Mythopoetics and hospitality in participatory performances
The Oracle Dance (2014) is a choreographic score that sets conditions for a participatory non-relational performance. The score has no author and was developed collectively during the TTT (Teachers Teaching Teachers) sessions in Impulstanz Festival in Vienna. Performances of The Oracle Dance are participatory, for the score needs to be activated by the spectators: one member of the audience asks a question – any question – to the performer called the ‘Reader’. The Reader then calls in the ‘Oracle’, a group of performers who have not heard the question. The Oracle starts to dance and, during that time, the Reader interprets the dance in relation to the question asked, delivering the speech-answer. The performers may then exchange roles and restart the procedure.
The knowledge produced during the performances of The Oracle Dance by means of movement and its interpretation (materialized in speech) seems to contain information the performers would be unable to access through rational thinking. This indicates that performances of the score create tension between empirical-theoretical thought; in which cause and effect must be connected (causality); and mythopoetic thought, which excludes such principle (Love, 1970, p. 65). This essay will analyze the performance conditions prompted by The Oracle Dance score in order to elucidate the means by which it achieves such tension between empirical-theoretical thought and mythopoetic thought; modes of thinking that will be further explicated in the following paragraphs.
I had the opportunity to perform The Oracle Dance in 2017 in the frame of the laboratory ‘What remains’, led by French choreographer Lynda Rahal at Residency Lote #5 at Casa do Povo, São Paulo, Brazil. It was then possible for me to experience the different roles present during the performances: the Oracle, the Reader, the spectator-consultant and the spectator-observer. After the performances, some participants stated they were very surprised with the actual relevance of the answers given by The Oracle Dance; and I happened to be one of them. One situation was particularly intriguing: after a performance, I was told that, while performing the ‘Reader’, I had spoken accurately about events I had no previous knowledge of; as if I’d been present at the situation in question. This event made me think of the way knowledge is produced and consider the tension between different modes of thinking generated by The Oracle Dance.
In empirical-theoretical thought, as established by French philosopher Levy-Bruhl; the connection of cause and effect – causality – is irreversible in time (Love, 1970, p. 65). Moreover, empiricism (theory that all knowledge is based on sensorial experience) states that both “cause and effect are perceptible in time and nearly always in space” (Ibid). On the other hand, mythic consciousness excludes such arrangements of causality, and “mythopoetic thought accepts the situation in which only one of the two conditions – cause or effect – is perceptible in time and space” (Ibid). If the rational mind can only understand what is perceptible; could one say that within The Oracle Dance there is a possibility of connecting with and translating the ‘imperceptible’ through the activation of the mythic consciousness? A possible interpretation of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘imperceptible’, articulated in A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (1987), is that the ‘imperceptible’ refers to data that cannot be recognized and is not possible to be organized conceptually (Smith and Protevi, 2018). Correlating this definition with that of mythopoetic thought, the ‘imperceptible’ in The Oracle Dance is both the knowledge that is not accessible by means of sensorial experience; as well as the condition – cause or effect – that mythopoetic thought allows not to be perceptible in time and space in the performance situation.
The score proposes a chain of actions: (a) question; (b) dance-answer; (c) speech-answer (b + c happening simultaneously). The causal relation between these actions cannot be empirically verified. Thus, The Oracle Dance proposes what Love defines as “mythopoetic cause and effect, as they repeatedly confront one with propositions given as true without sufficient empirical cause and reason or why they should be true” (Love, 1970, p. 64). The logic that structures The Oracle Dance is mythopoetic thought. Nevertheless, participants were repeatedly surprised by the relevance of the knowledge produced during the performances, as if there was an ‘imperceptible’ causality.
The temporary alliance between performers and spectators – who connect with the ‘imperceptible’ engaging in a belief system where knowledge can be gained in a mythopoetic thinking mode during the performance event – demands conditions of receptivity where participants are invited to be open to unexpected insight. This opening to the ‘Other’ (other participants and the ‘imperceptible’) and the impossibility of both anticipating the happening and of fully comprehending the outcomes, point towards the notion of ‘aesthetics of hospitality’, as coined by Charlie Gere and Michael Corris. The ‘aesthetics of hospitality’ place the value of the art work in its ability to produce singular encounters, encounters with alterity; in its ability to help us imagine how to remain “open and hospitable to the Other” (2008, p. 21).
A way to allow ‘otherness’ (the imperceptible) to emerge in an art work would be to “operate without being sure of where it is going, probing the limits of the culture’s givens, taking advantage of their contradictions and tensions”, since one can have no knowledge beyond the material one has already had access to (Gere and Corris 2008, p. 20). Such mode of operating can be noticed in the way The Oracle Dance is scored as a whole, for it creates conditions for unpredictability and it invites the spectator to access hidden knowledge and predictions of the future. Since the logic of The Oracle Dance is mythopoetic thought, the score needs to create conditions of hospitality that allow for the engagement of the spectators within the unconventional mode of thinking. When inviting the spectators to ask ‘any’ question, and therefore to decide the ‘aboutness’ of the performance, the performers of The Oracle Dance act as ‘hosts’ and the spectators become ‘guests’.
In an art work, performers and spectators must be entangled within a hospitable environment for the development of ‘mythopoetic performance writing’; where “form and logic deviate from those of empirical science and whose language is not always invested and ordered according to convention” (Love, 1970, p. 64). The hospitality achieved by The Oracle Dance is a consequence of three different operations belonging to the score itself and to the performances it consequently produces: ‘the creation of open spaces’; ‘the absence of ‘the author’’; and the invitation for ‘active spectatorship/ participation’.
