On Anything less is less than a reckless act

# 1

Decision Making Making and Other Reckless Acts 
by Sebastien Griese
(this article first appears on Runthru Magazine Online 29, June 2010, reprinted with permission from the author and the magazine)

Photo Credit: Brendan Goco, PETA Theater Center, June 2010

Ever heard of the multiverse theory? It basically states that at every decision point in our lives a parallel universe is created. By choosing A over B, we create a split in time and space, an alternative version of our reality in which we make the opposite decision. Whenever our path bifurcates, we travel down both trails, no matter what.

If that’s the case, I honestly would have preferred to be the version of myself that ended up in the other reality. The one in which I did not make the decision to travel from Makati to Quezon City on this rainy Tuesday night. Traffic was – do I need to point this out? – particularly bad. A quiet dinner at home, doing the dishes afterwards? That did not sound so boring after all.

But the decision to watch Donna Miranda’s Anything Less is Less Than a Reckless Act, her performance-lecture on decision making that opened the Pinoy-French Contemporary Dance Week, had been made a while ago and was never really questioned afterwards.

Neither was the decision, made a few days later, to write about this dance performance in which nobody actually danced – even though right after the show I had informed the artist of my decision not to treat her to my thoughts on her performance, just as she had made the decision to deny me and my fellow spectators any kind of spectacle. No possibility of identification with the art, no moment of epiphany, no message, no meaning, and... well, nobody was seriously expecting some kind of old-fashioned catharsis anyway, I hope.

The performance offered nothing but the seemingly unavoidable: It functioned as a projection screen for the self-adulation of those in the audience whose vague feeling of intellectual superiority (always fragile, always threatened) precariously depends on the decision to leave the comfort of their homes long enough to endure contemporary art of any kind – a decision that somehow never is reckless enough to admit to non-interpretation, non-understanding, or frankly: nonsense.

“By every rule, convention, custom and principle I know this must be ‘art’. And if we all agree on labelling it ‘art’ I have to be able to distract a meaning from it. If I don’t, I did not understand it. And if I didn’t understand it, how am I supposed to fulfil my role as art-loving, open-minded, free-thinking and unconventional intellectual. So this is ‘art’. Let’s interpret it. At least I should say something meaningless that sounds informed, clever and possibly funny. Beware that somebody might suspect that I did not get it.”

Again: can I please be in the parallel world in which I made the other choice and stayed home?

Then again... in that case I would have missed out on a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking and brilliantly executed exhibition of nonsense – a word I do not use prejudicially. On the contrary, I mean it to be high praise indeed.

I don’t recall if Donna Miranda herself called the obsessive search for meaning in art “fascist”, or if I heard her say this because for me her work came close to be a fulfilment of what the German theatre scholar Hans-Thies Lehmann once called his ‘wish for an art of non-understanding’. To paraphrase Lehmann: he points out that the act of interpreting and presenting the results of an interpretation (either on stage or in a review) is the really reckless, that is to say heedless, hard-nosed and ruthless, one. By presenting one meaning, we exclude all the others. We bring the process of reflexion to an end. No need to think anymore. Every ambiguity eliminated. Everything made one-dimensional and consumable. Art reduced to a tool of affirmation and confirmation of the status quo.

A work like Anything Less is Less Than a Reckless Act on the other hand, leaves us as audiences with the difficult task to abandon our, let’s just say it: cheesy longing for accessible meaning and comfortable reassurance, leaves us with the choice to either bear the ambiguity and incertitude of non-sense or, worse, to find sense for ourselves. And it demands a performer willing to face the challenge of neither stating nor staging meaning. Donna Miranda faced that challenge – and while the result she came up with might not have been an unqualified victory of the non-understanding, it surely was one of the more reckless acts I’ve lately seen on stage.

# 2
Dance and/as Philosophy
by Ren Aguila

(this review first appeared on Metakritiko 20 July 2010)

dancers : Marah Arcilla and PJ Rebullida on video

Of all the forms of art (especially contemporary art) I have written about in the last few years, dance is one of those for which I have been unable to say anything coherent. Movement is indescribably difficult to work out unless one has the vocabulary for it. I therefore decided to watch Pinoy-French Contemporary Dance at the PETA Theater Center, knowing full well that I would be venturing into a totally new experience.

But what astonished me that night was that, not long after the open forum ended (where the four questioners at Donna Miranda's lecture-performance couldn't get a word in edgewise), I found myself ruminating about a very different yet obvious vocabulary to speak about dance. It was one I was familiar with, sort of. It was that this performance spoke to me as much as philosophy as it was about dance.

Why not?

I have to admit that the first contemporary dance concert I watched was one at a small studio along West Avenue many years ago. The most recent one I watched before last night was Ballet Philippines' Neo-Filipino, a concert from which I gained a new appreciation for the music of The Postal Service and Wim Wenders but very little else. It reminded me of why I have been reticent of late to talk about contemporary art: sometimes, it tends to be all the same.

