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by Nicole Haitzinger

Curating Dance: On est ensemble? Expanded Choreography and Vulnerability

Curating in dance and the performing arts is a young field of research that (still) borrows definitions, theses, and insights primarily from the relevant theories on curating from the discursive context of the visual arts.[1] For the context of dance, there are a limited number of basic texts that are (still) increasingly formulated as singular positions.[2]

The formation of a discourse of its own with constructively opposing positions and crosscurrents is still largely lacking, and particularities on curating dance are little differentiated in theory. After an introductory definition of curatorial constellations, I would like to present two aspects with expanded choreography and vulnerability that, firstly, make specific constellations in curating dance visible—or, as Walter Benjamin put it more poetically, who furthermore sets up a similarity model between the starry world and dance, illuminate them[3]—and, secondly, have the potential not only to expand the curatorial by the performative and the genre of dance, but to think in a more body-centred, multi-sensory, and ethical way.

Curatorial Constellations in the Performative Arts: Starting Point and Vanishing Line
The programmatic definitions of Beatrice von Bismarck, who already at the beginning of the noughties defined curating as a regulated field, as an action, and as a combinatorial practice in the sense of Nicolas Bourriaud's theses on relational aesthetics, were transdisciplinary trendsetters for the European art context.[4] In her recently published book The Curatorial Condition (2022), she expands the horizon of theorising in the cultural field of curating to include four relationally interrelated concepts: (1) Curatoriality, a term that attempts to capture its relational dynamics; (2) the aforementioned notion of Constellation with a focus on Coming Together in Public; (3) Transposition, Moving in Entanglements; and (4) Hospitality, Ambivalences of Generosity. By opening up the curatorial field beyond its own genre and art historical discipline into the practice and discourse of the visual arts, especially by accentuating the performative, the transdisciplinary, and the transmedial, coherent combinations of different artistic forms of articulation have become possible.[5]

Curatorial practice in the visual arts has increasingly adopted key concepts from theatre and dance since the zero years. Thus, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13), has sharpened her concept programmatically to the formula “Choreographies of the Curatorial” in the sense of an expanded choreography.[6]

In the more recent and transdisciplinary research on curating, two theoretical positions determine the discourse: on the one hand, differences and similarities between the visual and performing arts are balanced by the model-like comparison of the black box and the white cube[7]; in a broader sense, the theater is being rediscovered in the visual arts as an assembly space and its community-building potential, which is now being transferred to contemporary exhibition contexts as a model.[8] Secondly, theorising in the field of contemporary performative arts focuses on curating the ephemeral and its political, cultural, and aesthetic implications.[9] In The Curatorial Condition, Beatrice von Bismarck—exemplary for this current in the discourse—now increasingly accentuates the proximity to the performative arts of exhibitions through the aspect of temporality and ephemerality, even though the differences remain marked: “In comparison to other performing arts, the curatorial [in visual arts] typically accords greater importance to objects as agents, insofar as the exhibition format and medium is historically grounded in the presentation of art and artifacts.”[10]

Conversely, which aspects could be mentioned for curating dance as an artistic as well as socio-cultural form of articulation with a comparatively different genealogy, knowledge culture, institutional and infrastructural conditions, and reference systems? Which peculiarities can be discursively and theoretically determined? In “Written on Water: Choreographies of the Curatorial" (2012), Gabriele Brandstetter raised the issue that remained partially in abeyance until the current discourse: “One can […] pose the […] question as to whether not only the concept of dance had been expanded to include the curatorial, but whether and how certain practices in dance and choreography transform, expand, and critically interrogate our understanding of the curatorial.”[11] What potential could dance—subsequently asked—have for an expanded definition of the curatorial, and which aspects are of particular relevance?

