CAPITALS sat down one summer afternoon in Berlin with Xavier Le Roy, busy with preparing his new project Project. Departing from how Project has grown out of a number of related projects the discussion took off towards definitions of play and games in relation to choreographic practices.
CAPITALS: What is your relationship with process in your work? Is it possible to see a signature in your work relative to process rather than in respect of the products! form and design?
Xavier Le Roy: I dont know if a "process" signature according to the process is identifiable in the products of my work but for some time I have tried to make it visible in each of them. But as long as I try to change the means of production as well as the methods of work and all other elements of the process when I work on a production, it will always appear in another form and if it is a signature it is one of those things that change, that you can not recognise by formal comparison.
The sure thing is that I always try to avoid the "work in progress aesthetic presentation". The kind of excuse that the work is not finished but we show it and ask the audience to understand or to look in a proper way etc... This could actually become a choreography.
To be brief, I think that as a spectator you can see the process of Self-Unfinished in the walking backwards in slow-motion section, hear the process of work of Product of Circumstances in "the content of a piece is not enough for a critical position", see, hear and feel and participate in it in the whole E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S.#1 which put the loop on the questions you are asking (process relationships to products), and the process of Giszelle is in the utterance of the titles and in the scenes of the second part.
C: Since 1999 you have been busy with E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S., which actually started in a project in 1998 in Berlin. At the time the process of changing positions of actor, spectator and participant was a radical statement, where the notion of framework of a performance seemed to dissolve. Perhaps in the sense of saying sorry, its dead, no more shows, there are no place for that kind of spectacle any more. Recently, there has been a new development, where the open process is becoming a performance again, starting in Stockholm and with its premiere in Lisbon in 2003. Do you see the stage, and its very clear framing, again as a site for critical discourse?
XLR: I never stopped seeing the theatre as a venue for critical discourses. Each critical project specifies its space, time and method of development and presentation. The project E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. started to be worked, experienced, performed and presented in a space which was not a space for theatre or dance presentation and/or rehearsals, because it was working on the passage from rehearsal to representation in order to develop other methods of work by handling all the parameters of the production of a choreography at the same time. So to avoid a characterization of the work too close to rehearsal or/and to representation and at the same time be able to look for states of work which would be in between or always going from one to the other I proposed to leave the theatres and rehearsal studios. In other words we didnt want to be in a clear situation where we would say for example: this is representation of a performance or this is rehearsal for a performance. And we have tried to do work that was NOT supposed to be in progress. One of the developments of this project is to come back to the theatre because we work on a choreographic piece that needs to question the conventions of the theatre as a space for choreographic representation. It is like an injection of a bunch of ideas coming out of different situations from E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. looking for the missing part of the project that was the relationship with a less diluted audience. More specifically it is the continuity from workshops which took place in San Sebastian, Freiburg, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Stockholm, Utrecht, and finally Berlin, where the decision was taken to make an evening length choreography to be shown in an auditorium. The title of this is Project and the subtitle could be Extensions Workshop as a Piece. It is another understanding of process that is within each presentation of choreography understood as productivity. A choreography is a theatre of productions where the producers (performers-choreographers) and the receivers (spectators) join together. During the presentation, the choreography is always at work on both sides. Project works on the visibility, the understanding or the perception of this process itself. If we follow the discourse on performativity, "the framework of performance presentation" also "dissolves" like you say even in the case of a presentation in a theatre.
C: What specific choreographic practices will the group bring with it from E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. to Project? I know that you have been working with relationships between play and games, as a critical modus of confronting conventions of choreographic practices. Will sports and game strategies be part of the choreographic proposal in Project, and if so, what are the specific qualities you want to obtain, and what questions do you wish to propose?
In The Cultural Limits of Play and the Serious L. J. Huizinga has defined play as follows:
Summing up the formal qualities of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside "ordinary" life as being "not serious", but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.
In what relation to such definition of, perhaps, both play and choreography does Project position itself? And how does it refer to Roger Caillois more diverse definition of play and game? I am specifically interested in his 6th point, on Make-believer, where he says that play is accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life. In what respects is Project referring to this notion of illusion, that of course is conditional to the theatre, as space and practice?
XLR: Yes the group will bring some practices with it from E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. like for example sports and game that will be part of the choreographic proposal in Project. With Project we wish to transpose the principles of games in the choreographic work environment and to come and go between the two fields (or activities). This requires transforming and transferring the non-productive characteristic of games into the production of choreography. Using this idea, we also wish to implement situations that would present bodies simultaneously during the execution of movements (in conformity with the rules of the game) and in the field of free decisions (acting on the game and the unfolding of the situation). In order to obtain this quality, we develop situations and methods of work based on playing games.
