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Politics of presence. International Dance Day, with Jérika Brito and Ade Suharto.

April 29, 2023, International Day of Dance, with a video specially offered to les humanités by two choreographers, the Mexican Jérika Brito and the Indonesian Ade Suharto. With, as a bonus, an unpublished text from 20 years ago, "Politics of presence".

Dance envasts the Whole-World, in poetics of relation (Edouard Glissant).

On this April 29, 2023, International Dance Day, les humanités make archipelago, with carte blanche offered to two artists who had already generously participated in the first (and only to date) edition of a "festival of humanities", in Ibague, Colombia : the Mexican Jérika Brito and the Indonesian Ade Suharto (now based in Australia).

From their antipodes that a simple gest can bring together, they have woven, for the readers of les humanités, a dialogue from beyond the clouds, in the interdependence of the living and its breathing : LIFE NEVER ENDS, DANCE NEVER STOPS.

I must say a word about each of them, and the meetings that sealed a friendship.

Ade Suharto, first of all. In 2002, I was invited to a dance festival in Singapore, more precisely to the first edition of an "Asia-Europe dance forum". There were plenty of "programmers", and plenty of shows to satisfy their appetite. There were also meetings, informal presentations, which (with rare exceptions) the "programmers" did not venture to attend, because these things have no value in the "performance market". That's how I attended a workshop on traditional dances by an Indonesian choreographer and teacher, Davit Fitrik, from the Jakarta-based Gumarang Saki Dance Company.

"Traditional dances", you know what I mean ? Very nice, but not modern, let alone mainstream for two cents.

Ade Suharto

Amongst the dancers who adorned the gesture with an extraordinarily delicate precision, there was a singular presence: it was Ade. I don't remember how I approached her, what we talked about and all that. I know that we became friends. Ade taught me how to say "warm greetings" in Indonesian: salam hangat.

The last time I saw Ade Suharto was in Belgium, for a show with a beautiful Indonesian singer, which I went to see on purpose. Last year, Ade was invited to a residency by the Pina Bausch Foundation, which is no mean feat. In France, nobody ever wanted to invite her. She would have liked to though, with a Balinese gamelan kept at the Cité de la musique. I tried to talk about it to some "programmers": nobody was interested. When I say nobody, I mean nobody.

Eventually, it's not too late...

Other videos of Ade Suharto to see :

Jérika Brito

Jérika Brito, it's almost the same story, but completely different. In 2009, I was invited to be part of the jury of a choreography competition in Mexico City. Previously, I had always refused this kind of proposal, but here, since I had always been enamored of Latin America and had never set foot there, it was tempting, anyway.

I was the only non-Mexican juror in the competition, everyone was giving me "maestro", I was almost embarrassed. Well, when the maestro went out during a break to smoke a cigarette in the courtyard of the university where the contest was held, I was (gently) reprimanded by the contest organizers: "Maestro, that's not possible here". I immediately put out the cigarette, but it wasn't about that. What was "not possible" was to be in the courtyard, at the risk of rubbing shoulders with dancers/choreographers who could have bribed me ! Hey, they didn't know me... So I was invited to smoke INSIDE the theater, which, theoretically, was forbidden.

Then came the time of the deliberations. Most of the works presented (in 10 minutes) were, let's say, "post Graham". For the prize for best choreography, I had set my sights on a truly contemporary piece. Unfortunately, due to a lighting problem, the presentation of the piece had exceeded the time limit by 30 seconds, which de facto put the choreographer out of the competition. And there, one can be a maestro, but that's the way it is and no other way.

For the prize for the best male interpretation, my co-judges had unanimously chosen a dancer in his sixties who had apparently had a very important pedagogical role in Mexico. Respect : what could I say ?, especially since this elderly dancer had undeniable qualities.

Finally, came the prize for the best female interpretation. Again, my co-judges wanted to distinguish a classical dancer in her sixties...

I then asserted my authority as maestro by taking up a question from Deborah Hay: "what if?

In the competition, there was a piece by a choreographer from Oaxaca, whose name I forget. The piece was not great, and you could hardly see anything (everything was in semi-darkness), but there was something, a sensitive interpretation carried by the two dancers who surrounded the choreographer.

