Friday, the prémiere for Hans’ new piece, Celestial Commute in the church of Les Brigittines in Brussels. The lighting of Giacomo Gorini, impossible for me to capture on camera. Anyway, some pictures:
Sometime in November, Hans emailed me and asked if I’d like to help build him a new website. “Of-fucking-Course!” He arrived in Berlin shortly after for two weeks, where we sat in Alte Kantine Wedding every day for quite a few hours. We started with putting together a framework for each project, and once that was up, I linked him to my laptop web server, him sitting on my right adding all the text, me bashing out code.
It took a pause from January ’til early-April, then another ’til May 15th, when we fiddled with the DNS and splurted it out into teh Interwebtubez: SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck.
Hans was someone I heard about when I was a student, They Kill We (Eat, Eat, Eat) the name in my head when I was bunking off to the library and reading Ballet International. I thought it sounded like the coolest shit out, and knew I was going to move to Europe to be in the middle of all that. Hans himself I met on my first trip to Europe, as a DanceWEBber at ImPulsTanz in Vienna where everything I’d imagined and hoped for on the continent was ten million times better. I didn’t do Hans’ workshop—stupid uninformed decision—but along with meeting Anna Tenta and Ivo, getting drunk with Hans on an all-night, cross-Vienna bender (I dunno, it might have even been two or three nights … those last few days …) was the formative experience for me at the festival. And that’s amidst seeing Jan Fabre / Troubelyn, Emio Greco, doing workshops with Frankfurt Ballet dancers, generally 6 weeks of unrelenting Mind=Blown!!!
I got to work with Hans on my final arrival in Europe, again at ImPulsTanz. He, Anuschka, Ivan, and Estelle snuck me out one evening for surprise Viennese birthday celebrations. I started regularly going to Brussels; it became a mandatory pleasure for drinking and eating, talking for hours together.
And I always thought his old website, the one he’d hand-built in iWeb—images with picture frames, odd sounds, text scapbooked around in different colours and sizes—I always thought that was one of my favourite websites ever. Because it looked like him; when you arrived, it could only be him.
When Hans asked me to design and build his new site, I said straight away, “I fucking loved your old site, it needs to be somehow like that, how it looks, the feeling of it.” We ransacked his scrapbooks (so many scrapbooks!)—one thing Hans is very good at is archiving, every work had at least enough, and for the more recent ones, far far more than we could possibly use. Then we got serious and dry: How to build a site that can be arranged in myriad ways while also having a manageable editing interface?
Ja, of course it’s in WordPress, and of course I used Advanced Custom Fields. Early on, I realised Flexible Content in ACF was the way to go. CSS gives amazing power to change design and layout, but not the order of things; jQuery and PHP can do that but not in a simple, flexible, drag-drop, non-code way that’s part of the editing process. Flexible Content fields for text, images, video, quotes, whatever could be dragged into any order; then I added some selectors for images, to change their alignment and size, which was the final key in building a structure that could result in a design where every page is somewhat different. Headings and the work info sidebar are exceptions to this, though it would be trivial to extend the structure to shift those also around wherever.
Then there was things like the coloured squares next to work titles, generated from categories and slapped together in some probably unholy mix of PHP, jQuery, and CSS. Or the video page. When Hans saw how videos are laid out in the WordPress admin editor, a grid of thumbnails, he said, “Yes. I want that! Can I have that?” It turned out to be pretty easy, just overwriting the standard WordPress video playlist shortcode for the video page in a function (using the admin editor code as a template), then arrange it all pretty like. The background images are just taking FlexSlider, stripping it down, then again using some styling.
What else? The randomly cycling quotes? Also ACF, PHP, some jQuery, including collision avoidance detection so the quote doesn’t run under the menu. And the menu uses an extremely nice piece of jQuery, BackgroundCheck, to compare the background colour to the menu and swap between light, dark, and neutral states so the text colour remains contrasty (not always but enough that I thought it was worth using).
The font is Klartext Mono from Heimatdesign via Fontspring … Oh! and the index page quote was a placeholder that remains for now because Hans liked it. It’s from Mechthild of Magdeburg.
