Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
September 8, 2016
Boris Charmatz: If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse? Tate Modern.
Exhibition schedule: Tate Modern, London, May 15–16, 2015
Boris Charmatz. Levée des conflits (2015). Photograph by Tamara Tomic-Vajagic.

[See the multimedia version on Scalar.]

Adrénaline: A Dance Floor for Everyone

Adrénaline: A Dance Floor for Everyone, an open disco hour reminiscent of a pop-up dance club, emerged twice a day at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, under a shimmering giant disco ball. Led by the enticing sets of DJ Oneman and DJ Jonjo Jury, respectively, this event was undoubtedly democratic and welcoming, fulfilling the premise of a communal celebration of the act of dancing. (I write about Saturday, May 16, 2015, which featured DJ Oneman during the first Adrénaline hour [5:15 pm–6:15 pm] and DJ Jonjo Jury [6:45 pm–8:15 pm] at the second, longer section of it. On May 15, the same timetable also featured DJ Oneman’s hour first, but the later slot was DJ Nathan G. Wilkins’s set.) As arguably the least structured part of the program, it also functioned as a moment of respite for all participants, and as a reset opportunity in the midst of a variety of choreographed inter/activities.

Having participated in one day-cycle of the weekend event, and having exchanged impressions with friends in attendance, I came to the conclusion that one’s perception of If Tate Modern Was Musée de la Danse? was contingent upon one’s participation in Adrénaline. Those who stayed felt more positively toward the entire event than those who did not. In some sense, then, Adrénaline was the glue that could amalgamate the heterogeneous events programmed by Boris Charmatz. Yet, the notion of Adrénaline as a coagulator seems inherently alien to the porous nature of this dancing interval. A dialectic emerged from the ambiguity of Adrénaline’s nature as a “non-event” relative to the choreographically induced act of dancing.

Sandwiched in between performances of clearly recognizable choreographic works, Adrénaline as an hour of “just dancing” interrupted the flow of Charmatz’s more conceptual, cerebral dances. Its in-between position suggested that it functioned as an interlude, maybe even a filler, that facilitated preparations of the “real” performances. Repeated twice, Adrénaline therefore provided welcome slip-outs and meal escapes for many a committed visitor entrenched at the Tate for the weekend. This is probably why some visitors missed it altogether.

For those of us who stayed, here was an event in which to immerse oneself without being asked to view anything, understand anything, or learn anything. There was no need to move over or to back away from the invisible stanchions that triggered alarms as people clustered to watch performances of Twenty Dances for the XX Century. Such “breather” moments were important, because the full day supplied viewers with both sublime and faintly annoying experiences. One would bump into attendants asking visitors to clear out of an area as it was time for the next “stage” set up; a theater shusher or two occasionally attempted to maintain orderly conduct in the gallery rooms. During Adrénaline, however, at last no one felt inadequate, or in anyone else’s way; there was no discrepancy between the cultures of museum-going and theater attendance, no need to behave in a particular manner, no pressure to conform to conventions of viewing.

A possibility to inhabit the museum-as-social-dance-floor thus became an enticing catalyst, for more than just busting some moves. This freedom was perhaps the best part of Adrénaline: the suspension of “art” and artfulness opened a myriad of beautiful impulses to shake, sway, and occasionally spin. In that free space, some new dancers for the twenty-first century, borrowing here the title of Charmatz’s Tate event, revealed themselves. Though in some ways Adrénaline’s free-for-all functioned as a foil for the display of professional dancers in the choreographed works in If Tate Modern Was Musée de la Danse?, it also became a platform for some awesome dancers whose performances emerged organically. An unforgettable dance by a pre-teen b-boy dazzled us all; his smooth floating, cwalking, and gliding were made even dreamier by the dotted moonlight effect of the gigantic disco ball.

In spite of Adrénaline’s apparent simplicity, close examination reveals its conceptual aspects. The disco ball clearly marked the Turbine Hall as a dance “stage.” The ball—present throughout the day, but only functional during Adrénaline—offered a visualization of the overarching question, “If Tate Modern was Musée de la Danse?” It was a striking symbol of the blurring between the two art worlds. Moreover, this magnified disco ball belonged to both traditions equally. It was a mobile, that is to say, a modern sculpture; it was also a choreographic object, a performative artifact that prompts and inspires, an invitation to dance, an extended hand.

Interjecting itself somewhat surreptitiously into a larger exchange between dance and art, Adrénaline thus contributed to the investigation of the title question of Charmatz’s work. It served as an embodied think tank, a place to freestyle and experiment. It is in this sense that it became a distant kin, or the other side of a coin, to expo zéro, an event more explicitly envisioned by Charmatz as an exploratory site of proposals for a museum of dance.

expo zéro

expo zéro was described on the online event page as “an exhibition project without any objects” and a meeting place for a diverse group of ten international performance and dance artists and scholars who were invited to “discuss, enact and perform” their proposals for a “museum of dance.” In this sense, the event was envisioned as a hub for the overarching concept of Charmatz’s museum of dance. The gathering was situated in a collection of unmarked white-box galleries. The dynamics of each meeting and room were distinctive. Popping into one would lead to an encounter with British performance artist Tim Etchells, who performed delicious walkabout soliloquies; contemporary Thai dance artist Pichet Klunchun, in another, was quiet and withdrawn into slow-motion movement introspections. Although discrete, because it was a bit tucked away from the other events, expo zéro functioned as a kind of viaduct that indirectly helped the visitor to transverse back and forth between the surrounding ideas on offer both in the Turbine Hall and by the dancers scattered in galleries throughout the building.

Like Adrénaline, expo zéro manifested a state of in-betweenness. In both, viewers and participants saw Charmatz giving up a certain degree of control, inviting chance and exploration into the project; both projects also relinquished the museum/dance binary in favor of hybrid forms. Given the vaguely anthropological tone of Charmatz’s experimentation with the museum, it is perhaps not surprising that the liminal spaces emerging in these two parts of his work might be theorized by the concepts proposed by anthropologist Victor Turner, who studied ritual structures in relation to individuals and communities: although in this case not people but places, the suspended states of both Adrénaline and expo zéro are “at once no longer classified and not yet classified” (Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols, Ithaca: Cornell University Press,1967, 96). This liminal dimension has ontological implications, as it equally negates “all positive structural assertions,” while it is “in some sense the source of them all” (97). Charmatz’s two events were also suspended realms of “possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (ibid.).

Charmatz’s proposals crack open existing structures—the museum, the theater—that have traditionally hosted the relationships and encounters of these forms (art and dance, respectively). Particularly, perhaps, the thinking spaces of expo zéro help us to see that the answer might be in the very interrogation of the governing principles and conventions for museum and theaters. By keeping this process open, some new relational configurations between dance and the visual concept of art museum might be revealed.

Tamara Tomic-Vajagic
Senior Lecturer, Department of Dance, University of Roehampton, London