Dance as documentary: violence and the political body in the work of Arkadi Zaides

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

Notes and interview based on the talk "Border Archives" by Arkadi Zaides, Saturday 27 October 2018; see interview with Arkadi Zaides here.


Thématiques communes : #performance #frontières #corps en jeu #altérité #langage

Sujets spécifiques: #mouvement #geste #danse #théâtre documentaire #théâtre politique



Arkadi Zaides opened an exhilarating discussion on the idea of dance as documentary, representing the confliction of images in the geographic mirror. If documentary theatre has typically been built on the practice of verbatim, Zaides proposes transferring this to the sphere of movement, through a process he terms “gesting”.


To facilitate this concept, Zaides has carried out practice-based research into the use of movement analytics to build the performance based on Laban movement principles, interwoven with archive footage of real events, sounds and texts.


One of the objectives is to question the attentiveness of the audience: when we watch violence, are we really engaging or do we create an emotional distance from it? The gestures are designed to convince the audience to make a certain assessment of reality. The performance, according to Zaides, is a process which involves first watching, then engaging. The audience needs to access the original material or rather the overall context of it and to facilitate this, the movement is often done on top of the documentary footage. The audience’s reaction is derived from their encounter with the material. The very accumulation of material has an emotional effect, but can this also awaken the audience’s critical engagement?


Zaides notes that the process of re-enactment – re-staging existing situations – is frequently explored in theatre. However, in common with Thomas Bellinck, he views it also as a forum for pre-enactment: using performance to build an imagined vision of the future. He plays with archive and the use of repetition as a device.


He also notes the distancing effect of using languages that are not our mother tongue, notably English, to build the performance text. The use of different languages is indeed a point of increasing significance for theatre practitioners, and the debate around the ways of navigating this challenge varies from person to person. Milo Rao, for example, makes a point in his manifesto that every piece of theatre he makes must obligatorily include a minimum of three different languages. Sometimes, sounds alone are sufficient to convey meaning, and this is acknowledged by Zaides as well as, elsewhere in the conference, the work of the artists involved in the project “L’Encyclopédie de la parole”.


In his project Talos, Zaides uses an EU-funded scheme to protect European land borders by replacing human border guards with robots as a platform to raise the question of how we promote an ideology. The setting of the choreography in the context of borders is prescient in the context of resurgent nationalism where these lines on a map assume a disproportionate importance in spite of the increasing fluidity of movement across them.

This project is only the latest in Zaides’ fascinating and innovative use of the political body and choreographic dramaturgy to critically interrogate political and social ideologies and behaviours. A vital dialogue which is needed ever more urgently in a world in which we are surrounded by news and images of violence but often find ourselves powerless or – more worryingly – too numb to react.


©2020 by Observatoire Critique.

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