We are also exploring the idea of game and rules in order to develop a choreography that would enable us to work and present different "states of performance", or in other words, different levels of involvement of the actors in the choreography. The game is used as a tool to enable performers to go beyond the mere performing of a role or to limit their presence to the execution of movements representing a specific type of body, or to the mere spontaneity of improvisation. The implemented choreographic environment and processes enable us to establish a wider range of relationships between a movements reason, action and moment, from its perception to its execution. This comes down to providing the various participants with various states of presence and involvement on stage. The goal is to point out what stands between the "reality" of the players actions while playing and the "fiction" of the role he or she performs.
A critical issue is raised by the perception of this work: is it necessary or not to know (the rules) to follow the unfolding of our proposals?
I am interested in the similarities and the differences between some games or sports and art performances (like dance for example), given that both are spectacles. Some games or sports (like football for example) are characterised by the fact that they have a conventional goal (for example: throw a ball as many times as you can in the goal, using only certain parts of the body). It is from this that they get their spectacular characteristic, but it is the reference and it guides the show. The performing arts acquire an element of spectacle through other conventions, the extraordinary, the new, illusion. I am interested in mixing these different kinds of perception to call into question the relationships between objectivity, subjectivity, expectations and surprise during a performance.
Another interesting aspect about relationships between choreography and game can be derived from the thoughts of De Certeau. Both are fields where practices are formalised, and games by definition have to be detached from effective social practices. At the same time choreography is a "writing-game", or more precisely it relates to writing which by definition is the production of a system, a space for formalisation which "meaning" is to send back to a reality of which (the "writing- game") it was established to be able to change the reality, it points toward a social efficiency. So choreography is detached from effective social practices (like a game is) and at the same time, (because it can be perceived as a "writing - game") it points toward a form of social efficiency. How are these two aspects related? How do we, and can we understand or read this? I think these are other questions that "Project" wishes to propose. When Roger Caillois writes that games often relate to a "second reality" or a kind of "unreality" I think that he is talking about a part of "real life" as being a "second reality" which I don't understand as against or opposed to the "real life" but more included or interwoven with it. He also says that games are completely part of our reality. In "Project" we use this as a proposal to explore how fictions and illusions are related with what we should call the "real real", or is it the "fake real"? During a performance, situations are as much real as fictional, or as a real illusion. Or is it more fictionally fictional then really fictional? So play, as you said, is accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as opposed to real life, but the most interesting to me is that it indicates the passage from "unreal" to "real" or from an "unreal fiction" to a "real fiction", which is also a characteristic of choreography and dance in its present(ce). Dance and choreography tend to create a work (a piece of art) and this work, which in itself is a vitality, is only realised by being played like a game. It depends on play to add existence to its essence. It has to be play and we could say, to be performed, to exist. In other words, play and games trigger the question about what exists, what is constructed during the present, according to what already existed before (for example rules)? How are rules used? What is reproduction and/or production? How similar and different are they to rules in our daily life? So "Project" works on and uses notions about games and play because it allows us to work on the paradigm of performance.
C: How do you define performance, and what makes it important to you as a mode of addressing an audience?
XLR: I think the best answer for this is to quote Dorothea Von Hantelmann. She says that: "In the broadest sense performance, points towards the process of cultural production - in all its contingencies and conventionalities - and makes us aware of the fact that meaning takes place in the present. In terms of art, performance, as an art form with a beginning and an end, implies a specific temporality, spatiality and embodiment of the production and reception of art.
In a more general sense the paradigm of performance indicates how society, how social relations are continuously produced and reproduced through actions performed by every singular individual; constantly anew, but within certain rules. We get dressed in the morning, we communicate, we go to museums, we materialize ideas in art objects, we perform on stage, we are an audience, we constitute a public, we fall in love, we affirm, we criticize and all these actions, in their quotidianity or speciality, are based on our decisions and intentions and at the same time become understandable, readable only by picking up features of previous ones that they repeat and relate to. In this sense performance is always "a doing and a thing done" as Elin Diamond wrote. It points towards the particularities of the subject as producing and produced; to the self as a performing agent and the self constituted in and by these performances. It poses the question of agency as a continuing process of negotiation of social relations..." and thats what makes it important as a mode of addressing an audience.
C: Is your interest in transformations a residue of your background as a biologist?
XLR: Probably because everything is a residue of my background as a biologist and it depends on the way you want to read my biography. Production of subjectivity.