A letter to dance | Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
What a strange feeling it is, to address you in such an official and detached way. We spend so many days together, from morning until evening, and I rarely feel the need to spell out our relationship in explicit terms. Why write a letter to someone one lives with, who is a constant companion? Usually this is done in extreme cases, when the person in question is moving away from you, or when a couple is on the brink of a break up. That’s when letters are written. The other option is that people are too far away from each other, and that distance invites letter writing: the physicality of a text is supposed to close the physical gap itself. But that is not my feeling either, since I’ve never felt so close to you. So why this letter?
Perhaps this letter stems from something else – namely, the question of whether I really know who you are. This is a question that lovers ask themselves all the time, of course, and is fodder for many romantic novels. But my wonderment stems from something different.
The other day I was thinking about the word ‘choreography’. Consider the etymology of that word. The word choreography is a fusion of two Greek concepts – ‘chore’ and ‘grafein’. The one signifies ‘choir’ or ‘troupe’, the other ‘to write’. At first sight this a perfectly natural combination. What choreographers do, in this definition, is ‘draft movements’ – it is a form of writing.
Things get more fascinating, however, when we look at the word ‘chore’ and what its original meaning was in Ancient contexts. The ‘choir’ was not only a spectator to a tragedy. Most importantly, it was a commentator, someone who judged from an objective, third-person standpoint on the troubles of the protagonists. The choir thus has a deeply critical function: it manages to see through the illusions of the great heroes. It is no surprise that the choir also has a popular feel to it: we here witness the people commenting on their superiors. ‘Choreography’, in this sense, is a mode of politics insofar as it includes the question how to organise a multitude. Choreography is about writing the ‘people’.
Maybe we can also think of choreography in a more conventional way. Choreography is always an attempt at ‘incarnating’ an abstraction, embodying an idea. Yet even here, there always is a latent politics to dancing. By insisting that people undertake movements together, that they organise their time and space together, choreographers are already posing acts that are potentially political.