Expanded Choreography and Vulnerability
In the last ten years, a number of texts have appeared in theatre and dance studies that closely link a model of curating with an expanded concept of choreography.[12] The expanded choreography as an open and non-dichotomous concept of choreography has been discourse-determining in the context of so-called "contemporary" dance since the zero years.[13] The paradigm shift from an almost exclusively dance-related concept of choreography in the twentieth century to an expanded choreography as a genre-independent model was initially accompanied by a dismissive attitude towards dance as an art of movement in general: the spectrum ranged from William Forsythe's much-quoted “choreography and dancing are two distinct and very different practices”[14] to Jérôme Bel‘s “choreography is just a frame, a structure, a language where much more than dance is inscribed.”[15] These larger and smaller revolutionary gestures in the context of so-called conceptual dance not only turned the field of choreography upside down, but also enabled more diverse positionalities and relationalities in curating dance. Art and dance institutions in Europe programmed transmedial and collective artistic works such as Meg Stuart's/Damaged Goods Highway 101 at the beginning of the 2000s. In this exemplary expanded choreography, the audience explored different architectures by walking through rooms where performative and dance actions took place. The Roadmovie with Stops (Jeroen Peeters) thematises with spooky aesthetics the experience of a placeless existence with superimposed memories in actually uninhabitable spaces.[16] Furthermore, since the 1990s, literally unconventional formats have been curated in the context of dance, i.e., formats that explode all norms, logics, and conventions in the dispositif of dance; an example of this is the ten-day performance event BDC/Thomas Plischke and Friends (2001) in the Beursschouwburg in Brussels, which took place day and night without interruption and was conceived and experienced as a continuous performance with parallel artistic actions, workshops, lectures, films, and quiet zones. As Elke Van Campenhout points out in “Curating as Environmentalism,” in several respects it led the way for later formats in terms of “rethinking the performance art notions of curatorship and the role of the artist/curator, but also in the re-creation of the institution by introducing derogatory practises within its territory (another use of space, time, and the distinction between performers and audience members, and another way of thinking the social body of the participants of the environment created by (but not limited to) the programmed events).”[17] For my own professional socialisation, these two aforementioned artistic-curatorial forms of articulation in which I participated during my theatre studies were formative; indeed, they have significantly expanded my idea and horizon of what dance and curating in dance could be. This is put into words in the preamble to curating in dance in general: On est ensemble (we are together), be it in the expanded spatiality and temporality made tangible through curatorial and artistic interventions, be it in our singular as well as collective vulnerabilities. The “curatorial connectedness and relatedness" and “their potential of bringing-together and becoming public" accentuated by Beatrice von Bismarck is expressed—in comparison with the visual arts—in curating dance more body-related than object-related. The curated, temporary assembly of bodies in space, whether on stage or in public space, benefits from the experience of forming ensembles and thinking of bodies in the plural and has the potential to physically intervene in social and political spheres, as Florian Malzacher emphasises.[18]

Sound-Installation by Tomaž Simatović and Tomaž Tomljanović for group show co-curated by the students of the Curating in the Performing Arts university course, 2017, SZENE Salzburg. Photograph by: Hubert Auer.


At present, two trends can be observed: On the one hand, expanded choreography is defined as “non-centralised network of practices and ideas probing what else choreography may be”[19] and the other hand, the strict separation of choreography and dance made at the beginning of the zero years is put into perspective again. Partly responsible for this “change of position" is the artistically and curatorially motivated balancing of other human-animal-thing relationships on stage and the recognition of different dance cultures and epistemologies demanded by decolonial thinking.

An expanded choreographic mode of the curatorial now increasingly connects with the visualisation and experience of vulnerable bodies beyond dichotomies (human-animal-object) on stage and in public space; bodies, in other words, that are principally and inescapably open, relationally connected and “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed.”[20] The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn particular attention to a hidden dimension of the bodily relationship, and Judith Butler, as a trend-setting thinker on vulnerability, has formulated this pointedly: “This breath is mine but also not my own, always drawing from the air, which is filled with the exhalation of others.”[21] The experience of the vulnerability of bodies becomes a crucial aspect of curating dance, especially in a present marked by many instabilities, a present of (post-)pandemics, the actuality of wars, accelerating inflation, climate change, large movements of flight and protest, new interpretations of authoritarian statehood, more or less hidden racisms, imperialisms, and neo-colonialisms; see, for example, the Tashweeh Festival, the annual S_P_I_T Queer Performance Festival Vienna, CHAKKARs, nadaLokal, or curated projects by Ivy Monteiro or River Lin. Two aspects of thinking about vulnerability seem to me to be crucial for future curatorial gestures in dance: firstly, the geo- and socio-politically unequal distribution of vulnerability,[22] and secondly, the fundamental relationality of corporeality: “We cannot understand bodily vulnerability outside this conception of its constitutive relations to other humans, inorganic conditions and vehicles for living.”[23] Enabling the presence of various vulnerabilities and their open process of recognition in the performative arts becomes a curatorial task in civil societies that are currently exposed to multiple threats. In this volume, Kirsten Maar, Gurur Ertem, and Jay Pather, as well as Miriam Althammer and Kai van Eikels, reflect on how this could be made possible, be it through feminist and queer curating, be it through political activism, decolonial practices, more sustainable dance houses, or collectively set-in-motion infrastructures.

