The Death of the Choreographer?

Louise Ahl



BA Hons Choreography

Dartington College of Arts

Katrina Brown for supervision. Luke Wilson for proofreading, feedback and ongoing support. Sara Erskine for solving textual issues. Christopher Engdahl and Yair Vardi for providing me with your theses.


Contents Page

Acknowledgements ..................................................................................................2 Contents Page...........................................................................................................3 Introduction - Nobody is the owner of dance..........................................................4 Chapter 1 – Dance as language................................................................................8 Chapter 2 – Barthes' Death? ...................................................................................9 2.1 What and who is a choreographer? .....................................................................12 Chapter 3 – Protected movements.........................................................................17 Chapter 4 – Recycling dance .................................................................................24 4.1 The trace of movements .....................................................................................14 Conclusion - What happens after the funeral? .....................................................28 Bibliography...........................................................................................................32


Introduction Nobody is the owner of dance
The general conception of a choreographer is a person that invents and composes dance movements - a practical inventor of physical movement. The choreographer “comes up” with the idea for a dance piece, arranges it and creates a performance that is finally signed with the choreographer’s name. However there is no such thing as a person who “invents” new movements. The movements have always been there, existed and vanished - to return to a new context in which they can be cited. The choreographer can therefore never produce “new” movements, only re-iterate what was previously made, and therefore a choreographer cannot claim any authorship over movements. If the title “choreographer” was removed there would be no one who could claim the ownership of dance and movements because nobody can “own” a movement. Or could they? Even though the title of this paper suggests a somewhat pessimistic future awaiting the choreographer, or a downbeat of dance, this is not a paper that intends to put an end to things. Instead, it aims to encourage new beginnings and openings through the gesture of closing. Even though the closing motion might not be the most beneficial in examining the choreographer’s death, let us (for the sake of dissecting the choreographic role) propose this death for real and declare that the choreographer does not exist. People will still dance. People might even dance on stage, as a performance. However, nobody would claim the ownership of this dance. Could this be achievable? Can a dance piece exist without a choreographer?

Throughout my choreography education, I have been concerned with trying to make dance that is original and “new”, as this is something that is encouraged for dance artists and


expected in the field of performance, but I realised that this is not possible, or perhaps even interesting. Dance works with the body as a medium of communicating choreographic material and dancers can make a number of movements in different combinations and different qualities. However, there are always traces from or similarities with other styles of dance. In a literary context Jeff Collins writes that ‘writing is writing always with stolen words’ (Collins, 1996, p. 84). This quote is just as applicable to all other art forms. In literature letters are always used as a starting point but they are not the creation of the author and yet they form the basis of every text. New words can be invented to some degree, but always used so that a new text comes out of it. The same theory works for a painter, there are a number of pigments that can be used to make a number of colours - and after that make a painting as something new. The same thing applies to music, notes, melodies Et cetera. In dance choreographers work with the body as the letters or pigments, and can make a number of movements in different combinations and different qualities, but somebody familiar with dance can always see traces of, or similarities with other pieces. In the end the dance will be a ‘mosaic of citations’ (Burke, 1998, p. 193) made up by movements that have been executed many times before.

In principle, fragments of all potential dance have already been done. Choreographers today are just producing new structures for how to perceive this dance. The dance of today is therefore working with re-enactments and repetition, “stolen” movements whether choreographers desire it or not. Dance as an art form invites and uses anti-authorial structures as a mode of production and through the process of creation the choreographer loses the authorial claim to the movement material. So how is it that a choreographer is able to copyright their pieces, and claim them as “their own”?


Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author, written in 1967, was the starting point for this research writing, and through reading this essay, and applying his theory around authorship onto dance I will also criticise Barthes message in relation to my own proposal of “the death of the choreographer”. The author that Barthes discusses is easily applied to the author of dance - the choreographer. Further research has been focused around other theorists (Michel Foucalt and Jacques Derrida) and their critics who discusses the author and its function philosophically and in relation to the text. In the texts written by the above mentioned authors, the “author” is normally referred to as a masculine person, but for the purpose of this paper I will refer to the author figure (whether this be in literature or dance) in both its feminine and masculine form as “s/he”. In a situation of a possessive form I will write “her” before “his” (as “her/his”) and “her/him” Et cetera. This is for the reason of placing my own gender as the “first” person and through this being represented in the text.

For the next chapters I will present and question anti-authorial theories as well as propose my own in the context of dance. I will (as described in the next chapter) translate “text” into “movements, dance and choreography” and vice versa, for the reason to apply anti-authorial theories that concerns text as found in literature - to the context of dance. The issues concerning ownership in dance will be presented in relation to The Copyright Act and the conclusion will concern the problematics an anti-authorial claim poses and if there is a need to claim the choreographer as dead.

