The Karaoke Dialogues

21, 22, 23/05 – 20:30
24/05 – 18:00
EN > NL / FR
± 1h 30min

American choreographer Daniel Linehan, who established himself in Brussels in 2008, is well on his way to gaining a place among the greats in the dance world. In previous pieces, he walked the line between dance and non-dance with boundless creativity and much gusto. This he also does in his latest creation, performing it on the big stage for the first time. The Karaoke Dialogues is a comedy in which Linehan applies the choreographic principles of karaoke (you read that right!) to the great classics of the literary and philosophical canon. The texts – about strong personalities just prior to their certain ruin – are a hodgepodge of quotes, each with their own structure, rhythm, and meaning. By interpreting them in unison – in words and movement – seven dancers multiply the peculiarities of each text. The words determine the rhythm of the dance. At the intersection of the individual approach to the text scores and the dynamics of the collective choreography arises a compelling tragicomedy. Remarkable.

Concept & choreography
Daniel Linehan

Dance & creation
Cédric Andrieux/Daniel Linehan, Yumiko Funaya, Néstor García Díaz, Kennis Hawkins, Anneleen Keppens, Anne Pajunen, Víctor Pérez Armero

Aaron Schuster


Lighting design
Jan Fedinger

Costume design
Frédérick Denis

Technical coordination
Elke Verachtert

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater

Executive production
Caravan Production (Brussels)

International distribution
Damien Valette (Paris)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Opéra de Lille, Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis (Paris), Vooruit Kunstencentrum (Gent) Residencies Kaaitheater (Brussels), deSingel (Antwerp), Opéra de Lille, PACT Zollverein (Essen)

With the support of
Vlaamse Overheid, Départs/European Commission (Culture programme)

Subtitling supported by

Kaaitheater (Brussels), deSingel International Arts Campus (Antwerp), Opéra de Lille, PACT Zollverein/CZNRW (Essen)

Daniel Linehan is Artist-in-Residence at Opéra de Lille since January 2013, Artiste Associé 2012-2014 at deSingel (Antwerp) & New Wave Associate 2012-2014 at Sadler’s Wells (London)

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Conversation about Dialogues as Karaoke

Aaron Schuster When was the first time you did karaoke?

Daniel Linehan Well, it’s not as if I spent lots of hours in karaoke bars researching for the piece, but I borrowed the format as a kind of ready-made, a popular form that I wanted to completely modify and repurpose for dance.

AS Karaoke is actually a specific kind of theater.

DL It’s theater in the second degree: in karaoke you don’t directly play a role but you play at playing. I am not becoming Whitney Houston when I sing her song, but I am playing at becoming her.

AS What I find interesting about karaoke is its democratic and popular appeal: in karaoke anyone can have access to an artwork (a song) and can reenact it themselves, and thus in a way personalize and own it.

DL In fact, we’ve changed karaoke from its usual format. Here it’s a kind of professionalized karaoke. It appears like you could go onstage and read along with the dancers, but in fact, everything is tightly choreographed to the text.

AS That’s interesting. So if in karaoke one plays at playing, or performs a performance, then in The Karaoke Dialogues there is a playing at playing at playing… a simulacrum of karaoke. The head goes dizzy!

DL Yes, and yet even though there is this distance, there is also this immediate engagement of the dancer. The text on the screen changes, and they are in a state of readiness – ready to respond to the change. They have a distance from portraying a character, but there is an immediacy in the relationship between the dancer and the screen.

AS In a way, the dancer is a slave to the text, they have to keep up with the rhythm of the text on the screen, so there is this external guide that presses them forward. And you feel this constraint in the performance. The performers do not exactly ‘own’ the text, they are not expressing it, but rather they are reciting it, following it, having to keep up, to keep the pace.

DL Yes, sometimes it’s a problem. Because I don’t want to make the dancers slaves to the text, and they don’t want to be slaves. I think there is an interesting tension there. In pop music karaoke, you are a slave to the rhythm of a pre-recorded song, but you also really want to do a relatively good rendition of the song. Part of the point in rehearsals has been for the dancers to feel like they have mastered their dancing material, so that they can also play a game with the text, and make subtle choices in the moment that maintain the text and also maintain their active engagement, so they are not feeling under control of the system.

AS But is this not always the case? Unless you are doing pure improvisation, you have to learn some external material, which then you internalize, so that it looks like and feels like a personal expression. Here the gap between inner expression and outer constraint is itself put onstage. Of course the dancers have rehearsed many times and know the material. But in the performance, you still have this sense of a gap between the performers and the material.

DL Yes, that’s a good point. Choreography is always ‘written’, but the writing is often invisible. Here it’s like the karaoke is making the writing of the dance more visible for the public. Instead of trying to hide the artifice behind the performance, we’re putting it on full display.

AS You could say that the karaoke device actually renders explicit something that is involved in all performance. It denaturalizes the link between the performer and what they are expressing. I think this is made even more explicit by the choice of material. Normally karaoke is about pop music, but here the dancers are karaokizing the classics of Western literature and philosophy: Plato, Aeschylus, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, Freud. Why did you pick these texts?

DL Pop music is a kind of widely shared culture, and I wanted to think of a different kind of widely shared culture, so I chose to borrow texts from well-known classics.

