Category: Texts

The Future Investigation by Olga Sorokina (2017)

The Future Investigation. Dance As a Crime, could be (un)commited.

by Olga Sorokina


  1. As the future of dance, especially what we name as “contemporary”, so unclear – I’d propose the method, used for the crime investigation as method of Father Brow, described by Gilbert Keith Chesterton.


“The secret is,” he said; and then stopped as if unable to go on. Then he began again and said:

“You see, it was I who killed all those people.”

“What?” repeated the other, in a small voice out of a vast silence.

“You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”

Grandison Chace had risen to his great height like a man lifted to the ceiling by a sort of slow explosion. Staring down at the other he repeated his incredulous question.

“I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” went on Father Brown, “I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

In our case I’d propose to imagine us being an audience let’s say – in 20 years. Those, who come to watch something; those, who maybe write… those who by some reason making a choice to go and to watch)

  1. if to think about the approximation from the present tome, we could discover that the “present” has a gab different with the “past” also on information field. Because of media it so incredible wide, that it’s already impossible to know “everything” even in a narrow sphere. To become professional it’s asked to reduce the curiosity (my students answered to the question about arts etc. – that they don’t have a time for it); so there are not so many mathematicians in dance)))) 100 years ago was much more))
  2. my country is very different with any European. One huge difference is that it’s HUGE))) even because of this it couldn’t be governed the same way as – let’s say – Netherlands. One of the feelings is that nothing really depends on your single vote, until you wouldn’t attract thousands of thousands) the second – that we never had any democratic government in our country (by many reason: we believe more in religious insight, then in pure honesty; more in fool – younger son, then in rich and clever older son (see our fairytales), in repentant robber. We had a corruption from the time of Prince Igor – 7th Sentury) We are still Orthodox, and never had being a Protestants)
  3. And we hade a Russian revolution of 1917. That time, from March 1917, as an exclusion, we had a democratic government – the “Provisional government”, elected, consisted by honest people, with a big experience of management, widely educated (each of them had university degree, many of them even a few degrees in different departments, some of them – academic degree), they had a profession and after all, in emigration, made their living from that. But they lost. The situation in country was very hard, and very possible that that task didn’t have any solution. BUT the socialists didn’t know about it). They were weak educated (most of them had one year or less in University because they where kicked out), they didn’t have any serious profession – they where “professional revolutionists”, they made their livings from very unclear sources – very possible, that from German secret service). They didn’t had any experience not in govern, not in management, because they spend years in jail and abroad – in Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany etc. But they won. They not only took the power in October 1917, but they kept it for 70 (!) years. They didn’t know that that task don’t have a right solution, and they took a wrong solution, but it was a possible solution. (it’s used in Operation theory in mathematics). They didn’t know that that was wrong, they didn’t take care about honesty, but what they had – is a flame faith to world socialist revolution, to the happiness it brings for the humans, to the beauty and richness, they would build on the ruins of the old world. They strictly believed in the people’s will and their self-organization ability. But what happen, when soldiers, peasants and workers took a freedom? Instead of self-organization came a horrible wave of violence, looting and robbery, hunger and death. People went back to discipline only under the treat of a very strict action as shooting.
    But crowd of Russian intelligent people hardly greeted the socialists and the revolution, they honestly believed in wise of folk as well as in wise of nature. But what the folk have done with them?.. in the best case they were sent out of country to emigration, in the worst – were robed and killed.
  1. I very afraid to see any likeness with the present situation with a refuges in Europe. But I see that refuges have a strong will to survive. They have own strong culture, big and very supportive families, most of them have a faith. They don’t have no modern, no postmodern, no contemporary dance and, I afraid, they don’t need this – al least they think so. Do we have all of this? Is that not so, that Europeans believe, that refuges will self-organize, they will work, they will treat the volunteers in a nice way, they will go back one day and that what they write in the immigration form – is all the true? And they have children, quite many.
  2. So, if to use a “father Brown method… let’s imagine ourselves, going to watch a dance piece in 20 years) Who we are? Young Muslim? Old granny? Who are around? What would they dance, as it attracted our attention so last that we going to make a choice to go and to watch? Are there any youngsters or kids? What they are doing?
  3. If to think about the “omelet strategy”, what couldn’t be done without breaking the eggs… I think that if to keep some eggs under the hen, then we’d have a hope to have chickens who would give more eggs. That mean that we could still teach children and youth classical, modern, folklore and all kind of dance legacy. Teach own kids, but that mean that we have to have them)) teach them even if they don’t wont (once I asked my students: do they think, is the education without compulsion possible? They ALL (about 150 pers) answered that NO. ) To bury the treasure. To build the Ark. To implant the our civilization heritage (not only in dance, but in arts and sciences as well) until we still have anything to inherit.



An Essay on After Contemporary by Liisa Pentti (2017)

Liisa Pentti, NOFOD June 2017


An essay on After Contemporary

After Contemporary has been a very ambitious project from the start. It began six years ago when my colleague, a Russian dancer, performance artist and curator Olga Sorokina and myself started to ponder what was happening in the realm of dance and choreography since we had the feeling that everything had been happening already and there was no excitement or freshness in what we were seeing and perceiving. Was that just a state of depression or a foresight?

These thoughts I am shearing with you are based on the notion that dance is and is not an closed entity in the present socio-political world. It can be looked as art or as activity and -even if we like it or not- we are bound to our own personal histories both in the legacy of dance and our personal past as a member of society. I am looking at these dance related questions from European, American and Scandinavian view points.


