutsch suggests that “technological art” would offer not explanations, but actual experiences of perceiving the world like other living beings.

New, synergetic arts turn the unknown into known by turning the unfelt into what is felt. One of the artists featured in Multiverse, Carsten Nicolai seeks to expand our perception by visualizing invisible phenomena like sound or magnetism. Audiovisual installations by Ryoji Ikeda are an invitation to feel the unimaginable…try feeling the immensity of the universe.

These new art forms make us experience how “one and the same” reality can be interpreted in radically different ways… but why do we need it today? Because hearing the other becomes vital in an increasingly complex, interdependent world.

<em>Tué</em>, Choreography: Marco Goecke. Photo: Irina Grigoryeva.
Tué, Choreography: Marco Goecke. Photo: Irina Grigoryeva.

Dance will hold a specific place here, because our body is a crucial part of being human. And, as dance interbreeds with other domains, our notions of it keep evolving, too. One recent example is Sleeping Beauty Dreams, a performance in which the dancer interacts in real time with her digital counterparts—large-scale projections (“avatars”) representing her fears and temptations.

Rail: According to choreographer William Forsythe, “dance is a form of making.” How does the dancer “suggest a realization”?

Vishneva: When I first saw those digital characters; when they started repeating my movements, it felt completely insane. We expected a stream of choreographic ideas coming from technology, but reality was more challenging. While dancing my own part, I had to bring the avatars to life by mastering technical aspects and finding the right emotion for any given moment. To pull this off, I needed all my previous experience with different choreographic languages. My biggest fear was the gigantic avatars rendering me invisible, but what really happened was me consciously switching between having full power over them and completely surrendering to them. The whole project was one big experiment, and my feeling today is that we are just starting to make sense of it all…


Anna Yudina

is the editor of Multiverse: Art, Dance, Design, Technology. Emergent Creation published by the Diana Vishneva Foundation and 5 Continents Editions, Milan in 2017.

Diana Vishneva

is a dancer. Her career ranges from classical ballet with the Mariinsky Theatre and the American Ballet Theatre to collaborations with renowned contemporary choreographers Carolyn Carlson, Mats Ek, William Forsythe, John Neumeier, Ohad Naharin, and Marco Goecke, among others.

Olivier Berggruen

is an independent curator based in New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues