Archive for september, 2017

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Reza Shojaiyan as the Philosopher

Ami Skånberg Dahlstedt är just nu doktorand på halvtid på Centre of Asian Dance and Theatre, University of London. Där arbetar hon bl a med att tillämpa critical theory på konstnärlig forskning inom dans. Här använder hon ett av många teoribegrepp om Space på den egna filmen Sagan om Dansaren som spelades in 1996. Hon publicerar det här som inspiration för andra dansare att närma sig teori som kan vara svårt att läsa på egen hand. Doreen Massey’s teori om space är väldigt komplex och detta inlägg gör inte anspråk på att förklara denna teori. Det är tänkt som en ingång för dig som danspraktiker att tänka mer på space och hur filosofi skulle kunna vara en hjälp. Inlägget är skrivet på engelska.

Ami Skånberg Dahlstedt is currently a doctoral student at the Center of Asian Dance and Theater, University of London. There she works with applying critical theory to artistic research in dance. Here she uses one of many theories about space on her own film The Dancer – a Fairy-Tale, which was recorded in 1996. She publishes this as an inspiration for other dancers to approach theory, which could be difficult to read on one’s own. Doreen Massey’s theory of space is very complex and this post does not claim to explain this theory. It is thought of as an entrance for you as a dance practitioner to think more about space and how philosophy could be a help. The entry is written in English.

Time-space, space-time
The English word space is difficult to translate into Swedish. There are several words for space: for example rum, utrymme and rymd. Rum means room or accommodation which could be a material place but also a space for activity. ‘Dance space’ in English is often translated poetically into ‘Rum för Dans’, literally ‘Room for Dance’. Utrymme is both space and place, it could mean a scope or a storage for things. Utrymme is often used when a claim for more space is expressed. Nowadays the English word ‘space’ is used in a combination with Swedish. Here, space also equates recognition. Rymd means the athmospheric space, the space of stars, planets, and galaxies. Rymd is also used in a combination of other words, where I find tidsrymd to be the most fascinating. Tidsrymd is a combination of the words time and space, literally ‘time’s space’, and it means period of time. In this word lies a competition for equal recognition: time vs space, space vs time.

How do you dance spaces?
In Doreen Massey’s For Space, the goal is to draw out the lines for an alternative imagination of space for contemporary times, and to think about space differently. Massey wants us to rethink the assumption that space is something we simply pass through. She wants to bring the concepts of space alive, to be an active part of society, rather than being the realm within which society operates. This is key to understanding of politics and power. How can Massey’s For Space put substance to dance practice? She writes that the way we imagine space has effects. It makes space seem like it a surface, continuous and given. It differentiates – somebody finds it, takes it and then owns it. This image is also used in dance spaces. In many Western professional dance studios the main focus is to cover as much space as possible until you have conquered space with your own body. Outside the studio, there are powerful structures, which decide the inclusion or exclusion of dancing bodies as a whole or as individuals.

On the one hand, space is always imbued with power and on the other hand ‘power’ itself always has a geography.  I decide to look at a dialogue I wrote in 1995, based on a real meeting with somebody while I was on my way home after a performance. I wrote the dialogue for my first fiction film The Dancer- a Fairy-tale. My proposal then was to show the way a dancer might be in the world: poor, without a fixed place, mobile, not in a car, but on a bicycle, which is not seen as a powerful position by society. I wanted to show how the position might open up for different encounters with space and with people.

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Ami as the character Redlip

In the film The Dancer – a Fairy-Tale, the character Redlip bikes to the film’s last meeting with yet a male manager, in this case the State himself. She is going to ask for funding for her dance company Redlipsong, finally having realized that the art of dance has no commercial value in contemporary society. If you cannot sell your art, how are you going to pay your rent? How are you going to survive? While she is locking her bicycle, someone approaches her. Redlip is nervous about her meeting with the State, and does not have time to interact with anyone. She keeps her space for herself. When she looks up, she sees a man who is not from Sweden. He wears a white crocheted hat. He starts to chat with her, but she is focussed on her important meeting, and hardly replies.