About the platform:

A manifesto:
 Looks like the cultures and nations remain with the individual cultural references also in the near future. After Contemporary is a platform to make visible those differences in order to appreciate the richness of our human nature.

Olga and myself wanted to explore further this feeling or idea of “after contemporary” and we asked our colleagues Hilde Rustad from Norge and Bo Madvig from Denmark to join the project. It became clear from the start that each of us had a different cultural background despite our geographic closeness and similarity in our educational backgrounds- Hilde, Bo and myself had been in SNDO in the 1980s and 90s and Olga had a long experience in contact improvisation and somatic work. We met first in Helsinki 2011 among us and talked a lot about our whishes for the project to come. In 2013 I was the artistic director of the Fullmoon dance-festival and the theme of the festival became After Contemporary. During the whole festival we had After Contemporary-camp which included talks, round-tables and performative lectures by artists. Hilde, Bo and Olga gave lectures and other speakers where Marjo Kuusela, Keith Hennessy and Robert Steijn. Next year we met at the BodyWord-festival in St. Petersburg where Hilde, Bo and myself gave a workshop, performed together and gave lectures. 2015 we were hosted by MADHOUSE Helsinki where we had a two days event with performers and lectures from Austria, Norway, Russia, Denmark and Finland. In 2016 we were participating in
Seminarium# 6 in Sandnes, Norway and in IceHot-festival in Copenhagen.

We had a small funding from Kulturkontakt Norden 2011-13 and a larger one 2015-17. The first event where we gathered articles was in Fullmoon Dance – festival 2013.
During our working session and the commonly organized events we were getting to know each others backgrounds and personalities and slowly the differences became more articulated in a positive sense.

The question of democracy in dance is linked to the democracy in the society. In a democratic state it is somewhat easier to accept and to live the idea of democracy than in a dictatorship where democracy is a utopian idea and not always a goal shared by the majority of its citizens. Nevertheless striving for non- hierarchical, communal and shared methods in creating anything have often been vital in dictatorships in order to survive where as democracies give their citizens a possibility for individual thinking and also treat the solitaire as an accepted and somewhat idealized norm.

After Contemporary platform has aimed to offer a space for discussion based on democracy and responsibility. Each of as has been committing in providing a suitable platform and context for After Contemporary event in our own countries. A common nominator for each of us has been the practice of contact- improvisation, sharing the idea of a non-hierarchical body and the importance of touch which are related to the C-I form.



In order to talk about After Contemporary I would like to share some thoughts about the legacy and its relation to the time we are living. In the Fullmoon dance Hilde[1] gave a lecture where she pointed out the importance of the legacy and recognition of ones own tradition as a dance artist. The acknowledgement and the naming of the legacy but also the naming the norms embedded in that legacy give us the perspective and understanding of our relation to the world and locates us in the field of dance. Hilde’s lecture made me recognize and appreciate my education at SNDO 1982-86 from a new angle. The curriculum was a mixture of techniques of Cunningham, Pauline de Groot (based on Hawkins), ballet and Limon taught by people with an expanding knowledge of somatic practices (kinesiology, Alexander-technique, BMC), contact improvisation and improvisation skills. The school had at its core an idea of a dancer as an independent artist and a maker. In the program there were many projects based on scores and tasks and we created our own material in collaboration with the choreographer. It was a process oriented education.

I remember John Rolland, the teacher of ideokinesiology, saying that nobody new what kind of dancers would come out of this education which was something unheard of in the existing modernistic legacy of European dance. It took me a long time to see my work having a legacy. The work I did was considered as marginal in the field of Finnish contemporary dance and realizing my legacy gave the work a history and a home.
I think understanding ones legacy is extremely important.

According to the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff the fact that we are capable of making abstractions offers us the potentiality to distance ourselves from the work and we fail to see the labour that originally went into making of something.[2]
We end up relating to our abstracted maps as if they were the territory instead of just representations.[3] Rushkoff suggests that “since everything is rendered instantly accessible via Google and iTunes the entirety of culture becomes a single layer deep. The journey disappears and all knowledge is brought into the present tense”.[4] An eternal horizon, eternal now. This is interesting in relation to dance practices where the traditional training methods have been bound to time and the amount of the practice of skills and stamina has been at the core of the dance art everywhere in the world. Are we loosing the idea of a process in favor of a product?

Rushkoff suggests that as a substitute for the process over time a temporal compression takes the form of a mashup. For ex. how a dj plays different musical eras on top of each others creating as mashup of existing material[5] and the original creations become hidden.
On the other hand, a mashup is nothing new for the contemporary dance art since it is maybe one of the most historyless art forms -both nationally and internationally- and somehow has been keeping up with its time until now inventing the wheel over and over again. Even though the layers of various legacies are there they seem often to be hidden from the conscious mind. It looks like the dance continues without being able to articulate its own thoughts and values imbedded in the contemporary practices.
Ballet is in this respect carrying the legacy through old academies.

Even though ballet has not been the topic in After Contemporary- just thinking of about it in our context gives some interesting information. Olga, Hilde, Bo and myself come from slightly different cultural and sociopolitical backgrounds. Bo and Hilde from Scandinavian monarchies, Olga from Russia with a past in a Soviet form of communism and Czars and myself from a relatively young republic with no own royalty ever. Our cultural backgrounds could be looked at through the ballet legacy of each country: the Danes have a long tradition of Bournonville school and Russia had its own tradition of the ballet supported first by the czars and then the Vaganova Academy which is thriving in St. Petersburg. Norway and Finland are maybe closest to each other with a young history of ballet independent from the court.

