The Oracle Dance – Essay


Charged with mystery, dance can become our teacher in matters of ethics. Charging dance with magic and mys­tery might help us understand alterity within our own bodies, so that we can dance ourselves out of our selves and into the world – Alice Chauchat

“Les Assistantes” – choreographer Jennifer Lacey and fine artist Nadia Lauro propose the utopia of the collective in which the individual does not have to limit his/her personal freedom. They create poetic and at the same time concretely physical takeovers of the individual into the community.

embodied interpretive apparatus


  • the audience activates the choreographic apparatus by the utterance of a question
  • by asking a question, the spectator decides the “aboutness”

Importance: it creates a space/ event for collective imagination as a political tool for creating the future

Hospitality / choreographic score that facilitates things to happen

Alice Chauchat

The fact that these are improvisation scores makes the work of dissociation between the dancer and the dance all the more crucial

the score has no author and each event relinqueshes authorship for the dances represent something exterior to the dancer (Alice Chauchat)

An oracle is, by definition, either a person or agency through whom a deity is believed to speak; a place where a deity reveals hidden knowledge through a person; or the knowledge revealed, the answer, the prediction itself. An oracle is an ancient form of divination. The Oracle Dance (2014) is a choreographic score that sets conditions for a premodern interpretive system to be activated by the spectators, creating and event of non-relational participation.

This essay addresses The Oracle Dance as a choreographic score that creates a non-relational participatory performance through the lenses of Michael Corris & Charlie Gére’s notion of ‘aesthetics of hospitality’. I will examine The Oracle Dance as a performative event where both performers and spectators share authorship, having the possibility of accessing an embodied imagination of a possible future. The notion of “embodied imagination” is used here for the score propels the engagement with cognitions other that rationality, such as intuition, bodily sensation, spiritual insight and creativity. This essay will examine the context within which The Oracle Dance has been developed, the relinquishing of its authorship and the conditions created by the performance itself. It will assess ‘aesthetics of hospitality’ as a possible response to the crisis of the social imaginary, according to the writing of Bojana Cvejić and Ana Vujanović.

The Oracle Dance was developed collectively at Impulstanz Festival in Vienna, in the frame of TTT (Teachers Teaching Teachers) sessions, a yearly event focused on research and knowledge production designed by American choreographer Jennifer Lacey. Other artists who participated in the 2014 sessions were Alice Chauchat, Valentina Desideri, Alix Eyunaudi, Keith Hennessy, Anne Juren, Mark Lorimer, Raimundas Malašauskas, Philippe Riéra and Mårten Spångberg. Since then, The Oracle Dance score has been widely disseminated and, as stated by American choreographer Eleanor Bauer, it belongs to nobody and anybody. Creating an authorless choreographic score in such context can be understood as a way to propose alternative frameworks that undermine the greateness of the author as a “person”, which is a creation of the capitalist ideology (Barthes, 1964).

The fact that the score has been disseminated and that it may be performed by anyone around the globe is a way of expanding one’s artistic practice, transmitting ones’ aesthetics and creating conditions for new dialogue to appear. Sweden-based choreographer and performer Frédéric Gies has made a score available online for artists who would like to perform it. Dance (praticable) (2006) can be performed as a solo or by a group and include instructions regarding authorship: “The interpreters of the score become co-author of the choreography with Frédéric Gies”. The Oracle Dance goes even further for it has no author and the spectators are invited to, one at a time, ask a question that will be answered by a dance. The choreographic score has to be activated by a particular member of the audience who therefore decides what that particular dance/oracular reading will be about. The spectator becomes a co-author of the work. According to Roland Barthes, it was positivism, ‘resume and the result of capitalist ideology’, which has given such great importance to the author’s person. Relinquishing authorship in The Oracle Dance goes beyond an attempt to undermine capitalist ideology; it facilitates things to happen, it creates a space of shared responsibility between performers and spectators, it creates ‘hospitality’.