So it was that Miranda opened the evening with her new lecture-performance "Anything Less is a Reckless Act." Now I read the advance word: people would be asked to choose between watching the video of a dance and Miranda talking about it. There are no other alternatives, unless one wishes, in this case, to stroll up the street to the fast food restaurants, grab a quick bite, and walk back down in time for the interval. When I spoke to some people I knew, they would rather choose the dance. "I came to enjoy the dance," said one of my interlocutors. And so, when Miranda began her spiel and pronounced the rules, about 90 percent of the audience headed over to the theater. It dawned on me that something was not what it seemed, and so I decided to stay.

It was a brilliant choice. The lecture was a very intriguing insight into how a dance comes together, or seems to come together, but it turned out to be more than that. By choosing to outline what was going on and deliberately placing it apart from all of us, the lecture-performance was a very good example of, not to mention a play upon, the kind of contemporary hermeneutics I have been writing about. There was the deliberate attempt to describe and foreground one's own prejudices. There was the decision to distance one's self from one's own work. The author became another interpreter. Or so I thought. Miranda's own language was inherently subversive: admitting to imposing meaning, for instance, was really an invitation for us to question what she was meaning to do. And in essence, what she was doing explicitly was what was implicitly going on in the other place: depriving us of the chance to fulfill our expectations so that we could make the only real choice left that night: the choice to regret our other choices. In other words, she invited us to reflect upon what we did--if we had ears to listen.

And yes, the open forum was very interesting.
So what?

The risk I take in outlining how dance and philosophy interact is a risk Miranda identified explicitly in her piece: it is an imposition of meaning. Yet this is a suspicion post-modernity makes when meaning provides the account that justifies the way its world operates. What prevents the critic who happens to think philosophically from saying that it is an imposition is precisely the openness of texts like dance, texts which are non-textual in the strict sense, to the possibility of interpretation. What it means does not justify its existence; movement happens whether we mean it or not.

Miranda’s work, founded as it is on the obsession with theory and “making meaning” (something the author shares to some extent), lets us examine the question of choice, which is in many ways one of liberal modernity’s fondest shibboleths. But it is open, of course, to the question of how intimate relationships begin and end, among other things. And while Lin’s first set of works in this show highlight how Taoism puts modern dualism into question, it is always open as well to questions surrounding, for example, the commodification of the martial arts.

But the pedagogical moment is precisely where teachers of philosophy must open people’s imaginations to the possibility of meaning. This is perhaps where people can learn how to see things differently and be changed as a result. So what is left after unpacking what is possible, or what can be coherently said, in movement, is a different view of the world.



On Promises are made to be broken

Review by Masi Solano

Clichés, pop songs, and petty thoughts have a way of intruding into any situation, making it practically impossible to discuss anything seriously without inane digressions. Watching The Lovegangsters’ Promises are Made to Be Broken is like a ride in one’s own mind where getting past a question, a sentence, a premise, without being lost in irrelevance is hopeless.

In what is supposedly a roundtable discussion flying off from the adage, “Promises are made to be broken,” three young women and two young men dressed in preppy golf clothes read from what seems to be spontaneously scripted dialogue bound in uniform black folders. On the table is a hotel reception bell and a bottle of San Miguel beer. The group struggles to hold their discussion while sitting on wobbly one-legged hinged stools, supporting an equally unstable hinged table, unable to get past the question, "How many clichés does it need to take to restore the original meaning of a cliché?"

Illustrating the restlessness, repetitiveness and labor that go with tackling such questions, in the middle of the performance, the performers fall from their seats one by one or simultaneously, the word “cliché” is mercilessly repeated to the point of intellectual paralysis, the bell on the middle of the table is impatiently rang to indicate that the time is up, and the group physically moves their roundtable discussion to the other side of the room (the side of the audience). Later, the group breaks into song as a videoke of “Somebody” by Dépêche Mode is projected on the opposite wall. Finally, the audience is treated with a goofy dance to break the spell all together.

Repeat a word, perhaps the word cliché, countless of times and it ceases to mean anything. All associations we have of the word as it is utilized in Everyday dissolves. In meditation, a meaningless word such as ‘Ohm’ is repeated over and over until one gets into a trance. One has to keep still to get to a destination, to reach climax. Maybe this can tell us something about restoring a tired-old cliché—only by stillness, and by stripping it off of every association can it be restored.

But could it be that clichés are vital mechanisms and projections of the mind that are telling us something? Perhaps they are a part of the Big Puzzle, a clue that needs to be added up to the equation? Why else would they cling so tenaciously to the walls of our memories?

Promises are Made to Be Broken begs many questions, and going from this to that without worrying about the plight or the gravity of one’s intellectual meandering seems to be the lovely pointlessness of it all. Still, one can’t help but be bothered with the dreadful question: Am I a cliché? One possible value of clichés and its ilk is that they are signs or indicators that we are not thinking. Another possibility is that they are retained in our minds to bail us out from an awful weight of profundity, the sort where we would have to kill ourselves once we find out the ineffable truth—or lock ourselves up in fear inside our own mental asylum. In this context, sometimes clichés—easy patterns and inexorable loops of the mind—can save our sanity. But if we truly want to go beyond cliché, perhaps we should prepare for madness.