Although we all had a dance education which was “something completely different” we each came back to own our countries and our work was defined by the norms of the existing dance culture. In the 80’s in Finland it was ballet, jazz ballet, Graham and tanztheater. We have all been pioneering in our countries with many others who were knowledgeable in these new practices and have shifted the paradigms and thinking in our own dance cultures.

In 2011 our main questions where

1) Where is dance heading? 2) what defines this evolution? 3) how can we discuss this?

Since then there have been many changes in the socio-political situation in the world but I will confine myself here to the realm of the dance art. It seems that the dance art presented in production houses generally embraces wider scope of work since 2011.This notion comes from looking into big European festival programs like Tanz Im August, Impulstanz and Julidans where a larger variety of work is presented as dance. But if I look closer there seems to be also a new established understanding of what kind of a work is NEW and acceptable – and has the biggest profit valuewhich of course is part of the landscape of the dance market. What I am seeing after 30 years of working in the field is that a lot of dance productions continue to look like they have their roots in ideas and strategies that derive from the 1960’s and 70’s with Cunningham and Cage, the Judson Dance Theater and even earlier from Marcel Duchamp.[6] This is a complex topic and I will stick to the NEW— I will come to this concept of new later.

In the After Contemporary camp during the Fullmoon dance-festival in 2013 our questions became more articulated. The themes about stability, norms, legacy, gender, chaos, queer, fake, post-colonial, indigenious, authenticity and borderlessnes– just to mention the few- are still valid today even though it seems like the articulation about these issues has become clearer.


From legacy to after contemporary

The question of the content in contemporary art is by no means valid only in dance. In What is Contemporary Art-article in the e-flux-journal Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle are saying: “that much of the activity responsible for the current condition of art is no longer under development but has assumed a fully mature form – and yet it still somehow refuses to be historicized as such”. They also think that “ perhaps the contemporary project as fully formed cultural project with certain defined parameters, complete with logics of inclusion and exclusion not so different of the modernist project”.[7]

In my notes I find a quote from an Australian choreographer and dancer Russell Dumas:

“From reading Foucault it is evident that to initiate change to practices it is first necessary to destabilize fields, be they thought or movement based. In dance, stabilized standing and walking body has been currency for so long in practices of ballet that it has become the singular way in which we aestheticise the body and the way we unconsciously attribute value and define beauty within dance practices.

As an embodied practice an adjacent problem for dance as a field of thought, is its relationship to habits and identity at a personal level that become conflated with the idea of national identity in the nation state.
The relationship we have to our embodied habits creates a conservative community that is resistant to change- we define ourselves by our habits and once defined, it is difficult to change.”[8]

Dumas touches the core of our western dance culture and its embodied relation to the values of the society which is rapidly reshaping itself. How is this reflected in dance art?

In my mind the term Contemporary Dance could be defined in two ways in the Western tradition:

– something that happens Now and is contemporary (a relation to the etymology)

– a style that has been influenced by forms like modern dance, tanztheater and neoclasscial ballet and continues to be in favor or clear, outreached line and shapes in the space and/or a touching story. Contemporary dance could also be including now the sc New Circus with its highly skillful and often entertaining acts. In this case contemporary dance is something that is built on the past but claims to be the future, is highly stylized and politically supports the institutionalized system and does not want to change.
Or another point of view from Keith Hennessys talk in 2013:

“The word “contemporary,” especially when used to describe dance, is intentionally vague, slippery, unstable. It suggests postmodern while avoiding the contradictions and debates evoked by that term. Simultaneously, contemporary refuses to commit to a clear relationship to Modernism or any other historically bound forms, traditions or philosophies. In one essay, dance scholar Andre Lepecki has shifted from saying “contemporary dance” to “recent dance” as a way to discuss dance works made in the past 20 years, without trying to locate them within a specific line of aesthetics or history.”[9]

So what Keith talks about is in my mind already postmodern dance or contemporary related to its etymology. And so we stumble on the notion of what contemporary REALLY means…


Defining the language

What has been and still is the most difficult task in thinking about and dealing with the question of After contemporary is how to define the language we talk with and to whom we are talking. Our project has been from the start an artistic project and our language has been personal without aiming to access academia with it. But here we are. Walter Benjamin talks about thought-image which are dialectical images in written form, literally constellations-become-writing in which the dialectic of image and thought is unfolded and becomes visible.[10] In mysimple interpretation it means seeing language as a layer of abstraction based on the images we have before creating a spoken language of symbols. The themes of understanding, translating and referring to have been present in our discussions about the dance which happened in English. An important realization has been for example how Russian and English differ from each others as their syntaxes and the mindset they create for imagery and thus for understanding the logics.

I look at the original question of after contemporary and they still create an open platform for the possibilities, or would one say potentialities, for the future.

One of our themes was borders. By movement we will always shift the border, not always go through it, but destabilize fields it Russell mentioned. With the internet culture the borders between myself and the world of machines, the internet and its algorithmic mind have become more undefined.