The Philosopher (speaks Swedish with an accent): Excuse me, have you got the time?

Redlip: What?

The Philosopher (a bit irritated that Redlip seems so absent-minded): The time?

Redlip: No.

The Philosopher: Why not?

Redlip does not reply, instead makes herself ready, and picks up a book.

The Philosopher: Is time of no importance to you?

Redlip: No, time’s of no importance… (she looks at the high building, representing The Government) …but you have to subject yourself sometimes.

Redlip walks towards the building. The man walks after her.

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The Philosopher: What is of more importance? Space?

Redlip stops and replies: Yes, space more so than time.

The Philosopher: What are you? A physicist?

Redlip: Almost. I’m a dancer.

The Philosopher: Dancer? How great! I love dancing. Look.

The man starts to perform for her. They both laugh and start to dance together.

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In the scene between Redlip and the Philosopher, space opened up to be a shared one, a space where communication could happen. But since Redlip at first was so focussed to do well in her meeting with the State – a man in power (of time and change) – the ‘space out-there’ became subordinate, and she almost missed the opportunity to talk and dance with the Philosopher. The film was invited to Alexandria International Film Festival in 1999. Clearly, the scene with Redlip and the Philosopher was interpreted differently in Egypt than in Sweden. By an Egyptian audience The Philosopher was seen as a local character in a strange environment – Sweden – meeting a Swedish stranger. I explained that the scene showed two persons, marginalized by the Swedish society, and how they met as equals because they were sharing seemingly rootless positions. When you have no fixed point in life, when you yourself are in a process of becoming, dynamic meetings with ‘outsiders’ are possible.

At that time, I had a need to imagine a space where someone would love dancing. In Sweden you are not allowed to dance in public space without a permission. Requirements for dance permits are contained in something called ‘Order Act’, which came in 1956, based on an assumption that dance, ‘immoral’ music (especially jazz), alcohol consumption and uncontrolled meetings between young men and women, needed to be banned. Politicians have tried to abolish the ban, but each time, the Social Democrates and the Christian Democrates vote against it.

The Immigrant
In Sweden, the Philosopher in the film was seen as the Immigrant. At this time in Sweden, the term ‘intersectionality’ had not been introduced. Discussions on discrimination and integration had not fully gained momentum. Intersectionality is a term coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities.

The Philosopher was played by Reza Shojaiyan, a professional actor who had fled Iran. Professional actors who had fled their countries to Sweden ended up in physically demanding and low paid jobs. Reza Shojaiyan was no exception. Finally he hurt his back from a job as a metal worker in heavy industry, and decided to return to acting. For many years he toured with his highly acclaimed piece ‘Reza’s resa‘. Reza in Swedish means journey. In a captivating monologue he told the Swedish audience about his escape from Iran. This made the audience reflect on the time when Swedes emigrated to the U.S. because of famine and difficult times. The position of the immigrant is a shared one, and it is never just local.

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The Swedish theater institutions were still discussing whether ‘broken Swedish’ would be acceptable on Swedish stages or not. Could Strindberg be practiced differently? In this discussion, there are what Massey describes as claims to exclusivity, and home grown rooted authenticity. White privileged directors argued that different bodies and voices would destroy their artistic freedom, and these arguments are still repeated today. The question of inclusion and integration is seen as a threat to artistic freedom, and a demand for art to be of only utilitarian value. I argue that the real threat to art is the artists’ own ignorance to what is happening to society (a space to be practiced), and our role in it (how to make space together). Dancers and choreographers cannot shut the door to the studio and believe that art can be created separated from society, from nature, or from people. There is never an independent artistic compass. We always come from somewhere and end up elsewhere.

As Doreen Massey writes:

An existence of multiplicity is possible where we can celebrate diverseness and difference. The world cannot be told as the universal story of ‘the West’ alone or as the story of the white, heterosexual male. This recognition depends on a recognition of spatiality. Space consists of loose ends and missing links, which can be combined in endless figures.

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