Interview with Bojana Cvejić by Alice Chauchat and Ana Vujanović
(about Performance and the Public)
Alice Chauchat Which were your intentions when you organized this workshop? Did you want to test a hypothesis? Was it an experiment?
Bojana Cvejić I had an assumption rather than a hypothesis: there is no big difference between group technologies used in contemporary experimental dance and those used in team-building in the business sector, i.e. team-building in business appropriates technologies from dance and these group technologies may differ in purpose but they still aim at developing skills like flexibility, communication, openness, curiosity in the other, non-conflictual problem-solving, and the formation of a group from the aggregation of individuals. The workshop was an experiment which consisted in testing these technologies in two simulated situations: preparatory phase for an ad hoc collaboration in a dance performance and team-building. I invited two specialists in the two areas, who are both performance-related artists; Siegmar Zacharias who teaches business rhetorics and Christine De Smedt who worked both as a choreographer and dancer in large scale group choreographies, such as her three year long project involving ninety amateur dancers 9x9. The participants were students from the dance department of Paris VIII, a business student and a business manager.
Ana Vujanović Why do you think the students applied, and what did they get from this workshop?
BC I suppose the students were interested in a practicum based on the theoretical model social choreography, to observe and experience its exercises and ideology, while for the business manager it was yet another workshop among the many that business people are required to take to "upgrade" their skills.
AC Among the techniques that Christine and Siegmar proposed, can you describe some that converged and some that diverged in their idea of what is a group?
BC We can make a general distinction between these two types of technologies. I believed that the business rhetorics primarily targets the individuals and aims to improve collaboration in team work. It aims at supporting the "feel good" of these individuals and also to empower them to claim their rights and expand on the group. While in the case of social choreography as applied in forming a group for a dance performance, largely based on collaboration, not all exercises depart from the individual and the aggregation of individuals towards a group but some address the group as a whole.
AC Yes, we can observe at least two types of group choreographies in dance today. Some function on negotiation; performers are given parameters which they need to negotiate together, this goes often with a kind of score. Another type of group choreography functions more on a logic of absorption and state, such as the yoga laughter exercise that Christine proposed.
BC In the course of the workshop, although the two sessions were separated, I think we shifted towards group-forming on the base of the group rather than assembling individuals. We can outline some themes to which each day of this workshop was dedicated: Christine's part, which connected to dance practice, first tackled "walking" and the observation of each other. Two sub-groups observed and imitated each other, we also tested swarm intelligence and processes of homogenization (for ex., how to imitate everybody at the same time). We used formal rather than linguistic elements, looking for body-to-body communication. A very interesting collective interview, that manifests itself choreographically, which Christine refers to as social choreography, is to line up according to certain criteria by which individuals position themselves in the group becoming aware of their position as a degree in the scale within the totality.
Siegmar also began with exercises of self-introduction, where couples had to delegate presentation to one another.
The second day was dedicated to contact and collaboration, where individual commitment conditions the group. A particularly revealing exercise was the life-raft game, a fictional situation where a group must solve a problem: they have a raft in which not all can fit, for example only three out of five can be saved. Who will have priority? The two groups that played had a very different approach. In both groups, one person made sure to become the moderator, thus proving their skills to be useful for the group. They also argued for themselves, either on the basis of practical success (would they survive on the raft, as a group?) or in terms of posterity (who should survive in society?). Individuals were really recommending themselves without any reservations, there was even elbowing, alliances to ensure their own place on the boat. But then one girl said "I don't want to participate in the game, I suggest to first try and expand the raft, looking for solutions... How about taking turns on the boat and swimming?" Then another person said "I don't need to go, I refuse to take part in this. What do we do if we have no other solution, maybe the problem is wrong and we need to deconstruct the problem". I thought this was the politically most interesting response to the game.