In The Oracle Dance there are a few standpoints on which the score is based: the Oracle knows everything and is always right. The Oracle decides the duration of the answer, which is determined by when it stops dancing. Any question and answer are valid. The Reader may speak as frequently or infrequently as it makes sense to them during the Oracle’s dance. The responsibility of the creation of meaning in The Oracle Dance is then placed upon the spectator who asks the question, upon the Reader and, in a less cognitively rational manner, upon the group of performers who, by moving together without knowing the actual question, embody the role of the Oracle.

Following Kelly Jordan‘s elaboration on Ranciere‘s writing on participation and the emancipated spectator, the possibility of taking more than one role, of an observing spectator or spectator-consultant in this case, allows for the possibility of borders becoming thresholds, allowing for the cultivation of more than one kind of emancipated spectator (Jordan, 2016). I had the opportunity to practice and 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 performance of the score: the Oracle, the Reader, the spectator-consultant and the spectator. The roles of Oracle and Reader are always played the performers. The spectator-consultant is the member of the audience who activates the score by posing a question to the Reader. The spectator is therefore presented with two choices: of hearing the question uttered by another, witnessing the answer – the dance being performed by the Oracle – whilst hearing the Reader’s interpretation of the answer; or uttering a question and both seeing its answer as the Oracle dances and hearing the Reader’s interpretation. The possibility to choose to activate the score or not; the freedom to ask any question, and the action of being open to hear one’s interpretation of a dance while watching it, cultivates more that one kind of emancipated spectator.

In this way, each performance of The Oracle Dance becomes a singular event composed by several different encounters; each new encounter begins every time a new question is uttered. It becomes a practice of receptivity where participants are invited to be open to unexpected insights. This opening to the other, the impossibility of both anticipating the happening and of fully comprehending the outcomes make it a performative event in the Derridean sense (Derrida, 2007). In such context, “the other” could mean any person present in the event or the realm of virtual powers produced by the Oracle’s dance. The notion of ‘aesthetics of hospitality‘ suggested by Corris & Gére places the judgement of an artwork in its ability to produce singular encounters, encoutners with alterity; in its ability to help us imagine how to remain ‘open and hospitable to the Other’ (Corris & Gére, 2008, p.). Following Corris & Gére’s suggestion, although The Oracle Dance is a participative performance, it cannot be considered “relational art”, as elaborated by Nicolas Bourriaud in ‘relational aesthetics’. According to Charlie Gére, Bourriaud’s “relational aesthethics” place the value of an artwork on the ‘inter-human relations they represent, produce or prompt’. Participatory art works that engage in ‘relational aesthetics’ aim to bring a community together to engage in daily social situations. Most of them fail to leave enough of a gap between the artwork and the permanently engaged spectator; i.e. there is no defferal, no differánce. Is such cases, it is not likely that something uncanny will happen, unless it comes from the outside.

The notion of Corris & Gére’s ‘aesthetics of hospitality’ is based on Derrida’s concept of hospitality, which consists on the paradox of a conditional hospitality driven by an impossible absolute hospitality. According to Derrida, hospitality is ‘at one level always conditional and based on context, circumstance, hierarchy and expectations of the capacity to reciprocate’. However, it always has the absolute, unconditional opening to the other as its horizon as the condition for its existence (Corris & Gére, 2008, p. 16). Hospitality always involves mastery and control over our space for without it one would not be able to ‘host’ a ‘guest’. Transposing Derrida’s concept of hospitality to a performance situation such as The Oracle Dance, where the spectator is given certain choices and the freedom to determine the dance’s “aboutness” – but always within the frame o the score – it becomes clear that such event creates hospitality. Furthermore, The Oracle Dance does not depart from human relations and social contexts, it proposes the embodiment of a premodern interpretive system i.e. it puts forward a tension between mythic thinking and make-believe. It also plays with how meaning can be created through dance and it uses improvisation to connect with the unknown, making it an example of a participatory performance that engages in the ‘aesthetics of hospitality’.

