The importance of air
— September 10, 2018

In March 2017, I moved from the Netherlands to Marseille to work with Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten at the Ballet National de Marseille. When I studied Theatre Studies in Amsterdam I already got in touch with their work and I can remember that their extremely corporeal approach fascinated me. The internship at the Ballet National de Marseille was an opportunity for me to work with Greco and Scholten, to learn how to do dramaturgy in practice and to do research on the use of breath in dance.

At the complete beginning of my research I read the book The forgetting of air in Martin Heidegger by Luce Irigaray:

Is not air the whole of our habitation as mortals? Is there a dwelling more vast, more spacious, or even more generally peaceful than that of air? Can man live elsewhere than in air? Neither in earth, nor in fire, nor in water is any habitation possible for him.[1]

It was a relief to find a philosopher who writes to the point. Irigaray’s language inspired me to dive into the research on breath and air. How can it be that we seem to have completely forgotten about this element? In her aerial intervention Irigaray attributes the name “philosophy of forgetting” to this tendency, instead she proposes herself a different form of philosophy which she calls “philosophy of breathing”.[2] In this way, Irigaray distracts the attention from “logos” (speech) and concentrates instead on the body.

When studying the theory of Irigaray from the point of view of dance, the dancers would form a good example of the philosophy of breathing. As the use of breath without speech is considered by Irigaray as something positive and powerful, the way of sharing air between dancers and audience and the communication through breath by (often) non-speaking dancers, could be seen as an advantage.[3]

It surprised me how very little attention is being paid to the element of air in the domain of dance, since breathing forms an important element of many different dance companies. One of those companies is the Ballet National de Marseille, headed by Greco and Scholten. With their philosophy “between brain and movement” and their Double Skin/Double Mind method, Greco and Scholten present their unique view on the role of breath in dance.

The Double Skin/Double Mind method, created in 1998, draws the attention to the body and more specifically to breath. Breathing is the first of four elements of the DS/DM method, and is followed by: Jumping, Expanding and Reducing. During Breathing, the dancers focus on their inhalation and exhalation. While inhaling the dancer strives for an extreme extending of the body, when exhaling the dancer relaxes and moves downwards, hereby looking for the most comfortable way in which that is possible. When all air has left his lungs, the dancer falls down or starts inhaling again looking for new possibilities to extend the body.

I wondered why the DS/DM workshop starts with the element Breathing and found the answer in a quote by Greco in the DS/DM documentary:

Breathing is connecting the inside and the outside, breaking the boundaries of the inside, breaking out. Then the way back, going back, going into yourself, absorbing the outside world into yourself.[4]

Through this focus on breath the dancers learn to connect the inside to the outside. This connection is strongly related to the discord between body and mind in which breath connects the mind to body, the brain to the movement.

Breathing also forms a connection between the body and the space (and the bodies in the space). This is especially of importance in the choreographies of Greco and Scholten in which the dancers use their breath to move in unison. A common technique to tune movements is the counting of music. In the companies of EG|PC however, the dancers do not count. By consciously breathing together they attempt to create an energy between each other. The rhythm of the breath becomes the counting and the connection through air enables the dancers to dance as if they are one body.

Now, a couple of months after finishing my research, I’m thrilled to see how the “philosophy of breathing” will be further developed in the domain of dance studies. Additionally, I would like to stress that, whether my research concentrated on the work of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, the topic of breath in dance can also be a potential way of studying other approaches of choreographers and can generate new insights in the embodied experience of the dancers and in the artistic projects of a dance company.

You can find the whole research here:

[1] Irigaray, Luce. The forgetting of air. London: Athlone, 1999: 8.

[2] Grammatikopoulou, Christina. “Remembering the air: Luce Irigaray’s ontology of breath.” Interactive – 20-05- 2017

[3] Karreman, L. The Motion Capture Imaginary. Ghent: Ghent University, 2017: p.226

[4] Quote by Emio Greco in Double Skin/Double Mind. Documentary. Directed by Maite Bermúdez. Amsterdam: EG|PC, 2006

— Article written by Marieke Buytenhuijs


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