It is a fine line when one wants to decide to whom the authority over a piece of work belongs as creative artists’ influence from other artists is inevitably a crucial or even necessary part of the work. A choreographer goes to see performances, analyses them thus imbedding the images into her/his brain with or without their intention. When a creative process starts these


images resurface, but how can the choreographer at this point define what is her/his own ideas and what is the influence from other artists? Methods that are frequently in use by choreographers, such as tasks given to dancers to create movement material, or collaborative modes of working deliberately complicates any attempt at concluding to whom authorship belongs. It is impossible to try to define a difference between one’s own thoughts and those of others, how can one then decide what is plagiarism or not? Foucalt asks us: ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’ (Foucalt, 1984, p. 120). Does the personal life, status and authority of the choreographer really matter? If we watch a performance, what difference does it make if we know who made it? Is it really possible to kill the choreographer?


Chapter 1 – Dance as language
To be able to analyse dance and its choreographic structures by using literary and philosophical theory, it is here necessary to give a rough definition of what dance is and represents in this paper. When we talk about dance we prescribe it to have a movement language. This language is constructed by different movements a body can make (letters or signs as a comparison). When separated, these letters are hard to read and impossible to situate and analyse without a context. The movement language is structured upon some of the foundations that literature is built upon. Karmen MacKendrick suggests that: ‘In dance movement, stillness plays the role that silence plays for literary language.’ (MacKendrick, 2004, p. 145). Even though MacKendrick should write “spoken language” instead of “literary language” as silence is clearer in speech than in writing, there is a comprehensible connection between the language of literature and that of dance. In the same way as single letters could be placed in a context where we have not seen them before, movements can operate similarly. When letters are put together, to sequences, or in a specific context – a meaning has been formed, and this is possible to read – a language. A movement language is built around the constructs of separate movements linked in sequences or placed choreographically in space so that a framework for the movements has been set up. It therefore makes sense to make a link between dance as language and choreography as its written form as ‘dance cannot be imagined without writing’ (Lepecki, 2004, p. 124) and ‘does not exists outside writing’s space’. (Lepecki, 2004, p. 124). Choreography can be written down (notated), representing a body of writing in a scripted form of dance, and come to life through the reading of an audience as the live communication of this notation. There are as many ways of notating choreography (even though the established systems for this are not well-known) as there are ways of communicating it, but the essence of its function is based around language. When the 8

dancing body perform its movements the text in form of dance moves are sent out in space – writing the dance.

The word “choreography” derives from a dance manual from 1588 that was entitled Orchesographie, ‘literally, the writing, graphie, of the dance, orchesis’, (Lepecki, 2006, p. 67) written by Thoinot Arbeau. The formation of choreography was at this time based around the body as ‘disciplined to move according to the commands of writing.’ (Lepecki, 2006, p. 6). Basically, dance was a type of writing and no distinction was made between dance and writing. However, it is not for a purely literal meaning of the word choreography that the connection with dance and literature exists. Since the 20th century it appeared some developed notation systems for dance that would be used as a strategy to create and read choreography. Today the existing notation systems for dance, such as Labanotation or Benesh (Encyclopaedia Britannica (1981) vol. 4, 15th ed.) are not of common use and would be difficult to rely on when describing choreography even though dance can exist without the real bodies of dancers. (Lepecki, 2004, p. 126). Choreographers today make use of filming rehearsals and making drawings to document their work, however challenging and impossible it may seem to document or “write down” something as ephemeral as dance. Other means of documentation are used by choreographers, but the concept of “writing” as described in this paper remains.

The connection between writing and dance is made visible when Ellen Goellner and Jacqueline Shea Murphy write about the two areas as a possible unit. (Goellner and Shea Murphy, 1995). They see an ongoing dialogue between literary studies and dance studies, each subject area nurturing the other with knowledge. Dance studies and the way we read dance could benefit from theories that literally studies have already developed and use the


way its critics read text, ‘especially given dance’s unstable meanings, its dense net of reference to other movements, and its complexity of structured reiterations and variations’. (Goellner and Shea Murphy, 1995, p. ix). Because of these similarities, ‘written signs are as unstable and fleeting as dance-steps’ (Lepecki, 2004, p. 135) and the boundaries between a text and choreography are vague and even inter-changeable. In as much the subject (text) and its author can be separated, it should be possible to separate the choreographer from the dance, whereas the author’s relation to the text in both cases are of a matching kind. But does the writer of dance – the choreographer have to die in order for this to happen?


Chapter 2 – Barthes’ Death? Barthes declares: ‘Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.’(Barthes, 1977, p. 142). To clarify why Barthes in juxtaposition with other philosophers in the 20th century so forcefully attacks the author it is first necessary to analyse the background to the concept of the author itself.

The author is conceived of as a person with a great deal of power. A person whom we can rely on, and whose texts are of the most precious value, only through the nature of the work and the belonging authority one can claim through it. ‘The Author is treated as an “intelligible being” from whom a text emerges as from a “deep” motive, a “creative” power’. (Westphal, 2002, p. 29). The work – the text, has been seen as secondary, an additive to the person behind its creation. Barthes, Foucalt and Derrida wanted to separate the mode of communication (writing) from the author of the writing so that it could stand up on its own, without depending on the author’s intentions for its meaning. If the text is free of the author’s intention, then we can see it in its own right and not through the mindset of the person who wrote it. (Royle, 2003). A text free from its context is also free from assumptions that will affect how we will perceive it. Derrida writes: ‘There is nothing but context’. (Derrida cited in Royle, 2003, p. 65). What Derrida means is that because the text gains its meaning through the context, the value therefore lies within the context, rather than the subject (text).

To place this theory in the context of this paper, we can conclude that if the audience can free themselves from dependency on the choreographer’s intentions to define the meaning of a piece then they would be left free to generate their own interpretations of what the dance means to them based on their individual understanding of the piece (context). What Barthes


mainly brings forth with the above quote (“writing is the destruction….”) is that through writing a text authors enters into a system which they have not created themselves. The system is the product of a common understanding about what is meant through a certain word or phrase in language. Through entering this system the authors can no longer be said to be the sole creator or origin of their work as the system of language precedes them. Just as there can be said to be no origin, there can also be said to be no final destination (meaning) because there are countless different interpretations of the author’s texts based on differing contexts. For every new context that the text appears in, a new meaning needs to be created as the text cannot be identified by itself. The author therefore loses her/his “voice” as the language is the constructor of this voice and the language is a system that belongs to everybody. The choreographer can be recognised in this situation as being lost in the system of language (dance vocabulary) and will not through the action of dancing know how to be an originator. This is a vocabulary that already exists and through using it “the point of origin” disappears.

Barthes removes the author of a piece and therefore removes the authority they have on the interpretation of the piece. Barthes writes: ‘To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing’. (Barthes, 1977, p. 147). This limitation will affect the reader so that the interpretation of the text lies within the authorial intention, instead of the reader. Jason Holt agrees with Barthes on the matter, writing that these ‘constraints allegedly inhere in conceiving of texts as authored, which artificially “closes” the writing, fixing the meaning of a text’. (Holt, 2002, p. 66). This “textual closure” would influence how a dance audience perceive a performance. If an audience remains open in terms of not having an interpretation that is shaped by the choreographer’s intention, the possibilities for interpretations of the material would expand and increase. A general “understanding” of dance could develop that respects the audience’s different interpretations, 12

regarding what the choreographer intended their piece to “mean”. No single interpretation can be valued over another as ‘there is no such thing as the meaning of a text’. (Holt, 2002, p. 66). Choreographic intentions are also a subject for examinations as these intentions are ‘imprecise and incomplete’. (Weberman, 2002, p. 50). They can therefore not be trusted in producing a “meaning” that is true to what the choreographer intended. Hans-Georg Gadamer asks us: ‘Does “knowing” what the poet had in mind therefore mean one knows what the poem says?’ (Gadamer cited in Weberman, 2002, p. 57).

Through removal of the author’s intentions as a point of understanding the text, the text itself becomes the single important point of analysis. The text exists by itself and prior to the authorial inscription. The author no longer has the power to expose an exclusive meaning of their piece of work as ‘it is language which speaks, not the author.’(Barthes, 1977, p. 143). The author loses its power over the text and is no longer needed for the reader to understand it. The reader therefore becomes the authority and meaning is given to the piece not before, but after its inscription. (Barthes, 1977, p. 145).

Barthes does not intend to suppress the author, he acknowledges the author as a “writer of texts”, but his focus is on the readers’ approach to understanding the text. However, The Death of the Author seems to produce some contradictions. In the same breath as Barthes is writing (death to authors) he is describing the work of Balzac, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Et cetera, all – authors. In acknowledging these authors as figures of power that need to be mentioned in a text declaring “The Death of the Author”, he is producing a statement that recognises and “needs” authors in order to kill them. If there is an authorial death, Barthes recognises the life of the author, and therefore the author exists. By the end of Barthes’ essay,


he concludes that the authorial power must be handed over to the reader and therefore ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the Author’. (Barthes, 1977, p. 148).

