Traces of intelligent aliens

Ana Vujanović on Dub Soirée by Alix Eynaudi & Frans Poelstra a. o.
© Frans Poelstra
Ana Vujanović on Dub Soirée by Alix Eynaudi & Frans Poelstra a. o.

On May 25, 2018 I attended Dub Soirée, a showing of the research laboratory unreal time composition on improvisation by Alix Eynaudi and Frans Poelstra, with participation of Claire Lefèvre, Karine Blanche, Alex Bailey and Mzamo Nondlwana.

The improvisation in common parlance suggests a casual format of performing, in which – when it’s a public show and not a jam for artists – wider audience can easily place themselves and enjoy artists’ virtuosity, playfulness and creativity. So it is a sort of communicative format. Speaking about communicativity, in a PR texts about the laboratory I read this simple and inviting artists’ statement: “We are all experts in friendship. We all know how to dance.” They singled out these two practices as that which connects them all, who hadn’t known each other before the lab. The first thought that came to my mind was that this as well connects them with the audience, since in a way we are all experts in friendship and we all know how to dance. Even if we are sloppy in befriending and dancing, even we bear some embarrassing memories of friends and dances we can easily relate to these two life practices.

This all promised a solid common ground for everyone who met last Friday at TQW.

Yet, the moment I entered the studios in which the showing took place, I realized that the communication with the artists’ universe would be anything but easy.

While walking through the piles of personal belongings, books, suitcases, household tools, notebooks, bottles, brushes and other things scattered throughout the space, I tried hard to make sense of them. To connect them into a story. To take them as an aftermath. To read their symbolic value. To understand the metaphor. To let them speak to me. But in vain. One by one, all these attempts failed and I found myself surrounded with something like traces of intelligent aliens. I felt relieved. They were opaque things to me and it was O.K. However, there was intelligence behind that whole setting, since it was a dance showing and not a natural event. A broader question started taking shape in my head: If we cannot discern the sense of things – and thereby transform them into objects – is it because they do not have a sense or because their sense comes from an intelligence alien to us? In the time of late Anthropocene, when human activity manifests its detrimental influence on the environment, it would be very smart of humanity if we let things be. But it’s apparently difficult and the idea of alien intelligence in things appeared to me as a less demanding way to protect things from ourselves, and if only because we need them.

Curiously, the performers acted in the same way as the things. They put on, even exchanged curious clothes – colorful pajamas, dresses, sport jersey, gender-very-specific-clothes which they wore irrespectively of their genders – but they never gave us a clue about their choices. They sang and played music, let us smell from the small bottles, and operated alchemy-like equipment with copper pots and pipes. They told anecdotes from their lives and shared their emotional problems… or they were maybe someone else’s problems. Sometimes they moved from studio to studio, and most of the audience followed them, although it was unclear why certain actions took part in one room and the others in the other. All in all, the aliens remained alien to me till the end, which forced me to revisit the meaning of friendship, sharing, common ground and my own concern in the stage as re(s)publica – a democratic agora (republica) and a public thing (res publica).

When I started writing this short reflection, meant to reach wider readership, I realized that I have to mention at least crucial references operating beneath the opaque surface of the showing. It seems to me, that the context of the Teachback project plays an important role here, as it provided the artists with artistic-educational tools used in generating materials, such as Oracle Dance. [1] The other, maybe the strongest reference, integrated already in the title, is João Fiadeiro’s choreographic method real time composition. It is itself complex and on top of that this showing comments on it, probably rethinking the realness of the time in which encounters with time, space, audience, things… in performance situations happen. [2] I’m not sure if I would have come to that link by myself, but I’m sure that none of the non-specialist visitors had a chance to do so – simply because there are layers of specialist knowledge, a dense net of theoretical and artistic references, long history and genesis of problems pertaining to the field of dance, that are all present in this simple and playful showing that promised to be on familiar matters, such as friendship, improvisation and dance.

Because of that I cannot make this reflection more communicative than it is. Certainly, I can say: You as non-specialists don’t need to understand everything, you don’t even need to understand, it’s OK just to stand there and open yourself for new experience. Oh, this is again a specialist reference coming from Fiadeiro’s poetics… so maybe not the right advice at this point. Moreover, it would stop me before saying the following:

Contemporary dance is usually not communicative. It is commonly not interesting to wide audience; it only wants to be so or is told it needs to want so. Usually, it is shown to other specialists: artists, theorists, curators and art students. Because of that, it is constantly in the negative with ticket revenues. And because of that it is constantly in danger of being extinct by neoliberal cultural policies. Contemporary dance is experimental. Thus it is sometimes unsuccessful and often hermetic and opaque. To hide this, it is occasionally funny. Contemporary dance tends to be complicated, because it deals with serious problems – of dance. The problem is that dance itself is not taken serious enough to be welcome to publicly share its problems. TMI! Yet, contemporary dance has to do so, as it exists only in the encounter with audience, on stage, as re(s)publica.

This is the main paradox I faced at unreal time composition. And here, instead of resolving it rhetorically by saying ‘you don’t need to understand’, I opt for presenting it bare-naked to readers. You should know it. Not only for the sake of this showing; that paradox hovers as a ghost over contemporary performance, a desperate art, an art that lives only if we let it live with(in) us. Like a virus. Or indeed a friend.


Ana Vujanovic is a freelance cultural worker – researcher, writer, dramaturge, activist – in the fields of contemporary performing arts and culture. She holds Ph.D. in Humanities, Theatre Studies. She was a member of the editorial collective of TkH [Walking Theory], a Belgrade-based theoretical-artistic platform, and editor-in-chief of the TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory (2000–2017). She has lectured at various universities and educational programs throughout Europe, was a visiting professor at the Performance Studies Department of the University Hamburg, and since 2016 she is a team member and mentor of fourth year students at SNDO – School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. She participates in art projects in the fields of performance, theatre, dance, and video/film, as a dramaturge and co-author. She has published a number of articles in journals and collections and authored four books, most recently Public Sphere by Performance, with Bojana Cvejić.


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[1] It is mentioned in the leaflet but I don’t know what it is, nor did I find an explanation online, nor did I have time to contact Alice Chauchat and Jennifer Lacey, the initiators of Teachback. About the project itself one can read here.

[2] I have been told about that by Christina Gillinger, who had visited some of the lab’s sessions. A very informative interview with Fiadeiro is here.