babylon, once again

Notes on the new creation by Cecilia Bengolea

A choreographer from Argentina (but based in France), dancers from Colombia, France, Hungary, Mexico, USA and Spain, and a dance scholar from Israel, meet in a dance studio in Austria. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but it is reality, and for the people living it, a given, nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary, there is nothing new about it. In a famous scene in Pina Bausch's 1980, the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal take turns in striding up to a microphone and naming three things from their country of origin, as Land of Hope and Glory (a British patriotic song) plays. I am reminded of this scene as I watch the dancers of Bodhi rehearse a scene where, accumulatively, they sing their national anthems, each, of course, in his own native language. It is not long before their singing becomes a complete cacophony and the image of the biblical story of Tower of Babel comes to my mind. According to the story, humanity, once united, spoke a single language, but after an attempt to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven, God confounded humanity's speech to many languages, and mankind could no longer understand each other, and was scattered around the world. And yet, here we are again, a few representatives of mankind gathered together, in Salzburg, determined to create something together, mind and body.

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 photo shooting "Sound of the Trap" with Bernhard Müller

"Every artistic collaboration is a contingent experiment in democratizing democracy," says Rudi Laermans in his essay on artistic collaboration in dance. Working as Cecilia does, with the dancers as co-authors, requires from all parties trust, persistence, daring, and it involves much indeterminacy, wandering, experimenting. It is a collective endeavor, a joint effort, much like building a tower together, or doing politics. But DANCING IS NOT A METAPHORE - a scribble I had written in my notebook at one of the rehearsals reads. The dancers do all that with their concrete bodies, and seeing their devotion is exactly what makes it so affective. Devotion as the task of the dancer, claims Andre Lepecki, is a political affirmation: "with the performance of devotion, the choreographic reveals itself to be that which produces an agent, that which produces an affect, and that which reminds us that the political, in order to come into the world, requires commitment, engagement, persistence, insistence, and daring." As I write these lines, I don't know yet whether Cecilia's work will make such a political statement or not, but right now, I cannot avoid thinking of this creation process as metonymical to politics, which is exactly what underlies the way Lepecki suggests critical theory should "address the choreographic dynamics of social movements and social change – regardless if those movements and changes will eventually manifest themselves on the stage or in the streets."

This metonymical relation of dance and politics can also be read in Zygmunt Bauman's essay "from nation building to globalization", in which he unfolds a description of what could easily portray the becoming of dance in the studio: "Ways of life today drift in varied and not necessarily coordinated directions: they come into contact and separate, they embrace and repel, enter into conflict, or initiate a mutual exchange of experience or services – and they do all this… floating in a suspension of cultures, all of a similar, or of a wholly identical specific gravity." It is not just Bauman's figurative writing style that prompts me to think of Cecilia's work through his eyes, but his poignant observations that "Europe is transforming before our very eyes into a mosaic of diasporas" and while doing that "supposedly stable and unquestionable hierarchies and one directional evolutionary pathways are today replaced by contentions for the permission to be different," and maybe most importantly in regards to the dance is his argument that "cultural relations are no longer vertical but horizontal." Here, Bauman sheds light on the logic of syntax in Cecilia's bricolage of Hungarian folk dance, Jamaican dance hall and ballet en pointe, her "liquid dramaturgy" releasing a Babylon of dance styles, musical line-up, texts and references, that at times feels like wandering, horizontally, through YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, mirroring our Zeitgeist.

Back to the story of Tower of Babel. Some Jewish Biblical commentaries ask what exactly humanity's sin was, and reply that it was speaking only one language – not the language of a certain nation, but in single voice, in unison, as one, hence not enabling differences, nuances. Well, perhaps this time we succeed, not despite - but because, we speak different languages, inspired by the other's otherness, embodying it as part of our practice, always aspiring for diversity. "To live with the other, live as the other's other," tells us Hans-Georg Gadamer "is the fundamental human task." And Europe's task, he adds, "consists of passing on to all the art of everyone learning from everyone." Isn't that what we do in the studio?