Alexander Nehamas is presenting a proposal through differentiating the “author” from the “writer”. He is pointing out the fact that writing can be realised without any authorship involved. For example; an anonymous text in form of inscriptions on a public toilet wall does not have an author involved, even though somebody wrote the text. (Nehamas, 2002). Thus, texts can be written without authorship, in the same way as people are able to dance without having a choreographer involved. Another factor that differentiates the writer from the author is the expectations that the reader have on the text. (Nehamas, 2002). Nobody hardly expects a specific “meaning” to be presented for interpretation by a person dancing in a club as this person is an “anonymous writer”, whilst what this “anonymous writer” lacks is in turn expected from the choreographer (the author). To really escape the subject of the author would be for authors to use a pseudonym, a fictitious name. The author is limited in its control over the communication process with the reader (Westphal, 2002, p. 34). Merold Westphal also states that when the author is not above or ahead of his reader, he becomes in as much a learner as the reader. (Westphal, 2002, p. 35). The hierarchy has been evened out to a democratic process of learning, instead of a teacher in control over its pupils. Søren Kierkegaard manages to be a part of this learning process through creating pseudonyms, and comments on these figures as: ‘I have no opinion about them except as a third party, no knowledge of their meaning except as a reader’. (Kierkegaard cited in Westphal, 2002, p. 36). The writer’s intention is thus not equal to the text’s meaning. His pseudonymity is therefore ‘a device to distance the writer from his texts and to accentuate his role as an interpreter rather than the origin of their meaning.’(Westphal, 2002, p. 36). If we can ignore origins in dance and emphasise the choreographer as an interpreter of her/his own work, the hierarchy between


audience and artist could be eliminated. The focus is drawn from intention to interpretation, which enables the audience and the choreographer to share the same process. The audience, or

the reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. (Barthes, 1977, p. 148)

In the same way as the author must (in Barthes opinion) die in order for the reader to be born, the power over the performance is given to the audience when the choreographer dies and the interpretation of a performance will exist independently from the choreographers will. (Lamarque, 2002, p. 88). This produces a power shift between the producer and the spectator; the authority of the author ceases to exist. The choreographer would however still be alive, (as a writer in the sense that Nehamas described) even though her/his authority of producing meaning would be buried.

2.1 What and who is a choreographer?
A choreographer is a person who writes, arranges and composes dance. (Encyclopædia Britannica (1981) vol. 4, 15th ed.). A choreographer represents the authority of dance. The title implies ownership, even though dance can exist without authorial involvement. Every choreographer works in their own preferred way, even so the Encyclopædia Brittanica presents eight different choreographic approaches to making dance. Each of these are constructed upon conventional ideals based on that movements exist in some familiar vocabulary. As this is not the case with dance that is produced today, it cannot be applied as contemporary choreographers rather try to produce movements that are not familiar and


recognisable. The description of the choreographic role can then neither be applied to its function today and should therefore be re-evaluated and expanded. Some parts of the choreographer’s functions might have to die so that other can emerge that is more appropriated for whatever context that it needs to work (the context of our present time).

In dance and performance a problem occurs when a piece of work is signed (in this case by the choreographer). To put a name as the creator of a performance suggests that a performance is a completed unit, delivered and done. But a performance is a constant changing unity and it goes against the very nature (ontology) of a performance to describe it as something fixed, static, as a performance can never be the same from one night to the other. (Phelan, 1993). When the performance is over, it is over and can never be seen again, subsequently the medium of dance is dependant upon the structure of dying and coming to life. From not performing – to performance. It is a circle of recycled material that needs to be completed. The art form dance necessitates the repetition to stay alive, function and exist.

Choreographers in contrast to writers of literature make use of methods for producing material that naturally question authorship. The use of collaborative methods to create the material is common in dance. Many dance makers form a collective with non-hierarchical structures. The purpose of this is to share authorship and what is presented to the audience is a product of shared time, shared knowledge, shared experience and shared creativity. Choreographers also assign their dancers to create movements based on a specific task. In this case the dance “belongs” to the dancers even though the choreographer made them develop the dance. The conception of the choreographer as someone who “teaches” other people, a boss who tells other people/dancers what to do increases the gap of the hierarchies. In reducing the choreographic role the authorial status would and should disappear. The question


of who a choreographer is should not have to matter since the person behind the work cannot make an impact on the interpretation. The question that is more appropriate to pose is: Who is not a choreographer?

