DD Dorvillier on “Danza Permanente” at the Kitchen
“I think each work that I make is actually quite different one from the other, even though they have very similar concerns. How does structure–something as cold and procedural as structure–how it actually has its own content that produces feeling,” explained choreographer DD Dorvillier. Then she added, chuckling, “So I was like, why not go for the juiciest music in Western music and see what comes of it? It wasn’t because I wanted to make a juicy dance, but because I wanted to see what happened if I used the operations of music. Instead of making the dance to music, making the dance the music.”
Dorvillier, who now splits her time between Paris and New York, came up in downtown dance as part of the same generation as Sarah Michelson and Maria Hassabi, among others. We spoke via Skype a couple weeks ago about Danza Permanente, which opens tonight at the Kitchen as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival (through Sept. 30; tickets $15). The work premiered earlier this year at STUK in Leuven, Belgium, and is based on one of Beethoven’s late string quartets.
“These late string quartets by Beethoven are extremely emotional and beautiful, crazy, almost schizophrenic,” she told me. “They evoke a lot of thought and feeling. I could see that as something [that could be represented] through structure and form, how rhythms are juxtaposed and melodies speak to one another, themes are piled on top of one another and broken up.”
In Danza Permanente, Dorvillier, working with composer Zeena Parkins and dancers Fabian Barba, Nuno Bizarro, Walter Dundervill, Naiara Mendioroz, and rehearsal assistant Heather Kravas, painstakingly translated the entire score to the quartet into movement, so that the dance is the music, which is not otherwise played during the work.
“The piece is the [musical] score,” said Dorvillier. “We used the score note for note […] It takes as much as it can in every way. From the musical notation and also other information that we had, Zeena Parkins and I had, vis-a-vis the history and references of the piece, the musical references and also the social references. How the music was received then, its potential motives.”
Portions of the movement were developed directly by Dorvillier and set on the dancers–short phrases in the first movement, for instance, related to melodic leitmotifs–or she worked with Parkins to develop strategies that the dancers then employed to generate other components. The result is as deep and informed a translation of the Beethoven’s musical score as they could manage. In a sense, they were also exploring, or at least in practice evoking, part of Beethoven’s process composing the piece, one of many he produced after going deaf. Artistically, it’s rethinking music as formal structures that achieve their affect through their relationships with one another–in the process placing the audience in a completely different relationship than we normally have to a musical composition.
Sonically, what the audience is offered is a sort of acoustic landscape constructed through Dorvillier’s collaboration with Parkins. “It’s actually quite stark,” Dorvillier commented of the result. The piece relies on sound interruptions, counterpointing brief recorded bits prepared by Parkins to stretches of silence, shifting the focus from the spectacle itself to the sounds of the audience inhabiting the space and the physical efforts of the dancers on stage.
This furthermore relates to one of the other core issues in the piece, about artistic labor. Classical music is of course par for the course when it comes to more traditional forms of dance. But similar to how the choreography itself explores the relationship of music to movement, as realized through formal structures, the realization of the piece as a performance event explores the artistic labor that classical dance dissembles into the appearance of perfect ease and grace.
“I’m kind of referring to some sort of mythical, traditional dance,” Dorvillier said. “Often I think there’s an effort, there’s an aesthetic of covering up the work. Here, it’s neither about the exhaustion of the dancer, nor is about some sort of completion through work. It’s a constant relationship to interpretation, to being the interpreter, to being the conduit of the music or dance or information.”