Un-Naming, or: Choreographing a Promise


While waiting for the event to begin, the lights to be dimed, and my fellow audience members to gradually fall silent, my knowing gaze sweeps through the well-placed credits on the program leaflet. Excited and practised in my search of names that make the performing body on stage tangible: names of choreographers, dancers, costume and set designers, producers and co-producers, expecting to recognize old companions, to discover new talent, or simply not to know anybody.

Getting ready, as spectator.

Names are many things. As gestures of identification, we pass or take them on, cherish, change, and reject them. They position us as ‘different’ and make us stand out as an essential human being while holding a feeling of familiarity or strangeness, a janus-faced capacity of in- and exclusion. At the same time, names are always relational. Grounded in a complex and contingent system of references, classifications and taste, the singularity of a name takes on collective qualities. They communicate and situate an individual and its work of art in reference to societal, political, ethnic, national, gendered, legal and other frameworks. However, this myriad texture of influences and affiliations is never stable and defined but ambiguous, hybrid and negotiated in its respective environments: in every night on stage, in every rehearsal, in every spectator`s experience anew.

In an international art world and market, the name that provides authorship to a choreography represents and forms a constitutive part of an equally aesthetic, historic as much as economic and neo-liberal system of values. It speaks of an artist’s specificity, a company`s signature or an institution`s profile and acts as a currency and a label that situates our dances and choreographies in a much broader picture.

Unknown pleasures stays unsigned. This strategy holds a promise and an excitement while, simultaneously, introducing a kind of hesitation in our aesthetic systems in our readings and interpretations. Taking away the choreographers’ names releases a game of playful speculation and preliminary guesses, of wishful thinking and possibly a gloss of frustration, as well, as it challenges our analysis and expertise. It puts into question our individual and collective systems and criteria of experiencing dance, of remembering movement, of valuing and ultimately judging an artist’s work. What is it actually, that grants an artistic identity to a choreographic piece, that reassures us of its aesthetic quality or its political relevance and that witnesses of its experimental potential?

Historically speaking, anonymity - namelessness - has been a popular and effective strategy in dance and other fields of artistic practice. It illustrates the interconnection in between the politics of an artwork and its political agency in a broader perspective. Up to today, masking an author’s identity in a gesture of collectivization continues to trigger provocation, to formulate protest, to empower voices that have been silent and to allow for experimentation, intervention and imagination both. It thus inscribes in a search of freedom of speech and expression, which is the freedom of art.

This profoundly choreographic practice of signing and assigning movement into physical and less tangible, symbolic space is also at the heart of Unknown pleasures - the latest in a series of commissions in which the CCN - Ballet de Lorraine, this time together with Dance Umbrella, playfully sets off with a contemporary critical reflection of its art form: a collaborative project acknowledging the practice of dance-making that does not exhaust itself in a single author´s idea. Rather, it highlights the impact of the always-specific production conditions and processes on the artwork, and above all the active participation and the involvement of each spectator in creating and experiencing the work of art.

More than disguising a clever marketing move striving for attention in a saturated arts market or a naïve gesture of buying into phantasms of community and unison, the choice for anonymity seems to exist in its destabilizing quality. In a careful and caring gesture of un-signing, Unknown pleasures stays respectful to not blur the five choreographer`s projects or dissolve their artistic languages and visions in a common project. Much more, the decision of stripping of the identitarian quality of a choreographer`s name adopts its liberating forces. It shifts the attention from the representation of a choreographic work to its creation and production process, i.e. to the time and space, to the researching and the composing, to the trust and the experience of getting lost together that choreographers, dancers, and all involved share.

A wish and a challenge, Unknown Pleasures thereby does not deny the impact and the consequences of our choreographic, discursive, and affective inscriptions as the presence or the absence of a name exemplifies. However it is dedicated to a moment, I imagine, in which everything is still possible, in which our senses and thoughts are a not yet moderated, in which our perception is a little bit less (self-) censored by lingering, too pushy or impatient expectations. It stands in as a reminder that art is more than a commodity and addresses us almost ethically in our responsibility to take care for this, as an audience in every dance anew. It takes the risk for a dance to appear in front of our eyes, on our stages and in our imaginary for a first time: as a beginning, and a promise and a chance to not know; as an invitation to fully commit to the pleasures and the obligations of the unknown.

October 2017