Propositions: To Dance Differently

For many years I have struggled with Western dance in its institutional arrangements: what dance stands for and embodies, how it is used and discarded. In 2011, after the fall of my somewhat Utopian, nevertheless real, dance company Daghdha on the west coast of Ireland, I found myself with an unusual amount of time for reflection and dancing at hand. As I previously focused on developing a differentiated, extended understanding of choreography (Book of Recommendations: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change), I felt that in its wake, dance needed to be emancipated by releasing the choreographer’s grip on the situation. I wanted to draw together points that I and other dance artists have been addressing and/or cultivating in their own practice. Written and re-written over a period of three months, and with countless hours spent coaxing them into their final form, The Propositions are intended as a tool of orientation rather than instruction. They were finally launched at the What_Now Festival in London (curated by Frank Bock) in spring 2013.

Propositions: To Dance Differently is published here in its entirety and is available as a PDF to download here.


PROPOSITIONS: TO DANCE DIFFERENTLY by MICHAEL KLIËN (2012)*

…Nonvision…

We call for Dance to dance differently. Our collective manner of disseminating dance globally has not only propagated a truly problematic ideology of what dance should be, it has also brought about peculiar ways of producing, networking and socializing. Adequate instincts seem to be lacking to perceive and engage dance as a vital technology of the self: to initiate, demonstrate and seed instances of a different life.

1.

…Dance as we really know it…

Everyone has a sense of how to dance. This is a call for dance as it is first encountered, neither told nor taught, for    the spirited suspension of normative life, untouched by rationality. This Dance knows nothing of acquired knowledge. Simultaneously specific and universal, Dance wraps itself around all living, to dispel life of all its assumptions, inadequate cognitive frames and prevailing truths. Proposition: To Not Know

 2.

…Dance must travel differently…

Hence we fly to some country. We remain there for a time, spending our waking hours in a black space that could be situated anywhere in the world and during scarce moments of social engagement we try to figure out, who those people are that invited you. Entirely new ways of producing, circulating and evaluating dance are called for. The manner of production, the conditions for, and the context of our doings need to be completely and utterly re-sensed. This is not about maintaining artistic integrity, about safeguarding one’s precious ideas; this is about regaining integrity as such. A new perspective is called for.  Proposition:  Dance as Homemaking

 3.

….no dance in pieces…

Who ever told us that dance comes in pieces? What happened along the way and when did we succumb? All broken now, starting at 8pm and specifically, and most perversely, not dancing as we have originally experienced it. Dance in Pieces is a packaged, stylized representation of what dance once felt like. Simulated spiritual disclosures, precisely measured pretend ecstasy. With philosopher Badiou in mind, I no longer want to think in pieces. Proposition: The Unbroken Dance

 4.

…no more black spaces…

All dance-spaces will have windows. The era of mapping one’s imagination upon ‘the void’ is over. It didn’t work. It created havoc. We now know that human imagination without constant connection to its contextual surroundings is perilous: we aimed to be like gods, we’ve ended up as ignorant caricatures. We critique other’s gods as if we haven’t secretly, collectively, unknowingly conspired to be just like them: to create a dance in just 7 weeks out of nothing, mapped onto a black canvas and divorced from the brown earth outside, to immerse ourselves, in an exact communion with others, in this artificial hell. Proposition: No more Artificial Voids

 5. 

…ideas are responsible for the state of the planet…

Ideas have done their damage. Our quest for originality, grown in the mind of one’s own individual genius, has brought about the world as it is. Our celebrated ideas are culpable and our response to this endless mess is to have more ideas. Troublesome and stuck. Ideas are means of the past, a double binding metaphysics that oscillates between fervently building the world anew and cleaning up collateral damage. Liberation from this addiction is required: to abandon the longing for wicked new ideas and instead to act and dance out a deeply perceived urgency. Proposition: No more Ideas

 6.

…sailing past the stones of dead builders…

In its institutional arrangements dance has always been dependent on the meta-message: This Is Dance. Whatever it does, however it moves or stops, it constitutes itself that way. Such Dance has to perform and dramatize itself to be Dance. Breaking these unspoken agreements, abandoning the act of signification, to dance anonymously in silence, is the true subversive act of our times. Proposition: It Dancing Itself

 7.

…the universe in a moving body…

In dance the body can chart its own universe anew. In its relations it carries the objectless order of the universe as mapped by the subject upon itself: the body’s combined ability to perceive the world and to be in the world. When dancing, the entire repertoire of relations – geometrical, mechanic, organic and recursive – becomes available in movement. To pre-determine dance is to operate within the narrow bounds of mutually agreed, stale mechanics and allows for no beauty beyond the homogeneity of granted orders. This is the death of all other realities: the tedious dullness of tired dances, disguised as salvation. Proposition: Dance as the Possible Universe

8.

…dance is no language…

Dance must rise, pull itself free from the spirits of gravity, from the writers (-graphers) of dance. It must find ways to govern itself, unburdened by the need for an authoritarian voice or an empathetic gaze. To find the site in which dance itself can constitute its own governance. The dancing body: a mind that governs its thoughts. No words spoken, no sentence written. This is the necessary dance of our time. Proposition: Changes in Governance

9.

…the ungovernable moment…

If we encounter others in the moment of dance, relations are naked: a primal, communal site is substantiated in its embryonic state. A third body is born, made of All dancers in continuous exchange: the invisible assimilation of one body to another. This site is not predetermined, planned or bounded. Dance in its communal surge has to be cultivated through itself only. No writers present. Proposition (after Ana): Dance as a Parliamentary Site

10.

…loosing one’s limbs…

The state of dance realigns the dancer with her surroundings. For a fleeting moment, attuned with the oceanic that holds this world together she enacts a personal and collective life upon her experience. The whales shed their limbs and returned to the deep. The Sacred resonates throughout this body and into the world. Proposition: Reincarnate. Now.

* Thanks to Jeffrey Gormly, Ana Sanchez-Colberg and Steve Valk


Michael Kliën is a leading voice in contemporary choreography. His artistic practice encompasses interdisciplinary thinking, critical writing, curatorial projects, and centrally, choreographic works equally at home in the Performing as well as the Fine Arts.

Kliën’s choreographies have been performed and situated in many countries across the world. Commissions include Ballett Frankfurt, ZKM (Karlsruhe), Tanzquartier Wien and the Vienna Volksoper; exhibitions include IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) and Hayward Gallery, London. During his work at Ballett Frankfurt, Kliën also acted as artistic consultant to William Forsythe. He received a PhD from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2009 and, as a committed teacher, has been lecturing about his findings at numerous distinguished academic and non-academic institutions. He has been co-founder and Artistic Director of the London based arts group Barriedale Operahouse (1994–2000) and Artistic Director/CEO of Daghdha Dance Company (2003–2011). Based in Greece and Ireland, he is currently working as an independent artist.

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