This is a very tardy review of the one show I did see in Vienna at ImPulsTanz. I’d planned to see two others, but the first coincided with getting from airport to apartment, and the second, following a bike-sprint from Arsenal to Schauspielhaus, suffered the fate of late arrival. That latter was Jérôme Bel’s Jérôme Bel, a performance I’ve only seen parts of on video, which nonetheless had a significant influence on my work.
Lucky third then. Hans, of course I could not miss seeing a Hans show, and double lucky only a roll down the hill from Arsenal to Kasino. Outside I find Ivo, who was looking very healthy and relaxed, having moved to the hills outside Sophia; inside, behind the desk were Hans and Giacomo, and on stage Anuschka and Jake. Present only aurally: James Brown (no, not that one/yes, that one). Inside was late, as Dasniya and Florian shuttled themselves post-workshop (I was the early ticket collector), so my seat was exactly in the middle of the back row, where I got to stretch out above all the others squashed in.
The Lee Ellroy Show, then. Hans had been in Los Angeles with Anuschka and discovered that terrifying writer: James Ellroy. My discovery of Ellroy was as a student in Melbourne. A flatmate had a thing for crime fiction and introduced Ellroy to me, starting with the L.A. Quartet, moving chronologically backwards to L.A. Noir, and proceeding forwards again via American Tabloid. On a plane from China to somewhere (or the other way, not that it’s important), I picked up The Cold Six Thousand. I never read his autobiographical My Dark Places then or subsequently; his fiction was disturbing enough without venturing into that. In Melbourne also, I had a chance to meet him when he was doing a reading around the time of the L.A. Confidential film. My flatmate came back with autographed books; I was far too intimidated of him, or his persona as objectified in the inside-cover portraits, him leaning on a wooden chair with seated Pit Bull.
I haven’t read him for years now, but I do have a distinct memory of the emotional and psychological trajectory that occurs like a leitmotif, one where the pressure and stress on the protagonist (usually in first-person) rearranges itself, as if looking into a scene reflected in mirrors which suddenly shift and displace the viewer’s sense of self and certainty, It’s like vertigo, or waking from a nightmare, where it’s only after, once one has surfaced that the inchoate horror of the preceding pages reveals itself. These waves and drownings would repeat through each novel until the protagonist would put enough of the pieces together to drag himself clear, though not without damage.
I mention all of this because Ellroy seems largely unknown, at least amongst the audience of The Lee Ellroy Show; I mention it also to describe the feeling of watching the performance, and how it illustrated that very particular horror which is an Ellroy novel.
So, first: lights! There are few lighting designers as talented as Giacomo Gorini. I can think of only a couple—Henk Danner for Emio Greco, and some of Frankfurt Ballett—that are comparable, and I would watch a show for his lighting alone. He not only designs, but gets up the ladder, hangs the lamps, operates the show (with beer and cigarettes), which says plenty about his personal artistry and just how uncommon a designer he is. Second: sound, the very-much alive James Brown’s fitted like a film-score with the lights and Dirk De Hooghe’s plastic-walled box set. Third: Anuschka and Jake. Anuschka wearing a dress! I’ve never seen her wearing a dress in six years!
It starts as a long, uncomfortable anti-climax: Jake as Ellroy at a book-reading, or perhaps Jake as a Ellroy’s character in 1950s’ Las Vegas; Anuschka either way as the compère. Canned laughter repeats and cuts abruptly. Ellroy as a boy, or again a character—who is always a stand-in for Ellroy—rides in circles around the transparent walls on an old bike. The walls hang and shine like curtains in an abattoir. Each moment of Jake as Ellroy as the protagonist as authorial stand-in is in tension with Anuschka as Ellroy’s mother, murder victim herself, murder victim in the book—either already or imminently—lover or potential lover, not quite betrayer, always there as a mute signifier and witness to herself, never entirely trusted or forgiven.