Foucault’s essay What Is an Author? appeared two years after Barthes The Death of the Author, in 1969 and in this Foucalt is as well as Barthes writing about an “opening” after the authorial death. Foucalt describes writing as ‘a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.’ (Foucalt, 1984, p. 102). This constant disappearance is the essential character of performances. Foucault’s view on writing is more appropriate to apply to dance than the one of Barthes as he is recognising the ontology of dance - its constant disappearance and reappearance. The history of dance functions like an endless cycle of repetition, being present in space at one point, and in the other vanish. What could spur the choreographer to make work instead of thinking of it as “it has all been done” would be to recognise the cycle of absence and presence and after that realise that the more s/he makes apparent what has already been done, s/he also makes apparent what has not been done. (Phelan, 1993). The medium of performance is dependant on presence but in as much of absence as these binary oppositions cannot exist without each other. (Collins, 1996). The “originality” of a text can only be applied to the context of dance because of its dependency on presence. A choreographer can create a performance as something “new” but the movements that are performed in this context can only be quoted, as they remain a source of material that has no origin. The performance can be new but never its material.


Chapter 3 – Protected movements
Since 1978 it has been possible for choreographers to copyright their work. (Van Camp, 1994). To do this would for the choreographer be to define her/his work as something truly original. How this is even possible is hard to say. The law of copyright is explicitly problematic in the field of performance. The main issues will be presented here. If there is no such thing as something truly original to find in dance – how can one copyright dance?

In order to be qualified for copyright protection, a choreography must be ‘an original work of authorship.’ (United States Copyright Law, cited in Van Camp, 1994, p. 62). If the author is dead as Barthes suggests, we can exclude anybody having a right to claim copyright protection. Copyright gives the author full credits for the achieved work and if somebody tried to copy this work by performing the copyrighted work publicly (Van Camp, 1994) the law is broken. If a choreographer would like to protect their work in this way, what is it that they desire to protect? Is it the movements? Is it the concept for the performance? Is it facial expressions of the dancers? Is it the atmosphere the performance creates? The list goes on, yet what is accepted as protected choreography is a documented performance that is caught on film, and/or written scores of the choreography. A major problem in presenting this documentation is that the essence of a live performance that the choreographer intends to protect gets lost when documented at film. Even if a choreographer tried to “fix” their work (as is one requirement to receive copyright, described later in this text), there are no ways to do this that would document it in a way so that the work would be given justice. A video of a performance is something completely different than a live version of a performance. Written dance notation can only be read by a few people and written by less. A document can never be a satisfactory alternative of a performance. 18

As expressed above it is also incredibly hard to decide what the copyright should or could include. Can a choreographer claim copyright over just one movement? The lift of an arm, or a tweak of a toe? What even is one movement? The person(s) responsible for deciding if the dance contains “original” movements have a very challenging assignment.

The Copyright Act states the requirement for “originality” in writing that ‘a work is created when it is fixed in a copy…for the first time’. (1976 Copyright Act, cited in Auslander, 1999, p. 131). The first problem with this requirement is that a performance can never be “fixed in a copy”, for the reason of dance’s ontology. Live dance cannot be fixed, not in a photograph, not in written form and not on film. Performances escape the concept of being “fixed in a copy” in its mere form. The second problem is that dance can never be done “for the first time”. Dance can be done many times, but never for the first. The requirement for copyright protection fails already here. When in the process of a creation this fixation should take place is not mentioned. A creation is actualised on many levels and most of the work that makes a live performance exist is done beforehand. Could one copyright the process or the idea for the performance? Or if the concept for the dance piece is attained only as a live performance? Philip Auslander answers: A dance that only exists as a live performance that was presented to an audience but never written down or recorded cannot be copyrighted. A performance that only exists for no more than a transitory period is neither a publication nor protectable under copyright, and therefore cannot be owned as intellectual property. (Auslander, 1999, p. 133)

The constant influence from other artists and the idea of the movements being quotes does not simplify the case. The only way to claim originality of one’s work lies again within the context where the movements are placed. Julie Van Camp writes: ‘It would seem possible, at


least, that combinations of steps could be original, just as could combinations of words, for which there is strong support from decisions involving literary works.’ (Van Camp, 1994, p. 64). However, it is again an impossible mission to decide upon whether or not these “combinations of steps” could have been done before. The originality would rather be manifested in the performance of the combination of steps instead of the “combination of steps” as the subject.

Still, the main question after reading about law practitioners and dance theorists pondering about how one should change the law so that choreographers can finally and rightfully copyright their work is; why? Why do choreographers want to protect their dance? Who is the work protected from? Where does this greediness of property come from in performing arts? Why do they try to uphold the image that choreographers can create something original? How can a property of work be exclusive when it is a possession that belongs to everybody? It is closing the circle of the dance community as being something exclusive that only choreographers with the authority to create dance will inhabit. In doing so they maintain an authorship exclusively bound to the choreographer. In collaborative modes of production this is not practicable, and certainly not wished for. Not to mention dance pieces that are entirely, or in parts made up by improvisation. How can one copyright a movement or sequence that is not intended or planned?

Nobody owns a dance movement or a dance sequence and dance cannot be copyrighted. Dance production should be open to citations, quotes and wild pirating. It is the only way to break the circle of choreographic authority and should be encouraged instead of frowned upon.


