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Dialogue between environments

In Veli Lehtovaara’s new work, “Conversations”, three dancers converse through movement with other forms of nature, their contemporaries, their ancestors, each other, and the audience.  The work was inspired by a text of Martin Heidegger’s written in 1944-45: “A Triadic Conversation on a Country Path between a Scientist, a Scholar and a Guide”, a text where the author reflects about the relation between human beings, nature, and technology. But “Conversations” is more that a translation of a text, it takes it as a source for other inquiries, namely in the field of choreography.

The questions addressed by Heidegger’s text deal with an attempt to define humanity: What is a human being? What is thinking? What is the relationship between will and thinking? Can we understand thinking besides will and representation?  If we try to take these questions further, considering the recent “ontological turn” and the interplay of non-humans in contemporary critical theory, we will face an immediate need to dilute the bind between language and humanity, but also to embrace other definitions of language and communication, besides Heidegger’s humanism. This was one of the points discussed with Veli Lehtovaara in our Skype meeting after the premiere at Zodiak. 

Heidegger’s quest could then be reversed by Tim Ingold’s attempt in the field of anthropology to understand the environment as part of humanity. In “Being Alive” (2011), one of Ingold’s questions is: are human relations with the environment necessarily mediated by culture? And, if they aren’t, could we think of a mediation between humans and environments that exempts this relationship from human symbolism and representation?

Following this thread of discussions, choreography in “Conversations” partakes this debate, while it produces a specific mediation with spectators through a specific set of distances regarding language/choreography and the relationship with nature. Spirals, waves and circles are ways of producing a conversation without symbols, where human movements can be among seaweeds, birds, trees or snakes. As Gregory Bateson could have put it, it matters the “pattern that connects” different scales of living beings. Bilateral symmetry or undulation are less exemples of human exceptionalism than cosmopolitical connections. Thus, the time of the dance is self-sustained, time really takes time, because bodies are moving despite us (despite our eyes): bodies are bodies-in-the-air, circles-in-a-territory, hand-containers, lines. A “conversation between bodies" becomes a "dialogue between environments". 

Besides choreography, the visual scenography created by Eija-Liisa Ahtila is formed by two 4x3m LED screens facing each other in the both ends of the stage. These old school LED screens, normally used in outdoors, have a low resolution quality created by red-green-blue LED-lamps, which you can see from close by. The materiality of the image is clearly present.  The screens project images of nature: the landscape of a field in rural Finland, the shift from day to night and the shift from late summer to fall and then winter. Somehow, the materiality of technology (also brought by Heidegger’s text) is installed through this set while it also produces a specific way of bringing the environment to stage: landscapes are projected in real time as techo-figurations or “tecnho-still-lives”. There is still a wish for representation in this video but it transcends symbolism. 

While dancers move in the space between both screens, a dualism is produced between our idea of human time (dance) and our idea of natural time (landscape on video). Dance faces these LED landscapes where humans are not in the focus and time evolves with its own pace and rhythms, and yet these landscapes are also profoundly humanised (anthropic): they present inscriptions of human activities everywhere. We could ask if the projected images are about a “world without us” (we have the feeling that humans have disappeared from these deserted and quiet landscapes) yet the dance is not more "alive" than the screens: spirals don’t move forward or backwards, left or right, waves are also quiet.

In a general understanding of human-environment relationships, the general proposal of this piece is that cultures represent and mediate climates and dualisms should not be taken as “separations”. Nevertheless, in our present moment, “climate change entails that contemporary societies are now also making natural history, allowing us to recognise in climate the inscriptions of human culture” (YUSOFF, 2013). The novelty of this recognition should transcend an apocalyptical narrow symbolism and, in this sense, we could say that “Conversations” is sufficiently open to question fragile unbalances between climate change, humanity and language (human and non-human).