Furthermore, for Derek Attridge, the experience of creating a work of art is bound up with ‘letting something happen’ (Corris & Gére, 2008, p. 19). A way to allow ‘alterity’, ‘otherness’ 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 knowlwdge beyond the material one has already had access to (Corris & Gére, 2008, p. 20). Such way of operating can be noticed in the way The Oracle Dance is scored as a whole, for it creates conditions for unpredictibility, even though it paradoxicaly invites the spectator to access hidden knowledge or to predictions of the future. From the perspective of the performers involved in The Oracle Dance, such operational mode also appears: they dance aiming for clarity, for a way to allow some kind of recognition to happen, even though they ignore the question they answer to. The Oracles Dance is an example of a score that allows dance to be an encounter external to the dancer, creating a distance between the dance and its medium – the dancer (Chauchat, 2017). This way dance becomes an ‘autonomous entity, which is alien to the dancer and towards which the dancer performs a particular relationship…’ (Chauchat, 2017). It is a mechanism analog to that exposed by Barthes as the ‘gap between the utterance and the one who utters it, between the writer and the book’ (Barthes, 1964).

If every single art work or project has a potential to project one possible world (Cvejić, Vujanović, 2016), in the world proposed by The Oracle Dance we are all entangled subjects. If such practice of receptivity and encounter with alterity through the poetic and experimental relationships to dance may help us ‘develop ethical relationships to everything we are a part of as implicated or entangled subjects’, engaging in art works that propose ‘aesthetics of hospitality’ could be considered an ethical choice (Chauchat, 2017). In a moment when it seems utopian ‘to think of a society that is not neoliberal-capitalist’ and the neoliberal reforms send the message that “there is no future”, proposing an artistic encounter to ask of, reveal or imagine the future could be an response to such crisis of the social imaginary (Cvejić, Vujanović, 2016). If art is the ideal place for the emergence of social imaginaries, besides manifesting critiques, art must also affirm other possibilities (Cvejić, Vujanović, 2016). As an authorless score that is activated by the spectator, reveals hidden knowledge and predicts the future, The Oracle Dance may be able to, at least, foster the imagination of how to remain open and hospitable to the other.


Gere, C., & Corris, M. (2008). Non-relational Aesthetics. London: Artwords Press.

Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author.

Chauchat, A. (2017). Generative Fictions, or How Dance May Teach Us Ethics. Post-Dance. Stokholm: MDT

Cvejić, B., & Vujanović, A. (2016). The Crisis of the Social Imaginary and Beyond.

Jordan, K. (2016). On the Border of Participation: Spectatorship a nd the ‘Interactive Rituals’ of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra. Journal of Contemporary Drama in English Dramma, 4(1). 104-118

Derrida, J. (2007). Psyche: Inventions of the Other Volume 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Nobody’s Dance (2015), Stockholm.

Danspace Project, New York.

The Crisis of the Social Imaginary and Beyond

Long-term projections into the distant future

The general crisis of social imagination is also manifested in art. Let’ s consider, for instance, the contemporary performing arts scenes in Europe. We often see brilliant critiques of neoliberal and individualist capitalism, but only rarely are other possibilities affirmed.

In general, we c onsider art a perfect place for imagining the social and for social imagination. This is our biggest example of constantly emerge nt social imaginaries, so to speak . At bottom, in art, every single work or project has a potential to project one possible world. We need not expect these worlds to be large, complete, specta -cular, intellectually elaborated, etc. As they are – that is, as small, chaotic, clumsy, experimental, affective, etc. they probably cannot change society like a social revolu -tion, coup d’état etc. but they can still hack the virtual world of our society rather than ‘leaving it alone’ in its actuality.

With such expectations of art, we could project an addi tional criterion for the evaluation of art, apart from the conceptual. If every work of art must nowadays im -plicitly answer the question “What is art?” (i.e. what it proposes as the concept of art), then an image of society can be derived indirectly from that same work of art. This is not just a matter of acknowledging the political aspect of every artwork. It also means that we must make an effort of the imagination as viewers of art; must think or ima -gine what kind of society this artwork recommends, h ow it conceives of its social and aesthetic ideals, how it organizes itself structurally, what are its modes of pe rception and action, its actors and its beneficiaries. This could be a test for every artwork, a mental exercise: what would society be like after this work of art?