This is Belgian dance, so they do in fact dance. I’ve seen many brilliant dancers in Han’s works: Ivan Fatjo in We Was Them, Lars August Jørgensen in Messiah Run, and of course Anuschka in everything. Jake and Anuschka together is dance that makes me smile and say, “fuck, yes!” There is dance where the movement, its quality, the bodies doing it are not so far from mundane, most of the audience themselves could, with some preparation, perform no better nor worse. This is not that. This is transcendence of corporeality that comes from dance having so thoroughly infiltrated the person that they are irrevocably changed. It is virtuosity. They collide, fling together, apart, flailing, wrapping themselves around each other, falling and collapsing, now delicate, now explosive, terrifying, there is an inevitability here, as if we can almost see into the future, and when we arrive and look back it seems there was no other possibility. This is choreography.
Hans’ works are cinematographic and have become more so since working with James and Giacomo, who have strong filmic influences in structuring light and sound across scenes and the entire work. I saw the Staatsballett Berlin performing Onegin recently: both works have progression and development over time of a narrative drawn from a novel, and both use choreography and dance to do this. This may seem a superficial comparison, but it does represent the history of dance and its continual involvement in narrative storytelling (as different from “a bunch of things happen on stage and we the audience get to create our own story”, or straightforward conceptual dance). Hans is one of the very few choreographers I’ve seen who manages convincing narrative performance, in no small part by the highly talented people he works with.
On that, a couple of criticisms: I was speaking with someone after—a well-known Berlin performer whose work I also like—who hated it, who thought it was old and tired and unoriginal ’90s Belgian dance of which the world has seen enough. It made me question my own perception, not the least if somehow in the last few years I’ve become old, my critical faculty is only good for ballet, and this new generation understands the world in a way I can never. By comparison, I see the current autobiographical trend in dance as a very late arrival at the Tracey Emin party, absent critical self-reflection. I did agree with him in part on the process towards nakedness, which is a habit of european dance generally. Even flipping this, so the ending was the clothed resolution of a prior nakedness would lend a different reading.
Writing this, I was thinking of British playwright Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre:
A theatre which honours its audience will demand of its writers that they write in hazard of their consciences, for writers are paid to think dangerously, they are explorers of the imagination, the audience expects it of them. If they think safely, what is the virtue of them? Do you want to pay £10 to be told what you knew already? That is theft. Do you want to agree all the time? That is flattery, and the audience is always flattered, which is why it has become so sleek.
An honoured audience will quarrel with what it has seen, it will go home in a state of anger, not because it disapproves, but because it has been taken where it is reluctant to go. Thus morality is created in art, by exposure to pain and illegitimate thought.
It’s not simple as that, particularly with the last 15-ish years where racism, misogyny, homo- and transphobia are given free rein under the aegis of ‘freedom of speech’, ‘post-blah’, ‘irony’ and with simultaneous resistance of groups targeted by bigotry to (the idea of) “exposure to pain and illegitimate thought” being presented a priori as neutral or unproblematic. Much as I no longer read William T. Vollman, Neal Stephenson, the classics from Hemmingway to Miller to the canon of Anglo and American literature, I haven’t read Ellroy for years: I’m looking for some other perspective, perhaps something of a Deleuzian Minority reading (and self-as-audience) project. I do however find in this quote something of what draws me to Hans’ work, as audience, as performer, as friend. I also think Hans is one of the rare people who manages to be choreographer, director, artist simultaneously. It occurs to me now that he is close to Falk Richter in this, though personally I think Hans is a vastly superior, thoughtful, more considered, and interesting artist.
A couple of weeks ago I decided I’d like to return to regular ballet training, which I haven’t done since I destroyed my knee and achilles. With Dasniya away, I purloined some of her dance floor and ended up buying a David Howard ballet class piano music album, planted my feet beside the window and relearnt pliés, tendus, and all the other tortures of the barre. This, coupled with a lengthy maintenance routine chewed up three or so hours as well as left me sleepy and in need of chocolate – or lamb curry, either or – and caused some rethinking of things.
abjection was stuck with too many ideas and not enough doing of the ideas until it was grotesquely unmanageable. There were so many works it had been and could be, so many notes and possibilities and rewrites and reworkings; it had become its own black hole into which everything could be poured and nothing would emerge (at least on any human timeframe). Ignoring that even, the eternal orbiting around Julia Kristeva and her abjection theory was going nowhere, it’s just not interesting to me in a philosophical way. So, I decided that was enough.
