The Performance Club


This article was written on 06 Mar 2012, and is filed under Claudia's Blog, Performance Club Events.

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Do a Little Dance, Make a Little Love…

What people look like emerging from an “experimental dance party” held in a geodesic performance dome (really)

“Dance, choreography, performance—our turf has become somewhat the baby of museums, biennales, etc. … it’s flattering to be invited, but it’s only when we get invited a second time that something starts to happen. It’s not enough to be cute. How do we make ourselves uncute? … How do we [not] fall victim to somebody with more power? … We have a job, I consider. When we get an invitation from the museum and do a little dance—no. This is exactly to stay on the cute factor. … We know the programs department in the museum is very important… [because] we consume exhibitions. The reason we have a programs department is to make us come back to the museum even though the Richard Prince exhibition [we already saw] is still going on. It’s about the economy, simple as that. Not that we are so amazing as choreographers. No. … If we know this, we can make demands. … It’s not we that need the museums, but the museums that need us. We’re sitting on the chance of a lifetime. ”

Thus spoke Mårten Spångberg*, Sunday afternoon at MoMA PS 1, as part of the museum’s new Sunday Sessions series. Yes, that series, the one that comes with a hulking new geodesic Performance Dome, which dominates the gravel courtyard like some weirdo alien egg about to spew its potentially-deadly-to-life-as-we-know-it contents all over the place. God save Long Island City.

(*Please note that all Spångberg quotes are approximations, as the man talks a mile a minute and moves effortlessly between smart, senseless, stupid, provocative, whimsical, incomprehensible, funny, etc. Depending on your point of view, this is part of the man’s charm, or a brilliant/cynical strategy, or testament to the current bankruptcy of intellectual discourse in the Western world. Or something. Me, I go back and forth and round and round. It’s exhausting. Note taking suffers.)

Mårten was there touting his new book, Spangbergianism, which he describes, on the back cover, as a performance, “put together over sixty four days as a form of rehearsal during which every day resulted in a showing [forbid them] in the shape of a blog-post.”

Well, this sounds very good. Unless you think of the whole history of serial writing in books, online publishing and the like. Shall I now say I am choreographing, thereby opening up new vistas for that art form? Mmmmmm. No. This is just slightly too facile. And, really, too cute. (Sort of like another of his claims, one often spouted these days, that the age of the object has ended and the age of performance now reigns. Painting is dead! Again!)

Mårten Spångberg

This isn’t to say that I disagree with many of his points, in particular those having to do with the institutional art world’s current lather for performance. The Whitney, for example, has repeatedly emphasized that this Biennial is never happening all at one time; in order to get a true sense of its contours and contents, visitors must return and return. The performance residencies and showings on the fourth floor are a large part of this. I am a huge fan of Sarah Michelson and Richard Maxwell, but I’m not so sure about the context, if any, that the Whitney is proposing as rationale for their inclusion in this Biennial, beyond that what they do is inherently fleeting (And Michael Clark? In 2012? Really?). The visual art crowd present for the opening of Michelson’s work was visibly restless and at times uncomfortable: the two men next to me started giggling as soon as a shirtless man appeared on stage, and there was a continuous trickle of audience attrition.

I thought of this when Mårten talked about choreographers doing their little dances whenever the museums come calling. And of course I thought of the ridiculous Performance Dome outside, which is not about anything other than upping visitor attendance. The discrepancy between how far in advance museum shows are planned, and how they are integrated within the institution, versus the random, often entirely last-minute planning around Sunday Sessions, says it all (though I am optimistic about Jenny Schlenzka). As does the fact that the Performance Dome isn’t actually connected to the museum’s actual architecture. The barbarians are inside the gate, but barely.

Mårten himself wiggled inside, to the second floor. There he gave a very politely rebellious speech (compare this to how Ann Liv Young infamously destabilized PS1 a couple of years ago). Everyone could feel good about attending it. And then we could all go to the experimental dance party happening in the dome, which Mårten very kindly plugged upon ending his rallying cry. To the ramparts! Drinks in hand….