(by Ran Brown)

Bauman, Zygmunt. "Culture in a liquid modern world." John Wiley & Sons, 2013.‏
Laermans, Rudi. "‘Being in common’: Theorizing artistic collaboration." Performance Research 17.6 (2012): 94-102.‏
Lepecki, André. "Choreopolice and Choreopolitics: or, the task of the dancer." TDR/The Drama Review 57.4 (2013): 13-27.‏

Becoming Critical Bodhis

I am haunted by the books I have read in the past. The specter of Sartre's Self-Taught Man is still looking over my shoulder, worried that there is still a universe before me and there might not be enough time. But that is only half the problem, for I, like the narrator of Patrick Suskind Amnesia in Litteris, have already forgotten the books I had once read. I share these thoughts with the dancers of Bodhi and I can see that they are not sure where I'm heading. I wish to elucidate my intentions as I read out loud Suskind's words: "Reading is an act by which consciousness is changed in such an imperceptible manner that the reader is not even aware of it. The reader suffering from amnesia in litteris is most definitely changed by his reading, but without noticing it, because as he reads, those critical faculties of his brain that could tell him that change is occurring are changing as well." I look at the still-not-convinced faces of the Bodhis and put my thoughts into words: "reading together, I hope, will do something similar, open up a critical space where we can follow Rilke's imperative: 'You must change your life!'"

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"Dancing Bodies", an essay by dance scholar Susan Leigh Foster, served as a starting point for a reflection on the dancers' body-of-ideas – a term used by Foster to describe the result of the daily practical participation of a dancer's body in different disciplines. We also wished to situate this body – as Foster does in her essay – in a cultural and aesthetic moment, especially since the "hired body" which Foster describes in her article as a new kind of body, "competent at many styles," has become the focal point of the horizon of expectations in contemporary dance training. This reflection proved to be enriching also in regards to the creative process the dancers have began working on; Cecilia Bengolea's use of different styles of dancing, and her reliance on the different dance techniques the dancers embody seemed to realize Foster's apprehending of the body as "multiple, protean, and capable, literally, of being made into many different expressive bodies."

However, Foster's critical attitude towards the construction of this eclectic body did not go unnoticed. We pushed this critical view further also in regards to the on-going creation process, and read three extracts of texts that address the politics of inclusion and exclusion in a globalised dance field. The first was "Global Breakdancing and the Intercultural Body" by Halifu Osumare, scholar of black popular culture, choreographer and dance educator. It ends with the sentence: "global capitalism and evolving hip hop subculture exist in parallel, yet intertwined, forces in this increasingly complex era", which echoed the discussion Cecilia had with the dancers regarding the appropriation of Jamaican Dancehall. Likewise, Bojana Kunst, philosopher and performance art theorist, in her essay "Subversion and the Dancing Body: Autonomy on Display", describes how "otherness" comes across as commodity in the dance market, but also argues that contemporary choreographers employ different strategies to "expose contemporary subjectivity as a process of performing, always confined within a complex network of potentiality and relations." Into this charged space entered the third text by choreographers Thomas Plischke and Kattrin Deufert, "(Not) Being Able to Speak Oneself" which documents the creation process of (Nao) se pode falar in Andarai, a local slum in Rio de Janeiro. Discussing it, we questioned the writers' point of view, and their capability to perceive reality other than as white, European privileged choreographers. We did not arrive to unequivocal conclusions.

Reflecting on both the creation process and the reading sessions I thought it would be beneficial to discuss how criticality changed the choreographic practice and the perception of the performing bodies. Therefore I introduced art scholar Céline Roux's essay "Performative Practices/Critical Bodies #2: What Makes Dance". Roux's essay outlines a contextual reflection on the dancing body in what she calls 'performative practices', or in her own words: "it is about the construction of reflective and reflexive thinking processes that suggest new ways of being in the world." Though it was far too early to discuss Cecilia's work-in-progress, let alone whether it aligns with the practices Roux describes, I found her preeminent claim that "the body is a place for a critical discourse" of great importance for the dancers. In addition, Roux's essay is abundant of examples of French choreography, thus it was helpful in situating Cecilia's work in a historical, if not aesthetic, timeline. Moreover, these choreographic works exemplified the wide spread of what dancing in a contemporary choreography might mean today.

These last aspects of the article turned out to be meaningful for the dancers, who didn't know all of the examples, and so we spent time watching and discussing them. We also dedicated a session to the ways dancers became creative collaborators since that defining moment when - as André Lepecki puts it in words: "Pina Bausch dared to ask dancers a question." According to Lepecki, "by positioning the dancer in the place of producer of knowledge rather than passive recipient of previously elaborated steps, and by allowing the dancers' expressivity to escape from the self contained realm of "pure movement", Bausch was changing the entire epistemological stability of the dance field." And so, through on-line video documentation of performances and rehearsals we examined the ways in which Pina Bausch, Vera Mantero and Meg Stuart work with their dancers. These different examples were meant to empower the dancers in the creative process and inform them of the open, divergent opportunities it offered them.

Implementing a reflexive attitude towards my own doing, as well as thinking of the dancers as collaborators, I asked the dancers where they want to steer the boat next. The dancers expressed a wish to further deepen the issues we have discussed but also a concern that they don't know enough the field of contemporary dance – literally names of choreographers and companies. Here, since I felt I am sharing with the dancers – as the choreographer does, according to Lepecki – the same premise of departing from "not knowing" and using dance as a field of knowledge, I suggested we start by mapping what we do know, and that we do so in collaboration. This is how we entered a new and unexpected phase in our joint trajectory: cartographing hidden knowledge. Therefore, we created a list of names of dance companies and dance makers, divided to categories suggested by the dancers, reflecting a subjective view of the field, and actually a contested one since we didn't agree on sorting the names into categories. Later on, we created in a similar way a list of dance festivals and suggested different categories in which they could be sorted. Thus, creating these lists served as a basis for discussion of aesthetics, dance history and (again) politics of inclusion and exclusion – which is always present when it comes to the production of knowledge. We then used the lists as a source for each of the dancers to research and present a dance maker or a company whom she didn't know beforehand.

Since the ontological question of dance (namely: is it dance?) came up (in response to the work of La Ribot, presenting at the time at "Tanz im August") – I felt we need to discuss the medium's apparatus and its expansion. We did that by watching online Yvane Chapuis and Jérôme Bel, conversing upon his performance The show must go on (2001). This performance, as well as their discussion of it, enabled us to point out some of the influences "conceptual dance" had on the contemporary dance scene at large, and to recognize how the mainstream is changing as a consequence of what is going on at the more experimental parts of the field. We paid special attention to the presence of popular culture representations, since they were also present in the on-going creation process Cecilia was conducting at the time. We furthered this discussion while reading Rudi Laermans' essay "The politics of collective attention", in which he argues that "the performing arts cannot avoid reproducing or disputing the dominance of the mass media since they work with the very same medium of sensory attention."

Also in regards to creative work done at the studio at the time, I thought it would be of interest to examine the ways in which the body on stage, or dance in general – considered a non literal art form – actually "says" something, and specifically I wished to focus on what it "says" about the culture we live in. Therefore, using the work of several Israeli choreographers (Roy Assaf, Sharon Eyal, Ohad Naharin, Dana Ruttenberg, Niv Sheinfeld, Oren Laor and Keren Levi) as example, I asked the dancers to consider the ways in which culture is always inscribed in the body, as well as the diverse ways in which choreographers employ the dancing body to reflect that culture. However, when we discussed the following meeting the use of the dancer's body by the choreographer in regards to Laermans' article – the dancers were uncomfortable with thinking of themselves as being mere "manifestations of the body overlooked within the spectacle society." The question of their subjectivity came up, especially in the practical aspect of "performing themselves" – or to put it in other words: the dancers where concerned how they can be individuals with agency and not just vessels for the choreographer's whims. This became the subject of our last sessions.

The "performance of the self" stood at the heart of our discussion, first as it was framed by sociologist Erving Goffman, and later through the artistic work of Cindy Sherman and David Lachapelle, both chosen also because of their affinity to the mass media representations of the body and the self, a theme which has been accompanying our discussions throughout the passing weeks. Thinking of the self as a non fixed entity, always changing, complicated even more the question of how to perform oneself. This, we realized, is a question to be answered by practice, and luckily we have the studio and the stage as playgrounds for such experimentation, though it expands beyond the limits of these sites. It remained an open-ended question for the dancers to explore.


For the past five weeks we have been pursuing dance as a field of knowledge, following breadcrumbs and fishing for the unknown, gleaning hidden knowledge, sometimes our own, sometimes implicit in the work of the choreographer, shedding light on history, aesthetics and politics embedded in our practice. We did so by reading, conversing, translating, over and over again, aided by Youtube from time to time, whenever there were gaps to be filled, only so that we could continue unfolding questions of this expanding art form we chose to take part in. We have been questioning the medium at large, the on-going studio-work, the theory input itself, and ourselves; questioning, but not doubting, since by doing so it became more and more clear that dance is indeed a field of knowledge, a site for the critical to appear in, a call for the dancers and spectators as one to change their lives.

(by Ran Brown)

Deufert, Kattrin, Thomas Plischke. "(Nao) se pode falar (Not) being able to speak oneself." Performance Research 8.2 (2003): 42-45.‏
Foster, Susan Leigh. "Dancing bodies." Meaning in motion: New cultural studies of dance (1997): 235-257.‏
Kunst, Bojana. "Subversion and the dancing body: Autonomy on display." Performance Research 8.2 (2003): 61-68.‏
Laermans, Rudi. "The politics of collective attention." Knowledge in Motion: Perspectives of Artistic and Scientific Research in Dance 9 (2007): 235.‏ Available online at:
Lepecki, André. "Dance without distance (The collapsing barriers between dancers, choreographers, critics and other interested parties)." BALLETT INTERNATIONAL-TANZ AKTUELL 2 (2001): 29-31.‏ Available online at:
Lepecki, André, ed. Dance. Whitechapel Gallery, 2012.‏

Osumare, Halifu. "Global breakdancing and the intercultural body." Dance Research Journal 34.2 (2002): 30-45.‏
Roux, Céline. "Performative Practices / Critical Bodies # 2:What Makes Dance." Danse: an anthology, New York, Les presses du réel, New York Series, 2014
Süskind, Patrick. 1986. “Amnesia in litteris. The books I have read (I think)”, Harper's magazine (March 1987): 71-73.

Key Concepts in Contemporary Dance

Suggested and articulated by the Going Ons

In his introduction to his latest book Singularities (2016), André Lepecki writes: "Only within dialogical proximity, intimacy between artistic and critical makings, can we find the necessary and pressing concepts needed to produce art, to compose dances, and to write theory—in rigorous coimagination." This premise underlies my joint endeavor with the Going-Ons in producing this assembly of subjective key concepts of contemporary dance. We used a list of key words – suggested by the students as prevalent in the contemporary dance discourse and requiring elaboration – as a score for reading and discussing dance (and) theory. We also tried out different ways of presenting what we had read, while trying to keep our understandings and insights vital and stimulating. Summarizing our discussions as key concepts stems from a similar desire and follows Lepecki's characterization of concepts:

As free things, concepts (and works of art) constantly evade reification. As the wild things they are, they resist subjection to fixity. Just as a choreographic work needs to rearticulate itself in every reiteration, to re-singularize itself, so must concepts, and the theoretical fields they generate, endure movements of rearticulation, calibration, adjustment.

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Reading list
Beavers, Wendell. "Re-locating technique." The body eclectic: Evolving practices in dance training (2008): 126-133.‏
Butler, Judith. "Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory." Theatre journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.‏
Cvejic, Bojana. Choreographing problems: expressive concepts in contemporary dance and performance. Springer, 2016.‏
Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. Grove press, 2008.‏
Kleist, Heinrich von. "On the gradual production of thoughts whilst speaking." Selected writings (2004): 405-410.‏
Laermans, Rudi, and Carine Meulders. "The body is the re-/de-presentation, or what makes dance contemporary." (2009).‏ Available online at:
Said, Edward. "Orientalism. 1978." New York: Vintage 199 (1979).‏

#contemporary dance

To define contemporary dance is an ambiguous quest.

