Theoretical framework on feminist dramaturgy in dance

Ana Dubljevic, from MA thesis„Feminist pornscapes“

Dramaturgy of Still to come as landscape dramaturgy?

As I mentioned before, landscape dramaturgy is interesting to reflect on feminist pornscapes practice, as a model of production dramaturgy. This model comes closest to my understanding of feminist dramaturgies, in the way performances are structured. I will use some key points of this concept by Ana Vujanović to analyze segments of our performance dramaturgy here. In two articles from 2017 and 2018, Vujanović takes a closer look at a tendency she observes emerging in dramaturgy of performing arts and names it “landscape dramaturgy”. Although I have said that it is a model of dramaturgy, it would be challenging to firmly sum it up, in connection with the variety of practices and performances that investigate it, but also having in mind that this dramaturgical approach is only still emerging. Vujanović emphasizes that she has no strong dramaturgical model to propose, but that she speaks about it primarily in poetic rather than analytical terms, that in her inquiry she uses theoretical intuition, her own long-standing questions and experience of attending several performances in the European contemporary scenes in recent years.[1] Finding its historical perspective in theater landscape dramaturgy, starting from the works of Gertrude Stein, going to Hans-Thies Lehmann’s work that captures the turn from logos to landscape as postdramatic, and Maaike Bleeker’s writing on “theater of landscape” as a new theater tendency in the 1980s and 1990s, Vujanović further points to contemporary influences on temporality and spacing of this dramaturgical approach in performing arts, such as post-internet art, slow cinema, recent trend of programing dance in museums, but also associating it, in a wider social sphere, with protests and other more horizontal ways of gathering, relating and co-presence having been probed recently. Concerning the space, the landscape dramaturgy of 20th century replaced the logocentric depth with a surface, through its intention of spacing out, – visual became the main domain of performance in which its meaning was disintegrated, and visual dramaturgy opened the performance to intertextuality, where even the audience contributed by their different ‘readings’.”[2] In addition, contemporary landscape dramaturgy, Vujanović argues, uses this spacing out to question perspective of us ”inhabiting this post-logocentric surface together”[3]. Vujanović identifies three main tactics that landscape dramaturgy uses to question perspectival organization: multiplying personal views, the challenging of the one-point view, and she shares her own propositions for sharing a view. I will discuss here the tactic of challenging one-point perspective and how it was developed in feminist pornscapes practice.Classical one-point perspective becomes an unavoidable question especially when it ceases to function, that is when we are put in front of, or more precisely, when we are immersed in the works that treat meaning as “not a condensed unit of human rationality”[4], but that are increasingly spacing out, leaving us with no clear guidance through the experience. In the process of making “Still to come, a feminist pornscape” we could not read Vujanović's analysis and work with it as it was published a short time after our creation process finished, but it is obvious from the “scape” part of our title that we were working with the ideas she has identified. But we read Malvey! At this point, I would like to link back the questioning of one-point perspective (this deeply rooted paradigm of how we are trained to see the world) of contemporary landscape dramaturgy, to Malvey's critique of male gaze in cinema, I referred to earlier in my writing. Not coincidentally, Malvey characterizes male character in a movie as “a figure in the landscape”[5] and invites for a cancellation of, in this case also classical, one-point perspective of the male gaze, by including more and different gazes, i.e. perspectives, in the cinema art. In feminist pornscape practice we accessed the question of possibly different scopic regime from this approach. The performance audience set up was dealt with a conscious intention to empower different gazes – there was no one front, no one way of looking at actions on the stage. When discussing perspective and perspectival organization, Vujanović starts from Damish's idea that “perspective is conceptual as much as it is optic, and as such it is a paradigmatic symbolic form (Damisch 1995)”[6] and shares Bleeker's standpoint about perspective as an invention of Early modern period that profoundly influenced our modern scientific worldview. Coming from the linear perspective conceived in the early 15th century as a technique of visual representation in painting, one-point perspective influenced profoundly our conception of the relationship of the world and a human subject. ”This perspectival organization of the world is pretty centralistic: individualist and anthropocentric”[7], writes Vujanović. I would agree and add, referring to feminist pornscapes practice and Malvey – it is because this one-point perspectival organization is intrinsic to patriarchal social order, in which it emerged and in which it became the main scopic regime. From a feminist point of view, it is integral to ask questions like – who has the privilege to claim a specific kind of observational position in the world? What kind of different observational positions were excluded? And curiously, how accurately does central observational position relate to our reality? In her analysis of perspectival drawing, Vujanović reminds us that when we are looking at the painting we are aware that linear perspective of the image actually falsifies the reality depicted, but that it seduces us with that subjective feeling of our own presence in it, so we “turn a blind eye to the distortion of reality because in turn we obtain a central observational position in the world, from which the world looks unified and well composed.”[8] However imaginatively speculative and fictional, feminist pornscapes wanted to, at the same time, stay real. From this position we asked – is the world really like this?As we were “translating” a genre of a movie – medium in which the view is inevitably created – to a different medium of a live performance, it was clear that questioning the perspective that applies only to the audience set up, cannot be sufficient. In the phase of the process when we started putting stage materials together, as well as later in the fixed score of the performance, we practiced allowing the actions to co-exist together, but also have their own autonomy on stage. There was no hierarchy between the materials, nothing was more, or less important than the other, because there was no specific one view-point to build. This decision was organically based on the practice of feminist dramaturgical thinking we established. Subsequently, it was based on the shared stand-point with Ursula Le Guin and her Carrier bag theory of fiction, that proposes a different history of storytelling. This different history differs from the linear, progressive his-story, the killer story about the Hero and proposes a story that is carried like gathered food collected in a bag, in “this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were.”