  1. [...] St. in the LES tomorrow, Weds., March 7, at 7 pm. Claudia La Rocco also has a response to him up at P-Club, and finally, if you can’t get there for a free copy of the book–read it online at [...]

  2. Jeremy M. Barker
    March 6, 2012

    I agree that framing (if that’s the right word) “writing” as a choreographic act can seem glib…but I actually took it as rather forthright rather than evasive: we’ve all seen plenty of dance where we gathered that it was mostly the result of people throwing random shit out day after day, cobbling it together in a facile manner, and presenting it as a collaborative politically engaged work. We could assume that that only describes bad work, but that’s kinda presumptuous. I take it as a given that the exact same process might just as well produce a quality dance performance. The trickier topic is the relation of process/practice to product/performance. I don’t really take issue with Spangberg contextualizing this as “choreographic,” so long as he’s willing (and I think he is) for us to see this as process documentation and drawing inferences from there.

    • claudia
      March 7, 2012

      I see what you’re saying .. I think I am a little burned out on the whole idea of choreography being anything it wants to be (thinking about Forsythe on his use of film, how he is simply choreographing the shots) – at times it just feels like semantics to me.

      Although … now that I think about it, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard people talking about this in force. Hmmmm. Maybe that was more of a trend years ago and I’m just jaded?

      Also, I think if I had more faith overall in Spangberg’s presentation of himself, I’d be more generous about this.

  3. Michael Klien
    March 7, 2012

    I follow this with interest. I don’t think Forsythe would like to suggest that anything is choreography, and Marten’s (love I or hate it) fashionable lack of rigor, and general over-reliance on postmodern clichés should not distract from the serious developments in choreography to date.
    Choreographer’s have, from the beginning of the ‘art called choreography’, been engaged with the mapping of the(ir) universe into the body, into movement and into the relationships between bodies. Unfortunately often ignored, the knowledge gained in this process is distinctively different from the knowledge of dancing. It is an act of ‘ordering’, that at best takes the performer fundamentally serious, rather than treating in as a moldable matter. Hence choreography has certainly something to do with governance and that is why it is becoming more prominent in fields such as Fine Arts. It is not surprising that choreographers today emancipate their practice into an enquiry into ordering and issues of governing, rather than being concerned with pre-conditioned moulds of productions that will ‘map’ no other universes than those that are pre-dominant. It is therefore understandable that contemporary choreographers are not necessarily concerned with dance-making or the making of dances, but look to engage their skills upon other surfaces. In my eyes this helps dance to free itself from the overbearing grip of the choreographer’s vision of rightful movement, re-imagines dance as an un-writable subject and aligns the relationship of choreographer and dancer into one of equal members in a dialogue disclosing the world.
    Saying all that, I would like to propose not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but encourage us to start a genuine, engaged discourse around these developments.

    • claudia
      March 7, 2012

      Hi Michael,

      Many thanks for chiming in, and sorry if I implied that I thought Forsythe was saying that anything could be choreography. I was thinking of him as a much earlier proponent of this expansion of the art form – and, I think, often a thoughtful one. (It’s clear in a work like his “Kammer/Kammer,” for example, that he is bringing his choreographic skills to bear on a whole host of structural concerns.) Susan Rethorst would be another – I find her application of choreography to writing to be much more sophisticated than what MS was talking about Sunday.