Could it be that this influences the borders between the dance practices which have become more permeable? The styles and possibilities are mixing together via youtube and other portals opening up a lot but also confusing and changing our perception of time and scale. What defines me as a dancer in the after contemporary?
One way to look into the now is quote Keith Hennessy who suggests:
“Because the universe functions materially and energetically in fractals, in patterns of repetition of varying scale, patterns that are not identical but similar with endless and even chaotic variation…we are already after contemporary as well as contemporary, Modern, neo-classical, classical, traditional, and folk. Yes ballet is a European and white ethnic dance form, as first analyzed by Joanne Kealihohomoku in 1970, but ballet is or could be simultaneously avant-garde, romantic, experimental, traditional, Disney cartoon, totalitarian, militaristic, and contemporary…depending on the way it is made and the way it is experienced and the way it is imagined. So maybe the first sign of “after contemporary” is an awareness of multidimensionality in both space and time, a conceptual choreographic practice that experiences history and environment as multiplicities, as three-dimensional spirals, as fractals in the dancers’ body and the choreographers’ imagination…”[11]

How can we make space and trust our skills and intuitions in the flood of information? What is the nature of the information and how will it shape the dance making?



I believe that as dancers who have been improvising and training our perceptive skills for years we do understand how to move about in this new era since we are accustomed to react to changes in the space time and are fine tuned to read the microchanges in our environment. We need to trust ourselves in this without “closing the borders” but also being aware of them.

In 2015 I was listening to a lecture by Nita Little which was held in a IDOCDE- seminar Teaching the Formless in Vienna. Nita belongs to the core group of contact improvisation together with Steve Paxton, Nancy Stark Smith, Daniel Lepkoff and Curt Sidall and has since then been practicing, developing and teaching CI. She has a PhD in Performance Studies (2014) from the University of California, Davis and her dissertation Articulating Presence: Creative Actions of Embodied Attention in Contemporary Dance is highly recommendable reading.

The theme of the lecture was the politics of formlessness. Nita emphasized the recognition of absence and the formlessness in the dance making.
She talked about the importance of paying attention to those experiences of appearance and disappearance- of actions and thoughts and intensities- by tuning our perception and attention through the bodily practices.

In his lecture in Fullmoon Dance Bo Madvig[12] was suggesting that some of the somatic practices, like the ideokinetic practices, where we were laying on the floor for one year imagining and embodying the anatomical body resulted sometimes in states similar to trance or shamanistic practices. Keith Hennessy also refers to rituals he has been practicing with neo-pagan, feminist witches since 1980s where one suddenly was slipping into “between the worlds” where the idea of future and past are simultaneously present within a ritual circle.[13] Here we enter to the space of chaos and far-from equilibrium-complexity where we have to navigate disorder without a clear definition of the mess and without a coherent ideological position[14], to not know in order to find out something that was there already but we did not yet perceive it.

And from here arises another angle of extreme importance and of extreme difficulty: that of the question of the need of naming the unnamed, recognizing the norms and borders of the contemporary dance over and over again and finding our relation to those issues in order to move on in the after contemporary space as a free artist, free to pursue a hunch.

Mårten Spångberg proposes in his essay “Post-dance, an Advocacy “ that we are not living in a culture of New but in a neoliberal capitalism which has only expansion in mind and where “new” functions as a reactive new. It is a term coined by Deleuze meaning that is consolidates what is already approved and is not proposing something unknown but a possibility based on the already known.[15] Deleuze also introduces other term, “an active new” that must emerge from potentiality, a new that does not belong to the domain of the knowledge of the possible.[16] In the same essay Mårten points out how dance as an art form, as in opposition to choreography, which operates in the world of known and possibility instead of potentiality – is a matter of the emergence of the Active new. This active new is dangerous and with a possibility of breach, of non- calculable or contingent change.[17] He also refers to this unnamed place by saying: “The magic is dance”[18] and further states that what he calls post-dance happens when dance acknowledged that it carries its own agency, carries potentiality into the world.[19] Postdance is not quite like the After contemporary but certainly they both carry a potential for the future.

Liberal Arts Professor of Philosophy Dennis J. Schmidt proposes that art in general gives us a possibility to make sense of our world and ourselves. We do most of the things out of need or purpose but art emerges out of the void of the freedom and play. He refers to Heidegger who was worried that our own doings and productions might be capable of foreclosing the open character of that space. That is: our own productive efforts would close off something necessary for the movement of life, an open space that is NOT defined by purpose, intention, need or reason.[20]

After contemporary is an ongoing inquiry, a multilayered space- time, a swamp as a messy, fertile regions between land and water, with borders that shift depending on the season and the weather and hosting many species that migrate or can be found in multiple contexts or eco-systems.[21] We should work to keep the access open in order for the movement to continue in whatever form it will take and to which ever direction we as a human race are going. Humanity changes and we don’t know yet how – let’s keep on navigating with the incredible skills we have.

Thank you!


Essay in pdf: Essay on AC – Liisa Pentti, NOFOD 2017




Aranda, Wood, Vidokle: e-flux journal #11- December 2009

Dumas, Russell: Northern Light, rationale

Hennessy, Keith: After Contemporary, Talk with collective action, After Contemporary camp, Täydenkuun tanssit, Pyhäsalmi, 2013

Pentti, Liisa: Personal notes; After Contemporary camp, Täydenkuun tanssit, Pyhäsalmi, 2013

Rushkoff, Douglas: Present shock- when everything happens now; The Penguin Group, 2013

Rustad, Hilde: Postmodern dance as tradition, lecture; After Contemporary camp, Täydenkuun tanssit, Pyhäsalmi, 2013

Rustad, Hilde: Traces of Duchamp in postmodern tradition, lecture; Postmodern dance in Finland?-event, Helsinki 2016