On est ensemble?
Many aspects that currently still determine the discourse and practices of curating in dance were constellated in the 2000s. The choreographer, dancer, and author Raimund Hoghe, who died in 2021, for example, was already carefully and cautiously balancing the vulnerability of bodies on stage in his work in the 1990s, drawing on a model of expanded choreography.[24] Hoghe's work has undoubtedly already become historical and is to be understood contextually, i.e., it is deeply interwoven with German history and his personal and artistic socialisation (among other things as a dancer with disabilities and as Pina Bausch's dramaturge) in the twentieth century. And yet, his artistic works, with their ceremonial gestures, their kinaesthetic empathy, their depiction of the complex beauty of the world, their narratives and figures beyond dichotomies, their label-less queerness, and their modesty seem to address much that is currently being negotiated discursively and on stage. Highlighting the vulnerability of singular and plural bodies in the ensemble on stage was an important curatorial intervention in the zero years, when the genre and discipline in Europe were still increasingly exposed to the logic and aesthetics of virtuosity. Many European dance houses and festivals of the 2000s programmed these works, contextualised them discursively, and took up a pressing civil society-relevant question of their time.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I suddenly, but not coincidentally, remembered Raimund Hoghe’s acting and breathing bodies and things on stage, unforgettable performances that burned themselves into my memory and made me aware of my own vulnerability and at the same time the connectedness to a globally scattered but networked dance community, at a time when I was living in Paris in the strictest lockdown and was only allowed to go out of the house once a day for an hour within a radius of one kilometer. On est ensemble, literally: we are together. Or more dance and performance related: “We form an ensemble" again became my imaginary line of escape in a world that had become small and sharpened my theses on potentiality in curating dance, on expanded choreography and vulnerability as important aspects of the constellation presented here…

But are we really together?—What curatorial principles of inclusion and exclusion underlie the assemblies of bodies in the context of dance, and is the current presence of vulnerability on stages actually sustainable? The world as we knew it in the zero years no longer exists; it can no longer be spelled out in curatorial terms. In our present, threatened by divisions, we are confronted with other challenges; a present in which the question of the concrete constitution of “ensembles” in curating dance, decolonizing dance should be asked.

Nicole Haitzinger is Professor of Dance/Performing Arts and scientific director of the transdisciplinary and inter-university doctoral programme Art and Public Impact: Dynamics of Change at the University of Salzburg and the Mozarteum. Furthermore, she is co-director of the university course Curating in the Performing Arts at the Paris Lodron University in Salzburg in cooperation with Freie Universität Berlin and Ruhr-University Bochum. Her publications include Resonances of the Tragic (2015) and Dancing Europe: Identities, Languages, Institutions (2022), co-edited with Alexandra Kolb. She has published numerous articles and books and is currently writing a co-authored monograph on Border Dancing Across Time (with Sandra Chatterjee and Franz Anton Cramer); furthermore, she is co-editing a book with Amanda Piña and working with her on Exotica, a performance forthcoming in 2023. She lives and works in Salzburg and Paris.


[1] Claire Bishop, “Black Box, White Cube, Public Space,” in Out of the Body, ed. Skulptur Projekte Münster (Münster: Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2016), https://www.lwl.org/landesmuseum-download/SkulpturProjekte/Presse/Out%20of%20Body_DE.pdf; Beatrice von Bismarck, The Curatorial Condition (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2022); Dorothea von Hantelmann, “Art Institutions as Ritual Spaces: A Brief Genealogy of Gatherings,” in Theater, Garden, Bestiary: A Materialist History of Exhibitions, eds. Tristan Garcia and Vincent Normand (Lausanne/Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019), 251–259; Barbara Gronau, Matthias von Hartz, and Carolin Hochleichter, eds. How to Frame: On the Threshold of Performing and Visual Arts (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

[2] See Gabriele Brandstetter, “Written on Water: Choreographies of the Curatorial,” in Cultures of the Curatorial, eds. Beatrice von Bismarck, Jörn Schafaff, and Thomas Weski (Leipzig/Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 119–130; Maren Butte, Kirsten Maar, Fiona McGovern, Marie-France Rafael, and Jörn Schafaff, eds., Assign & Arrange: Methodologies of Presentation in Art and Dance (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014); Florian Malzacher and Joanna Waryza, eds., Empty Stages, Crowded Flats: Performativity as Curatorial Strategy (Berlin: Alexander Press, 2017).

