body:language talks (Dana Caspersen)


(Couldn't find a big enough image of her, hence the image of performance installation Human Writes. Caspersen is in there somewhere).

Yay for the body:language talks at the Lilian Baylis. Guy Cools has a nice gig there – bring down people he knows and finds interesting, have a chat that ends up being about the fundamental (or potential) value of body-focused performance making dance seem amazing and fantastic rather than the runt of the art world and endear the audience at the same. Score. Beats a post-show talk any day! We should be having more of these instead. The premise is that the artists can talk about their practice, rather than the ‘meaning’ of one particular work. Dana Caspersen holds it down for dancers, whom I find can easily represent themselves as linguistically inarticulate as suckers for domination, the choreographer’s minions, in post-show talks.

Caspersen is a very skilled organiser, of both language and her body. Dressed in (what I think is a) stereotypical Thinking Dancer outfit – black and brown, simple cuts, practical gender-neutral shoes, short hair and nails, small gold hooped earrings – she often gets up to demonstrate the ideas she speaks of. When the talk first began she sat with her small hands spread wide on the arms of her chair as though she was going to launch herself out of it, I felt very aware that she was someone who spent a lot of her time thinking about movement.

The clarity and synonymity in both her words and physicality is a delight and emphasise ideas about intellectual concepts being transferable to the physical and manifesting themselves just as clearly. She explained that she thought about dance, or technique, as a relational practice finding the interior relational qualities of each balletic concept (she mentioned epaulement a hellofalot) inside the body, rather than a series of positions, a process to be embodied rather than a static physically inaccessible ideal. This idea could save a lot of suffering would-be ballet dancers from a lot of shit. She talks of a dancer’s work being “developing a discerning attention” and about how an obsession with detail does not curtail freedom of movement but is a tool to discern and further articulate the body.

Then there is the transferable potential of the dancer’s skills. Caspersen is also, admirably, a Conflict Mediator, she describes this as training perspective, transforming the space of conflict in order to provide people with a new perspective from which to view their situation, speaking of working with William Forsythe, performing and improvising from the memory of a duet, managing to present the concept of memory in the body as fluid and changeable, as it is in the mind, inviting the past into the present and future moment of performance (in terms of the structure and set nature of the remembered choreography). With the idea that we are constantly inhabited by our past experience and that this propels us into our future, Caspersen did look like she was housed by many personalities when she would demonstrate, several bodies, many heads inside her small frame. Yet, the extracts of work we saw did just look like ballet, albeit the Thinking (Wo)Man’s Ballet.

Caspersen is great. Her fascination with the world, the way she sees dance translating and extending into the wider world is encouraging. She makes all the dance-concepts she speaks about as three-dimensional in language, as she does in movement, embodying her knowledge and closing any gap between body and mind. Still, I was left with this question: why didn’t she send a more recent photo for the promotion of this talk??


Dana Caspersen — body:language talks, 6 December 2010, Lilian Baylis Studio