Academic Research

THESE DAYS I AM WRITING a PhD titled: ‘Choreographing Possibilities of New Autobiographical Practices’. My research is a practice based, and besides analyzing my own choreographic work, I am looking at other choreographers who are dealing with similar concepts and concerns; choreographers who relook the whole concept of autobiography.  

I discuss my work and those of others by emphasizing three main elements or categories: life-storytelling, the storyteller and the process of in-between.

I analyze these work through reading various theories of for example: Adriana Cavarero, Shoshana Felman, Judith Butler, Amelia Jones, Helen Cixous, Walter Benjamin and many more.

In my discussion I constantly shift between life storytelling, theory and art; between a self (me), an other (you), and narratology (this).

Below is a short inroduction to my research.

1. Autobiography:

The new autobiographical practice I am looking at is the one that feminist theoreticians have developed since the awakening of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. These feminist writers and artists challenged old concepts of psychoanalysis, history and philosophy as a respond to political and social agendas that leaned very much on male and masculine belief system. They asked in relation to rethink autobiography and to changed its perception in order to give an equal space for the feminine and for women’s voice or else for all of those who placed as minorities in society.

The conservative autobiographical practice is known as a genre where the autobiographer believed to hold a coherent self that speaks itself truly, speaks his own consciousness, as well as believed to stand for man’s consciousness in general. The conservative autobiography was a means to express the life of ‘great men’. However the new wave of autobiography did the opposite, and it became the genre in which people used to speak out a voice, the voice of the ‘other’. People whom hadn’t been heard before- women, black people, working class people, gay, queers (to name a few)- used autobiography in order to be heard and they made themselves visible. These ‘others’ placed themselves in society and culture through declaring having a personal voice, which speaks for itself. In that sense autobiography became a social, educational and political tool.

There are two main elements I would like to address in regard to the new autobiographical practice and in relation to my choreographic work:

  • The first is the notion of the ‘other’: in order to discover or even search for an autobiography or the story of the self, one needs more than just itself. It claims that it isn’t the individual that the personal story presents, but rather the dependency on the other, and the belonging and attachment to a group. It adds three key concepts: identification, interdependence, and community, concepts that add the notion of the ‘other’ to the story of the ‘self’. Saying it differently, the choreographic work I am looking at and creating myself are work that not express one-self in the straightforward way, but rather an idea and a concept of autobiographical practice, which is never about the self-alone, but about the ‘self-other’ relationships. Meaning, the other is needed in order for a self to know itself.
  • The second is the notion of narration, or storytelling, meaning: a person does not hold a ‘self’, but can ‘become’ one only through a process of narration. As Stuart Hall writes: identity is always in part a narrative... Identity is not something, which is formed outside, and then we tell stories about it. It is that which is narrated in ones own self(S. Hall).However the notion of narration is complex and layered, as it isn’t necessarily the ‘self’ who tells its own story but rather the ‘others’. As Adriana Cavarero, an Italian thinker writes: one does not seem to know who he is, until he meets up with himself through the tale of his story. told by another (A. Cavarero). Or as Shoshana Felman, an Israeli-American thinker puts it: people tell their stories (which they do not know or cannot speak) through others stories…’ (S. Felman). Therefore only through life-storytelling told by different ‘others’ could we form, communicate, and own an autobiography, the story or stories of ourselves.

These changes in perception and in practice affected the role of the storyteller, as we know it, as well as the way a story is being told/danced/performed/communicated.

 

2. A storyteller

Within these works different ways of storytelling is constantly used, and the story they communicate is never singular, never linear, but always fragmented, distorted, interrupted, and always relational. The story is there in order to communicate an experience, and to highlight a subject matter, an idea and an essence. A story, as we know it, has a beginning, an end, and a sequence of events (or sequences of events). The new autobiographical work I am discussing seduces this way of telling stories, and the information given and communicated. These works give just enough details to evoke a sensation and a thought. It is up to us, the audience, to make the rest of the story, to imagine its origin, its beginning, its end.

We can find a fascinating discussion about the role of the storyteller and the essence a storyteller needs to communicate in the writing of Walter Benjamin, a Jew-German philosopher who wrote in between the two world wars. Benjamin writes that storytelling needs to keep

the most extraordinary thingsrelated with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interprets things the way he understand them (W. Benjamin).

The story is there not to

convey a happening per se, which is the purpose of information; rather, it embeds it in the life of the storyteller in order to pass it on as experience to those listening (W. Benjamin). The importance of storytelling is in its ambiguity, in its ability to keep a story free from explanation…’ (W. Benjamin).

