Rehearsing Collectivity – Choreography Beyond Dance

David LevineWhat is a collective body and how does it move? What kind of temporary community is embodied by the audience? How can the political and social dimension, implicit in the concept of collectivity, be translated and practiced in the artistic field? These questions shaped the core of the project “Rehearsing Collectivity – Choreography Beyond Dance” that took place with exhibition, performances and lectures between 27 April – 6 May at Tanzfabrik/ Uferstudios Berlin. With it the curators Elena Basteri, Emanuele Guidi, Elisa Ricci in dialogue with the artist Aldo Giannotti reflected on the paradigmatic shift in the notion of collectivity and participation in society and the arts. In the following interview Elena Basteri and Emanuele Guidi speak about the potentials of carrying over the idea of choreography into the social realm, the testing of both of them with the means of visual, sound and performance arts and the curatorial approach in the project.


Where do you see the critical potential of thinking the collectivity as a social phenomenon and in the arts through the raster of a rehearsal and choreography?

Nowadays collectivity emerges again as central dimension that affects our everyday life. The Internet – with the potential produced by the enormous number of social networks – sheds a new light on this idea, lightening it from its historical and ideological connotations. Clearly enough, the political, social and sociological dimensions are inherent aspects that we tried to keep at the centre of the discussion but trying to focusing them using the lens of choreography. By definition choreography is organization of movements – spontaneous, improvised, conscious or not – in a shared space and time. Once you start thinking about collectivity in this way, by putting an accent on the ‘body’ of collectivity, many conceptual associations become possible and the physicality as well as the performative aspect of the ‘group’ become carriers of a multitude of meanings. Negotiation of space, forms of solidarities, sense of belonging, are just few of the notions that go along with the idea of collectivity. What is important to make clear is that we didn’t intend to look at it necessarily as something positive, harmonic and that needs to be reached at any cost. We tried to stress also the difficulties, the violence and the conflicts as undeniable dimensions of becoming and being part of a collectivity. And we think that the most interesting suggestions and the most critical points emerge when you look at the tension between the individual and the group, at the entropic dimension of the crowd as well as when you take the possibility of failure as a moment that could produce something unexpected. Here comes in the notion of “rehearsing”. It is not only understood as a repetition of the same pattern of movements to improve and become better, but as exercising ways of thinking about what does it means to be part of a collectivity, how a collectivity could behave, be produced and controlled, fail and degenerate.

 The Great Leap Forward


The concept is presented in the context of contemporary dance given also by the place – the Tanzfabrik space at Uferstudios, but on the other hand it presents mainly visual arts and sound works and articulates a discourse on forms of sociability. What possibilities does the relation between a notion of choreography and the visual / sound arts open for you as curators?

Through the approach from the visual art it has been easier to move the notion of choreography out of the stage and translate it into the realm of everyday life, to think about choreography in other, hopefully, new terms. Clearly, visual artists have a different background and use different tools from dancers and choreographers (although the two disciplines have been overlapping more and more in the last decades) and this is already a way to explore a different understanding of a concept that belongs to dance. As you said, the works articulated a discourse on forms of sociability that can be read as choreographic  situation. The most  clear example is probably Kitchen Choreography by Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólaffson, where through the act of naming the artists have been able to stress a particular aspect of an everyday working milieu, at the same time being able to reflect on other relevant contemporary issues such as the one of migration. In all the works presented the ideas of choreography and collectivity have been a point of departure to open up a reflection on different questions – power relations, populism, leadership, solidarity, the role of audience, just to name a few…


 Kitchen Choreography

I would like to dwell a little bit more on the curatorial function that you’re executing within the project. I think that among all it has 4 main strong points: on organizational level it brings together different institutions (see credits bellow); then a functional art object is placed so that it marked a kind of tribunal for articulating discourses. Furthermore, the lecturers who were invited, although sharing some positions, followed quite different and even contradictory to arguments. And last but not least, a strong point of the project was that a workshop and also one of the performances dealt directly with the community which lives in the area where it took place. In respect with this multi-layering of the activities and perspectives how do you reflect on your role as curators? You also build a particular collective of curators underlying also the dialogue with the artist Aldo Giannotti…