[3] Walter Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty,” in Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcot (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), 333–336.

[4] Beatrice von Bismarck, “Kuratorisches Handeln,” in Norm der Abweichung, ed. Marion von Osten (Zurich; Vienna; New York: Edition Voldemeer, 2003), 81–89: 81.

[5] Maria Lind, ed., Performing the Curatorial: Within and Beyond Art (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012). See also Gwendolin Lehnerer’s contribution in this volume.

[6] Elisabeth Schambelan, “Talks with Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev about Documenta 13”, Artforum (May 2012), https://www.artforum.com/print/201205/talks-with-curator-carolyn-christov-bakargiev-about-documenta-13-30791. See Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rolling, contorted, and lasted for a long time,” dOCUMENTA (13), Catalog 1/3: The Book of Books (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012), https://www.castellodirivoli.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/ccb.pdf, 31–45.

[7] Bishop, “Black Box, White Cube, Public Space,” 2016.

[8] von Hantelmann, “Art Institutions as Ritual Spaces: A Brief Genealogy of Gatherings,” 251.

[9] Adrian Heathfield, “Final Report Summary—CTE (Curating the Ephemeral: Practices of Engagement and Display in Contemporary Art),” in CORDIS, 2017, accessed August 8, 2022, https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/329451/reporting/de.

[10] Bismarck, “Curatorial Condition,” 18.

[11] Brandstetter, “Written on Water: Choreographies of the Curatorial,” 126.

[12] See Mathieu Copeland, “Choreographing Exhibitions: An Exhibition Happening Everywhere, at all Times, with and for Everyone,” in Choreographing Exhibitions, eds. Mathieu Copeland and Julie Pellegrin (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2013), 19–24; Butte et al., Assign & Arrange.

[13] See Anna Leon, Expanded Choreography—Choreographic Histories (Bielefeld: transcript, 2022), 23.

[14] William Forsythe, “Choreographic Objects,” accessed October 6, 2022, https://www.williamforsythe.com/essay.html.

[15] Jérôme Bel, quoted in Una Bauer, “Jérôme Bel: An Interview,” Performance Research 13, no. 1 (2008): 42.

[16] See Meg Stuart, “On Highway 101,” Damaged Goods, 2004, accessed June 7, 2018, https://www.damagedgoods.be/.

[17] Elke Van Campenhout, “Curating as Environmentalism,” bureau despoir, November 16, 2013, https://bureaudespoir.org/2013/11/16/curating-as-environmentalism-2011/.

[18] Florian Mazacher, “The Art of Assembly,” recorded on July 11, 2022, https://art-of-assembly.net/. See also: Florian Malzacher, Gesellschaftsspiele: Politisches Theater heute (Berlin: Alexander Press, 2020).

[19] Leon, Expanded Choreography, 27.

[20] See definition of “vulnerable”: Catherine Soanes, ed., Compact Oxford English Dictionary for University and College Students (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1166. See also: Florian Pistrol, “Vulnerabilität: Erläuterungen zu einem Schlüsselbegriff im Denken Judith Butlers,” Zeitschrift für Praktische Philosophie 3, no. 1 (2016): 233–272.

[21] Francis Wade, “Judith Butler on the Violence of Neglect Amid a Health Crisis: A conversation with the theorist about her new book The Force of Nonviolence, and the need for global solidarity in the pandemic world,” The Nation, May 13, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/judith-butler-force-of-nonviolence-interview/.

[22] Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London; New York: Verso, 2006), xii.

[23] Judith Butler, “Bodily Vulnerability, Coalitions, and Street Politics,” Critical Studies 37, no. 1 (2014): 97–119: 103.

[24] Raimund Hoghe, "Den Körper in den Kampf werfen: Behinderungen schockieren auf der Bühne oft mehr als Gewalt: ein Plädoyer für das Unperfekte,” Zeitschrift für Kultur 765, no. 3 (April 2006), http://www.raimundhoghe.com/de/de_dasunperfekte.html.

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Issue 55

Curating Dance : Decolonizing Dance