Chapter 4 – Recycling dance
In contemporary dance discourse there is an increasing terminology that confirms the notion of a non-existing authorship. Today choreographers talk about re-cycling, re-enacting, reinterpreting, re-constructing dance and so on. The use of the prefix “re” implies that the actions a choreographer make can be used repeatedly, and then re-used again. Choreographies are constructed by a never-ending cycle of traces (as will be described later). The use of “movement quotations” substantiate performances and choreographers seems through this to find new starting points for making work (even though the movement material they use is “old”). This is at odds with the conventional image of choreographers as freestyle - dancing in some creative rush. The same way as texts are made of a ‘tissue of quotations’ (Barthes, 1977, p. 146) dance is made of “dance citations” in the form of using movement material from another performance in small or even unrecognisable amounts, or openly referencing to other choreographers’ work. The actual movements seem to become secondary, when the focus has shifted towards the concept of movement and the structures for them to exist within. Choreographers can as a result focus on the process of creating discourses instead of “making up” dance movements. This shift of the choreographic attention could possibly be realised if the choreographer approaches choreography as an interpreter of dance, instead of its maker. (For example using the same approach that Kierkegaard has towards his pseudonyms.)

An example of a choreographer who intently tried to question but not directly abolish his role as an author can be seen as the performance Xavier Le Roy, (2003) by choreographer Jerome Bel. For this performance, Bel asked fellow choreographer Xavier Le Roy to make a dance piece for him. Bel had been asked to make a piece for a project in Belgium, but did not want to work on a performance at this point even though he was tempted to participate in the 21

suggested project. Bel nonetheless decided that he wanted to participate, but without making a performance. He therefore asked Le Roy to create the piece for him so that he would have completed the production of a dance piece, but without having any involvement of its creation. The piece would be signed by Bel as the author but would be created and performed without Bel being involved in the process at all. Le Roy accepted the invitation as he thought it would be interesting to do somebody else’s piece and created a performance that was named Xavier Le Roy. Le Roy was excited by the fact that he could do anything he wanted, as the conditions were that Bel would sign the piece, thus taking the responsibility for it. Le Roy declares: ‘It opened up possibilities’ (Le Roy, 2007a). Le Roy decided to make a piece that could have been done by Bel, a sort of continuation of Bel’s previous work. He is thus not only using the concept of Bel being the author, but also uses Bel’s authorship in terms of how Bel works. He also wanted the performance to appear of having been done by Bel, wanting the audience to interpret the piece as though Bel was the originator of it. He is here playing around with the recognition of Bel as an author (even if he in fact is not in this context), at least if the author is the person writing the text.

In the performance, Le Roy is using some elements and characteristics that Bel’s previous performance provided, in a way re-enacting them in his own way. One element was the choice to work with the same performers as Bel did for his last performance. The only part of the process that Bel participated in was providing the title of the piece since he was officially the author. (Le Roy, 2007b). In the performance the two performers are using characteristic movements from well-recognised figures such as Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and Michael Jackson. In using some of their characteristic movements (“the Heil Hitler salute”, “the Jesus hanging on the cross” and “the Moonwalk”) they are using already familiar movements that the audience can recognise, yet when placed in the context of this performance it is something


“new”, even “original”. To return to the issues with copyright, Le Roy was using movements in the performance whose “authors” are clearly recognisable, but whose movements are not protected by copyright. Surely Hitler never thought of copyrighting his salute and now it has been used as a “dance movement”. There should then be no reason to distinct between a “dance movement” and any other “movement”. When looking at re-cycled dance as a tool it becomes again obvious that choreography could and should not be copyrightable. Who will draw the line between a quote and an interpretation? What creative artist wants to intrude and restrict choreographic tools? Bel voluntarily keeps and rejects his ownership of Xavier Le Roy. In so doing, he is not only questioning the authorship of himself but also of Le Roy as creator. In the end, we can see that both Bel and Le Roy gained recognition for the creation of the piece, even though it was signed as “Bel’s piece”. When the audience knows about the premise for this creation, we can also understand why the idea emerged. In a very simple way the authorship of the choreographer is questioned, yet both choreographers gain a shared authorship without intending to. An important factor for this to be successful is that both Bel and Le Roy are well known choreographers and one can wonder if this project would have reached this success even without their status as artists.

