The choreographic writings of performance and political theorist Randy Martin are rooted in an understanding of dance as an analytic with which to approach socio-political mobilizations. In â€œA Precarious Dance, a Derivative Socialityâ€ he writes, â€œFor dance to move the political beyond arrested development, its knowledge of how bodies are assembled, of how space and time are configured, of how interconnections are valued must be made legible beyond the ends of choreographic endeavor. Foregrounding the analytics of movement so redolent in dance can make for a richer evaluation of what is generated through political mobilization.â€ The usefulness of dance then is as an analytic, a mode of theorization. What is particularly compelling to me about this approach are the ways in which it would seem to expand the notion of dance and call for an application beyond the already expanded definition of dance as a kind of “social inventiveness” or mobilization.
Martinâ€™s most recent work uses dance to think through risk, precarity, and the influence of financial judgment and calculations across our day to day experience. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Martin about this work and dig into the logic of social derivatives together. For those unfamiliar, derivatives, within the realm of finance, â€œare the variable attributes of some underlying commodity such as interest rates on loans, expected rates of default on mortgages, or rates of exchanges between two different currencies.â€ Martin continues, â€œWhen taken as a broader social logic, and not just as an activity that takes place within one sector or domain called the economy, the dynamics of the derivative can be seen across all manner of human activity in ways that engender mutual indebtedness, interdependencies across different times and places, and a swelling socialization of what people take to be and expect from life, history, and their future.â€
AR: It would seem that generative risk-based practices, like those that you’ve written and talked about, are a way of negotiating or reclaiming a climate of risk for those that might be described as “at-risk”. There seems to be here a relationship between self-guidance and agency. Would you describe this reclamation as a way of accruing agency through a self-guidance that appropriates risk in order to revalue it as a reward unto itself? I am also thinking of remarks you have made concerning the legacy of self-management and governance at the Brooklyn Commune.
RM: Regarding risk, self-guidance and agency. The bailout left the general impression that finance had cornered the market on risk. Taking the longer view of decolonization in which the current financial regime emerged, we see that it is but one currency of risk and that the relation between danger and self-appreciation, which collaborative dance practices set in motion and make legible other principles of mutual indebtedness than those that cleave a few beneficiaries from the circulating populations that live through the efforts of one another without needing to move in unison. Specifically, these movement practices share a decentered social kinesthetic which reverberates globally and engenders capacities for self-production (the repurposing and revaluation of urban space); self-representation (the capacity to value, make sense from and assess the work being done); and self-dissemination (the use of capture technologies to spread the words, feelings and movements beyond locally inscribed sites of practice). Hopefully this is a more generative agenda for life opportunity and mutual engagement than a pursuit of perfectible techniques for managing, ranking, and accounting for oneself.
AR: It strikes me that dance and other kinds of ensemble based practices offer a way to simultaneously imagine and enact living alternatives. Something that I think is at the heart of your recent work. Could you talk a little bit more about the problem of aspiration and imagination under the logics of derivatives? Do you see either (imagination or aspiration) as being co-opted or consumed by these logics?
RM: To think finance as but one potent but partial manifestation of the social logic of derivatives means that it is not at the center of all social processes gobbling up each instance of risk initiative. Derivatives are assemblages of attributes that produce by circulating; make the far near, and the future actionable in the present and move us from externalizing difference and change to finding ways that volatilities generate modes of abundance rather than scarcity. This is the promise of the derivative logic and the countervailing tendency of turning security to precarity and austerity.
AR: Are derivative logics totalizing? Your recent work would seem to suggest a non-conscious acceptance and internalization of these logics.
RM: Derivative logics are pervasive but are also decolonizing ruptures of some prior enclosure and risk forms that emerge from some condition of ruins. In my movement examples these are the ruins of industrialization which provide postmodern dance with its Soho “ghost town”; the ruin of social housing and engineering that cannot contain the moving images that will become hip hop; and the ruins of suburban bliss that provide the landscape from which boarding culture emerges. Derivatives are by definition bits and pieces of whole entities and therefore always leave something behind–an underlier, volatility, gaps and spreads, contingent claims. In some ways they emerge from the failures to totalize even as they augur an ever-expanding horizon of new forms of wealth that we must learn to claim as our own if we are to move beyond the imposed austerity that is our current lot.
AR: I hope you will forgive me if this question seems to veer us away from the topics at hand. Reading over the article you sent (A Precarious Dance, a Derivative Sociality), I am struck by two things which appear to be interrelated. One is a question of speed and perhaps by extension duration. Certainly there is an element of speed to some of the practices you mentioned: postmodern dance in Soho, the emergence of hip hop, boarding culture. Speed is a preoccupation of the skateboarder and tagger alike, as it is speed that will give them the opportunity to hold their territory for the greatest length of time and speed that will enable them to flee from authority. The other is this sentence: “Utopia as an end we touch through our own means of intervention.” I can begin to see these two things working in tandem. The speed through which those “at-risk” intervene into the discarded landscape, the means by which they begin to simultaneously imagine and enact living alternatives and the production of a utopia whose manifestation is produced by or through this sense of urgency. Do you have any thoughts on either of these of these two observations? Can you elaborate on the utopian implications of these practices?
