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American dancer and choreographer Eleanor Bauer plays loosely with the codes and concepts of contemporary dance, by opening them up to other domains and disciplines. The result is a body of work that is expressive, multifaceted and multimedial: from improvised talk shows to evening-long ensemble pieces. She has been working for several years in close collaboration with composer Chris Peck. In their latest creation, they confront the mediated post-truth era. New Joy looks to uncover latent meanings in the midst of a world full of chaotic, excessive and absurd forms of public communication created between humans and machines. This data-ist cybermusical travels straight across the boundaries of different registers: from body language and spoken language to computer language and back, from emotional to artificial intelligence, and from movement to sound. Bauer and Peck look for cross-pollinations and translations between aesthetic, social and informational values and processes. New Joy appeals to all of the senses for making sense in a holistic survival training for the twenty-first century – and beyond.
See also: Free School: Nobody's Dance
Concept & direction: Eleanor Bauer & Chris Peck
Created with and performed by: William Bartley Cooper, Kevin Fay, Gina Haller, Michael Lippold, Veronika Nickl*, Anouk Peeters
Text: Eleanor Bauer, Chris Peck, Annett Jarewski, and the performers
Choreography: Eleanor Bauer
Music: Chris Peck
Scenography: Karel Burssens & Jeroen Verrecht / 88888 with Sofie Durnez
Costumes: Sofie Durnez
Light design: Bernd Felder
Sound design & live electronics: Lukas Tobiassen
Artistic advisor: Gaël Santisteva
Assistant director: Annett Jarewski
Scenography & costumes assistant: Tanja Maderner
Vocal coach & outside ear: Fabienne Seveillac
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater
Production: Good Move vzw, Schauspielhaus Bochum
With funding support from The Flemish Authorities, Belgium
Executive Production: Caravan Production
*For these performances Veronika Nickl will be replaced by Gaël Santisteva.Back to top
Eleanor Bauer and Chris Peck talk about New Joy
The performance New Joy seems to have something to do with data algorithms and the computerization of life. To start with a personal question: do you feel you are living in the best of all worlds? How does New Joy respond to that?
Chris Peck: Computers let us do fantastic, magical things with sound, music, and text. Software gets more and more powerful and also easier to use. Is all of this worth the environmental and human costs? I doubt it. This must be too good to be true. If we really wanted to make the world a better place, I think we could probably think of activities with more impact than making theater. So I guess I would say that this question is a pretty challenging one to ask of anyone who spends a lot of their time making art, and it’s also not so much a personal question as a political one. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to write a song if I was thinking very hard about this question. Someday maybe I’ll write a song that I’m really satisfied with, but that’s a personal journey. I’m not sure it’s the best thing for the world.
Eleanor Bauer: I am living in this world, exactly as it is. Making performance for me is a way of being in dialogue with real conditions, in a way that allows aesthetic sensibilities (sound, movement, light, touch, poetics) to be the media in which the conversation takes place.
Where in your life do you notice most that you live in a world increasingly influenced by algorithms?
EB I rarely notice. That’s how and why algorithms work!
CP For now, at least, I think we as humans are still in charge of how algorithms influence the world. Saying that the world is influenced by algorithms is a bit like responding to the problem of gun violence by saying that the world is influenced by metal machining. It would be more meaningful to say that the world is influenced by human behavior – by greed, power, and violence on the one hand and empathy, imagination, and creativity on the other. We can make weapons or we can make instruments of beauty. I’m not some philosopher of technology, but I do think we have to take responsibility for whatever is happening and not just throw up our hands and say it’s the fault of some new compli-cated technology that appears to have its own magical agency just because we don’t understand it very well.
Where or how are you trying to escape/avoid this?
EB I’m more playing with it, than trying to thwart it.
CP I recently started working at a company (Ableton) that makes music software and digital musical instruments. That’s a good place to meet people who don’t get senti-mental about algorithms and computer magic.
Where there should be “new joy”, there must have been “old joy” before. What would that be?
EB Simple and reductive joy.
CP Certainly there have been new joys in the past, but I couldn’t care less about old joys. Nostalgia for simpler times? No thanks! I love simple things and old things, but only if we can keep them new and alive. And what then is the idea of a “new joy”?
EB Complex feelings that emerge from granular sensitivity to the present tense, and are therefore maybe yet-unnamed. Emotional registers that emerge from new struggles with new conditions.
CP I think of it more as a title for the piece than as an idea. It doesn’t need to stand for an idea. I just picked up my paperback of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America to re-read it, and there are a couple of quotes on the back cover. The first is from a publisher that presumably rejected the manuscript: “I gather from the reports that it was not about trout fishing.” The second is from a fly-fishing magazine “Reading Trout Fishing in America won’t help you catch more fish, but it does have something to do with trout fishing.” Similarly, New Joy has something to do with “new joy,” but that doesn’t mean it’s an explanation of “new joy” or a manual for creating “new joy.”
Chris, how would you describe the music in New Joy in your own words?
CP I would describe it as being oriented towards convoluted collaborative processes that we think may result in something that will be interesting, beautiful, funny, or strange. Those aren’t my own words though. I’m just recycling ordinary words. Eleanor and I also have some of our own words that we use, such as the term “compostition”.
How did you go about composing? To what extent has it influenced your work that there is no band on stage?