      I would say the serious discourse around choreography and dance as not necessarily entwined entities has long since begun – there is nothing for us to start! Any intelligent follower of contemporary performance would be, I think, attuned to the ways in which artists are broadening their scope. But, also, it isn’t an either/or – I know plenty of progressive choreographers who are deeply invested in dance … that’s one of the pleasures, for me, of writing about work at this time, that the silly false camps (between concept and craft, for example) seem really unimportant …

      • jeffrey gormly
        March 13, 2012

        i guess if you divorce the practice of choreography from the intention of facilitating a ‘state of dance’, you miss the point entirely:
        an expanded notion of choreography suggests that any system or situation can find itself in, or be pushed into, or can emerge out of, a state of dance:

  4. Michael Klien
    March 7, 2012

    You are right in saying that the discourse has long started. Of course it has. I meant to bring it to a wider audience in a more coherent, serious, considered and powerful fashion than it has been delivered so far. Furthermore, I am too allergic to the label-system currently applied in choreography. For myself, I am foremost a choreographer passionately working in/with dance. Yet, sometimes, I am attracted to transpose knowledge to other surfaces, which quickly gets you the label of conceptual choreographer, which I well and truly, despise. ‘Conceptual’ is such a lazy (false) camp.

    • claudia
      March 7, 2012

      oh my gosh, yes! “Conceptual choreographer” is the worst … well, it’s on the short list, anyway, of asinine labels.

      I agree, the discussion is sadly balkanized and too often is only the choir preaching to itself, or the reactionaries getting all hot under the collar.

      Well … how would you propose to bring this about? I started the Performance Club to get discussions going. I’m all ears ….

      • Jeremy M. Barker
        March 7, 2012

        My vote is for a Michael Klien-Marten Spangberg literary deathmatch: “Book of Recommendations: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change” vs. “Spangbergianism.” It’s like a book club…but with a contemporary dance off.

      • Michael
        March 8, 2012

        So many avenues here…my initial response would be more considered thought, more reflection and exchanges and less continuous action for a while. Neither the mandatory DJs present at all discursive instances nor the dark despair of academic corsets. There is always an argument to be made for well-curated Think tanks (especially if dance is a ‘figure of thought’), symposiums and experimental formats of knowledge gathering.
        Education is the other big issue.
        Dance/Choreography Education has to be rethought bottom-up. Higher Education Choreography Teaching is generally shockingly poor. Talking Derrida, Dancing Kant. A wildly re-imagined curriculum is needed.

        PS Jeremy: I’d try my strategy of utter silence on Marten to start with…

  5. Robert Tyree
    March 7, 2012

    “the two men next to me started giggling as soon as a shirtless man appeared on stage”
    -LOL (in the deadpan computer speech of Frances Stark’s “My Best Thing”)

  6. Andrea Liu/Naxal Belt
    March 10, 2012

    Michael wrote:

    Claudia wrote:

    i have to say i am wholly befuddled at the largely negative (or at best, ambivalent and lukewarm) reaction to Spangberg. i think Spangberg is doing nothing short of launching a full-scale overarching institutional critique, or as Jeremy wrote in his Culturebot article, “A deep (and apt) skepticism (to use a polite term) regarding the extant system of public funding, curated festivals, commissions, and so on is expressed passionately throughout.” i think the dance world should hang on to Spangberg for dear life, as he exemplifies a tremendous lucidity, acerbic wit, an uncommonly hypersensitive antennae for wry observations and details (perhaps more so in his performance at Cage 83 on Wednesday than at PS 1 on Sunday). i think his narrative ability to pick out quirky, usually unacknowledged and “subjugated” everyday details (in the sense of Foucault’s “subjugated knowledge”) never brought up in contemporary discourse about cultural production, and from these details launch a full-scale frontal assault the overarching falsity, arbitrariness, stupidity, officiousness and sycophancy one must acquiesce to in order to “make it” in the dance/performance world, is incredible. such details as the “the curator you are going to be in contact with for the festival probably has a name like ‘Stefan’”, his phrase, “The International Festival of Whatever You Want” and how this phrase “promotes expectation but means nothing,” how the dance festival is similar to medical conference in that everyone is carrying the same branded bag over their shoulder, how everyone wears the t-shirt with the name of the festival but the people who are too famous can’t wear it (i.e. William Forsythe can’t wear the festival t-shirt because he is too big for the festival), his mockery of Routledge press and institutionalized boutique radical chic, are amazing. i see him in the lineage of Andrea Fraser, Michael Smith, or even William Powhida (sorry these are visual art references, as i come more from the visual arts). Andrea Fraser is an institutional critique artist who once gave a mock acceptance speech at museum strung together of other artists’ acceptance speeches and different art critics’ bombastic praise in order to mock the verbiage and hyper-stylized speech around art. Michael Smith has an alter ego called “Mike” who essentially is a “loser” or “prosumer” (combination of professional and consumer) and he uses this character to point to the absurdities of trying to “make it” in the art world (good example would be his spoof of artist residencies: William Powhida draws cartoons lambasting the board of directors of art museums. what Fraser, Smith, Powhida and Spangberg all have in common is that they take on a persona or role that is downwardly mobile, or essentially perform the role of being a “loser” (pretending to be someone who is low on the food chain of the art/dance world, such as Spangberg complaining when he was 34 he was embittered he would forever stay on the circuit of small-town dance festivals) in order to critique the whole system of accreditation, opportunity, economics, and subjectivity formation within the sometimes trivial, stupid, arbitrary and demoralizing (institutional) context of making one’s career as an artist. i saw nothing “cliché” or “cynical” about Spangberg’s performance—on the contrary, i thought it was very idealistic and brave. perhaps its our complicity with and our pathetic desire to succeed in the officious system Spangberg is lambasting that makes some so hostile to him. speaking of cliches, with all due respect, forgive me if this is harsh and i hope nobody takes offense to this, but i want to gently suggest that someone who starts out a book saying, “Patterns are everywhere. Patterns are in-between, plural, but real. They are only visible to us under certain conditions, on certain wavelengths for us to grasp” and a string of other vague Yanni New Age platitudes (The Book of Recommendations: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change) perhaps may not be in the best position to judge what is a “cliché” or what is “lack of rigor?”

    i know after Spangberg’s performance we were talking at the bar and some (like Claudia) were lamenting what seems to be the arbitrary use of dance in the Whitney Biennial this year. Claudia said something very provocative, suggesting that the art world’s sudden and superficial fascination with dance is similar to Orientalism, and when the West was ”fascinated” with the Orient and brought them in to “give energy” to the West (but did not take them seriously or respect them). while i think this is a really interesting and provocative idea—this “dance as ornament” critique being a parallel to the “Orient as ornament to the West”–i think we have to be careful not to expand the use of the term “orientalism” to mean so many things that it becomes meaningless. i am torn, because i love the polemics that you are bringing into this Claudia, by making a parallel between orientalism and dance—it’s very bold. on the other hand, the crux of orientalism (for me) is about the hijacking of the notion of “academic objectivity” and imbuing it with an in-built racism to serve the interests of countries who had to subjugate (politically, militarily, economically) the Middle East—it is about the Middle East being depicted as static and unchanging, eternal, and “acted upon,” while the West was “dynamic” and the “actor.” i feel skeptical that the dynamic we are talking about here (visual art using dance as ornament) has the gravitas to rise to the level of being deserving of an “orientalist” comparison. but i enjoyed the provocation!

    Andrea Liu/Naxal Belt

  7. Michael Klien
    March 11, 2012

    Andrea, I can assure you that the Book of Recommendations has been written out of a very thorough choreographic practice and is a deeply considered text. I shall not comment directly on your disparaging remarks and gracefully bite my tongue. As to Marten: I did follow his blog regularly and enjoyed reading it very much as it reminded me of a world, that once provided me with considerable sense and meaning. If some people (dancers, choreographers, students, audiences) are still caught up within its vortex, that is obviously a rather shameful situation as it limits dance to a seriously insular affair.

    In the meantime I suggest you to read this:
    Maybe it will make you understand where I am coming from (and maybe not…)

  8. [...] not going to re-hash it all here. I quite enjoyed the lecture, though some of my peers, apparently, did not. Raising, to my mind, the question: when is critique performance and when is it [...]

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