RM: Speed and duration are indeed material entailments of what I am terming a social kinesthetic. The difference between the modernist kinestheme and the decentered and distributed lateral kinestheme that derivatives circulate in is that space and time are linear and directional and expressed socially as the values of progress, growth and development. Just as portfolios are constructed to make money whether the market goes up or down; decentered movement practices take pleasure from staying in the flow, flying low or transitioning from one orientation to another. This is a nondirectional agility in which staying in the zone, the spread, the liquid suggest different values of participation and co-presence. By placing together interventionist and utopian political temperaments, we undo the reform/revolution opposition and find ways to combine moving into a space in order to repurpose and reopen it and taking the future in the present as allowing us to act upon the contingent without awaiting a total break into a new moment or world. The derivative logic begins to give us access to how we might value and appraise these differences that are already in our midst.
This post initiates what I hope will be a series of posts made in response to the question: â€œWhat can be done with dance?â€. The question is taken from the book, â€œHow to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar Americaâ€ by Rebekah J Kowal. In the book Kowal suggests that the political potential of choreography to enact real societal change exists as much on the street as it does on the stage. I wonâ€™t go into too much detail about the book, as I will be posting an interview with Kowal shortly, but I would like to linger a little while on this question of doing. Following Kowalâ€™s lead I would like to consider the potential of dance as extending beyond the â€œpower of embodied actionâ€. Let us take for granted, just for now, Â this particular kind of power in bringing about experiential or social change in order to consider other aspects of dance. Like poetry, dance is a way of making graspable what might otherwise elude us. It is a way of capturing the wordless sensations that arise in the body at any given moment.
While I may be inclined, from time to time, to believe that what constitutes the world is nothing more than a series of words, names really, I am also quick to point to the pleasure of unknowable sensations or passions. This is what dance does. It gives us access and makes available that which we feel but do not know. Choreography, in this vein, is a way of working with newly acquired bodily knowledge. In this way, dance is perhaps more grounded than poetry, in that what is being expressed is rooted in the architecture of the body. This of course only leads us to more questions: What is the relationship between the architecture of the body and the space in which it moves? and in the context of my initial inquiry, how might dance help us re-imagine this relationship?
Very often, when speaking about performance, we speak of the space of the event. That rather fluid relationship between the invisible boundaries of the performance arena and the bodies that occupy it. This is the basis for many conversations concerning theater, dance, and other body-based performance practices. Conceptions of space, as they attempt to describe a kind of container, allow for the conceptualizing of bodily volumes. They allow us to speak of the mobility of bodies as it pertains to the environment in which they move. While there is certainly a value in thinking of the relationship between the body and space as one of volume to container, it is also problematic in that it most often privileges an unrealistic idealized body.
Space as it exists conceptually promotes an occupation of itself by a certain kind of body. A body that is best represented by the athletic body. While this may not be the image of interest for most performers the image of the idealized body has a particularly strong hold socially and is continually circulated through the design and conceptualization of space. Day to day routines are policed by the proportions of the spaces in which they take place. Door frames, floor tiles, counter tops, the boundaries of our movements are dictated by standardized measurements. Proportions that are more often than not disproportionate to the bodies that they contains. So internalized are these dimensions that they are manifested non-consciously in the very way that we imagine space around us. To overcome these biases and to allow for other or differently abled bodies is to reconceptualize the relationship of the body to space.
The dancing body is not immune to these prejudices but dance as a practice of acquiring new insight, new knowledge, allows us to use the body to think around our internalized prejudices. The dancing body, for example, does not occupy space so much as facilitates a collaboration between space and the body, it pushes itself against the space that envelops it and in turn that space pushes itself against the body. The body leans against the wall and the wall leans away. Weight is distributed, balanced and shared. The dance is made in collaboration with its environment. It is in this spirit of collaboration, that we begin to find the seedlings of a new way of identifying the performance space. With this dynamic relationship in mind the dancer imagines space as the limbs of another dancer, the back of a chair, the side of the body, an immobile leg, a sleeping hand. The imagination then elaborates and the process of choreography itself becomes about finding ways to express two sets of information, the choreographers and the dancers, and in so doing the hierarchy of values that determine the acceptability of bodies has begun to disintegrate in the wake of collaboration. We have used dance as a practice and a metaphor to circumvent internalized prejudices and to imagine new ways of being in space. I am reminded here of Cornel Westâ€™s description of Percy Shellyâ€™s poet.
â€œHe is talking about all human beings who decide to muster their imagination and empathy to conceive of a better world, given the social misery and suffering of this world.â€ Â
Perhaps, this is what we can do with dance.
- Anthony Romero