Bauhaus for the contemporary

Through two performances at the Biennial that recontexualised Bauhaus ideas for the present, Roshan Kumar Mogali, a participant at the Writing on Dance Lab, hopes to understand what the 20th century school of thought could bring to contemporary dance.

Two performances at the Biennial – Daniel Belton’s opening night show Traces: A Digital Performance and Nicole Beutler’s 4: Still Life – breathed life back into Bauhaus concepts to create variations of them that are situated in the contemporary.

While Belton’s work reimagined Paul Klee’s drawings and paintings, Beutler drew from Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich and Oskar Schlemmer. In doing so, they engage with the question that if contemporary dance is experiencing a crisis of language, can Bauhaus ideas help it to adequately express the human experience?

Mapping Print Design for Chowdiah Memorial Hall (right), Ink and silver nitrate, 2015

Geometry of dance

What does re-energising Bauhaus do to the contemporary? Beutler said, she was drawn towards Bauhaus because “their approach was so basic and so fundamental that I found it extremely inspiring”. She adds, “It’s something to do with the fundamental geometry underlying all appearances, all compositions or constructions, and I think geometry is abstract but it has so much resonance in human relations. And then of course their definitions of the basic principles of circle, square and triangle then became for me a guiding line. How can I use these as limitations to make choreographic decisions? How can this duet relate to each other in circular motion? It’s not a narrative that guides the choreographer’s choice; it’s really geometry. So I’m fascinated not by the human interactions, but by the spatial relations – its potential, but fleeting, narrative. So it is there but also not. I’m tired of personal and private expression. It doesn’t interest me so much. I think the geometry allows me to bend that, to invent a rule to organise as an organising principle. Also the triangle – it is the interlocking of the bodies. It is erotic. But I’m not saying you have to do something erotic. It’s just geometry. And it’s calm and it doesn’t pretend to be more than that.”

Mapping Print Design for Chowdiah Memorial Hall (left), Ink and silver nitrate, 2015

In the Introduction to Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy writes, “Through observation of the smallest manifestation of form and interrelationship, [Klee] could conclude about the magnitude of natural order.” Klee’s structural rhythms, produced by repetition, were activated by Belton’s digital work – propelling forms between stillness and movement.

In his programme notes for Line Dances, Belton writes, “Capturing the body moving on film holds the dance in time. Like a specimen. You can revisit it, dissect the dance, re-interpret and re-choreograph in the process of editing the film. And finally you print it. The printing of the dance pulls it back to a truly flat space experience, and ties it strongly to graphic art. Although movement is inherent, it has become artificial. The kinetic passages are given the heart of the machine. Like an iron lung on dance. However, there is great merit and beauty in these processes. There is true potential for expression and discovery within the confines of the technology available to us to capture and re-create dance. Choreography quite literally is the method for graphing body movement – artistic movements of the dancer are formulated into pattern, shape and design.”

Traces, Belton’s video mapping for building project, uses the façade of Chowdiah Memorial Hall – re-contextualising the architecture and charging it with new energy and value. (One wonders if a more informed decision of using a modernist building – BV Doshi’s Indian Institute of Management complex or Achyut Kanvinde’s University of Agricultural Sciences building – was sacrificed in favour of convenience. A beautiful consolation was, however, when the violin music made the fiddle-shaped building sing.)

Borrowed choreographic objects

The white panels in 4: Still Life allude to Malevich’s monochrome painting White On White (1918), butalsobring to mind Robert Rauschenberg’s multi-panelled White Paintings (1951) – which were meant to be exhibited alone or in modular groupings – created at Black Mountain College in the US, where Bauhaus master Josef Albers taught between 1933-1949.

However, Beutler says that the inspiration to use them actually came from watching Hans Richter’s experimental film Film is Rhythm: Rhythm 21, 1921about forms dancing to music. “So it is choreography in composition. Choreography in abstraction. Letting objects dance,” she explains.

“One could easily assume that the substance of choreographic thought resided exclusively in the body. But is it possible for choreography to generate autonomous expressions of its principles, a choreographic object, without the body?

The force of this question arises from the real experience of the position of physical practices, specifically dance, in western culture. Denigrated by centuries of ideological assault, the body in motion, the obvious miracle of existence, is still subtly relegated to the domain of raw sense: precognitive, illiterate. Fortunately, choreographic thinking being what it is, proves useful in mobilizing language to dismantle the constraints of this degraded station by imagining other physical models of thought that circumvent this misconception. What else, besides the body, could physical thinking look like?”

- William Forsythe, Choreographic Objects

Belton’s deconstructing of bodies into lines and nodes from Klee and Beutler’s dancing panels à la Richter can perhaps offer us these alternative choreographic objects for the contemporary moment.

Roshan Kumar Mogali
Daniel Belton / Good Company Arts


Ligament, the online dance journal, has been launched to reflect the keen rise in the interest to contextualise, reflect and voice the goings-on around contemporary dance practices in the South Asian region. It has been envisioned as an avenue that is aimed at prompting and encouraging a sustained engagement between contemporary dance practitioners, thinkers, writers, artistic practitioners from other mediums, stakeholders and the wider public. Over the past editions of the Attakkalari Dance Biennial, there has been a continuous effort to create a space for writing on dance; and with this squarely in mind, Ligament has been conceived as a platform to facilitate the much-needed articulation and thinking through this evolving language. We hope to accomplish this by looking at this artistic practice through the perspective of historical threads that helped shape, through practice and creation of work, which is adding and solidifying the ever-changing lexicon and its presentation, or even through research and scholarship. The endeavour is to make this an open, creative and vibrant forum that invites ideas, contributions and suggestions allowing for the collective development of this artistic practice in the South Asian context; as well as mapping its links and impacts on contemporary dance as a whole. On one hand, it is about looking at contemporary dance as a growing repository of our present realities and on the other hand delving into our rich heritage of physical and performative traditions in an attempt to seek continuum and elucidate the now. In an attempt to ravel the medium of contemporary dance, We aren’t simply interested in text as a mode of expressing, reading, examining and looking at contemporary dance but to reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of the movement arts, we are also looking towards image, sound and video and the practitioners of these mediums to create and catalyse conversations. We hope that dialogue and discourse enabled through Ligament opens various entry points into the ongoing shifts in contemporary dance for its lovers, practitioners, enablers and its future.

- Jayachandran Palazhy
Artistic Director, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts

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