“The WE, WE, WE and the I, I, I”

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Introductory text for the Working Group “mass choreographies” by Gabriel Smeets.

Gabriel Smeets is the initiator and moderator of this Working Group. He is artistic director of the “School for New Dance Development (SNDO)” of Amsterdam

In this panel I would like to explore ideas on the individual and the collective, and the single and the mass, focusing on the concepts of solo and mass choreographies.

Last January and February Deborah Hay developed for and with 34 students of the SNDO a mass choreography called Breaking the Chord. Right after the premiere of the piece my colleague, the dramaturge Felix Ritter came up to me and said: “You know, what she is doing is exactly what Peter Brook was referring to when he wrote about the We and The I”.

It goes: “In the sixties and seventies we were always together, did everything together and shared everything together and we would say: We, we, we. In the nineties we were always together, did everything together and shared everything together and we would say: I, I, I.”

The ongoing struggle between individualism and group formation is an antagonism. The antagonism of the irresistible tendency to form a community and at the same time a constant resistance that threatens this community.

The shift from mass choreography into solos and from solos into mass choreographies built on solos seems to run parallel to a some post-modern theories that argue that we’ve reached a point where we are witnessing the end of mass kinds of movements. The reason would be that they relate mass movements to issues of modernity and talk very much about the idea of people being atomized.

We are discovering from many sources, of which the Internet is but one example, that our world is becoming increasingly decentralized. We are dealing with audiences who in fact are very fragmented. They’re often alone in their own lounge rooms, giving us insights in their living rooms, an audience of individuals with web cam, note book, head phone, cell phone. Not actually together in a crowd and so, I think, one of the interesting and important issues is how to understand this change from that period at the middle of the twentieth to the period at the beginning of the twenty first century where there are plenty of mass phenomena but they’re lived and experienced quite differently. A mass choreography now will be choreography of individuals in their own timing and space, relating to a collective, a mass that has its own timing and space.

Amsterdam, April 12, 2010

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