The following text is the outcome of an email conversation with performance artist, choreographer and dancer Daniel Linehan, developed over the course of several weeks between March and April 2014. His practice begins in the field of classical dance to flow into the realm of performance art. To sum up his work so far, one could mention themes such as dance, chance, repetition, objectification, writing, and terms such as body, movement, meaning, image, word.
Miriam: When did the transition – if we can call it like this – from (traditional) dance to performance (art) happen? What was the cause of it?
Daniel: I would not necessarily say that I have transitioned from dance to performance, but that I am content to float between these two categories. But I think I can answer to your question by saying that when I created Not About Everything in 2007, there was a definite shift in my thinking. I was tired of the two forms that usually make up a dance: choreographed dance phrases on the one hand, and improvisation on the other hand. I wanted to find another material that comprised my dance, an action that would be neither a dance phrase nor an improvisation. I came to the action of spinning in circles, an action which allowed for a continuous motion without being a form that I already knew. And then together with the spinning, I also added the layer of a repetitive and rhythmic text, which I consider as a kind of choreography of the voice. In recent works, I have come back to choreography and improvisation, but now I approach them from a different perspective, not as necessary components of a dance, but as tools available to me in my work, or not, depending on my intentions for each work.
M: I find the way you combine movements and words – both spoken and written – in your performances fascinating. In previous interviews, you said that you write the texts by yourself and that the words match a vocabulary of movements. I wonder: When you write, do you think in movements already? If any hierarchy exists, what does it come first during the creative process: actions or words?
D: Rhythm is one of the things that unite writing and movement. I would say that when I write for a performance, I’m already thinking of the rhythm of how it would be spoken. And rhythm is always one of my first considerations when creating movement. I’ve worked in different directions: sometimes starting with the movement and then adding the words (in Not About Everything), sometimes starting with words and then adding the movement (untitled duet – the project at Tate Modern), sometimes working with both at the same time (Zombie Aporia).
M: What is the relationship between spoken and written words?
D: I sometimes wonder if the written word is as different from the spoken word as the spoken word is from dance, but maybe this position is a bit too extreme. There is something strange that happens in your perception when you are reading a word at the same time as you hear someone speaking that word. You start to realize that these two ways of apprehending language do not entirely coincide. I’ve been exploring this in some of my work recently, in one section of Zombie Aporia (2011), and in the untitled duet (2013). Personally, I find that I give very different answers to interviews like this depending on if they are written or verbal, like a different part of my brain is answering the question.
Recently I’ve been interested to start from the spoken word and to let the writing come later. I’ve been presenting a lecture performance called Doing While Doing, and in the creation of this performance, I didn’t write anything down. In the studio, I would perform different excerpts from my works every day, and I would talk while doing it. Over time, through repetition, I developed a rough verbal script that was fairly consistent, but I didn’t write it down until after the first performance.
M: In the piece This is Not About Everything you play also with the phonetic of words such as ‘everything’ ‘anything’ or ‘therapy’ to eventually say that ‘this is not about endurance’. However, that piece is really about endurance or, at least, involves mostly a durational movement. I noticed that, by means of repetition, words progressively mutate, almost losing their original meaning to become mere forms… and these forms are something not completely defined; something between pure movement and pure sound. Is this transformation – in other words, translation – something you are purposely looking for?
D: In the repetitions of Not About Everything, several things happen for me. It’s true that through repetition, the text starts to lose meaning and become pure rhythm and pure sound. It also happens that the meaning returns, but it becomes a different meaning. When you hear This Is Not About Endurance for the first time, it means one thing, but when you hear it the 28th time, it means something different, its meaning has changed through repetition, become more insistent, or more mysterious, or more paradoxical.
M: Have you ever been afraid of a loss in translation from words to movements (or the other way around)? And how do you eventually deal with it?
D: I accept that words and movements are two separate forms that do not entirely coincide; they cannot be made parallel to each other. But I’m interested in finding moments of collision, when the two do come together to form a new whole, and moments of tensions, when the two rub against each other and distort our perception of the other (the movement changes how we understand the text, and the text changes how we perceive and read the movement).
M: In Montage for Three action and text are also associated with images. This seems to be the only performance so far that includes images other than movement and words. What is the function of images in this case? Do they perform the same role as words or do they differ from them?
D: The photographic image is very dissimilar to language, but it does perform some of the same functions as words, in relation to dance. It easily calls up references from outside the present moment of the performance. This is something that both words and images do with ease, whereas “pure” dance has a difficult time being anything other than self-referential.
Still, photographic images “move” less than words. In written text or speech, ideas are forming and becoming and changing, but a series of images is usually just a jump cut from one image to another. In Montage for Three, I was trying to make the images more like words, and put the images in specific sequences as if they could speak or move. It was a pressure that I had to apply on the images; it didn’t come naturally to them. I was curious how these two opposite forms – dance and image – could become more like each other. How could images dance? How could a dance become photographic?
M: In Being Together Without Any Voice you explore the idea of bodies as objects. How did you come to this thought? Is there any specific theoretical influence behind it – e.g. something like: Speculative Realism or Object Oriented-Philosophy?
