“A SENSE OF COMMUNITY EMERGES“
Interview with Stephan Brinkmann, Professor of Contemporary Dance at the Folkwang University Essen, on forms of memory in dance and the role of music as a remembrance structure.
As a dancer and choreographer, how did you come to embark on a scientific study of your art with regard to its characteristic as a form of memory?
I studied alongside my work at Tanztheater Wuppertal and I came into contact with different academic disciplines. It was obvious that my focus would at some point be on dance, as I had been working as a dancer and choreographer for many years and was continuing to do so. I found the idea of associating memory not only with the past but above all with mobility fascinating. Remembering means being in movement so dance is an ideal research subject. Working with knowledge form other disciplines, e.g. neuroscience or sociology, started from this rather philosophical thought.
You’re conducting qualitative research based on your experience. Has this move to theory, the approach from a linguistic-analytical perspective, changed a subject that is actually very familiar to you?
Not the subject itself but the way I label it and the interpretive models I may associate with it.
In your book Bewegung erinnern, you differentiate between two memory forms in dance: the internal or natural one, i.e. physical-mental memory, and the external or artificial memory in the form of information carriers such as notations, videos, books, etc. What role do these forms of memory play in dance history?
They complement each other. By recourse to artificial memory media, natural memory can make it possible to experience history and thereby bring yesterday into today.
What is special about internal memory, which is linked to the respective body of the dancer or choreographer and, as you write, is primarily passed on from person to person?
The special aspect is the showing. Dancers show something to each other and this way convey memory. The only instrument for doing this is the body.
How can the dancer’s fleeting knowledge that is linked to a point in time be made retrievable and available?
By coming together: in dance training, creative processes and reconstructions.
Through personal presence: by absorbing, preserving, retrieving and conveying knowledge with the body, by allowing it to circulate.
What role do memory gaps play? Can they be productive or even constitutive for dance?
Forgetting is a condition of memory. Nothing new can emerge otherwise. Nothing can change. This applies to dance too, particularly in relation to new creations.
In your theory, what is the relationship between knowledge, remembrance and memory? How would you characterise the specific knowledge in dance?
Speaking generally: knowledge is something objective, remembrance something subjective. The memory organises both in relation to each other. Knowledge in dance resists full archiving, as it can only be defined to a certain extent. This is why living bearers of knowledge are so important.
How does a choreographer use training and techniques to shape ensemble dancers and their bodies? You danced with Pina Bausch for many years. To what extent did Pina Bauschsubscribe to your research?
Through dance technique, which forms the basis of the work, through the choice of head trainer, through the movements a choreographer invents and passes on to the dancers, and through a repertoire that is cultivated and danced. I appreciated Pina Bausch’s cautiousness in labelling things. Part of my academic work is also about searching for a language that doesn’t injure its subject matter.
Has the scientific work had an impact on your body and body memory?
It made me sit still for a long time, reflect, read, seek out libraries and meet up with other scientists. The result for dancing is that it became more intense.
Do you see yourself as a memory researcher, scientist or artist?
As a person who dances. Within the art form that moves me most, I appropriate new knowledge, pass on what I already know, e.g. to dance students, and during an artistic process I try to forget what I know.
What role does music play in remembering as well as the actualisation of a choreography? Is it a remembrance structure?
It is a remembrance and time structure that helps provide a frame for the subjective duration of a movement, and which can set the remembering process in motion. Music links subjective movement consciousness with the outside world, with something that is audible for everyone, and which facilitates communication.
Is music inscribed into the collective memory of the dance?
Music and dance are related to each other as they are both able to draw us into them. In many cases, remembering a choreography will also include remembering the music associated with it.
How important are co-répétiteurs – and also music – in dance training and the artistic work process? Is there a transfer between art forms / between artists? Do music and dance inspire and/or support each other?
They provide a level of communication. Everyone can hear what they are playing and everyone takes their cue from it. A sense of community emerges. Co-répétiteurs also influence the quality of movement execution depending on the music they are playing as accompaniment.
Repetition is a key factor in the appropriation of music and dance, and this applies to exercises or in training and rehearsals. Does music support the remembrance process and a fresh retrieval of movement?
Music can act as a memory support. On the other hand, music works against motor automatisms, as dancers are required to act with the music in the now.
In Paula Rosolen’s piece Piano Men, the co-répétiteursappear are participating witnesses of German dance who use their art to serve choreographers and dancers, but who are also actively involved in the choreographic process. Which from of memory do the co-répétiteurs represent?
They stand for communicative memory, which is mainly conveyed verbally, is an aspect of collective memory, is always passed on via living carriers and only exists for a limited time period.
What are the features of their stored internal knowledge, for example in comparison to a dancer’s knowledge of the body?
Their Motorik knowledge is first and foremost in their hands, a part of the body that particularly predestines humans, in comparison with other creatures. Neuroscience shows that it is possible, for example, to play the piano using our motoric intelligence, i.e. via direct access to the brain on motoric pathways. The motoric intelligence of humans also applies to dance.
How do you work with co-répétiteurs in classes or even in artistic work processes?
I first show the students a movement sequence without music, and I count aloud. The co-répétiteur can then already recognise the pace and dynamic of the exercise. Before the students repeat the exercise I have shown, I give the Timing again and the co-répétiteur takes over from there. Co-répétiteurs are free to play whatever they consider appropriate for the movement. I’m reluctant to intervene out of respect. So far, I have never experienced an artistic work process with a co-répétiteur at the piano.
Has the co-répétiteur’s role changed in the past 20 years?
Contemporary dance in particular has differentiated itself in the past 20 years. Today, it needs co-répétiteurs who can accompany both contemporary and classical dance and support the difference between the dance forms through sound. It is particularly important for co-répétiteurs to be able to improvise, as they have to respond spontaneously to whatever the head trainer is showing.
Is it conceivable that an instrument other than the piano can fulfil these tasks?
Many co-répétiteurs use percussion instruments to complement the piano. The guitar is used in Spanish dance. Other instruments can of course be used to accompany dance, but the piano has as enormous dynamic and sound range, which is ideal for dance.
Music and dance are time-based arts. Movements are as uncatchable as sounds. Is there particular potential in this for the concept of memory?
The fact that these arts are an act of memory is an exception that has been little discussed in dance research so far. Dance is particular is often noted for its transient aspect, memory for its relationship with past. At the same time, memoryis something very current and dance is something very permanent.
PROF. DR. PHIL. STEPHAN BRINKMANN
Stephan Brinkmann is a Professor of Contemporary Dance at the Folkwang University of the Arts. His trained as a dancer at the Folkwang University Essen. He studied theatre, film and television studies as well as sociology and German language and literature at Cologne University and completed an additional course in dance pedagogy at Folkwang University. His obtained his doctorate degree at Hamburg University with a dissertation on memory forms in dance. He was a dancer and choreographer at the Folkwang Dance for two years before becoming a permanent member of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in 1995, dancing with the company until 2010. He was appointed training and rehearsal manager at Staatstheater Kassel in 2007. In 2012, he recreated Nur Du at Tanztheater Wuppertal in 2012, and in 2013 he reconstructed Pina Bausch’s Tannhäuser Bacchanal with Barbara Kaufmann. His contemporary dance teaching activities have taken him to numerous national and international institutions. He has taught dance to schoolchildren in all types of schools and has worked intensively with the Theater Total project for young people in Bochum.