The first operation this essay will address is the ‘creation of open spaces’: ‘the Oracle knows everything and is always right’; ‘the Oracle decides the duration of the answer’; ‘any question is valid’; ‘any answer is valid’. These principles resemble Open Space Technology (OST); a methodological tool that enables a group to self-organize in a meeting space that has no formal agenda. OST also operates under four principles: ‘whoever comes are the right people’; ‘whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened’; ‘when it starts is the right time’; ‘when it’s over it’s over’. By juxtaposing the principles of both systems, one is able to notice a common direction towards the creation of spaces that attempt to undermine expectations, pre-conceptions and judgement; aiming to create hospitality.
In The Oracle Dance, the spectator decides the ‘aboutness’ of the event by uttering a question; what can be correlated to two core principles of OST: the event evolves during the actual event; there is no previously planned agenda, even though there is a facilitator – a host – to run the proceedings; and the event itself is run by the audience. The Reader can be considered a facilitator in The Oracle Dance. The agenda of an OST event is created by the individuals of the audience posting their issues of concern on a board. Each of them then becomes an idea that will be discussed by different groups in separate rooms, so that everyone can feel contemplated. In a similar way, according to the Oracle, ‘any question is valid’ and ‘any answer is valid’, thus both OST and the choreographic score create a friendly environment; a sense of generosity.
The way The Oracle Dance and OST organize time is particularly effective in undermining expectations: if ‘the Oracle is always right and it decides the duration of the answer’, there can be no such thing as an incomplete, unsatisfactory or redundant answer, for ‘any answer is valid’. The same happens in OST, since ‘when it starts is the right time’ and ‘when it’s over it’s over’. In both cases, the knowledge produced is the right knowledge. They create a sense of ‘togetherness’: in OST the audience of the event takes collective responsibility for finding solutions for the issues under discussion; in the performance, the Oracle and the Reader work together to answer the spectators’ questions.
The Oracle Dance and Open Space Technology have sets of rules that demand openness and receptivity, creating hospitable spaces where participants have the freedom to search for and to focus on their immediate interests and needs. In both cases, they may also discover alternative ways of producing knowledge.
Another operation that plays an important role in creating hospitality in The Oracle Dance is the relinquishing of its authorship. The Oracle Dance follows the tradition within contemporary Western choreography of writing scores that generate movement material and, when appropriated by other artists through dissemination, the authorship moves beyond of the score’s author, such as in Nancy Stark-Smith’s Underscore and Frédéric Gies’ Dance (praticable). The Oracle Dance pursues this line of experimentation: it focuses on co-authorship with each particular audience member during each performance; and it is available to be activated by anyone around the globe.
Since its collective creation in 2014, the score has been widely disseminated and, as stated by American choreographer Eleanor Bauer (2016): “it belongs to nobody and anybody”; what places it outside capitalistic frameworks. This displacement converges with the writing of French philosopher Roland Barthes in his seminal essay The Death of the Author (1964), where he posits it was “positivism, resume and the result of capitalist ideology, which has accorded the greatest importance to the author’s person” (p. 2). Therefore, undermining the figure of ‘the author’ by creating an authorless work to be disseminated, proposes an alternative mode of artistic creation based on non-hierarchical organization.
The absence of the authority figure of the “author” in The Oracle Dance creates a non-hierarchical system that has the potential to connect with anyone at any time. It therefore produces performance events where participants share the responsibility of co-creation. Such characteristics make The Oracle Dance a rhizomatic system: the notion of rhizome elaborated by Deleuze and Guattari refers to systems that are ‘acentered’ (have no principal axis); non-hierarchical systems that are formed by alliances, entanglements (1987, pp. 5-25). As rhizomatic events, performances of The Oracle Dance are based on a chain of events that connect with the ‘imperceptible’ by means of mythopoetic thinking.
“Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 12). The possibility that anyone can activate the score, could mean it has multiple entryways. The different roles present in each performance of the score could also be apprehended as multiple entryways; what points to the third operation that creates hospitality to be exposed in this essay: active participation through two kinds of spectatorship.
There are four different interchangeable roles which can be embodied in The Oracle Dance; two of them being roles of spectatorship: the spectator-consultant and the spectator-observer. The spectator-consultant co-creates the performance by uttering a question to the Reader; sees the Oracle’s dance-answer and hears the Reader’s speech-answer. The spectator-observer hears the question, sees the Oracle’s dance-answer and hears the Reader’s speech-answer. Both options engage them in modes of spectatorship that require a complex and layered practice of perception that converge with Jacques Rancière’s concepts of participation and the emancipated spectator: the spectator may choose to either participate by activating the score or to remain an observer. As an observer, the distance from the performance allows the spectator to imagine; to create meaningful associations. This process turns observation into active participation and therefore erodes the opposition between participating and observing, as proposed by Rancière (Jordan, 2016, pp. 107-108). The spectator-consultant crosses the borders between spectators and performers without being controlled or manipulated. In addition, the possibility of changing roles during the same performance allows for the borders to become thresholds, once more collapsing the binary opposition between observing and participating (Ibid., 109).
The Oracle Dance also challenges binary oppositions such as perceptible versus imperceptible, rational versus non-rational, real versus imaginary and true versus false, by creating tension between empirical-theoretical thought and mythopoetic thought. This essay demonstrated – taking The Oracle Dance as an example – that in order for such tension to emerge, a temporary belief system structured by mythopoetic logic should be formed; what requires the establishment of a temporary alliance between performers and spectators within a hospitable environment. Finally, a mythopoetic thinking mode can only be activated within conditions of hospitality. Three of the operations that can be deployed to achieve hospitality in a performance situation are: ‘creating open spaces’; ‘relinquishing authorship’’, and allowing for ‘active spectatorship/ participation’.
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