Training in a different way brings to the body this difference, and brings to any work that follows this difference. I’d never done ballet as a preparation for my own rehearsing, and found the strict defining of time, tempo, musicality, brought me to a very different state from a warmup where I’d do what I think I needed. There is a subjugating of self in ballet, in each exercise, it is like a training of speech. The focus now on large, slow, strenuous movement, and now followed by small, accurate, rapid movement causes a particular physiological state that modulates over the time spent at the barre. Respiration and blood change their flow, neuromuscular and endocrine systems adapt and change also. It is an experience of different particular states of endurance and exhaustion.
I begin rehearsing again. A small few ideas remaining I carry over, as with all works one after the other. It is much simpler now, and I don’t need to convince or trick myself into believing it is or should be more. It has a new name also, being a new work. Maybe it will change, but for now it’s called when your last breath frees your soul, I will be there to inhale it.
On Sunday, I showed a little to three friends, just to find out what would be revealed when eyes were watching, and to talk it through a little. It seems to make sense. Tonight, more of the same.
Back on the rehearsal bandwagon. I’ve made a geas, or maybe curse with myself, that until I get abjection finished, no more taking other jobs. Yes, solos are horribly awful for me and I could continue to the end of the universe and still be working on this but let’s be a little more efficient, practical, realistic with time frames here. Rehearsing again, gently because it’s potentially brutal and I like that my body is mostly in a state of coherency. And downstairs in Alte Kantine. At night, yes.
Three nights for a couple of hours each, most of which was going through the usual warmup, which seems fairly useful and applicable to the movement, so just getting comfortable with that again, not over-reaching myself, remembering what it is I do. Isabelle has turned out to be an influence – on my shoulder blades at least, and later this week shall come and have a watch (also part of my geas, having what I’m doing seen; seeing and so making it real). I started working on the text verbal spoken throat-lung vibrational noise words mouth tongue front of face dance stuff. Julia Kristeva, that is. Then I discovered her text from Powers of Horror is nice to read within one’s head, or even perhaps reading while moving lips silently, but is dead horrid as a piece of monologue text. Butchery, then. As easy as one of that employment swinging a sharp knife through the gristle and joints. Now it looks like there might not be enough text.
Then there’s how to say it. I have a feeling it goes into something in the general phase space of Black Metal vocalities, wondering if it will become incoherent, wondering if that matters, wondering if I can make enough sounds. That’s for tonight, anyway.
My fourth site to lurch livewards for the month, and the one longest coming. Thomas and I started working on this in late-2011, got mostly finished, took a long pause while he added quite a few projects in-between doing also quite a few projects, and we came back to it about a month ago and decided that we could wait forever or just arrive now.
In the last three days, I’ve done what is becoming a regular approach to the last bit before a site ceases to lurk and becomes public, which is to go through everything and make all the code coherent, add in anything new that has become standard, remove old stuff, and then completely strip the CSS before rebuilding it one section at a time. This last act usually removes a staggering amount of lines, gets rid of tiny weird problems, and generally smooths everything out so it’s not a couple of thousand lines of not really connected styles. It’s pretty methodical, like digging the garden, and fits my mania for as much cleaning up as possible.
And in eighteen months, that’s like a couple of decades in real life, so there was masses to change. One sad thing was the departure of WPAlchemy, which I’d been using as my always-use code for custom fields. It’s just not being developed as much as it used to, and the absence of repeating fields is something I can’t work with. So obviously I swapped the entire site over to Advanced Custom Fields (more digging of garden), which I feel vaguely confident will still be here in another two years. It’s actually brilliant and I can’t imagine doing a project without it.
Another big change was the rolling into Core of MediaElement.js, my favourite audio and video player (when I’m not using FlowPlayer, which doesn’t support audio anyway), which meant removing all my stuff that I’d set up to use this, and hooking into the core for all of Thomas’ audio and video — of which there is masses.