Experience for Benjamin does not need to be described or informative, but instead it should be communicated in a more ‘sensual’ way, where the audience can understand what they see the way they want and wish. The details are important just as long as they help in conveying a feeling, emotions, sensation and a psychological event or stimulation. The story should stay as open as possible.

In order to be able to share an experience a storyteller needs to work through the use of the poetic and the ambiguous. It is this ambiguity and the poetic that gives us the audience a lot of responsibility and also the possibility to make a story we hear our own, as Benjamin suggested. The ambiguity happens in the process of in between’ where repetition, time, transitions, fragmentations, and abstraction release the story from explanation and information. The ‘process of in-between’ gives the storyteller the ability to tell a story of ambiguity so those who hear it or watch it can find themselves in it.

 

3. The process of in between

The ‘in between’ is all of the ‘in between’ elements the choreographers/storytellers use. First, in essence it is 'in between' certainty and ambiguity, self and other, audience and performers. Second, in structure and creative elements (choreographic elements) it is ‘in between’ text and movement, sounds and silence, dialogues and monologues, movement and stillness, text and music or sounds, dark and light and this is only to name a very few. It is also 'in between' the compositional elements on stage and the different movement elements being explored. The storytelling also happens in the ‘in-between’, as the stories are being told through movement, text, sounds, and the composition in space. It is also the ‘in between’ the different kinds of relationships being explored: the relationships between the performers, the performers and the audience; the relationships between movement and text, and message and form.

The importance of the transitions in between these elements is sometimes of a higher value than what we actually see and hear. These transitions create a sense of a process, in action, an action, which is essential to the work I am creating and discussing. In these works there isn’t a traditional structure that leads to a conclusion and a closer. The works convey a sense of continuity, never ending and never resolving.

This process of ‘in between’ is actually in between storytelling and the abstraction of it; or shall I say ‘in between’ revealing and concealing, or telling not telling. This process of ‘in between’ conceals somehow the artists and with it reveals the audience. In a sense the act of concealing doesn’t feel as absent but rather as an opportunity to meet with one another. The absent of the artist allows us, the audience, to be more present. By encouraging the audience to take the initiative, to use imagination and inner life, the storyteller gives the audience the freedom they need in order to re-appear.

 

To sum up:

The process of ‘in between’ is extremely important when coming to discuss or create new autobiographical practices. As in a very generous way we witness a process of forming an autobiography and with it a sense of being and existing in between people, entities, and actions. Accordingly the new autobiographical practice highlights the necessity of a community and identification when one talks, performs and writes autobiography. It helps us both the artists and the audience in creating a sense of empathy, intimacy, awareness, identification, reflection, relationships, interdependency, and interaction with our audience.

I believe this practice represents a process of ‘becoming a self’ only in and while and through the moment of ‘interaction, interruption and relationships with an other’, as Judith Butler writes it. Saying it all more poetically I can write that in my choreographic work and those of others I am looking at the story of the self as a collage of different elements, of different beings and different selves and most of all of different relationships. This gives a very fragile and vulnerable sense of a self but at the same time it creates a very essential and needed sense of community.

I see this practice as a feminine one that is there to look for a voice, a self, an identity and a story. And it requires very generously you, me and this. And it is does it with so much hope, creativity and responsibility.  

If you ask me why I research dance and choreography? I will answer with this:

by writing herself, woman will return to the body. Write yourself. Your body must be heard (H. Cixous).

From the British Dance Edition 2014:

I work collaboratively and my work is process oriented. I dont start knowing where I want to go, or what I want to do and show, but through a long process and dialogue with the performers that the piece starts to unfold. Whilst working on group dynamic and allowing strong relationships to develop between the dancers and between the dancers and myself, I start to realize what about the subject matter is interesting to us. From the exploration in the studio I pick up different situations, narratives, experiences and images to explore further and structure together into a piece.

Throughout the creative process I lead as well as through the work I create there is a dialogue between freedom and structure; on the one hand we have the expression and the exploration of the performers, and on the other hand the set material and set rules. And this is in order to go through or arrive at an emotional state, or an emotional journey both for the performers and the audience.

I should say that in my work the performers don't play characters, and at the same time I am not trying to tell or to follow a linear narrative, but rather I am telling stories, journeys, processes in a different way. The way I structure these stories is each time different and each time in order to communicate a different experience.

Hagit Yakira