Yes, we worked as a collective of three curators. Elena and Elisa come from the field of dance while Emanuele is a curator of visual arts. The dialogue with the artist Aldo Giannotti has been a very important dimension of the project from the very beginning, since the core idea and approaches were developed together with him. We think his contribution to the exhibition perfectly summarizes his position in the whole project. With his installation Tribune he physically produced the ‘space of discourse’ and blurred the border between stage and non-stage as well as playing in a powerful way on the relationship between audience and lecturer; all themes and questions that we discussed in the last months.

So we have different backgrounds, each of us brought his/her own specific knowledge, contacts and sensibilities and it has been an interesting process of openness and negotiation with one other. Also for us it has been a constant ‘rehearsing period’ in a way! These diversities reflected in the program that, as you said, is quite articulated in the number of formats we chose. Our role as curators was to open up a discussion with a number of theorists and artists that have been invited to contribute to the project starting from the inputs we offered. The results of these dialogues where negotiated but just partially. Again, the possibility that someone has an unexpected take and contributes from a perspective you didn’t think about has been seen as enrichment to the project. Obviously, we played a role in this by trying to create combinations that weren’t obvious or natural, like in the conversation between the architecture theorist Tina di Carlo and the choreographer Chris Haring that took place after Chris’ performance White Spot in a Darkroom.

The decision to combine and bring together different audiences, mainly from dance and visual arts, allowed for different readings of the project to emerge.

Eventually, opening a dialogue with Wedding (the city district where the project took place and that we didn’t know so well) was quite a natural step for us, since we didn’t want to build our artistic and theoretical discourses about collectivity in the beautiful artistic island of the Uferstudios, ignoring the reality outside. So we specifically asked some artists who have a kind of inclination for the exploration of urban and public space to relate to Wedding and as a result we had a workshop led by LIGNA and a walk by Nina Dick. She created a parcoure that made possible to meet people and places of Wedding and get a different knowledge of the district and its community.

What were your main criteria in choosing and commissioning the artistic works presented within the project?

As we already mentioned before, the works we selected gave the possibility of bringing the notion of choreography beyond its typical connotations and realms. We saw in these works a ‘choreographic potential’ exactly because of the different relationships that those works have with the organization (or disorganization) of bodies in time and space. Very often the body is completely absent, and we understand this absence as a space to fill up with one’s own references, projections and imaginaries. In this sense, we wanted to bring the discussion on a different level when talking about collectivity. Works like Ondak’s Announcement or Keller’s Until the Last Dance, are good examples in these terms.

Concerning the new commissioned works that make up half of the exhibition, we entered in dialogue with artists based in Berlin, who we knew had a performative practice and of whom we clearly appreciated the work. We wanted them to follow the productions here in Berlin and if possible to produce a link with the city like happened in The Great Leap Forward by Ingrid Hora. But then, of course, when you commission a new work, you also accept the risk that the artist goes against your expectation and this is really something interesting since it’s an addition of layers and nuances to your idea.

Do you envisage a continuation of the project?

We’ve had very good feedback and an informal invitation to bring the project somewhere else. The topic of rehearsing collectivity is a very multi-layered and complex one and for sure it would be worth to continue the research, potentially exploring other directions. But first of all, we still need to conclude this project, since we will start working now on the publication and it is going to be ready by the end of the year. It won’t be a “classical” exhibition catalogue but a critical reader that will include the documentation of the exhibited works, the dialogue with the artists and some special projects, as well as all the theoretical contributions by the lecturers.

Questions by Angelina Georgieva

The project is produced in collaboration with Liquid Loft & Chris Haring | Supported by Capital Cultural Fund Berlin With the kind support of Austrian Cultural Forum, Italian Cultural Institute Berlin, Pro Helvetia, Swiss Cultural Foundation and Center for Movement Research of the Freie Universität Berlin
In cooperation with Tanzfabrik Berlin e. V. and Transeuropa Festival.