OnCurating Issue 55: Curating Dance : Decolonizing Dance
Curating Dance : Decolonizing Dance is one of the first publications within an international context to deal with the curation of dance as a performative art as well as a sociocultural practice. This may come as a surprise, since in the first instance, the transfer of the notion of curation from the visual to the performing arts took place a while ago. In the second instance, dance as an art form that developed to include a more conceptual approach to choreography has found its way into museums, art associations, and biennials across the world since the 1990s. There is also an intense preoccupation with questions of somatic activism and body politics in the context of curating performative as well as visual arts. Furthermore, the decolonization of dance as both a thematic and infrastructural issue, together with the presentation of Artists of Color within and outside of Europe, has become increasingly central in organizational practice and program politics in recent years. However, the relevant theoretical and methodological foundations are yet to be substantively developed in the field of dance.
Therefore, the intentions behind Curating Dance : Decolonizing Dance are multifaceted. A central aim is to motivate and contribute to a still developing theoretical, conceptual, and practice-led reflection on curating dance with rigor. The publication also wants to provide other disciplines—and above all the visual arts—with a theoretical and methodical set of tools for dealing with this art form and its particular articulations. While the basis for our considerations is an expanded concept of curation, encompassing conceptual questions of presenting dance and performance, it also includes the (re)structuring of existing institutions in the field in a way that is appropriate and supportive not only to art and artists but also to society and its common public concerns and needs. In the focus Decolonizing Dance, for example, premises for curating in a global context are established and reflected upon. The concrete case study Twists—a failed attempt at decolonizing a European dance institution—encourages the necessary "hard work" of dismantling Eurocentrism and cultural hegemonies as a crucial step in contemporary curation. Advising against viewing decolonization as a trend, it advances ways of questioning the embedded notions of coloniality in institutions that impede the kind of curation that locates itself with depth in an increasingly precarious world.
While we assume that curating is not a profession that can be “learned,” as a sort of craft, the experiences of the Salzburg university course Curating in the Performing Arts—currently being carried out in cooperation with the Freie Universität Berlin and the Ruhr University of Bochum—show us the importance of acquiring knowledges of and reflecting on theory and methodology of curation in the performing arts. These programs and repertoires are becoming significantly more varied, topics relevant to civil society are being specifically addressed, the generation of knowledge through programming is intensifying, and existing infrastructures in the performing arts are being questioned through institutional critique—a concept and term that was still little known in the performing arts a decade ago. The discourse on curating in the visual arts, which has already been going on since the 1960s, confirms this observation.
We are pleased that renowned representatives from theory and practice in dance and performance have accepted our invitation to this publication. Furthermore, we have included contributions from three former excellent participants of our course: Miriam Althammer, Gwendolin Lehnerer, and Amanda Piña.
Conceptually, we have arranged the articles in a certain order, forming three larger chapters: (1) Methods of Curating Dance, (2) Decolonizing Dance, (3) Mobile Institutions and Infrastructures. After the introductory and methodologically oriented texts on seminal questions of the curator's positionality (Sigrid Gareis) and on relationality (Nicole Haitzinger) in the field of curating dance, three articles that expand and deepen the discussion of methods follow. Gwendolin Lehnerer deals with the key concept of transdisciplinarity in theory and practice with a specific focus on the complex relationship between visual arts and dance. Gurur Ertem argues in her article for curatorial activism in the context of dance; this kind of activism, in her opinion, increasingly takes place outside an institutional context to do justice to a present that is confronted with gender inequality, racism, ethnonationalism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Delving deeper into gender inequalities, Kirsten Maar focuses on feminist curating from the perspective of care politics. Concluding this section, Michiel Vandefelde reflects in an interview on the relationship between performative arts and curating from his perspective as an artist-curator in the so-called independent dance scene as well as a curator at the established art institution DE SINGEL in Antwerp.
The section on Decolonizing Dance considers curation and ideas of decoloniality from a variety of perspectives. It opens with Rainy Demerson’s article, “Artistic Reparations: The Curious Curation of African Contemporary Dance,” an investigation into some of the anomalies in the curation of contemporary dance from and about the African continent. The provocative use of “Reparations” in the title connects this critique of careless superficiality in such curation in European contexts to a broader, crucial imperative for redress. Examining a comprehensive attempt at a constellation of events that was intended to have addressed this, the case study of “Twists: Dance and Decoloniality” probes, through ideas of “dreaming”, “missteps,” and “ways forward,” a project that would have fueled ideas around decoloniality and curation that sadly flailed and fell. This study features interviews with Jay Pather, Choy Ka Fai, Sigrid Gareis, Lia Rodrigues, and Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor, the originators of Twists. jackï job and Rolando Vázquez Melken’s conversation follows, turning the focus to a close and detailed look at that which lies at the center of dance curation—the relational body and the generative pedagogy that may inform its training within a decolonial context. Rounding up this section, Amanda Piña’s article ”Choreography as Curation, Curation as Cure” brings together the threads of this section—decolonial praxis, dance curation, the body, and the necessity for practices of healing.
In the third part of our publication, institutional and civically relevant aspects of curating in dance and performance are explored in depth. Miriam Althammer sketches a possible ecology of sustainable dance houses. Ong Keng Sen reflects on more-than-human and more-than-thing constellations in dance festivals and art exhibitions based on the idea of a “paratopic” communality. Jörn Etzold accentuates the shadows of the historical contours of dramaturgy in the German-speaking theatre context and sheds light on the potential for institutional critique today. Finally, Kai van Eikels argues for a model of collective curating—a model grounded in mobile infrastructures.
Although the three content-related chapters are recognizable in our proposed structure, the texts can be related to each other in many respects and form a dense and multi-layered fabric, which not least also bears witness to the intensive discourse and dialogue conducted over many years by the authors involved. Our special thanks go to our authors—the publication would not have been possible without their commitment, enthusiasm, and expertise!
Sigrid Gareis, Nicole Haitzinger and Jay Pather
Sigrid Gareis is a curator, co-director of the university course Curating in the Performing Arts, as well as founding director of the Tanzquartier Wien and the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne.
Nicole Haitzinger is Professor of Dance/Performance Studies and scientific director of the transdisciplinary and inter-university doctoral college Science and Arts (Paris–Lodron University/Mozarteum). Furthermore, she is co-director of the university course Curating in Performing Arts.
Jay Pather is Professor at the University of Cape Town where he directs the Institute for Creative Arts. He curates the Infecting the City Public Art Festival and the ICA Live Art Festival in Cape Town and Afrovibes in the Netherlands. He is an editor for Acts of Transgression: Live Art in South Africa.