[9] This kind of dramaturgical approach produced, amongst other characteristics, simultaneous actions happening at once in the womb-like theater space we created. Discussing the challenging of one-point perspective by the tactic that, like the one I described, breaks with theatrical apparatus of hierarchy between planes, Vujanović writes: Objects, bodies, and spaces are on stage in their actual sizes, shapes, and proportions, and they are arranged or moved around without a conceptual and visual point of view to define their rationale. For instance, the movements taking place in the back are not a background – as they are in ballet or drama theatre – but can have equal importance as those upfront”[10]To this tactic she offers associations with cubist landscapes and present experience of internet search structure. In our practice this idea of multitude of perspectives was also related to the post-anthropocentric feminist idea of multiplicity. Not the one of the neoliberal capitalism dictate, which Vujanović accurately sees as characteristic of landscape dramaturgy that, if used in a particular way, we could be critical about, but on the contrary – multiplicity that potentially produces the challenging engagement of the audience, inviting them to think their own positioning. “If we think about the audience, these and similar displays are, in a special way, engaging because they give an impression of not being composed and meant to be watched by anyone in particular.”[11] The performance doesn't offer us any particular view and, in the words of Vujanović, lets it be. “This ‘let it be’ is however not about celebrating a spontaneity of the state of affairs, but, as I am trying to show, a delicate artistic gesture and a deliberate invitation to think and live differently.”[12]One more intention helped us construct dramaturgy of Still to come, which curiously consists of two seemingly opposing elements. The first one I can identify through some feedback from the audience members who said that the performance produced in them an uncomfortable feeling when it appeared that the performance was not interested in them. I can assume that this reflection could have originated from our decision to do the performance “for our own pleasure”, but not merely personal artistic performing pleasure. It was a way for us to claim that a feminist pornscape exists almost by itself, as a landscape that you can decide to look, look away from, or come back to, a landscape that welcomes you to feel as a part of it or not. It was a way for us to say that this kind of performance does not ask anything from you, that it liberates the audience of any expectations. In fact, the only thing that this performance asks from you, is to not ask anything from you. Vujanović identifies this characteristic as “indifferent thingness” of the landscape, especially associating it with the present moment of questioning the position of human subject in the world of Anthropocene. These performances are dramaturgicaly turned inwards, they do not address us, “[t]hereby, they enhance an indifferent thingness of the performance landscape, where we really need to think and examine how to get in.“[13]The second one is treating the event of the performance as a social situation of spending time together, a shared affective and meaningful experience. In the performance, this intention was acknowledged by creating a rounded, dimly lit, cozy and intimate performing space, as well as by “flirting” with borders of stage and audience spaces by means of lighting and spacing of actions, but also by gestures of returning back the gaze, when performers would exercise their agency inside being-looked-at-ness. I think this complex intention helped us create a certain positive tension of constant choosing on how to be together, for the audience as well as for us performing it.In her finishing thoughts on contemporary landscape dramaturgy, Vujanovic reminds us that this is not a new rounded paradigm that simply comes and replaces the “old” perspective, but that these dramaturgical tactics are uncertain. My experience of participating in the creation of feminist pornscapes invites me to more than agree with this, as it was a challenging attempt to not only research democratization of the gaze, but rather to invite us all, authors included, for “truly new epistemic of perceiving the space around us, be it mental, physical, emotional, political or social.”[14] Vujanović invites us to best understand these attempts “as prefigurative artistic experiments”[15] that, in feminist pornscapes words, are – still to come.Hopefully, I was able to present here some key ideas behind stage dramaturgy of our performance, with the help of the concept of contemporary landscape dramaturgy. What I would like to additionally discuss based on this analysis is that equating landscape with feminist dramaturgy, something that is present in my artistic environments, is, in my opinion, questionable. As I presented here with the example of feminist pornscapes practice, the key tactics of landscape dramaturgy could very well be the same as the ones of feminist dramaturgies, but their base of questioning may not necessarily be the same. In other words, for landscape dramaturgy, as a model of stage dramaturgy, to be considered a feminist dramaturgy, it needs to be a “product” of the micro-political practice of feminist dramaturgical thinking. In my opinion, this kind of practice ensures that all the levels of creation, production and dissemination of the performance stay firmly grounded in the feminist dramaturgical ideas, not only the stage part of it. Remaining in confusion about terms and understanding of landscape and feminist dramaturgy contributes to already existing dangers within both concepts, appear in front of the omnipresent art market. For example, there are performances I know of, that are made mostly by women choreographers that present themselves intensely as feminist choreographers, using landscape dramaturgy as their stage dramaturgy of choice, but practice processes of exploitation, non-transparency and emotional, psychological, physical abuse of dancers and other collaborators, while nonetheless, producing a piece that is sold based on the fact that the piece itself looks like feminist dramaturgy. Both concepts are fresh and trendy, and their superficial exploitation can also easily slip into contributing to experience economy or production of sociability that institutions love to exploit.