It is an art form that needs to be experienced and perceived.

It is an investigation of abstract and concrete worlds represented through multiple mediums: movement, body, objects, relationship, space, sound, time, expression.

It plays with human perception.

It is the obsession of the NOW and NEW, the expression of what I was and what I am, it is ephemeral.

It is an attempt to reflect shades of this constantly changing world.


Thoughts on the body
and representations of the body

Contemporary dance, as microcosm of contemporary society is attempting to have a critical dialogue with reality. Therefore contemporary dance is not only cathartic representations of society, but also a realistic one, in all aspects of it. Categorizations and stereotypes are part of that field. Gender issues are one of them. Here are some questions and thoughts.

How does gender affect our behavior? How does gender affect our body language? How does the idea of gender dictate our body language?

Are we performing an idea? Are we performing a social construction? Are we performing gender?
“Genders are terms used to socially differentiate people into groups based on how their sexual identity is being performed. In western societies/cultures there are classically two genders, male and female, which are socially accepted. It is a recent development that the existence of more than two genders is being claimed and that these are openly lived and communicated. In some non-western societies like India or Pakistan, a third gender is known. Gender is a cultural phenomenon that is looked at and defined with great differences throughout historical periods and among different cultures. In most cases, one’s gender identity is made up by a mix of behaviours and appearance.”

“Gender is a categorisation of beings - imposed by society - in order to frame them and demand from them to behave in a specific way related to their sexuality. Behaviour, specific body languages, choices, tastes, roles in society etc. are the representation of the gender to which someone “belongs”."

“Gender is a term that separates humans according to their biological differences.”

“Gender is a personal decision of identity independent from any biological “fact”.”

“What is gender?
How to do things with words?
Let me try
Is it the need to fit in?
Is the song of Dylan “like a woman” a sexist song?
Am I feminist because I have hair under my armpit?
Or am I just using my freedom of having that choice?
Am I sexist thinking that the movie” Paris is burning” was a big circus?
Was I the only one feeling sad when that girl was screaming that she was free? To become a woman is it really like living the American dream?
While you are putting your make up can you also make up your mind?
How much exhausting must be?
To perform than just to be
We got so emotional about Jasmin. The representation of the woman from the east And what about the woman from west?
The woman that they want to be in order to feel free
But that’s for sure not me
Is it a boy or a girl? “it is what it is” I’m a tree
Lost at the space in between
Like when I tried to define what is contemporary But there is a statement on Rudi’s socks Fight like a girl
Or maybe if you look like a girl
They’ll step back
So no girl and no fight
And that’s also fine
We said with Vita we are not our bodies
So I am whoever and whatever I want
A pineapple
A frog
I don’t care so much... BUT
Is purple too feminine for you?”

... more key concepts to follow in a printed working book ###

shira eviatar – guest artist from Israel

Shira Eviatar is an independent choreographer and dancer based in Tel Aviv and a DanceWeb scholarship program participant (2015). She has performed her works in festivals throughout Israel and Europe, such as Curtain Up, Diver Festival, International Exposure, Malta Festival, Fresh – Tanztage Braunschweig, EPOS Film Festival/ Tel Aviv Museum of Art. She has been recently invited by the Bat-Sheva Dance Company to perform her newest work Rising, which she will also show in SEAD this September where she is currently working as an artist in residence.

Shira researchs into the forms within tradition and the knowledge they contain, the embodiment of belief systems, values, past generations, through the practicing of aesthetics. In her works she examines movements etched in the body, sourced in tradition of celebration. She is fascinated by the roots of the body and mind and how we embody our traditions and cultures. Some of her works include Body Roots, Body Mandala, Rising, Three Generations: One Body, Kosher and De-Port Workers. 


