On the occasion of the symposium-event, the CN D has invited the curator Guillaume Désanges to imagine an exhibition inspired by the questions and analyses that emerge from studying the links between dance and ritual. Rather than simply echo or illustrate the many ideas exchanged during this moment of artistic and scientific encounter, the aim is to freely expand on certain chosen forms and motifs, through works, images, films and objects but also to evoke (or invoke) various practices. Starting from a series of key words, and without seeking to be exhaustive, the exhibition will outline a network of references whose interrelations are at least as important as their individual presences. Since ritual is not exclusive to the religious domain or even to the (spi)ritual one, just as dance does not belong to the dancer alone, the exhibition will allow for digressions into other fields of creation and thinking (including, in addition to choreography, the visual arts, cinema, literature and music) whose links with the theme may be more or less direct. Drawing on the CN D’s archives, other documentary sources and borrowed works, the exhibition will propose an iconographic, textual, visual and poetic counterpoint to the event that will infiltrate the building’s public spaces.
Dance and ritual? Vast subject for an exhibition. Paradoxically, infinite and restricted, even tautological. We consider that, originally, dance would be ritual before being artistic: a way of mobilizing bodies with no other utilitarian function than setting them in vibration with a context, visible and invisible, with an incantatory or celebratory aim. In return, any ritual, since it involves precise gestures in space and time according to a program, is a dance: it never remains purely mental, nor simply stated. It is embodied, performed, registered in a regime of movement more than of the idea.
Beyond the differences or the similarities between the two concepts, dance and ritual make an image. They are of the order of representation. It is this graphic quality, and precisely this chore-ography, of the ritual, that is the fundament of this exhibition. Rather than just presenting works of art addressing the subject, it relies on iconographic research that reflects the twists and turns of it. Art, ethnography, popular cultures, social sciences, current affairs, History: images from various sources invade the Centre national de la danse, moving through thematic constellations and formal affinities, testing the elasticity of the relationships between dance and ritual.
Thus, freed from any need for completeness or consistency, the selection of contemporary works of this iconographic collection is a more subjective way of responding to the subject.
From various generations and styles, the twelve artists presented certainly draw some formal and symbolic branches, but it is the intensity of their physical and spiritual commitment in their artistic practice, beyond a simple understanding of the representation, that brings them together. A form of belief in the emancipatory and conducting capacity of images and materials.
We know how, in the visual arts, the performing art of the 1970s, which also marked contemporary dance, often came close to ritual: from dancing around Jackson Pollock’s canvas to Carolee Schneeman’s collective bodily interactions, from Gina Pane’s sacrificial practices to the Joseph Beuys’s shamanism. Beyond these obvious iconic figures, less direct relationships have been privileged. Or artists who do not necessarily practice rituals, in a form of transcendence, but who rather offer, through transitional objects, dialogues with blind spots of sensitivity. If the reason behind the ritual is making a comeback among a young generation of artists, it is nourished by ecological and critical concerns: affirming the need to enrich the experience with non-scientific, non-dominant, minority and located, knowledge, that contradict rationalist and global approaches which have led to a certain cynicism of modernity.
Notes about the iconographic choices
A notebook of several hundred summarily printed images is unfolded on the walls, offering disparate and deliberately out of sync references, which relationships are as important as their individual relevance. From traditional cults to rave parties, from political demonstrations to trance, from religious dances to carnival costumes, it is an invitation to absorbe, through the image, the multiple layers of the subject. Despite the freedom allowed by this intuitive arrangement, two principles guided the selection. First, the idea that the ritual is possibly a technique, but not a discipline: we have avoided representing the many “professional” dance practices, classical, modern or contemporary, as rituals. We have privileged here not virtuous, participatory, inclusive or wild practices. In a word, those that the institutionalization of the spectacle in the christian west has gradually neutralized, by separating the dancer from the audience, and by limiting the latter to a role of passive viewer. Moreover, the choice we made was also not to stick to an ethnographic vision of ritual, that is to say referred to the question of otherness. As Barbara Ehrenreich explains in her book Dancing in the Streets. In History of Collective Joy (1), it is precisely the observation of ritual dance and trance that has helped to forge the image of the savage, in opposition to the so-called western reason. A racist assumption that ignored the importance, past and present, of a ritual practice at the very heart of western culture; from the Dionysian festivals in the ancient Greece, to the always alive tradition of carnival, through the ecstatic origins of Christianity to its most current manifestations (sport, rock, techno culture, political activism, etc.). Thus, it was a question of leaving in a minority field what precisely should have been the majority, properly human, even universal: the curative and therapeutic need for group dance, which supported human communities since their origins. It is perhaps for this necessary reversal of an artistic and cultural order, opposed to the uncontrollability of popular ritual, and for the need to invent new alternative space-times as instances of disorder, that this theme turns out to be of subversive topicality.
1 Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the streets. A History of Collective Joy,
Ed. Granta Books, London, 2007
Thomas Hirschhorn, Dancing Philosophy: (i) How to dance Bataille, 2007
Joakim Koester, Tarantism, 2007
Lola Gonzàlez, Les Anges, 2017
Minia Biabiany, Musa Nuit
Meris Angioletti, Tanzlinde, 2019 © A. Mole
Rønnebæksholm, Lilibeth performance
Thomas Hirschhorn, Dancing Philosophy: (i) How to dance Deleuze, 2007
Myriam Mihindou, La Folle, 2007
30th November – 18th December 2021 at CN D
in collaboration with Coline Davenne et Violette Morisseau (Work Method)
Meris Angioletti, Minia Biabiany, Zheng Bo, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, Odonchimeg Davaadorj, Lola Gonzàlez, Anna Halprin, Thomas Hirschhorn, Joachim Koester, Anna Maria Maiolino, Myriam Mihindou, Lydia Schouten