So, what else? Typography is using exlijbris’ Delicious family, which I find beautiful either for body or headlines; the M+ M Type 1 monospace, not sure when I discovered this, but it’s a very nice monospace; and a couple of occurrences of Genericons, which I find pretty useful for the slew of times icons are needed.
When I first began Thomas’ site, I was using jQuery to make images greyscale and then go colour on hover, which for some browsers (*cough*Safari) was mostly painful. Lucky in the intervening months pure CSS greyscale has become common enough to use, and it’s very nice (except in Firefox, which doesn’t animate the transition).
And then there’s all the loops for the individual projects pages, which hide sections if there’s no content (easy with ACF), and with the check of a box shift them around according to how wide the upper and lower rows (I call them ‘rooms’ …”Upper Room” harhar) are.
That’s about it. When I started it, I wasn’t doing any responsive design, and in the months since it’s become something I don’t even think about, it’s just part of the process, which means I suspect on some devices this site isn’t going to be so coherent. Maybe something to organise later, as making the horizontal layout collapse for smaller screens is fairly simple.
Fourth site for the month, then. The beautiful musician, composer, friend of dancers and choreographers who I really don’t see enough of (too much working to be hanging around in Berlin, where he doesn’t live anyway), Thomas Jeker now has a website where you can see what he’s been doing for the last several years, listen to his work and watch videos. I’d probably take an hour or so just to wander around: thomasjeker.ch.
My Thursday night rehearsal, after which I went to Stadtbad Wedding with Hartmut for !K7-27’s Subkultur / Berlin 80, swapping from metal to industrial. Music for me for the night was Abruptum’s Evil Genius, which is a fine, subtle, and brilliant album, and was entirely appropriate for my evening’s activities.
Which involved more highly repetitive making-coherent of simple movements, for example, one hour spent on rolling from side to side gradually coming up to squatting; the aim is to find what other movement is necessary to make the movement as smooth and inevitable as walking. Of course it means, “it depends”. Wherever the priority is given, or wherever the impetus or whatever other defining thing, this changes everything else. But it’s still possible to generally establish the phase space in which this occurs. It’s a bit like riding a bike sometimes, the same thing over and over, loosely and … putting in the effort without bashing; being relaxed while attacking.
And a lot of working on this section; almost half an hour of it, over and over. Making more sense as ever, and later this week I have some more time to spend on it. Maybe some video again.
There was a rehearsal yesterday, but it was rubbish, so I left early. Best let that one die miserably. Today though, was rather good. Sometimes rehearsing alone just feels like a very long self-indulgent body maintenance programme. Some floor yoga, some pseudo-Klein, kinesiology stuff, lots of merciless, slow pliés, improvisation scraped from various people in the past — Forsythe, Greco, Lachambre — so far from the roots that it’s probably only me who thinks it bears any resemblance to what they taught, occasional pauses to eat fruit … trying various things to see what’s possible with knee and achilles …
Whatever it is I’m trying to do, it seems that certain things generate a corporeality that suits this, that somehow generates an intensity in muscles, limbs, joints that if I don’t do these ‘warmup’ things, doesn’t appear. Tonight was five hours of this. Alone is surprisingly uncomplicated; it takes around two hours to get through all the ‘warmup’ stuff — somewhere during that it turns from warming up to actually working, but I’m not really sure what is what, probably some time after the plié barrage. There’s moments of “What am I doing, for fuck’s sake?” but usually just a change of music solves that.
And tonight’s music was: Abruptum, Bolt Thrower, a little Burzum but it felt too Nazi-ish and that line isn’t one I want to go down in this work yet, Deathspell Omega, Gorgoroth and Mayhem of course, and finally Sun O))), (who are playing in Berlin soon!). Getting the music right is a lot of it. I was thinking about mosh pits and other sublime moments of punk gigs, and that there’s something in this of a mosh pit, or one where there is only one person, or the expression of hysteria of a metal gig, a little of headbanging, though the more I work on this stuff the clearer it is that the way one dances to the music — mosh pit for punk, headbanging for metal, something entirely other yet from the same world for black metal and doom — describes the music. It is the expression of worship, or of sublimation.
