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Paris Performance Calendar

Varieties of dance performance: trading a mess of pottage for sense and awareness [by Tracy Danison]

The Game of Life
“The Game of Life”, sextet, 50 minutes. Creation 2022 by Liz Santoro, Pierre Godard, cie Le principe de l’incertitude and Jean-Yves Macé, cie l’Instant Donné. Le Carreau du Temple, June Events, 14 June 2023. Photo © Le Principe de l’incertitude – Liz Santoro

Look! On stage! Is it ballet? Is it Krump? Contemporary dance? No! It’s performance! More incomprehensible than Jacques Lacan! More innovative than Merce Cunningham! More compelling than Lucinda Childs. It’s, well, it’s… Well. What is it, then?


Haut-fond - Céline Cartillier (c) Antoine Billet - copie 2
“Haut-Fond”, solo, 1h. Creation 2023 by Céline Cartillier cie Météores. Atelier de Paris, June Events, 8 June 2023. Photo © cie Météores - Céline Cartillier 

In a previous article in The Best American Poetry/Beyond Words (June Events 2023 dance performance festival features variety, environment and sense experience) on Atelier de Paris’ 2023 June Events program, I wrote that the festival was pushing aside genre for focus on the arts of movement: dance performance. I’m all for it. I love Dance, capital D, think it is existentially important, think putting folderol such as genre in the way of appreciating it is unproductive.

I argue that talk of “genre” or “dance” vs. “performance” might be okay if you’re talking about a widely-recognized and limited series of repeated body movements, social dance, such as a Waltz, the Twist, or a square dance, or for traditional dance-entertainments such as ballet, non-shamanic sword-dancing, or a TV chorus line. But otherwise such distinctions are not very helpful.

Talking about “dance performance” (performance that takes dance movement and experience beyond words (un-narrative) for its primary resource) makes better sense.

So, for me, in making no distinctions between dance and performance and pushing no traditional genres, June Events 2023 made a public declaration of better sense – and made better sense work in practice.


BOW_TTRAILparRhodnieDésircrédit Kevin Calixte8 - copie
“BOW’T TRAIL Rétrospek”, trio, 1h15. Creation 2020 by Rhodnie Désir, RD Créations with live music. Théâtre de l’Aquarium, June Events, 6 June 2023. Photo © Kevin Calixte

A June Events spectator could blindly stab a finger on the program and come up with a variety of dance performance forms. Stab once and find yourself whirling and turning about almost modernly with Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard’s The Game of Life. Stab again and find yourself enmeshed in what seems to be a personal identity story hour with Habib Ben Tanfous’ Ici je lègue ce qui ne m’appartient pas (“Here I leave to you what doesn’t belong to me”).

Though the old labels are pointless, I can’t help thinking it might be helpful to have a way of talking about several pieces as an ensemble, to identify a thread that joins Ben Tanfous and Santoro’s pieces as similar works of “dance performance”. Once identified, might this thread not suggest a different, more useful way of talking about dance performance generally?

The first night of the program, I ran into Atelier director-programmer Anne Sauvage. She was offering white wine in the garden that makes going to the Atelier so pleasant. Instantly donning my social autism hat, I took the opportunity to ask her in the most involved way possible what was the unifying part in the different pieces in June Events’ repertory?


Daniel Larrieu
“Playlist612”, trio, 1h. Création 2018 by Daniel Larrieu Astrakan, Collection Daniel Larrieu. Atelier de Paris, June Events, 17 June 2023. Photo © Benjamin Favrat

Sauvage is thoughtful as well as patient, so some days later, she stopped me to say: sensibilité, citing Julien Andujar’s “performance” Tatiana and Aïna Alègre’s “contemporary dance” THIS IS NOT (an act of love and resistance).

Sensibilité mostly translates into contemporary English as “sensitivity to” or “feelings about”; Sauvage meant that the thread that unites the program’s different performances is the experience of the “‘sense in and awareness of’ the different type of relationship” that each of the pieces features in different ways.* Just coming out from Tatiana, as we were, we could agree that Andujar had deliberately explored and made us aware of the sense in a very deep, very intimate personal relationship otherwise impossible to fully state without. Such exploration is explicit in the stated intention of Alègre’s THIS IS NOT.  

So, whether the one focuses on “material”: air, breath and the other, on the “psychological”: absence, presence, both share a process, exploration, and a drive toward sense in and awareness of a particular thematic or a problematic.


"Fila Fila Manani", duo, 30 minutes. Creation 2023 by Tidiani N’Diaye, cie copier coller. Atelier de Paris, June Events, 15 June 2023. Photo © Atelier de Paris

Later, when I tried, I could evaluate all the June Events pieces I was and would be able to see inside a schema of “(choreographic) exploration, (spectator) sense-awareness and thematic”. It works fine. Through the lens of “relationship”, “performances” such Nina Santés’ solo tanning box exploration of beauty services and products, or Haut Fond, Céline Cartillier’s exploration of movement, clay and sound, Rhodnie Désir’s Bow’t Trail exploration of the slave routes or MOS, Ioanna Paraskevopoulou’s pas de deux on and over a TV set , for instance, sit easily alongside “dance” such as Daniel Larrieu’s Playlist612 choregraphic (re-)enactments with heirs, Joanna Schweizer’s dancing revisit of man and bird in Des Oiseaux, Pierre Godard and Liz Santoro’s joyful almost traditional take on John Horton Conway’s concept of cell division, The Game of Life or Mélissa Guex’ wrenching Down, an attempt to merge dancer and drummer. After all, the thing that changes among them is how the choreographer tries to bring the spectator with them to “sense and awareness” of the type of relationship involved.


7. MOS_GENERALE_PINELOPI_GERASIMOU_LOW-141647028957295 - copie
“MOS”, duo, 45 minutes. Creation 2022 by Ioanna Paraskevopoulou, Onassis Stegi. Atelier de Paris, June Events, 17 June 2023. Photo © Pinelopi Gerasimou

However it might be, the schema sure beats trying to decide, first, if what I am watching adheres to some vague “dance or performance” conventions. Most important of all, I think, is that when I use it, I am thinking in terms of a choreographic process and its effect on me as a spectator, not asking to be entertained, not trying to figure out an embedded narrative or an authorial intention.

That, I think, is more likely to extend and refine my appreciation of Dance, capital D. That's important. So, as one of the 20th century's more serious philosophers to say, I'm going to "git on up!" and get down on it.


11. OWN ©Zakary Braganca - copie
“Down”, duo, 25 minutes. Creation 2023 by Mélissa Guex, cie Sumo. Atelier de Paris, June Events, 17 June 2023. Photo © Zakary Braganca

*I have used “sensibility” previously to describe one of the steps/states involved in the process of creating dance experience and opening it on Imagination. 

Samuel Johnson defined “sensibility” thus (1755):

  1. Quickness of sensation.

Modesty is a kind of quick and delicate feeling in the soul: it is such an exquisite sensibility, as warns a woman to shun the first appearance of every thing hurtful.

                                                                                        - Addison’s  Spectator

  1. Quickness of perception.

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"After You've Gone"
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