The first part of Bodies in Revolt in Times of a pandemic was dedicated mainly to breath as a both material and discursive phenomenon, as something that is simultaneously shared and differentiated, and to the concept of combat breathing that might be understood as an embodied politics of resistance, but also as a way to practice solidarity and care. For dancers to breathe means also to move. Being curious about difficulties and revelations that arise in creative and educational processes, and new physical and emotional feelings triggered by lockdown, I asked three dancers and dance artists to share their experiences: Dasha Che – a queer American-Russian dance artist, who is currently based in Helsinki and is studying at the Theater Academy of the University of the Arts; Marina Orlova – a Russian dance-artist, a student at SNDO, currently based in Amsterdam; Alevtina Gruntovskaya – a Russian choreographer based in Saint-Petersburg, a student at Vaganova Ballet Academy, MA Artistic practices in contemporary dance.
P. Fenko: Lockdown puts most dancers in a situation where they are not able to move as freely as they used to. Most of us are stuck in our flats with very little space left for moving our bodies around. Being in a lockdown how do you find possibilities to move in a confined space? On a very physical level, how do you experience movement and space? What kind of differences in your body do you notice?
A. Gruntovskaya: I have decided to change my optics for a while and to concentrate on my inner body instead of working in and with space. Right now I’m working more from a somatic approach, to explore what is inside, to tune in with my inner body, and to maybe restructure the inner connections. Despite my love to countertechnique, I understand that now it is time for her to dive inside myself and I believe, that after Pandemia when I will be back working in a studio and will get a chance to increase the volume of my movement and to experience the surroundings with childish excitement.
M. Orlova: As for my body, for me, it’s super challenging to do dance classes via zoom. I almost can’t feel my body. I’m almost not moving. For me, emotions are part of my body. Mymental activity in the current situation is so intense, that I have no energy to invent new formats and approaches to choreography-making. I do not distinguish between the active and passive position in the current situation of the corona crisis. We all need time for reflection. It’s about preparing for an action. It’s important to live through this moment. It’s not passivity, it’s necessity.
D. Che: A body as a sack, a trash bag, a log, a patch of weedy soil, a rain paddle. Kick it, step on it, drive over it – it doesn’t give a shit. I went into a corona state with a full force of rebellion against the regulations and needs to confine myself inside a tiny student room in Helsinki. I was worried about my body the most. There was a strong need for my body and thinking to continue extending (using Sara Ahmed’s corporeal phenomenology language) beyond these unfortunate restrictions, especially, since emerging from a winter long heavy depression, I couldn’t afford another sinking. I remember watching, both in rage and futility, sites that I favored and safely extended into in this foreign city closing down – dance studios at Theater Academy of University of the Arts, Kallio library in my neighborhood, McDonalds in Hakaneimi (that I frequented as my personal writing studio), the plastic table-chairs sitting area at Lidl. There was a week-long moment of uncertainty which I sensed as a solemn and saturnine goodbye, when I visited these semi-empty places nearly daily, trying to “embody and embed” them (Briadotti), to collect haptic memories of their surfaces.
My body felt expended and defeated, weak, precarious, the one that couldn’t perform strength, grace, extensions any longer. I see this moment as experiencing the trauma of being a lonely lost foreigner during a pandemic finally catching up with me. I haven’t been able to dance since then, honestly. The outside spaces of attraction also shifted – I started visiting small enclosed alleys, spending time in corners, near the trash piles, inside the trash piles. My body lost its ability to carry itself vertically, straighten up, cut air with the kind of warrior speed that both traditional dance training and successful sociality demands. Perhaps, I began to turn myself into waste, a trash of Helsinki, a foreign trash of Finland.
Dancers and finances in times of Covid-19.
P. Fenko: As a precarious artworker how do you find ways to survive in a situation of economic crisis, caused by Covid-19? Many freelancers and artists feel completely abandoned today, what do you think/ feel about this?
D. Che: I organized a group of international students demanding care and financial support from our university and the Finnish government when covid19 hit. We fought by making surveys, reaching out to other students, giving interviews, writing emails and making calls to the local officials and media for about a month and I finally was giving up. See, in the end no one in power cared or was willing to help, “the rules are rules,” they said. Protecting our bodies did not fit Finnish regulations.
M. Orlova: Speaking from a position of a student at SNDO during the current situation everything lays on the shoulders of students, who lost their jobs and don’t have any money to pay for their housing. The school doesn’t help at all. However, all the professors and other employees didn’t lose their jobs. We (dance artists/ students of SNDO) are under pressure of a desire of the institution to think up of the new formats, to restructure our artistic processes. As if we were robots who are not influenced by economic, physical, and emotional life, we are forced to be creative and to pull out of ourselves all of these… I think that this is too much to ask. This is a very oppressive frame that is created by artistic and institutions etc.