Tonight it seems I’ve finally made sense of a bit of this, I know what goes on, what I have to hang on to in order to last the ride. I also know a bit of what isn’t there, that too, the absence of the future of what it is beyond where I’ve got to. It’s potentially longer than I expected, which raises a question of what is the actual music for this, given that what I’m rehearsing to isn’t what I’d intended on using.
Another small realisation came about when I tried using Wolves in the Throne Room and reflexively slapped on Antichrist. There’s a genre of black metal, and separately a philosophy (Black Metal Theory) that touches on this genre, which takes the particular musical elements and aesthetics — the drums, guitars, voices and turns them from darkness to transcendentality, which yes, this can be serviceable for, but not here. (As well, I’m not so interested in a lot of North American metal, it’s a bit too full of bros swinging their dicks, or to put it another way, the cultural landscape in which black metal exists is a reflection of that culture, and in this instance, the US is synonymous with obnoxious.) abjection goes … well, I think into the abyss. It’s not satanic exactly, though uses those tropes, but it’s more of an extreme atheism, possibly not even philosophy. It might be a nihilism that seeks its own oblivion through the the act of destroying everything else. In this you could say it’s pretty negative.
So it’s starting to make sense, which I think is going to help a lot with the other parts. The next two weeks I’m rehearsing a bit more, also splitting my time with Melanie Lane on something I have not a clue about yet, except it might be called dust will not account for everything, and perhaps is influenced a little by Derrida’s essay in Writing and Difference: The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation.
As for the video, it’s just a sketch of some ideas I’m dredging up, as well as a dialogue with my knee and achilles tendons — it’s peculiar to dance constantly paying attention to localised regions of catastrophe.
Music this afternoon was: Gorgoroth, Antichrist; Mayhem, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas; plus bits of Horn’s Jahreszeiten, and Sunn O)))’s The Grimm Robe Demos and Black One. Also horrible, horrible jazz trombone/trumpet noodling filtering down from the rehearsal room upstairs. I played Mayhem very loudly then, and worked on my voice.
My voice, which goes from tubercular emptying of mastodon lungs up to “I’ve just sucked on helium!” in a series of arbitrary steps. There’s a huge gap in my register from high to helium, and above that very occasionally I can hit “tinnitus”, but none of these noises are connected. There’s also some “hypothetical notes” I know I can manifest in my throat if I can just twist my thinking a bit.
I was working a bit of some text which comes from Julia Kristeva’s The Powers of Horror, and oh dear she is a melodramatic writer, it’s all poetico-freudian. Possibly it’s the translation but I had quite a few moments of high embarrassment trying to turn bits of this into a script. A task for a lazy Sunday and a hatchet.
Five hours of solitary excitement today. There’s nothing much else to do but keep hacking away at whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and I don’t actually think I know. As usual, I spent most of the time working on movement — getting myself moving without suffering, and I’m really physically far from dancerly at the moment, as well as actually ‘dancing’, looking all old and arthritic compared to what I was doing last year.
And a bit of realisation I’ve reached the point of remaking the wheel, where last year I got some ideas fairly coherent and there’s not a lot of point in improvising for three hours solid trying to come up with ideas when they already exist. Though new stuff is also sprouting. I think I need to cut some of this in Final Cut and make sense of it (I video most of my messings around), try and recreate a single stream of performance, rather than bash away blindly at the same thing over and over from different sides. I have three days of rehearsal next week, so shall apply myself to this then.
The good news for my knee is that arthroscopy is no longer really likely, as it seems to have recovered mostly and the standard test don’t elicit a yipe from me, though I can’t imagine myself being able to do the stuff I was doing last year in any way in the near future.
So, abjection trolleys along. I definitely have the need to vanish into a studio for six weeks and really crawl into the bowel of this piece; there’s too much stuff that requires an intensity that doing it only a couple of times a week isn’t going to prepare me for.
In the meantime, there’s jute disintegration with Dasniya this weekend, things with Melanie Lane in December and possibly oh yes possible something with Daniel Jaber also. Excitement? Yes!