AS It would be funny to imagine the texts in strange kind of dialogue: Kafka goes to the karaoke bar and performs a dialogue of Plato, who is in the next room reading Raskolnikov off a screen.

DL And don’t forget that the dancers are doubling each other’s roles and replacing each other as well. It could mean that the dancer as an individual is able to enact any of these characters, but I also like the idea that Josef K. is playing Plato, who’s playing Freud…

AS Probably psychoanalysis here is a good reference. You could say that one of the basic experiences of analysis is this feeling of karaoke: the words that you think are your own are revealed as belonging to a script that you are unconsciously reciting. Could you imagine having a conversation with a friend, and then realizing that over your friend’s shoulder there is a screen with the text you are speaking?

DL Another important feature of standard karaoke is that there is music, a backup track. But we’ve stripped all that away, and just kept the fact of reading text on a screen.

AS Maybe the Republic was originally a song, but we’ve lost the music… all we have left is the lyrics.

DL Well that’s the way that the classics were kept alive before writing. The poets would sing Homer’s epics, for example, but now we’ve lost the song, and all we have left is the text.

AS Or maybe the Republic wasn’t originally a song but a dance. At the origin of the state there’s people dancing: this would be the first form of sociality, a coordination of movements in space.

DL As if Plato saw a dance and transcribed it into a text that became the Republic. The opposite procedure as what we are doing. I like that.

AS What is the relationship between movement and text in this piece? How closely linked is the choreography to the text? My impression is that they don’t form an organic whole. And it’s not really a question of translating the texts into dance. Sometimes it feels like the movement is interrupting what would be the natural rhythm of the text, at other times that the text is forcing the choreography in odd directions. Maybe the real dialogue in The Karaoke Dialogues is not the one between the classics, but between movement and text.

DL It’s true. There are moments where the two seem to come together to form a whole, but there are also many moments of tension between the movement and the text. The dancers have told me that it is difficult to remember the dance material, because it has no physical flow. One movement does not flow into the next, everything is chopped up. It would seem like they could just memorize the text and memorize the movement, but actually, the karaoke is often essential. The dancer doesn't remember their next movement until they see the word, and then that triggers their physical memory.

AS Let’s talk a little about how the theme of the law and a legal trial figure in this performance.

DL Although the texts come from six different sources, the piece is organized as if it is telling one story of a legal process. It is interesting to think that all of these texts could somehow form one single story, organized into chapters: Laws, Crime, Investigation, Verdict, Appeal, Punishment.

AS You’ve assembled texts that deal in different ways with the problem of law, moving from a classical conception to a modern one. In Plato and Aeschylus, the challenge is creating a legal order, but in the modern texts, like Kafka and Freud, the problem seems more like escaping from such an order: we are already guilty and condemned, even before we know what crime we’ve committed.

DL I think that the piece starts in a state of simplicity: establish laws, punish criminals, as if it is easy to make black and white distinctions. But over time things get more complicated. In Kafka, you are arrested, but you aren’t convicted, you are considered guilty, but you aren’t declared guilty, but you are going to be declared guilty after the legal process has finished, which will not take place before the end of your lifetime. This is the predicament that Josef K. finds himself in.

AS Does K. stand for Karaoke? Josef Karaoke caught up in a process beyond his control…

DL We come back to the theme of control. One might think that the dancers are also being controlled by the karaoke machine. On the other hand, they often seems to be very much in control of their dancing. Sometimes, it seems that they become so engaged with the karaoke machine that they are actually controlling it. In this piece, there is a constant dialectic between self-expression and external control.

AS Maybe there is another connection to the theme of the law. It makes me think of the Kafka story In the Penal Colony, where the sentences of the condemned are directly written on the body by a monstrous tattooing machine. The point that’s relevant here is the idea that law is not only a matter of texts and interpretations but also a kind of ‘writing on the body’, a form of discipline and constraint applied to bodies and a form of action. The relation between text and movement in The Karaoke Dialogues, thematized under the aspect of law, is also a relation internal to the law itself.

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Daniel Linehan worked as a dancer and choreographer in New York before moving to Brussels in 2008 where he completed the Research Cycle at P.A.R.T.S. As a performer, Linehan has worked with Miguel Gutierrez and Big Art Group among other artists. He was also a 2007-2008 Movement Research artist-in-residence. Linehan’s own choreographic work is intent on softly obscuring the line that separates dance from everything else. He approaches performance-making from the point of view of a curious amateur, testing various interactions between dance and non-dance forms, searching for unlikely conjunctions, juxtapositions and parallels between texts, movements, images, songs, videos and rhythms. In New York, he created text-based and dance-based performances with a team of four other dancers, and also collaborated with Michael Helland on multiple duets. In 2007 he premiered the solo Not About Everything, which has since been performed in over 50 venues internationally. His most recent projects include Montage for Three (2009), Being Together Without any Voice (2010), Zombie Aporia (2011) and Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost (2012). In 2013 he created the book A No Can Make Space. His latest creation, The Karaoke Dialogues , will premiere in May 2014. Daniel Linehan is currently associate artist 2012-2014 at deSingel International Arts Campus (Antwerp), and has been artist-in-residence at Opéra de Lille since January 2013 and New Wave Associate 2012-2014 at Sadler’s Wells in London.

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