Regarding my precarious position, as a student from a non-EU country everything is super bad. European freelance artists have received 1000 euros as financial compensation. A bit later the government has decided that artists from non-EU can also receive this money. However, as a person with a student visa I don’t have an access to it.
I think for people it would be more challenging here (in the Netherlands) than in Russia, because here everyone is used to funding of the arts sector. Every time it’s a shock when the government cuts down the funding. I think that only the best companies will stay alive – those who cannot not make art. Those who really need it (to make art), they’ll continue in an underground, and I think that it’s super cool. Also, I have a very naive believe that after the lockdown people will value it more.
Making dances “out of box”
P. Fenko: Most of the dancers and choreographers today are forced to search for new formats while being inside artistic and educational processes. How do you cope with such a request? What kind of alternative formats appears? What do you miss the most about working in a studio?
M. Orlova: The big question is what to you bring to the world and why. It’s obvious that there is an excessive amount of content right now. Our artistic director (of SNDO) said: “It’s great that we are not a dance school, but a school were we teach how to think choreographically. Today we can do whatever. It is both about freedom and chaos. We were in the middle of the creative process when the lockdown started. Everything stopped. Currently we are working on an online choreographic object. We received an additional budget for any technical equipment we might need. Most of my classmates decided not to work with the dancers they were supposed to work with before. It’s unclear what to do with yourself, and it’s even more unclear how to be responsible for the others.
I’m still working with the dancers. I’m thinking about audio format. The previous work I’ve made a year ago was related with audio. I was working with a paradox of choreography for the radio. Soundscape for moving.
Regarding co-existing in the same space I want to say about the thinking process. I understand what is research in a studio. What is research within my body. Even when we are talking in a studio we are living it through all together. Ideas are palpitating in the space. However, when the dancers are sitting behind the screen, I have no idea what is happening with their bodies. No bouncing of ideas.
D. Che: This week I started a solo project called A Monument of Shitty Affects of Now, a sequence of threaded video clips depicting my weak human body failing at what it supposedly can do best – dancing and speaking. Holding memories of my body lying on the concrete of the parking lot in Suvilahti, holding memories of William Pope L.’s black body crawling on the urban dirty surfaces of New York City, holding memories of socialites collapsed over a span of several weeks, I want to document a defeated self into a monument of the time, which perhaps has always been here.
Talks with Dasha Che, Marina Orlova and Alevtina Gruntovskaya made me realize that the situation of lockdown forced almost everyone to change their optics on how they see the relation of their body and the environment (the outside world). Speaking from the perspective of the concept of the body in revolt it is interesting that Dasha likens her body to an object. In her very touching and heartbreaking story, she tells us about the new type of community she encountered, which also includes objects, about merging of her body with a landscape, about visibility as a privilege. In Marina’s and Alevtina’s descriptions we also encounter that the “revolting” part of the body is sometimes concluded in its passivity, caused by the impossibility to fit in the existing system. Marina talks about the body in the state of neoliberalism, that constantly asks for creativity and flexibility from the individual. It seems to me, that what these artists are saying about the state of their bodies is very similar to the state of combat breathing, in which passivity is seen as a political act, as a bodily disagreement to accept the existing ideology.
When speaking of a choreographic thinking that expands the notion of dance, it is interesting that during corona crisis many people who are not dance professionals joined various amateur online courses, when some choreographers started working with other mediums. I find it super important what Marina stated about the thinking process that happens in a studio, thinking through moving. I do completely relate to her statement that also erases the hierarchy of various types of knowledge. What seems crucial in a relation to body in revolt is a need to have a “partner” or a referent in order to have a dialogue, in order to create, to be visible and to be heard. Marina describes physical coexistence in a studio as a way of thinking-moving together, Dasha proposes an incredible way of interacting with memories and places that helps to capture the present moment and to approach it as “the monument of the time”. Let these shared stories become also the monuments of the time. Sharing each other’s experiences and fears we create a possibility to collectively tackle the problems we are facing. The optics of combat breathing can help us to avoid generalisations, it can encourage us to be more attentive and more responsive to variety of differences, specificities of every single person who is in a vulnerable position. Through the concept of body in revolt we can manifest our living/being as a political living/being, to understand dance not as a form of escapism, but as an experimental space, where we can imagine and practice different futures. Today, in a situation of coronavirus and protests against the police brutality towards black people the concept of body in revolt speaks also about the rebellion of the matter. We are living in the era of the new level of biopolitics, our bodies became a battlefield, and we should find our ways to breathe freely together, to dance freely together and to care about each other’s bodies.