TQW Magazin
Marcel J. V. Kieslich on On Abeyance by Tanz Company Gervasi, David Altweger, Mira Loew

Dancing indeterminacy


Dancing indeterminacy


There are at least two ways of dealing with powerlessness: on the one hand, self-empowerment is an attempt to deal constructively with what fate has placed at one’s doorstep. On the other, there is the path of non-action, i.e. to face time, which passes without any active assistance on one’s own part anyway, with corresponding equanimity. On Abeyance is a prime example of a fusion of these two responses. The preceding project, In Abeyance, became a creative retreat for around eighty dancers from all over the world in the stormy days of spring 2020. They braved the circumstances of their isolation by dancing, collectively liberating themselves from the indeterminacy of standstill and transforming uncertainty into sensuousness. The collaborative solitude created gateways at a time when transit areas advanced from non-places to places of longing, and being in motion took on a new quality. In three phases of mutual exchange, loneliness was explored communally and then arranged virtually into a varied archive in the form of short film sequences. Expressions of physicality while soul-searching. Based on meditative movement improvisations, a soft voice outlined physical-psychological paths through the participants’ immediate and imaginative spaces. The sounds of already forgotten resonance spaces echoed in memories and ideas that provided strength and orientation in the abeyance of improvisation. The atmospheric existence in ‘one’s own four walls’: breathing, body, surroundings, light and lines. Days blurred together, and the sunlight that broke through the windows became a vitalising event that invited people to dance.



As being human can turn into a dissociating category, and humans have become too vulnerable and too valuable in the pandemic, both the idea of a walk-in video installation and the idea of a performance had to be discarded. The sympoietic atmosphere in theatre spaces not only induces an exchange of energy, it emphasises the precarity of (aesthetic) contagion[1] as well. In the course of several translation processes, the virtual archive of In Abeyance was transformed into a multimedia hybrid form, which has been made available via the internet as On Abeyance[2].

Arranged like a disjunct triptych, three walls extend from floor to ceiling. Three separating projection surfaces that suddenly change from opaque blackness to transparency to give an insight into other people’s living spaces. The video sequences are accompanied by seven dancers who appear small and insignificant in front of these oversized projections. They seem lost between the electronic images that surround and affect them. Movement and rest alternate in a soundscape within these surfaces. Voices can be heard from the loudspeakers occasionally, but there are passages of silence as well, when all that can be heard appears to be the breath of one of the dancers. Interaction with fellow human beings takes place at a physical distance, and bodily contact is pointedly realised by interacting with staged artefacts; a chair, an exercise ball, a yoga mat and a blackroll create mobility and serve as dancing materials. Since all of this can only be experienced via the virtual space, the contactless dancing becomes a two-dimensional event as well, as do the electronic projections. A special feature of this production are the three video channels that provide different perspectives of the stage to enable virtual interaction. But what primarily affects the body while watching is being physically surrounded by a media structure in front of the computer. A click of the mouse selects one of the channels, each of which opens up a virtual space that makes something else visible – sometimes with video sequences cut in between. Only navigating, moving around and participating within the framework of the installation creates intensive situations. Installations are forms of programming that set up (material and virtual) spaces, regardless of whether they are artistic or computational installations. Due to the virtual spatial arrangement of the performance, the spectators may potentially miss something in one of the other spaces, which ultimately allows them to experience first-hand the transitoriness and alinearity involved in dealing with technology. Only the sound track brings all the spaces as well as the juxtaposed and overlapping images together into a stream to satisfy the longing for sensory depth. In contrast to the flat image of the dancers, the acoustic form unfolds in its ‘natural’ dimensionality at home as well. In addition to the loudspeakers, however, a functioning internet connection is required to enable high-resolution, smooth aesthetic pleasure. Once again, it becomes clear that (digital) technology serves as a yardstick for privileges even in the context of art. Artists are not defeated by but because of technology.



How can the internet, as a rhizome-like cathedral of art, form an anthropic world community without failing to take the agency of matter and the impact of technology into account? While the dancers do not explicitly dance for the camera’s eye, the subversive power of technological recording is nonetheless inscribed in this production too. The camera lens refers from the here and now to another place. That’s where the spectator sits, and there is no applause at the end. What remains is a flickering blue that turns into diffuse blackness. This absence turns the performance into an intervention on the screen that reminds us that there is still an inside out there, in which people think collectively and feel unmediatedly in diffuse darkness. They do exist, the spheres of dancing indeterminacy.


Marcel J. V. Kieslich studies philosophy and theatre studies. He currently writes his doctoral thesis at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and conducts practical and theoretical research on the performativity of digital technologies in the scenic arts.


[1] According to Donna Haraway, the atmospheres of a performance should be understood in terms of sympoiesis because they defy control and predictability and are not restricted by ‘self-defined spatial or temporal boundaries’. Cf. Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. Making King in the Chthulucene, Durham/London 2016, p. 61.
[2] On Abeyance was available on the Tanzquartier Wien website from 16 to 19 January 2021 and can still be accessed via gervasi.at/on-abeyance/.