The importance of influence becomes evident when they discuss this work. Le Roy claims that he would not have been able to create this piece without first reviewing and using Bel’s earlier pieces as a starting point (Le Roy, 2007c). In this case Le Roy chose to create a piece as if Bel would have just proceeded from where he came from in his own creatorship. Bel also responds on Le Roy’s influence on his own work: ‘Your work helps me continue my work.’ (Le Roy, 2007d). They both agree that it is a positive development that choreographers use each other's work to produce their own, stating that it is not so important who says what, but that someone says it. In stating this they are answering Foucault’s question “What difference


does it make who is speaking?” It does not make any particular difference as movements and words cannot belong to anybody and therefore the source of the utterance is unimportant. Bel is reinforcing his openness in terms of “stealing” choreography and admits: ‘I’ve taken from other choreographers to continue my work.’ (Le Roy, 2007d). The boundaries between origins are again blurred when not only the signature is questioned with its belonging authorship, but also when the choreographic working mode is used not as something personal, but something that derives from another choreographer. Krassimira Kruschkova writes:

Therefore, the concept only belongs to the author – not even the concept of the choreography but the concept of this swindling disappearing authorship. The author himself disappears. He only gives a name to the play: Xavier Le Roy, but, at the same time, takes Xavier Le Roy’s name as the name of the proper author – a generous takeover. (Kruschkova, cited in Vardi, 2009, p. 10)

4.1 The trace of movements
A “trace” as Derrida defines it is the dependency of a sign’s meaning to its relationships with other signs. He says that the elements that construct writing cannot function without this relationship, as a sign’s meaning is ultimately defined by its context within a language (i.e. next to other signs). This dependency forms a trace of all signs within one another. Because a sign’s definition is the product of its relationship to other signs, therefore the sign itself can be said to have the “trace” of all other signs within it. The elements forming the trace can never be defined as only absent, or only present, as they are interdependent on one another and therefore exist within one another. (Collins, 1996). The different movements that construct a dance are all dependant upon each other, functioning like the “elements” in writing. A dance movement can never be a functional sign in itself, but needs to relate to other signs within the


trace to function. Dance movements’ dependency on each other are manifested in the trace. Collins writes: ‘Language is premised on an interweaving movement between what is there and not there.’ (Collins, 1996, p. 70).

A sign, as explained by Saussure is the unification of the signifier and the signified - the “signifier” as the means of communication (text, dance, Et cetera) and “signified” as the meaning of what is communicated (the interpretation). (Bally, and Sechehaye, 1959). In this paper the sign will be given as an example and be represented by “the Moonwalk”. The Moonwalk is a sign that can be identified by many and be repeatable, for example as in Xavier Le Roy. Derrida relates to the possibility of repetition of signs as ‘iterability’. (Royle, 2003, p. 67). Writing must be “iterable” (repeatable) for the reader to be able to identify the signs. (Collins, 1996, p. 83). If a sign were not repeatable then it would not be a viable mode of communication. It is not possible to communicate without being able to repeat the means of communication. For the audience to be able to identify the Moonwalk as “Moonwalk” they need the repetition to “learn” what the Moonwalk means and represents as a sign.

Another term that is used by Mark Franko as a synonym to iterability is ‘citationality’. (Franko, 2004, p. 116). He describes the citation as ‘a kind of verbal artifact, no longer speech, but thing (mark, text, inscription).’ (Franko, 2004, p. 116). This construct of citationality is the base of all dance practice. Choreographers are citing other choreographers. Repeating and recycling dance movements in the same way as Derrida describes the re-using of signs. The sign carries ‘with it a capacity to be repeated in principle again and again in all sorts of contexts’ (Royle, 2003, p. 68). In dance and choreography the signifiers (movements) can never be “new”. They remain the same independent of the context, and the only way a choreographer can create “new” dance is to work with the meaning (significance) of the sign


through re-contextualising it. Combinations of signifiers can be endless and this is why choreographers are able to produce “new” dance and dance as an art form can develop.

Returning to Xavier Le Roy we can see a choreographic recognition of the possibility of recontextualising movement to produce new meaning. The first “Moonwalk” in Xavier Le Roy presents itself with a familiar significance. Through acting like Michael Jackson the performer/s references the movements but in an unfamiliar context. In the third part of the performance the performers are stripped of their costumes and perform the same movements naked. As the context of the “Moonwalk” is changed so is the significance of the movements. The movements seems to no longer explicitly reference Michael Jackson but takes on a different significance. Le Roy proposes the body as ‘a carrier of signs. It carries signs and we can’t escape that. All we can do is rearrange them or replace them with others.’ (Le Roy, 2007b). This is realised in Xavier Le Roy. The ongoing referencing is described by Derrida:

A ‘text’ is henceforth no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces. (Derrida, cited in Royle, 2003, p. 64)

In Xavier Le Roy the sign (the Moonwalk) is repeated in different situations (contexts) to create multiple meanings. Xavier Le Roy itself leaves its trace behind as to the significance or possible significance of a movement. The trace enables the choreographer to be a part of movements’ origins, but never to create original movements.

