To mark 25 years of collaboration, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten will debut a work commemorating the “endings” of their oeuvre: WE WANT IT ALL. Ellen McGrath, dramaturgy intern at ICK observed and analysed over 50 endings created by the choreographers between 1995 and 2020. In order to deepen her understanding of what “endings” may signify, both generally and to Greco and Scholten, she underwent a study of theoretical approaches to endings, as well as a sort of “close reading” of the endings of each of their productions.
Theoretical approaches to “endings” have taken many forms. The likes of Peter Brooks approaches the subject from the perspective of the novel: how the process of reading a narrative can be linked to the Freudian death drive- the desire to reach finality so that significance can be conferred on that which has passed. In his work Reading for the Plot Brooks argues, in line with Aristotelian thought, that ‘recognition brings its illumination, which then can shed retrospective light’. 1 Thus, we can never fully appreciate the significance of a work without knowing how it ends.
Frank Kermode, too, tackles the subject in relation to literary art forms. He argues that fictional works with a beginning, middle, and end bring comfort because they have order and coherence. The self-confined work of art stands in contrast to the chaos of the “real world”. He argues that we look to fictions to help us make sense of life. Kermode supposes that humans have an instinctive interest in endings, as is demonstrated in his analysis of apocalypse narratives: endings are anticipated.
Perhaps the most famous piece of art that has “endings” as its subject is Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, in which endings are also beginnings. The cyclicality and repetitive nature of life is expressed by Hamm, ‘the end is in the beginning and yet you go on’. 2 opening lines of the play ‘finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished’ 3 demonstrate the longing for an end both Brooks and Kermode detail, whilst also indicating the impossibility of fully achieving this within a lifetime.
Back to the future
One of the returning key words in the work of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten is “Back to the Future”: Our bodies are ‘carriers’ of history and ‘creators’ of a new history. This ambivalent movement, back to move forward and forward to move back, is important when considering the endings within their oeuvre. It implies that the relationship between past, present, and future is not static: the consequences of the past are repeated in future actions. Therefore, endings do not signify closure, but rather pave the way for a particular version of the future.
The idea of endings marking a new beginning or the possibility of there being more than one ending is apparent in many of Greco and Scholten’s productions. Greco and Scholten play with our supposedly instinctive desire to reach an “end”, as well as subverting how we might expect a performance to conventionally finish. In this respect one characteristic quality of their work is the prolonging of the ending. By this I mean that what might seem like an appropriate or conventional ending is often disrupted by the “starting up” again of the performance. This dynamic is established to varying degrees in many of their productions. For example, this pattern occurs in Double Points: Bertha- The Bermudez Triangle (2002) and is perhaps most strikingly evident in La Commedia (2011). The audience is repeatedly denied the satisfaction of reaching the definite end of the performance.
However, this does not mean that meaning isn’t conferred, rather the sense of “relief” of being able to reflect on the performance as a whole is greater when we finally do make it to the final moment. In one respect we are given the option of a number of different possible endings to the piece, whilst also witnessing how endings merge into new beginnings.
The tension established between slowing down as though to end, and starting up again, evident in performances such as [purgatorio] POPOPERA (2008), further demonstrates the idea of the body in revolt: of the body rebelling against the expected ending; of the instinctive body continuing to move regardless or lighting or sound cues.
A continuous movement
This dynamic is further established via the use of continuous movement, established by having the lights black out mid-dance. This is apparent in Double Points: Two (1998) in which we see the dancers subtly continue to move despite the music stopping and the lights dimming. This is evident also in Extra Dry (1999), Rimasto Orfano (2002), and Double Points: Outis (2010). Each of these performances come to a gentle and subtle end via a dimming of the lights and the continuation of movement by dancers during this dimming. A sense of continuity is also established in Extremalism (2015). This is established by the way in which the dancers step forward into the light as we see the shadows expand. There is a sense that the movement continues beyond the end of the performance.
In other productions the blackout is more abrupt and brings the performance to a sharp end. In these instances, a sense of fluidity is denied, but movement beyond blackout is implied by the ending of the performance mid dance move. This is evident in productions such as Hell (2006), Le Corps Du Ballet (2011), and, most recently, in Blasphemy Rhapsody (2021)in which the lights black out as one dancer moves forward and begins to make a gesture. In these instances, there is an anticlimactic element to the endings- there is no clear final movement or dramatic change in music. Instead, the lighting is all that signals the performance is over. In addition to these endings demonstrating the body in a kind of revolt- the continuous movement suggests that there is no clear end, while we can imagine the movement to continue (forever?).
It is wrong to assume that all productions by Greco and Scholten fit neatly into a pattern. The productions mentioned previously exemplify a certain type of ending which is common, but not consistent across the whole oeuvre. For example, in line with ICK’s acute awareness of global issues, the endings of several productions are characterised by their clear polemical argument. This is most evident in Disappearance (2019). The voice of Greta Thunberg speaks of the need to preserve earth’s natural resources. The politicised child is central to the ending, it is a constant carry over from the darkened state to the bright white closing image. It is therefore perceived as the voice of reason- the one to have the final word. The ending is definitive and marked with words as opposed to movement- it therefore seems didactic in nature: attention is on the blunt warning of the child’s voice.
It is misguided to make generalisations regarding any trends within the endings of Greco and Scholten’s work. However, it is possible to detect links and juxtapositions between different productions on the basis of their endings. More often than not we are denied the closure which we would usually expect from an ending. Instead, we are left to imagine the dancers in a perpetual dance, or we are confronted with a series of false endings which come to an abrupt close.
By creating a new performance out of several endings that are iconic for their oeuvre, the idea of continuous movement becomes even more apparent. One thing leads to another and full closure is an illusion. There is always space for imagining a new beginning. Where Kermode sees the end as something that can bring comfort, for Greco and Scholten to go against this idea of closure and coherence, is a form of revolt or idealism. Revolt is only possible if one can imagine other possibilities or a way to start over. This will trigger something in the body that makes it prepared to go on and on and on…