3, 2, 1, go. Beyoncé ‘borrows’ moves from the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. She duplicates De Keersmaeker’s “Rosas Danst Rosas” (1983) in her 2011 clip “Countdown.” It isn’t plagiarism; it’s homage, it’s a tribute, darling. Besides, what’s original anyway?
Revamped. Resampled. Reconfigured. Influenced by. What’s mine is yours. Following in the footsteps of the dance pioneers. Patti Smith rolls her head back, looks direct to camera: ‘anything is possible.’ History, it’s in my veins. Who’s following whom? Who founded what? Origin or original? Hey, what does it matter anyway?
DADA gave birth to the Situationist International gave birth to punk. No, Valeska Gert gave birth to punk. She did, didn’t she? She who danced “traffic jams, car accidents, slow movie cuts, boxers, babies, orgasms, and most radically, nothing. . . . [She who] managed to put conceptual brackets around “nothing” some thirty years before John Cage would compose his “groundbreaking” silent piece, “4’33.””1
She was proto punk, born in 1892.
Modern dance is constantly evolving, absorbing what came before it, moulding what is present and pushing towards what is to come. An exploration of the self, of humanity itself, perhaps its only link is that it feels essential to the dancers, choreographers, and the audience, to the makers and the watchers.
But Martin Hansen’s “If it’s all in my veins” is not a nostalgia piece. It is not an homage work either, even if it does extend its arms forward and wriggle its fingers to the likes of Kate Bush, and make like a Faun à la Vaslav Nijinsky. Just as the Sex Pistols tore into the past with “God Save the Queen,” spat on the present with “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and laid waste with ‘no future for you, no future for me,’ it is, to borrow from the Situationists’ 1964 statement, about “breaking the bounds of measurement”2 in order to examine them. Moreover, it is about having fun. Who hasn’t practised their best version of Gert’s ‘pause’ or shook their hair in replica of a little Patti Smith cool? And fun, serious fun, is exactly what the three fantastically deadpan performers, Hellen Sky, Michelle Ferris, and Georgina Bettens are cooking.
“If it’s all in my veins” is not nihilistic and it is not a history lesson. And even as Sky, Ferris, and Bettens are littering the stage with chairs and you find yourself thinking ‘ah, yes, super, I know this one too. This one’s Pina Bausch’s “Café Müller,”’ it does not lean on insider jokes for smart-alecs. It feels more communal than that. It is a collage of moving components. It knows its stuff.
As Sky, Ferris, and Bettens recite in near-perfect unison and refined comic-timing the words to Róisín Murphy’s song, “Simulation,” context is everything.
This is a simulation
This is for demonstration
This is a lonely illusion
This is my only delusion
This is the realm of my wildest dreams
These are my wildest dreams
If it’s all in my veins
It’s all in my mind
You don’t get to be unkind
Commissioned and produced by Dancehouse for this year’s Dance Massive, this work is comprised of three intergenerational performers becoming abstracted images of the original through repetition. “Accompanied by animated GIFs displaying excerpts of dance iconography, re-energis[ing] the punk/DADA fantasy of ‘no future,’”3 it begins with Isadora Duncan and ends with a broom.
Shown in a loop projected on a large canvas panel, Duncan is caught in a fragment of grainy footage from Film of an Outdoor Recital. And there she remains for eternity. She runs forward with her arms outstretched, executes a turn, and returns to repeat the process. In the foreground Sky, Ferris, and Bettens follow not suit but flowing robe. They too are in a loop. 3, 2, 1, go. 3, 2, 1, go. Only each time they repeat the process, the pattern alters ever so slightly—a little more to the left, arms flung open wider, a quickening of pace. They are becoming the “image liberated from the vaults of cinemas and archives…thrust into digital uncertainty, at the expense of its own substance.” The are becoming the “poor image…an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image,”4 and the effect is glorious.
Poor quality, low-resolution images readily accessible through YouTube and the like has meant that there are innumerable Anna Pavlova’s “Dying Swans” floating the waves. A trace of the original, “a ghost image…distributed for free.”5 On stage, Sky’s movement’s echo Fokine’s choreography, yes, but also the resolution of media ripped and remixed.
“If it’s all in my veins” asks what happens when we learn of the original artist through dilapidated source material? How do you interpret Yvonne Rainer’s “The Mind Is a Muscle” via a fuzzy upload? How do you understand Rudolf von Laban’s theory of space harmony through copy and paste? How would Oskar Schlemmer’s “Triadic Ballet” look in focus? Would you even recognise it? Can emotion still be transported and felt?
What is more real: Bettens seated on the floor performing Mary Wigman’s 1926 “Witch Dance” or the projected gif? Answer: both.
If this is an imitation.
If this is reality.
- Mara Goldwyn, “During the Pause,” ArtSlant, March 7, 2011
- “While present-day impotence rambles on about the belated project of “getting into the twentieth century,” we think it is high time to put an end to the ‘dead time’ that has dominated this century, and to finish the Christian era with the same stroke. Here as elsewhere, it’s a matter of breaking the bounds of measurement. Ours is the best effort so far to ‘get out’ of the twentieth century.”Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1990), 24
- Martin Hansen,“If its all in my veins,” programme notes, Dancehouse, Melbourne, March 23, 2017
- Hito Steyerl, “In Defence of the Poor Image,” e-flux #10, November 2009, 1
- Steyerl, “In Defence of the Poor Image,” e-flux #10, November 2009, 1