D: In fact, in this performance, the point is to create an ambiguity. The dancers rapidly shift back and forth between two states, treating themselves as an object as treating themselves as a subject, treating the other as an object and treating the other as a subject. The dancer is not only a self-expressive, empowered agent, AND the dancer is not only a cog in a machine. The dancer is all these things.
I didn’t start from a specific theoretical influence. I started with quite formal investigations in the studio on looping movement, movement that would repeat for a specific number of repetitions and then suddenly shift to a new movement loop. In this quite formal investigation, I started to recognize myself: I also get stuck in patterns that I can’t seem to break. And then sometimes, I find a way to break them… or not. There is something very recognizable in this experience. Everybody/Every body is both a subject and an object.
M: In relation to your last piece for the Performance Room at Tate Modern:In the interview with the curator you say that Live Online Performance does not aim to translate words into movements but is about giving materiality to the rhythm: the same word can in fact correspond to different movements. Could you extend a little bit on this?
D: In this performance, we are not creating a sign language or a dance language. If you look at speech as a form, it is filled with repetition and pattern, but as it is lived and experienced, speech is aiming to move forward, to start in one place and travel through different places and end someplace else. In addition to reflecting the rhythm of the speaking, I also wanted the movements to start somewhere and end somewhere else. To follow the logic of a conversation, which continually develops, instead of like in traditional dance where you follow the logic of a piece of music, with pattern and repetitive structures.
Although the dance has a certain limitation of vocabulary, I did not start out by defining what that vocabulary would be. My aim was that I would gradually develop a dance vocabulary that would self-define, not through repetition of the same exact movements, but by continuing to develop. It sounds paradoxical. The text is about one specific subject matter, so it has a certain limitation. But it never really repeats itself, even if certain words or certain sentence structures repeat themselves. Language has a structure, but it also has an experiential component that is different from the structure, and I wanted the dance to reflect the experience of listening to speech, or the experience of having a conversation – ideas are developing, tangents are introduced and then dropped, a new thought suddenly arises.
In this performance, I returned to creating choreographed dance material, but even though it follows the rhythm of words and spoken “phrases”, it is unlike traditional dance “phrases” (which are usually based on musical “phrases”). The dancing here does not have a natural physical flow; it is chopped up. One move does not flow from the next; the dance is built up of unexpected cuts of movement. This is reflecting the cuts of the text on the back wall. The result is complex because the dance is following several principles simultaneously: the developmental logic of a conversation, the cuts and word divisions of written text, the auditory rhythm of spoken text translated into movement.
M: Your texts usually come from self-interviews: a practice into which you are particularly involved. This is very fascinating but I wonder: Why do you interview yourself? And how do you practically deal with these self-interviews?
D: The form of a dialogue is very useful; it moves you more rapidly from a certain starting point to a completely different ending point, as compared to a monologue. Of course, the best is to have a dialogue with someone else, but it can also be interesting to treat oneself as multiple, to treat oneself as two. In this way I don’t have a pre-conception of what ideas I want to convey, and then I write a text in order to explicate these ideas, but instead I problematize my initial proposals, and I argue with myself. It’s a good thing to do in the middle of a creation process, when I’m feeling stuck and I need to get think outside of the way I’ve been thinking.
Practically, I usually do self-interviews through writing, but I sometimes have experimented with spoken self-interviews, using audio recording.
M: Are all the texts you use in the performances coming from self-interviews?
D: No, usually self-interviews are just an aspect of my personal practice, but they are not usually made into performances. I used one self-interview as the program notes for a performance (Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost), which the audience received. They don’t usually become public; they are usually just a part of my internal creative process.
M: My last question is about site-specificity. It seems that each of your performances belongs to a wider research project. In particular, with regard to the process of creation of meaning, you said that you do not want to make statements but to raise questions. How does site-specificity interfere with your performances? To what extent does a piece, and so the meaning, change according to the location?
D: I usually present my work in theatres, but even then the space always affects the work. Theatres of different size and architecture and colour affect how the work, in ways large and small. Sometimes, the back wall in a venue is white, and if I use video projections, then I might just project on the wall. In another theatre where the wall is black, I need a material, like a curtain, to project on. These changes affect the work, of course. But a part of my process of touring my pieces, showing them in different venues, is to accept these changes. Otherwise, it would be very boring to try to create the exact same environment even though the environment is obviously changing. I’m curious how subtle difference of environment or huge differences make the work feel different. I’ve performed Not About Everything in theatres, outdoors in a garden, in a gallery or a museum, and it’s very refreshing to shift the context.
To be honest, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the meaning changes. What’s obvious is that the work has a different affect in different spaces. More intimate, less intimate, more theatrical, less theatrical, more light and playful, more dark and serious. This can be the result of the venue or also the result of how the audience is feeling on a certain evening, or how the performers are feeling. Performance work is very sensitive to its environment, and I’m interested in experiencing the same work in many different ways.
Miriam La Rosa