Niklaus Largier on Chora: Mesmerized

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Chora | Open Spaces Festival, Tanzfabrik Berlin | 9.11.2019

Conceiving of ourselves as viewers at first, we often turn into participants. What seems to be observation and abstraction becomes absorption, immersion, experience in time. Reading turns into feelings of sweetness and bitterness; looking into taste, appetite and arousal; hearing into affective pleasure and melancholic longing; touch into an abyss of desire.

I am tempted to start with a simple scene. A multipurpose room with an old hardwood floor, once used as a gym, in what is probably an ex-GDR school building in Berlin, Pankow. Sitting on a chair, I am observing a group of dancers rehearsing, working towards a future performance. A choreography, Chora. The Earth is a foreign planet. Every day it shows a different face, produced by Moritz Majce and Sandra Man. Silence reigns, except for the faint hum of a freeway in the distance, and for irregular moments of sound produced by the steps of the dancers. From time to time hints of a minimalist soundscape float in the air, mostly rhythmical echoes that don’t distract from the bodies that move. This is all there is. Bodies that move, bodies in no explicit form of interaction, bodies in space and time. Bodies that give form to space and time; involving me, while I am sitting there: attracting the gaze, holding it, redirecting it, absorbing all the senses, affects, and thoughts into the new space and time that unfolds here. It is, we might say, nothing else than a landscape of figural effects and of movements; a landscape where sensation and imagination converge in blissful play; a landscape of beauty.

I think, surprisingly, of Hume’s skepticism and his happiness in scenes of eating and conversation—and of his melancholy that came about when he engaged in philosophical matters. Looking at the movements of the dancers unfold, I don’t think of concepts. Instead, thought itself turns into movements of perception and feeling; and, starting in a critically descriptive mode, I find myself a skeptic absorbed in a dream of sensation. Looking at the dancers, sensing the movements, I think of angels. Angels, each of them singular and not bound by the hierarchies of thought, engaging each other in a form of language unknown to us. Angels, as in the drawing of Paul Klee that Walter Benjamin loved, looking back towards the ruins of history and alluding to a language that restores what is lost. Angels, as in Rilke’s vision, terrifying in their beauty and always close, too close to us in their intimate movements and presence. Angels, also, deeply immersed in the broken world, carrying all its passions, its desires, its senses in their silent voice. In Wallace Steven’s words “the necessary angel of earth, / Since, in my sight, you see the earth again.”

Or, shifting to another image, I think of bodies, just resurrected from the womb of the earth, seeking the words and the language they don’t have, yet fully alive in this tentative world of moving encounters. Bodies, encompassing all, humans and animals, flowers and stones, rivers and landscapes; hierarchies lost in the flow of the forms.
What remains, in this state of a different time and perception, is the figural play of the bodies alone, a play that takes shape both outside of and in our souls, fully material and fully spiritual. It would be wrong to speak of depth here, of meaning, or of a world. All this, even the allegory of angels or of resurrected bodies that I am happy to produce, is being undone. It is being undone, time and again, and replaced by the pull of the movements, the series of impressions, the axes of gaze and sensation, their layerings and circulation, in short, by mesmerizing effects of figures and configurations—not figures of life, but of living in the blissful multitude and beauty of silent voices.


Watching the undoing of social, racial, and discursive subjugations in these movements I think, thanks to Rahma, also of Audre Lorde when I write this. Of her “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” and of the sentence: “The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us—the poet—whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom.” In that essay, she concludes: “For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt, of examininng what our ideas really mean (feel like) on Sunday morning at 7 AM, after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth; while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while tasting our new possibilities and strengths.” This, the “tasting” of possibilities and strengths, in the undoing and remaking of figures, comes into view here—not in poetry this time, but in the silence of dance, nourished by the cosmic dreams it embodies in its figures and unfolds in the mesmerizing effects that so blissfully unsettle.

Niklaus Largier: Figures of Possibility, to be published in 2020