Schmidt, Dennis J: Between the word and image, Heidegger, Klee and Gadamer on Gesture and Genesis; Indiana University Press, 2013

Spångberg, Mårten: Post-dance, an Advocacy,

Weigel, Sigrid: Body- and Imgae-Space, re-reading Walter Benjamin; Routledge 1996





[1] Rustad, Hilde: Postmodern dance as tradition, lecture; After Contemporary camp, Täydenkuun tanssit, Pyhäsalmi, 2013

[2] Rushkoff, Douglas: Present shock, p.139

[3] Rushkoff,p.139

[4] Rushkoff,p.153

[5] Rushkoff,p.154

[6] Rustad, Hilde: Traces of Duchamp in postmodern tradition, lecture; Postmodern dance in Finland? -event, Helsinki 2016

[7] Aranda, Wood, Vidokle: e-flux journal #11- December 2009

[8] Dumas, Russell: Northern Light, rationale, p.1

[9] Hennessy, Keith, After Contemporary, Talk with collective action p.2

[10] Weigel, Sigrid: Body- and Imgae-Space, re-reading Walter Benjamin, p.51

[11] Hennessy, Keith, p.2

[12] Pentti, Liisa: Personal notes from After Contemporary Camp, 2013

[13] Hennessy, p.2

[14] Hennessy, p.4

[15] Spångberg, Mårten: Post-dance, an Advocacy, p.11

[16] Spångberg, p.11

[17] Spångberg, p.12

[18] Spångberg, p.12

[19] Spångberg, p.15

[20] Schmidt, Dennis J: Between the word and image, p.102-103

[21] Hennessy, p.1








Seminarium#6: “Musikk skaper fortventning om”

After Contemporary core members – Liisa Pentti, Hilde Rustad, Bo Madvig and Olga Sorokina – took part in Seminarium#6 in Norway 4 – 5 June, 2016.

“After Contemporary project was created in 2011 as a platform for imagining the dance of the future and to discuss different topics present in the field of dance in Scandinavia and Russia. Seminarium was a perfect forum to be able to experience a spectrum of Norwegian dance with its different styles and questions. Through seeing and listening the presentations and discussions I got an impression of a community which is keen to develop the thinking and articulation in the dance filed outside the academic discourse. Working as a dance maker in Finland I was impressed and delighted by this platform which gives dancers a clear structure for the development of their work.” (Liisa Pentti)

Texts by Liisa Pentti, Hilde Rustad, Bo Madvig and Olga Sorokina have been published on the Seminarium website: “Nykytaiteen jälkeen? – After Contemporary #3”

Article by Niko Hallikainen in

“Paneudun tässä kirjoituksessa kahteen 18.-20.9.2015 järjestetyn After Contemporary #3 -festivaaliviikonlopun lävistäneeseen teemaan; Blaue Fraun ja Sonya Lindforsin tekemiin keskustelunavauksiin nykyesityskentän ilmiöistä sekä kysymykseen siitä, mitä “after contemporary” on.

Viikonlopun mittaisen After Contemporary #3 -tapahtuman keskustelut ja esitykset järjestettiin Mad Housen tiloissa Suvilahdessa. Festivaaliohjelmiston pienteokset ovat kansainvälisiä vierailuteoksia lukuun ottamatta Rea-Liina Brunoun lastenesitystä sekä Blaue Frau –teatteriryhmän omaa teosta, joka nähtiin festivaalin päätöksenä Diana-näyttämöllä. Tapahtuman tarjonnasta tärkeimmiksi huipuiksi muodostuivat kuitenkin festivaalin yhteydessä järjestetyt ja järjestäytyneet keskustelut.”

Lue koko juttu / Read the whole story (in Finnish):


Talk with collective action by Keith Hennessy (2013)



After Contemporary…

Talk with collective action by Keith Hennessy


Full Moon Festival, Pyhäjärvi Finland

23 July 2013


(We wandered the middle school, where the temporary festival office was located, looking for a space. Similarly to a recent performance/talk at the University of Music and Performing Art in Frankfurt, I decided on a nomadic event, beginning in a non-descript open space at the top of the first floor stairs. From this in-between space the talk ventured out to the parking lot and then back inside to conclude in the gym.


As we wait for people to arrive I invite people to begin the session with two minutes of either waiting or observing. Dancer and researcher Hilde Rustad tells a famous Norwegian poem by Tarjei Vesaas: Sometimes I sat thinking. Sometimes I just sat.)



Hello and thanks.


Most of this text was written for today, for you, but I’m also recycling parts of previous texts. I will give a written copy of this talk to festival director Liisa Penti who can make it available to any of you. Feel free to ask questions at any time. We can pause to make translations, to clarify or even to make things more complicated…


(I invited people to join me in raising heart rate, shifting physical state/consciousness. I am joined by several people in 1 min jumping and 1 min plank. When I start to read my breath is labored.)


This text is supported by five words that represent loosely-defined fields in contemporary art, dance and performance:

Fake, Indigenous, Queer, Post-colonial, Swamp

And maybe instead of fields we can imagine these words as swamps: messy, fertile regions between land and water, with borders that shift depending on the season and the weather, and hosting many species that migrate or can be found in multiple contexts or eco-systems…


So we have two different approaches to cultural production associated with spirituality, ritual, and experiences beyond language or knowing:



Two approaches to bodily politics:



And one approach to theory and practice:


Of course these categories can already be queered or swamped by recognizing that queer and post-colonial could be approaches to ritual or theory, and fake could be an approach to body politics and identity, etcetera…


When Liisa wrote to me about the theme for this festival, I was immediately attracted. I said that I could talk about a shift from questioning to observing, and about a re-engagement with indigenous or shamanic practices. But when I started to write I couldn’t focus on “after contemporary.” I felt compelled to name or identify, in fact to historicize the contemporary.