My co-judges first looked at me with eyes as big as flying saucers. But still, I was the maestro. Everything had been recorded, so the video was ordered. And my co-judges agreed: "si, maestro, usted tiene razón, hay algo". So I proposed that the prize for female interpretation be awarded, ex-aequo, to both dancers. But this, again, in Mexico, was strictly impossible. One dancer, but not two.

We watched the video 5 times, I say : 5 times (once again, we could hardly see anything), so that I could say: it seems to me that the dancer on the right (or on the left, I don't know exactly) has a little something more. We watched the video a sixth time, so that once again my co-judges agreed with me : "si, maestro, usted tiene razón".

This is how Jérika Brito received the prize for female interpretation in the Mexico City Choreography Competition in 2006. For the awarding of the prizes, there was a small ceremony, and there, we were finally allowed to talk to the dancers and choreographers. I was able to exchange a few words with Jérika Brito, and I immediately invited her to a project I organized in Caen in 2010, the SKITE (I will talk about it another time). Since then, we have remained friends.

In 2016, Jerika Brito created a piece, Olor a luz (Feel the Light), for which I put her in touch with a great Mexican poetess, almost unknown (even in Mexico): Ambar Paz. There was talk that I could come and watch the rehearsals. But the cost of the trip, plus the carbon footprint: so I intervened in visio-dramaturgy, thanks to Skype, and that was well before Covid and confinements.

Jérika has never (apart from this SKITE project) been invited to France. How long has it been since a dance company (outside Brazil) has been invited to France ?

Eventually, it is not too late... Like Ade Suharto, Jérika Brito is a being of the heart, a ser de corazón. This is worth all the virtuosity in the world.

For the most precious virtuosity is the art of presence.

For the needs of this modest chronicle, I exhumed a text of 2002, remained unpublished, then dedicated to José Antonio Sanchez and Elena Cordoba (an immense choreographer of Madrid, she also never been invited in France), for a meeting in the University of Murcia.

On the left : the Argentinian Roberto Juarroz, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

On the right: the Madrid choreographer Elena Cordoba.

Politics of presence

I / The most beautiful space is when you are there.

The truth is that I would have liked to be here, with you, with you, but I can only offer you my absence. Although, in a way, we are all absent. What we do is almost invisible: who sees it? What we write, or say, is almost clandestine: who reads it, who listens?

Well, we have learned to live with this solitude, with this absence that constitutes us. Socially, we almost don't exist, no matter what illusions we are sometimes offered to distract us.

Really, I would have liked to be here, but in a way I am here, not only because of the words of this text, but because of the feeling of sharing with you a "common space", as one could say of the European space before it was a "common market". And the market is not interested in our absence. Even if it is a very active, very productive, very alive absence. But the value it has is a human value, and this value does not have much price on the "financial markets".

Well, all this is already known, we are not conquerors in the sense of "predators", because what we want to conquer is for everybody; it is not a reserved territory, a private property. We are guerrillas, absent actors of the cultural war, and our guerrilla warfare, to us absent, is called : "politics of presence".

The question is : "cultural action and artistic action".

What does this mean ? In France, at the moment, we have a government that, in order to build thirty new prisons, is going to cut half the budgets for artistic education in schools. Already there was not much of it...

Let's not be mistaken. The words "cultural action" and "artistic action" are the few things that the prison builders leave to the guerrillas that we are.

Every "action" must be cultural and artistic. In this sense, we are not the actors of a play that is played anyway without us; we are the "actionists" of a play that remains to be written, sung, danced...

But of course :

It is not enough to raise hands.

Nor to lower them

or to hide these two gestures

under the intermediate embarrassments.

No gesture is enough,

even if it stands still as a challenge.

There remains only one possible solution:

to open the hands

as if they were leaves.

(Roberto Juarroz, "Vertical Poetry").

II / The most beautiful space is when you are there.

I remember that a few years ago, a project I had realized (it was called SKITE, the name comes from spiritual communities of the 16th century in Russia), was looking for money from the European Community. The idea was very simple: to offer about sixty artists, coming from all over Europe (even Uzbekistan), the possibility to work together for a month, without any production obligation, just to experiment and try new things.

