Dance&Dare Essay – A Preparation for this Stage

26 April 2021

Critic Axel Andersson (Kritiklabbet, SE) on Punk Your Spirit by Keren Rosenberg.

I have been looking at an icon in the upper left-hand corner of my monitor a bit too much. It says “LIVE” and next to it there is a stylised head and a number that fluctuates around the mid 50s. This number indicate the others, the phantom audience. They are like the dancers (Keren Rosenberg and Nik Rajšek) shown on the sparse stage, and like me, alone or in small units not visible to each other. Then halfway into the performance Punk Your Spirit, the shadow of a head, not unlike an icon, suddenly passes the camera like a ghost and appears on the lower part of my screen. It probably belongs to someone from the production crew.

In the last part of the performance Richard van Kruysdijk comes on stage with an electric bass guitar, amplifiers and a string of pedals coupled like a train set one after the other. I am sitting in my bedroom by my computer in Sweden connected via the internet to a signal from the Netherlands. As is the case with Van Kruysdijk using everything including air itself to make his reverberating music, I am no longer sure what is the instrument beyond the realisation that I am part of it.

This is the first time that I write about dance without being with others in the same space close to the body of the dancer. As Van Kruysdijk makes all vibrate on stage and in this bedroom the camera angle shifts to show a part of the tiers of benches. For the first time I register a tinge of nostalgia. The benches are empty. This is a phantom limb, amputated and aching at the same time. But then the camera shifts and shows Van Kruysdijk from another angle. If “All the world’s a stage” for Shakespeare, all the world is an instrument in Rosenberg’s choreography.

In the very opening of the performance, we see a close-up of the back and shoulders of the female form. At first, I am not sure if the transmission is grainy, but soon realize that the body is covered in some kind of golden coating. The skeleton is moving under this golden cover in a Joséphine Baker-like undulation. The camera moves, the gaze moves. I am interpellated by a set of eyes, then body moving on the stage as though I saw it from afar in a big theatre. The primal surface of the movements seems for a moment betrayed by classic expressions and the strangeness of the gold, as if Rosenberg were a fabled native in the colonial fantasy: la dorada. All of this is counterpoised by the insect-like entrance of the male body and Rajšeks studied play with gravity as Rosenberg sinks to the floor. Rajšek is by the camera primarily shown from a distance that replicates the view one has as an audience in the small venues where I usually see dance.

Punk Your Spirit is in the opening titles billed as a return to something primal and spiritual. It seems like the spirit of the signal. Steven Shaviro wrote about it so well in his book Post Cinematic Affect from 2010, in relation to Grace Jones and the music video for the song ‘Corporate Cannibal’. The spirit of the signal is modulation, not metamorphosis. It is on the screen, says Shaviro, the pulsation of the signal happens. The screen is therefore no longer a classical window to the world or a modernist surface in search of its own materiality. An impression that rings true for the screen version of the stage performance of Punk Your Spirit.

Maybe Rosenberg has found a paradoxical alignment: the epochal becoming (primal) of the techno-social happens in the state of simultaneous isolation and connection. A position that is perfectly experienced in pandemic existence. Here the chronology necessarily goes somewhat backwards, but it makes sense. It is as if all those performances one sat through in the past, often skeptically, with their heavy use of cameras and projections were a training for this moment. Stupidly, then I suspected that these experiments heralded some kind of future convergence of stage performance and film, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The intensity that was traded away in the moment, in the theatre, when dancers and actors fumbled with cameras or cameramen fumbled with the stage, were but investments for the intensity that is taking place now, in this bedroom and in 50-some other rooms around the world.

In this shift towards the primacy of the modulation of a primal signal, bare to is spiritual bone, there is an evident dissolution of the body as an integral physical entity. It is hard, and seems wrong, to write dance criticism in the same way as before when its central preoccupation was the somatic. Even dance dramaturgy, as the arrangement of the expectations of the somatic, has lost its previous parameters. At the same time, it is hard to resist the temptation of writing through the phantom limbs.

Let us celebrate the prosthetic, sing to the machines. My networked bedroom is dancing, too. Choreography has left the body.

Even though Punk Your Spirit is not a ghost dance conjuring up what dance was while we wait to return to the theatres, it still contains a familiar haunting. As I turn off the instruments, the computer, monitor and put away my notebook, it is as always after watching dance with a great urge to move. My partner and I go out for a walk in the evening. The rain has stopped and under a lid of dark clouds there is an intense pink ribbon over the horizon. Another signal. I am not changed, I change.

Critic Axel Andersson (Kritiklabbet, SE) on Punk Your Spirit by Keren Rosenberg after seeing this performance on April 22 2021 as the opening of the online Moving Futures Festival. This essay was commissioned by DansBrabant as part of Dance&Dare, a course series and movement by Domain for Art Criticism and DansBrabant in which writers search for new words for new dance. Keren will end the online festival wit Re-Connect on April 29 2021. Image: Alwin Poiana.