Of course, for this talk to be contemporary, it cannot be simply a talk but it has to be trans-disciplinary, interactive, aware of itself, and mildly disruptive of expectations.


The word “contemporary,” especially when used to describe dance, is intentionally vague, slippery, unstable. It suggests postmodern while avoiding the contradictions and debates evoked by that term. Simultaneously, contemporary refuses to commit to a clear relationship to Modernism or any other historically bound forms, traditions or philosophies. In one essay, dance scholar Andre Lepecki has shifted from saying “contemporary dance” to “recent dance” as a way to discuss dance works made in the past 20 years, without trying to locate them within a specific line of aesthetics or history.


Because the universe functions materially and energetically in fractals, in patterns of repetition of varying scale, patterns that are not identical but similar with endless and even chaotic variation…we are already after contemporary as well as contemporary, Modern, neo-classical, classical, traditional, and folk. Yes ballet is a European and white ethnic dance form, as first analyzed by Joanne Kealihohomoku in 1970, but ballet is or could be simultaneously avant-garde, romantic, experimental, traditional, Disney cartoon, totalitarian, militaristic, and contemporary…depending on the way it is made and the way it is experienced and the way it is imagined. So maybe the first sign of “after contemporary” is an awareness of multidimensionality in both space and time, a conceptual choreographic practice that experiences history and environment as multiplicities, as three-dimensional spirals, as fractals in the dancers’ body and the choreographers’ imagination…


Since the late 80s I have practiced ritual with neo-pagan, feminist witches; a community that transgresses false borders between politics and spirituality, body and mind, prehistory and contemporary. Rituals begin by casting a circle, a magical intention to leave ordinary time and space, and to go between the worlds. We say that what happens between the worlds touches or changes all the worlds. The idea is that future and past are simultaneously present within a ritual circle. This could be understood either as a poem/image or as a kind of super fractal rather than as an act of faith. People new to “older” or non-monotheistic or earth-based religions tend to impose an idea of monotheistic faith that is unnecessary to the poetic or “scientific” approaches to non-ordinary reality…


Let’s use the performance we saw last night[i] as a model of contemporary dance, as an archive of contemporary dance tactics, concepts, and practices. Here is a list of its contemporary dance moves (of course I could be talking about my work, or yours):

  • lipsynching, drag, sequins and other references to camp, queer performance and gay club culture
  • people doing things they were not professionally trained to do, especially singing
  • changing costumes on stage, as a task or score
  • meta-content in which the performance is about performance
  • soft boundaries between choreography, improvisation, individualized and synchronized movement
  • the dancers, whether credited or not, have originated much of the actual movement and phrasing, i.e., choreography (In this case they were credited.)
  • rather than a narrative the performance unfolds or is constructed as a series of events, what Anna Halprin first identified as parades and changes
  • “natural” or quotidian walking as both transition between events and as the event itself
  • the presentation of not dancing as dancing
  • use of computer-edited, concrete or abstract sound, which is the foundational music for contemporary dance
  • a musical pastiche (another foundational music score for contemporary dance.) Abstract digital sound meets global pop meets classical opera or symphony meets playful children’s song or simple ditty
  • improvised scores for shifting states of attention and perception, or consciousness
  • a microphone with a long cable that is sometimes an abstract or representational object and/or a kinetic sculpture as well as a tool for amplifying or distorting the dancer’s voice
  • a playful approach to proscenium that mostly obeys the rules but flirts with its social and visual margins


Had the work been following the cool or minimalist directions in contemporary dance, we would be able to add a few more recognizable tactics to this list: use of a single concept or coherent proposition, only white or off-white filtered light, highly aesthetic yet deceptively simple costumes in earthy colors, intensified states using precision repetition that might falter as performers push to near exhaustion, formal abstraction as reified spiritual labor (from Cunningham to de Keersmaker via Steve Reich and Philip Glass to many of the choreographers emerging from PARTS, SEED, France… who have been rewarded for making works that thoroughly explore a single idea.)


Considering these lists, how would a young, or old, choreographer make dances after contemporary? She could reject all of these now recognizable tactics in an effort to generate new processes, forms, economies, and tactics but that act of historical rejection would re-position her as Modernist. She could ignore all previous work in an effort closer to naïve or primitive art but again she would be walking down a well-paved Modernist road. Perhaps she could get hip to the latest trends in relational aesthetics, post-studio practice, ritualized state work and flirtations with alchemy, shamanism, and magic. Or, whether or not she is aware of Anna Halprin’s outdoor dance platform or Joseph Beuy’s planting of 7000 oaks, she could embody ecological processes through permaculture, green activism, or even eco-sexuality as proposed by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens.


(Pause to climb a table, open the blinds and look outside, 2 min.)


Contemporary dance is a youtube video of Philippine prisoners forced to dance Michael Jackson’s Thriller as a practice of social control and exploitation. After contemporary, the prison is recognized as a model of structural racism and class warfare, and a street theater group is invited (and funded) to destroy the prison in a series of improvised explosions.