In the content of SEAD’s intercultural exchange project Hidden States, the audience in Salzburg is invited to a public showing of Shira’s last work Rising (2016): The work is an encounter of two bodies of knowledge from two different cultures: Yemenite and Moroccan. The dance of celebration is displaced out of its context and set on stage, striped from its ethnic aesthetics, allowing us to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the two traditions. Through the action of "re-wearing" these movements they hope to raise feelings, sensations and mindsets belonging to these cultures. Both artists examine the junction of the ethnic body and physical body. The work hopes to provide an unbiased space for this Arabic identified movements, allowing us to observe the movements as they are.
Rising relates to the earlier works Body Roots and Body Mandala. Body Roots is a solo performance which uses masks to examine images and representations of her family and how they are carried in Shira’s body and mind. The work examines the intersubjective approach. Body Mandala is a solo work which focuses on the movements of celebration of her Moroccan grandmother, embedded from childhood. The work unravels her cultural heritage into the present experience, establishing new bodily synapses for a future movement. The work seeks to question the artistic ascetics based in Israel and attempts to recentralize Mizrachi culture in contemporary dance. 

Artistic context

“Through my own narrative I connect to social and cultural context. In my work  

I focus on elements erased from culture and history, disappearing from  

mainstream society, designated as non-relevant or inferior. I try to make  

space for those narratives that have been excluded or erased.

In the last few years I have been exploring my Moroccan Heritage in relation  

to my individual story as well as the collective narrative of Arabic Jews  

(Jews that have migrated from Arabic countries).  A motivation of my work is  

related to my father denying his Moroccan Arabic roots and excluding it from  

his life, as he embodied a belief system that is grounded in the Israeli  

narrative. In Israeli society, as the country was built, various narratives  

crossed paths in time and some became mirror images of others, some became  

hegemonic and some were erased. For example, in Israeli schools history is  

taught from the perspective of European Jews but history of Jews from other  

regions is excluded from the curriculum.  This is an example of policy and  

belief systems that protect and create hierarchy by defining what is  

meaningful in identity and who needs to reform in order to fit into the  


I celebrate my Moroccan heritage, the movement of celebration that are etched  

in my body as a counter action to my father's erasing and to society's  

hegemony. Through my work I hope to provide an unbiased space for this Arabic  

identified movements. I am trying to broaden the gaze on this movement and to  

let it exist without minimizing it to one closed image but rather to offer  

its richness, celebrating it, allowing it to be a source for movement  

research. I re -write my body history by creating new bodily synapsis using  

tools of choreography and creation. Through rehearsals and movement research,  

I take and restore those movements, reclaiming my political body.” (Shira Eviatar)

Currently Shira Eviatar is working on a new work, a solo piece for the dancer Evyatar Said. The work Eviatar / Said (2017) draws a personal cultural landscape from the Yemenite Tradition: movement, dances, rhythms, gestures, values, way of thinking and communication that together compose a language that is practiced as one’s heritage. By entering the public space, this language becomes recognized, identified as "other". On stage, Said migrates into his home; he deconstructs and rewrites his body memories, his bodies of knowledge, emotions and sensations as he celebrates the possibility of establishing an independent body in the present.

Public showing
Shira Eviatar and Anat Amrani
September 25th, 2017, SEAD / The Josef Eckhart Theatre

Get to know more about the artist:


back in tel aviv

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At the end of our first Hidden States project year, we visited the International Dance Exposure in Tel Aviv again, and saw very different and impressive performances in Suzanne Dellal Centre - home of Batsheva or Inbal Dance Company - , and in other venues such as the old Warehouse 2 in Jaffa Port and the Tmuna theatre. With lots of new and unexpected impressions, names and faces in mind, we came back to town and immediately began to spin more plans for the next year! We want to know more about how Israel became so famous for dance, and who made Tel Aviv a "capital" of dance. But what kind of dance is it? And why do we dance how we dance where we dance? For this we will also put an eye on different places in Israel where you can learn dance. So, we are looking very much forward to the next projects! See you soon - either on our side or the other :)

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