[1] “... performances such as Mårten Spångberg’s La Substance, but in English (2014), The Internet(2015) and Natten (2016), Doris Uhlich’s More than Naked (2014) and Boom Bodies (2016), Isabelle Schad’s and Laurent Goldring’s Collective Jumps (2014), Sebastian Matthias Groove Space series (2014-2016) and Anne Imhof’s Angst II (2016). Then I recognized similar approaches in the first works of several new authors, such as Linda Blomqvist’s Cosmos the Beach (2015), Sigrid Stigsdatter Mathiassen’s Coordinates (2017) and Tea Teearu’s Monumental – The Fallen (2017). Besides, I remember that some landscape thinking were present in Christine de Smedt’s Four Choreographic Portraits (2011-2012), which I in different ways associate with Florentina Holzinger’s and Vincent Riebeek’s Wellness (2013) and Schönheitsabend (2015) and (La)Horde’s dance-film Novaciéries (2015). Eventually, in how Ivana Müller creates stage of appearance in Edges (2016) and unfolds it in time I see a literary journey through a landscape.” Ana Vujanović, “Meandering together: New problems in landscape dramaturgy,” Academia. Postdramaturgien, S. Umathum and J. Deck, eds. (Berlin: Neofelis Verlag, 2020), https://www.academia.edu/39913064/Notes_on_Politicality_of_Contemporary_Dance. (accessed May 2020).

[2]Vujanović, Landscape dramaturgy: Space after perspective, 2.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Malvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative cinema, 838.

[6] Vujanović, Landscape dramaturgy: Space after perspective, 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, 154.

[10] Vujanović, Landscape dramaturgy: Space after perspective,6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 7.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 8.

[15] Ibid.

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