(Invite people to partner up and massage hands – 5 min per hand. Give a choice of almond oil or hand lotion.)


Trinh T. Minh-ha is a post-colonial feminist film maker and writer. Originally from Vietnam, she went to university in the US, and conducted years of research in West Africa. She writes:

“All clarity is ideological.”

All clarity is ideological.


… which of course includes the statement, all clarity is ideological… which does not mean that all messy and non-linear performances are de facto NOT ideological or ANTI ideological but that chaos, mess and complicated embodiment hold the possibility – precisely at the point when recognized as vague, noisy, messy, or abject, that they don’t fit a coherent ideological position or agenda and might, maybe, if we can stay in the mess, if we can stay in the swamp, in the un-named and un-recognized, for a moment, where a moment is a time-space marked outside or alongside normative time-space, we just might, maybe….


(PAUSE…massages continue in silence…1 min.)


Of course I can’t actually name, frame and contain the swampy noise moment with any language already owned by publishers advertisers academics political speech writers Hollywood screen writers…

Time Warner                       Disney          Bertelsmann                       Viacom

Gannett                              Comcast                                                   Liberty Media

Vivendi Universal               Berlusconi’s Mediaset                              Robert Murdoch’s News Corp

América Móvil (chaired by world’s wealthiest person Carlos Slim Helu)


What will no mainstream media discuss? Or lacks the language to discuss?

Let’s consider the ass, its hole, its interior, what comes out and what might go in.


Two asshole perspectives: Coming out, going in

One: Coming out.

We are familiar with the metaphor you are what you eat, meaning that what you eat in fact makes you, not only materially but culturally and economically. Our eating, in part, defines us, reveals us, makes us who we are. Our body and social identity is not the only trace from what and how we eat. Our shit is the waste, the refuse, the end of the line of our eating practices. What goes in our mouth is directly linked to what comes out of our asshole.

Two: Going in.

At some point, when considering the taboo of anal sex, especially male-male fucking, I realized that a kind of reverse statement might also be true, or at least useful. Consider that what goes in our asshole might be linked to what comes out of our mouth. That is, the pleasure, intimacy, terror, and adventure of taking a man’s dick up my ass has shifted how I speak and what I say. Butt fucking, in part, defines us, reveals us, makes us who we are (defines me, reveals me, makes me who I am.)


Butt fucking is queer and swampy and normative social structures which include corporate news and American art funding are afraid of the subversive and mysterious power of a queer swamp.


Are we surprised that so much feminist and queer performance betrays social taboos by con/fusing the imposed clarity between inside and outside, by challenging the alleged sanctity or purity of the body’s feminine and natural interior which out to be protected from the masculine outsides of culture and society?


And while I’m talking gender, isn’t dance gendered female in European and American imaginations precisely because it resists theory and language, that dancing is embarrassingly closer to our inside mysteries than to our outside naming?


Swamp and queer are proposed here as political reframings of abject…that which is considered monstrous or disgusting, not human, not civilized… (Repeat with time for translation.)


(Silence for the rest of the massage. Timer indicates when to switch hands, roles.)



(Invite participants to go outside for a circle dance – synchronized rhythmic step to the left.)


Idle No More is a recent grass roots political movement challenging Canadian government policies towards First Nation (indigenous) peoples and lands. To be idle is to be lazy or inactive. Idle No More is a call to action, to movement, for indigenous people and their allies. With heavy participation by socially networked indigenous youth, 50% of whom are unemployed, the Idle No More movement addresses many issues of indigenous rights from housing and education to environmental protections. A key tactic of the Idle No More movement is the public circle dance (like this one) as a non-violent social disruption. These circle dances have appeared as flash mobs in shopping malls and protests at government offices and in highly visible urban spaces. Spreading across Canada and the US, with solidarity protests around the world, the movement has been adopted by activists trying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline currently being built to connect the tar sands in Alberta Canada to the ports of New Orleans in the southern US. Besides public circle dances, with drumming, singing, and speeches, Idle No More action tactics include hunger strikes, ritualized long-distance protest marches lasting several weeks or longer, and occupations in front of government buildings.


The claim that we are all indigenous is both profoundly true and ridiculously useless. Let’s think about it for a minute. American Indian activist and poet John Trudell suggests that we all come from tribes. So maybe we aren’t all indigenous but we all were, or could be, or are related somehow to indigenous people… What happens when we consider ourselves descendents of religious and state genocidal efforts that imposed concepts of private property and monetary exchange, of monotheism and heterosexism? And when I say genocide I mean the attempt to destroy a culture, totally. What is possible now, in this post-colonial and post-modern moment that of course is deeply embedded in both colonial and modernist practices…? I’m thinking about dancing and performance and ritual but I’m also thinking about banking and debt, Greece and Germany and Iceland, austerity and precarity, investment, interest, and profit, I’m thinking about social sculpture and social movement, about who we are and who we used to be and who we might become…


Indigenous dance scholar Jacqueline Shea Murphy mentioned a debate within Native art and activism…should the focus be on negative reaction to oppression or on generating positive solutions? This recalls a tension within some approaches to contemporary art that reject shock and criticality as tired or alienating projects. This choice between critical protest and proactive solutions also recalls a tension or debate withing US Black Studies between Black Pessimism and Black Optimism.