Non-relational aesthetics

If the best an art workcan do is to foster the imagination of how to ‘remain open and hospitable to the other’

The best art can do is to continually bring to our attention to the contingency of every form of community in the light of our separateness and singularity. The best a work of art (not ‘Art’) can do, perhaps all it can do, is help us imagine what it must be to remain open and hospitable to the Other, by confronting us with its own singularity, never unconditionally, as that would be impossible, but with unconditional hospitality as our horizon

Unused stuff by me

aesthetics of hospitality (Gere) / hospitality (Derrida) as a possible way to imagine od future —> crisis of social imagination (Ana & Bojana) —> not knowing WHAT to imagine but HOW —> this would be the political aspect of this work —> Ranciere

An interesting aspect of The Oracle Dance is the invitation to the members of the audience to have their questions answered by a dance. It is a play with the ‘”usefulness” of a dance to serve a specific purpose’, as posed by Eleanor Bauer. Presenting the utilitarian sense of an artwork that deals with mythic thinking and/or make-believe creates a paradox – me

entering the realm of virtual powers without ecstasy; starting from the assumption that the oracle always knows / such as the work of German artist Mary Wigman and other pioneers of expressionist dance. The choreographic score – me

When encountering a performance entitled The Oracle Dance, one might expect an artistic event constructed upon mysticism; a dance based on notions around a primitive body, related to the onset of modern dance in the early twentieth century, however it is not the case. – me

“in primitive societies, narrative is never undertaken by a person, but by a mediator, shaman or speaker, whose “perfor -mance” may be admired (that is, his mastery of the narrative code), but not his “ge -nius” The author is a modern figure” – Barthes


“the explanation of the work is always sought in the man who has produced it, as if, through the more or less transparent allegory of fiction, it was always finally the voice of one and the same person, the author, which delivered his “confidence.”” – relinquishing authorship as a way to promote a distance between dancer and dance, so that it differs from the search of the 20th century, when the dance represented the dancer, expressed his interiority.

the “gap between the utterance and the one who utters it, between the writer and the book” that Barthes talks about is the distance between the dancer and the dance that happens within the conditions and constrains created by the score

Is the fiction the knowledge?

use description of the dance to illustrate how the theory is constructed

It goes against some of the sayings of Ivone Rainer’s “No manifesto”, but moving forwards not backwards

Isabelle Stegners

“ecology of practice is a tool for thinking through what is happening, and a tool is never neutral. A tool can be passed from hand to hand, but each time the gesture of taking it in hand will be a particular one—the tool is not a general means, defined as adequate for a set of particular aims”

As the witch Starhawk wrote, calling forth the efficacy of ritual magic is in itself an act of magic. Indeed it goes against all the plausible, comfortable reasons that propose magic as a simple matter of belief, part of a past which should remain in the past. ‘We no longer …’— as soon as we begin like that, the master word of progress is speaking in our place

Kelly Jordan

post-dance – Oracle Dance / modern dance – virtual self-expression / postmodern dance – Ivone Rainer’s “No Manifesto”

the neoliberal reforms paralyse our capacity to think of the future – Bojana Cvejić and Ana Vujanović

Ana Vujanović “A Late Night Theory of Post-Dance, a selfinterview”

“I also think its the moment when think-dance completed its historical role”

“It is more about being a fugitive from only one type of knowledge, the one that results from analytical observation and rational thinking.”

Oracle Dance: a practice that proposes ways of oberserving and understanding the world other than rational thinking

“post-dance I g u ess-th e dance which incor­ porates the knowledge o f dance elaborated in think- dance. It is also the dance that doesn’t need to confirm all the time that it is smart. … Maybe we can say that first we have super smart think-dance to ask questions about dance, create problems, and even offer some solu­ tions. We call it exhausted dance. Then comes post-dance, which is always-already an exhausted dance but doesn’t care about it any longer and explores what else it can be once it”

Post-dance – a term proposed by Marten Spanberg

“humans are capable of creativity, affectivity, intuition, bodily sensa­ tion, spiritual insight, etc. These are the ways to per­ceive the world, to know it and to live in it. …Already Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela wrote about living as embodied cognition.”