On the third day, we focused on games and tactics, as in Project, a performance by Xavier Le Roy in which Christine took part. There I began to doubt the task of the game, although I had been a great supporter of this project. The game was created in order to render competition pointless and the score points irrelevant: more than two teams play more than one game at a time, where individuals inhabit various teams simultaneously. The aim of the game was to develop tactics how to play, how to multitask. Suddenly it strucked me that this game actually represents the control society and free market: navigating, floating individuals who practice styles of managing several jobs at the same time. This is not necessarily a negative position but it's apolitical, trying to damage others as little as possible but always fighting for oneself.
AV Earlier you mentioned a divergence between the practices developed in dance and in business, where business would direct more towards the individuals and contemporary dance would focus more on collective situations. How can we understand the example of Project in these terms?
BC This is exactly the point where they don't distinguish and that's why I reacted. When I saw the performance, in respect of dance and what is produced by a group, it seemed to me very emancipatory. It's not disciplinary, not normative, all movements result of external conditions like games. Everybody can play it, more or less. And unlike sports, it doesn't have any consequences, it's a fictional situation. On the other hand, formally, it is a model of relativist shifting interests: now we're working for this, still there is a profit and everyone is happy even if we're all multitasking, playing this game and that game in the same time, here I'm winning and here I lose. And such is life, we play many games at the same time. For me it became more reflective than active, and I reevaluated the meaning of this model in terms of social choreography.
AC How do you consider the technologies of forming a group and those of representing a group? You described values, or ideology, that determine the group-forming. Do you think the values about groups that are represented in dance today are always the same?
BC There's not that much difference between forming and representing. We're beyond the affirmation of collectivity as a kind of group organization which is possible in dance. What you call values and that I would call skills are certain characteristics of immaterial labour today. These are pre-conditions for any work; they are and manifest themselves, they don't represent.
AV I think we can differentiate. Let's look at the configuration of a group in the business sector. Then we speak of individuals that are supposed to form a team, an efficient, operative group. In contemporary dance, are there other types of groups at stake? If so, how can we describe them?
BC I would say the difference is in the stakes. Maybe it's just a difference of degree because the business workers are much more pre-occupied with their individual performance, which defines their value on the market, whereas the relative autonomy of arts allows this pre-occupation to stay at bay. There, people who work in groups are first of all concerned with the performance and sometimes you can see this discrepancy between people feeling very bad during the process and then being rewarded in the moment of the show. There are probably ethical businesses where people accept fights, self-exploitation and excessive labour for the sake of the project going through. This is why the difference is a matter of degree in competition, indeed the stakes are lower in performance: performers survive if they score badly whereas in business, failure often costs the worker her job.
AV It reminds me of some historical practices and I would like to make some comparisons. You compare performance techniques today in the experimental performing arts and in the business sector. Do you have any historical reference in mind? I'm thinking of Meyerhold's Biomechanics and there the process was the opposite; he took biomechanics technique from the process of production in order to transform the performing arts.
BC You could say that the Broadway musical, with its chorus lines, a link was made between that choreography as a social choreography which is isomorphic with the assembly line (the production line), although it would be difficult to claim. But both are types of social choreography where the infrastructure or the base and the superstructure collapse into each other or are conflated. You could say, and this was one of the cases I worked with in our research on social choreography, that movement choirs (Bewegungschöre) were instrumentalised by workers movements and then later by the nazi movement. It's interesting how they formally host different politics, but the ideology was collectivity as totality.
AC Beyond the various games and exercises that were played during the course of the workshop, an actual group also formed itself, with its own particular dynamics, its own "choreographic principles". Which are for you its most striking characteristics?
BC Some people were concerned with these questions about how to act politically in society. Because they knew each other, they could also rely on those characteristics that they were already familiar with so they could benefit from each other in the group and they gave each other a lot of space and trust.
AC There was also this continuous process of discussing. I could see a change in the discussions which took place at the end of each day. In the beginning, the talks went mostly around each individual experience and ways of handling the situation, and throughout the week a capacity developed in these talks, for considering the whole process as a situation each was part of rather than an environment for each self.
Text published in Le Journal des Laboratoires, September-December 2012
Interview with Bojana Cvejić by Alice Chauchat and Ana Vujanović