Black Pessimism, theorized by Frank Wilderson, recognizes that African Americans are always and already a rupture in the system, never to be assimilated, because racism is fundamental to Western, European and American culture and history. Black Pessimism resonates with young choreographers’ emphasis on institutional critique and shock performances of bodily transgressions and extreme noise. By contrast, Black Optimism, as theorized by Fred Moten and others, recognizes that African Americans survive and thrive through improvisation and struggle, continually making alternative economies and relations within and beyond white dominated and capitalist motivated situations. Black Optimism resonates with contact improvisation, body mind centering, and no budget Do-It-Yourself modes of production…


As a close observer of contemporary indigenous dancing Murphy asserts that colonialism was only partially successful, which means therefore that colonial genocide was partially a failure. Can we observe this failure as inspiration for unpredictable creativity, resistance, survival? Is Idle No More a utopian project doomed to failure, a generative or resistant failure that cannot be exploited or explained by government or mainstream media? Is failure a useful frame for studying someone else’s tragedy?


(Stop circle dance.)


When I arrived here today, there was a duck on the roof. A duck… When I first saw it the duck was on the roof above this entrance, then (run 10 meters) it flew to this entrance, then (run 15 m) it landed on that box, what is it, a heating system? (Run around the corner out of view. Yell loud enough to be heard.) Then it flew past the building, over here… (Continue to run around the building, 2 min).




(Come back to the group, some waiting, some looking for me. Invite them back into the building, to the gym.)


I want to teach you another folk dance from my people.


(Music: Disco Inferno from Saturday Night Fever album.

Teach a simple version of the Hustle. Most participate. 6-7 min.

Most people, including me, are out of breath, smiling.)


Then I improvised a story around the following ideas:

When I think about the gay men in discos, where I spent a lot of time in the late 70s and early 80s, I imagine that 30-50% of them have died. This void or lost potential is neither personal nor restricted to the gay community. Our dance communities lost many people to AIDS and with them we lost dances, ideas, potential… I talked about dances as invocation of ancstors, about AIDS and historical/choreographic voids, about embodied history and memory…




Next week I will participate in a contemporary dance teacher training hosted at Impulstanz by France-based choreographers Jennifer Lacey and Alice Chauchat. Jennifer and Alice have proposed that we focus on a (potential) shift in contemporary art practice from “questioning” to “observing”, from critique to witness.


They wrote, “What if what we are doing is not “questioning” but observing…? (Because honestly, this word questioning, it needs to go.) What if the forms we practice still hold mystery?”


This shift from questioning to observing, from naming to mystery, resonates with my experiences of indigenous art practices, both traditional and contemporary. We change what we observe and we are changed by observing… How else might we connect contemporary with indigenous art practices? Perhaps by not considering them art or practices or work?


How do contemporary dances resonate with or embody or invoke more ancient ritual dances…?


Might we consider contemporary art and performance a temporary home (or temple) for the ghosts of previous cultures? An invocation or presence-ing of past ancestors or traditions or of future desires and visions…as implicated in the lives of seven generations before and after this moment…? History and ancestors are always and already embodied, embedded, in a dance, in anything we do and how we do it. Let’s consider these histories as presences, as ghosts, that haunt, not necessarily in a bad way, our daily life, and especially our heightened attention life in studios or theaters.


I then improvised an introduction to Michael Meade’s idea of a Greek theatrical circle, a reframing of the proscenium imagined as a circle with live audience on one half, completed by the ancestors or beings of the other world on the other half, between which the dancer-actor mediates between the living and the dead, between future and past, between the visible/material and the invisible/immaterial/other worlds.


Robert Steijn suggested that after contemporary might include revisiting the early Moderns – Isadora, Wigman, Josephine Baker, Nijinsky… There have been so many recreations of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring during this 100th anniversary year. Did you know that 1913 was also the premier of Wigman’s Hexentanz / Witch Dance? Perhaps after contemporary might also include a re-engagement with indigenous and shamanic practices, influenced by a post-colonial sensibility that recognizes the problematics of appropriation and interpretation, disrespect and disappearance… We will probably continue to fuck up in our efforts at cultural hybridity and inspiration, but maybe we can learn something from Modernism’s problematic relationship to the cultural Other… This might include more critical and experiential studies of theosophie and yoga, of peyote and ayuahuasca, of shifting states of consciousness work like San Francisco choreographer Sara Shelton Mann or more recent improvised trance work by Meg Stuart, Robert Steijn, myself, and many others… of reconsidering indigenous folk dance as everything from contact improvisation to various forms of hip hop, street dance, urban dance, and dances for music video and youtube… of somatic training for children in public schools, where somatics is considered a deeply embodied and empowering encounter between materiality and energy, thought, and imagination…


And maybe this is where this potentially endless spiral talk(ing) can end, for now, at a recommendation for autonomous movement practices for children which echoes Isadora’s humanist speeches, delivered before every dance concert, insisting on better education for girl children and dance education for all children.



– About the role of anal sex in constructing identity, about gay male exceptionalism, and about sexual intercourse in general as something implicated in dance and art and worth further consideration…

– Are you afraid of your psyche, of getting lost, of going crazy from these experiments in “other” consciousness…? A conversation about non-ordinary consciousness continues…including comments about dance training as grounding practice for adventures in consciousness

Robert Steijn: thinking aloud about the difference between art and culture, quoting Terrence McKenna: celebrate art, fuck culture.

Hilde Rustad offers another tactic of contemporary dance: film references (e.g. Monty Python in Sissi) noting that both film technology and movie content influences live performance.



[i]                Liisa Pentti’s dance Sissi, Anno 2013: Stage Animals #2