In order to apply for a grant from the European Community, we did not talk about any form of artistic research. These words are too complicated for the bureaucracy. We had written that it was a "pilot project for the continuous training of the actors of the choreographic production in Europe". With barbarians, you have to speak barbarian.

Several weeks after the end of the project, I was invited to a very select hotel in Paris for a "symposium" with representatives of companies, banks, unions, etc. who had also benefited from this same European grant. During the two days of this symposium, I understood almost nothing of what was said. People spoke in French, but with a vocabulary I hardly knew. The language of "marketing" (in this case, the marketing of training) is unthinkably barbaric! I said that at the end of the two-day meeting. And above all, that we had not produced any interactive CD-Rom (at the time, it was very trendy), that the only thing we had produced was... meeting. There was a terrible silence! But for the second edition of this project (in 1994 in Lisbon), without having asked for anything, the grant was renewed and even doubled...

That's how it is. Sometimes, poetry has an incredible strength.

Because the only political question, today, is: how to take possession of reality?

There are no other ways than those of language, of movement, of imagination.

Among the books that should constitute the library of "cultural and artistic action", Poetry and Reality, by Roberto Juarroz, seems to me a fantastic guide.

Roberto Juarroz talks about "the endless invention that is language": "The only way to receive a creation is to create it again. And perhaps to be created with it. More: I think that the only way to recognize reality and to receive it, to be reality, is to create it, by creating and recreating with it. Poetry and reality appear thus as the most intimate affinity offered to the being of the man.

(...) In this relation between poetry and reality, the first condition of any poetry worthy of this name is a rupture: to open the scale of the real. To break the conventional and spasmodic segment of the daily automatisms, to be situated in the real infinite or, if one wants, in "the finished without limits", as some scientists claim it. To assume, through an inevitable dislocation, of the life as of the language, this infinite which begins in every thing and ceases to be thus an anachronistic ornament, a medieval invocation, a mathematical concept or an evanescent and tenebrous reference, as if it were an annoying idea. This implies to keep in mind, among other things, that "the visible is only an example of the real", according to the incomparable expression of Paul Klee, and that "if one cleaned the doors of the perception", as William Blake wanted, "all the things would appear as they are infinite". But this also supposes that we no longer consider limiting ourselves to a place, a country, a language, a life, an era, a literature. It is to understand once and for all that all literature is comparative literature, that all thought is comparative. No escape: poetry opens the scale of the real (space, time, spirit, being, not being) and changes the life, the language, the vision or the experience of the world, the possibility of each one, its creative availability ".

III. The most beautiful space is when you are there.

Sometimes I think that we could prefer Franco's censorship (in Spain); at least it was clear. But I've never lived in a real dictatorship, so it's hard to think about that. I don't know if many people in Europe today live in a real democracy. Because a democracy that does not give enough space to its artists and creators is a false democracy. What are the presuppositions of "cultural and artistic action" in Europe today? In France, we are very rich: the Ministry of Culture eats hardly one percent of the State budget! One percent... But all the politicians (except the extreme right), will say that culture is very important for... many things. But, of course, nothing happens. The money goes to the construction of new prisons. That's culture too!

It must be said that we are led by great impotent people. They say they are going to reduce unemployment? It is increasing. They talk about social justice? Poverty is increasing. They talk about human rights? They applaud Vladimir Putin. And so on.

In this context, what can be the meaning of a "cultural and artistic action"?

Well, the cultural and artistic action should be interested only in power! And of course, I am not talking about the power of imposition in this world, but about the power to create, the power to do something with one's hands, body and head, the power to reinvent power.

In these moments when the power to change reality escapes the power of power, artists are the only ones who, today, transform the matter of power, and this is why they are today so censored, mutilated, instrumentalized...

But we have in our hands the possibility to change this, even if "no gesture is enough, even if it becomes immobile like a challenge", because we really have the real power, which is the power of poetic action.

We don't have money, we don't have an army, we don't have a police force, we don't have anything, but we are really the ministry of culture (with the meaning of each word, we, are, ministry, culture), wherever we are, because "the most beautiful space is when you are there".

Politics of the presence.

The only meaning of "cultural and artistic action" is that each of you can become more beautiful.

(November 25, 2002. For Jose Antonio Sanchez and Elena Cordoba)

Jean-Marc Adolphe

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