CP We make a lot of mistakes and try to learn from them and make more interesting mistakes. If there was a certain kind of band on stage, they would make the kinds of mistakes which that kind of band makes. Since there isn’t that kind of band, we have to look for situations that will create different kinds of mistakes with the kind of band we do have. In Meyoucycle we attempted to make a band out of a group of very fine contemporary chamber musicians. This was a nice experience for me as a composer/musician/songwriter, but it certainly didn’t turn out how I imagined it might at the beginning. In New Joy we attempt to make a band out of a group of actors, dancers, and electronics. This is also not turning out how I thought it would, but it’s not a disappointment. I must like challenging surprises, because I keep gravitating towards this way of working. Also, even if we don’t have a band visible on stage per se, we do have Lukas Tobiassen behind the curtain pulling the magical electroacoustic levers.
Eleanor, many of the lyrics that are spoken or sung do not follow conventional logic or coherence. Why?
EB What is conventional logic in experimental artwork?
CP Your question makes me wonder if you’ve ever listened to song lyrics before! Coherence is certainly not the norm. When Bowie sings “hay-leebo sa-yo-mye, say men co-raerro, mah lee-ooo, mah leeoooooooooo” do you ask why? Maybe it’s unconventional to hear some nonsense in a song in a theatrical context if you’re conditioned to expect lyrics to be advancing a plot or elaborating on a dramatic situation?
Some of the performers have also contributed text to the performance. The rehearsal phases were divided into three blocks. – Please describe in your own words how you work and how New Joy was created.
EB I work differently in each piece, taking my tools with me but usually looking for new methods. The performers’ own writing was a part of that journey. In the first working period the performers did some auto-fill phone writing, as well as writing from their dancing, which are practices I’ve been working with for a while already. In the second working period, we started a daily “Theatrical Compost” ritual, in which everyone presented maximum 2 minutes of anything in any medium (video, writing, dancing, etcetera) to the group, after which everyone wrote (with pencil and paper) for a maximum of 5 minutes, in an attempt to combine what seemed unpredictably related from those fragments through poetry or narrative or whatever kind of writing seemed appropriate to whatever meaning could be “gleaned” from the combination of all those things. Then one person in the group each day would collect all of those writings and edit them down into a short theater scene or “digest.” A handful of those scenes are in the piece, in some edited or partial form. In the third and final rehearsal period, the performers individually created their own “Tekst Sludge” – a text that can be like a base substance for working with text in any number of ways thereafter. Everyone’s “Tekst Sludge” started from a cut-up writing process wherein each person chose their own sources (for example all of the opening and closing lines of all comedy specials on Netflix, or the third sentence from all of someone’s emails from 2015, or all of the seven letter words in a favorite book of poems, etc.), and then worked with arranging this collected material in to some sort of subjective sense. Some of those texts also went through several rounds of Google Translate, selecting the order of languages according to some logic derived from the tekst or theme. The way each person’s “Sludge” was edited and finalized was different for each performer, based on their current interests and ways of making sense. Those texts are all in the piece somewhere.
CP We had a lot of fun with the performers in that first rehearsal period, especially when it came to lunchtime. We made some very elaborate potluck lunches that became the core of our process for the first few weeks. I think the contributions of cooking were on the whole more personal and perhaps even more significant than the contributions of text. The other rehearsal periods were increasingly more conventional as we approached the premiere, which is a shame, but probably hard to avoid. We also imported a fair amount of musical material, songs, and texts that Eleanor and I worked on over the last few years before we even met the performers, some of which were further revised and elaborated on with their help. In the end, I hope there’s still some trace of potluck joy in the work on stage.
A motto for New Joy was: “From nonsense to nuisance to new sense”. What form of new sense or new sensuality could there be at the end of the performance?
EB The motto you are referring to actually originates in our 2012 creation Tentative Assembly. Nuisance is the necessary ingredient of friction or trouble that transforms nonsense into new sense. As for what that new sense is, I would prefer not to limit its potential by deciding in advance, otherwise it wouldn’t be new! The point is that I cannot know, and whatever I think it is is not what someone different from me would think, so the point is to give everyone the space to discover their own new sense.
Interview by Vasco Boenisch,
originally published by Schauspielhaus Bochum
Eleanor Bauer is a performer and choreographer whose work is a profound synthesis of physical, conceptual, affective, formal, and aesthetic understandings. From talk shows to evening-length ensemble pieces, her versatile works range in scale, media, and genre, traversing different methods and categories of performance. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bauer studied at Idyllwild Arts Academy in California, holds a BFA in Dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and completed the Research Cycle at P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels. She was artist in residence at Kaaitheater in Brussels from 2013 to 2016 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Choreography at Stockholm University of the Arts. She has been producing performances via GoodMove vzw in Brussels since 2007.
Chris Peck is a composer, computer musician, and improviser who often collaborates with contemporary dance and theater. He holds an MA from the Electro-Acoustic Music program at Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in Composition and Computer Technologies from the University of Virginia. From 2015 to 2017, Peck taught music courses in the Global Arts Studies Program at the University of California, Merced, directed an Experimental Inter-Arts Ensemble, and developed web-based software tools for music theory and ear training. Last year he relocated to Berlin to join the Learning Team at Ableton (learningmusic.ableton.com).
Eleanor Bauer and Chris Peck have collaborated since 2003, creating several works together over the years, including the trilogy of A Dance For The Newest Age (the triangle piece), Tentative Assembly (the tent piece), and Midday and Eternity (the time piece). With their political sci-fi musical Meyoucycle, shown at Ruhrtriennale and Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2016, Bauer and Peck pushed the depth and breadth of their collaboration, opening up a whole new terrain of co-authored entanglement between writing, dance, and music, which continues in their latest production New Joy.