The act of Bel signing the piece as its author plays with the concept of the signature (as the only evidence to prove authorship). In so doing Bel practices Derrida’s theory of the signature


as being a piece of writing that can be – like all other text, repeatable, thus losing its meaning. (Collins, 1996). Bel shows us in a very simple way that his signature does not give any meaning to what he is signing. He is only performing this action because “he has to” as this is the one recognized act to prove his authorship. However, a double meaning is to be read when Bel names the piece Xavier Le Roy – a name that can be used as a signature, but in this context is a piece of writing that represents the choreographer – the one that should be eligible to sign the piece. The signature in this case merely represents and acknowledges Bel as an initiator and the founder of the concept for the piece, nevertheless Bel makes a point with the signature’s unimportant representation when naming the piece by another author and the title thus becomes a representation of the signature.


Conclusion What happens after the funeral?
To make gestures of the dead, to die again, to make the dead reenact once more their deaths in their entirety – these are what I want to experience within me. A person who has died once can die over and over again within me. (Hijikata, cited in Franko, 2004, p. 121)

When somebody or something dies, it does not necessarily mean that this person or thing has ended their existence. As Tatsumi Hijikata describes the being of his dancing body in above quote, a death is a never stopping action that can be encapsulated and have a life of its own. Hijikata’s description of this everlasting action could be applied to the uncertain existence of the author and the origins of movements that always will haunt the dancing body. If the choreographer can die over and over again within the structure of the trace, her/his presence can be iterable and therefore be reborn again. The presence of death in dance is unavoidable. André Lepecki describes the phenomenon of dance’s melancholic state of being: ‘From the moment the question of dance’s presence began to be formulated as loss and temporal paradox, dance was transformed into hauntology and taxidermy – and choreography cast as mourning.’ (Lepecki, 2004, p. 127). The presence of dance and the dancing body moves like a ghost through time and space. Dance can never reach the state of being fully present or absent as ‘movement is both sign and symptom that all presence is haunted by disappearance and absence.’ (Lepecki, 2004, p. 128). However morbid these metaphors may seem in the context of such a “living” art form as dance, the haunting trace is unavoidable, especially in this paper when the question of the choreographer’s death is posed.


There is a clear intention to why the title of this paper has a question mark behind it, as it aimed at proposing something that might not be possible. “The Death of the Choreographer” exists in as much as it does not exist. When the title is posed as a question one might wonder if the answer will be found here. I will leave that query with the reader as we have discovered that the power of the text is prescribed to her/him. The reader of text and dance will therefore have to make a choice in order to claim this power as it might not be handed over voluntary by the author. The ambiguous title will speak for the ambiguous subject of authorship and originality. As the purpose of this paper was to research the author figure of dance – the choreographer and if s/he has a valid reason for existing, I will return to some questions that was asked in the beginning. Firstly; is there any need to claim the choreographer as dead?

It is fundamentally crucial for the choreographer to question authorship in order to discuss the choreographic role. Not only is the question of authorship present when focusing on origins but also when it comes down to considering if the choreographer is able to create innovative dance. The choreographic role not only hinders the development of processes in dance production but also shapes structures of authority that hinders the development of the choreographic role. If authority in form of the choreographic role as it has been formulated in this paper will cease to exist, the choreographer can shape a new presence for her/himself that is not founded on authority. This could be a relief not only for the audience but for the choreographer as well. The author figure does not exist in the same way as it has done during the course of history and its functions should adjust to this change. The need for choreographers as authorities is no longer relevant for the creation of performances even though the concept of the choreographer remains alive when questioned. Through critically examining the author we realise that authors exist and so do choreographers, yet their functions as authorities should be buried as the very existence of them holds back


choreographic and interpretive freedom. The importance of the choreographic role is of course of value, but the question concerns more at this point where and how this authority is used more than if it is needed. If the choreographic role can maintain a fleeting authority, one that is constantly in doubt of its own existence and importance, it can also be represented as a part of dance’s ontology.

The authority of the production of “meaning” should be manifested in the audience, as they are disconnected from the text (dance) and have a greater potential in producing an “opening” of the text (dance) through their differing interpretations. When the dance has been “opened” it will be able to include the audience in the creation as they will be a part of its development. The audience can therefore no longer be excluded from the process whilst the choreographer’s single “meaning” is being communicated. The task should not be for the audience to solve some “truth”, but instead they will have the power to create an open interpretation as ‘the meaning of a text goes beyond its author. That is why understanding is not merely a reproductive but always a productive activity as well.’ (Westphal, 2002, p. 26). The audience is thus integrated within the performance rather than being placed on the outside.

Barthes and Foucalt both conclude that the reader will take the place of the dead author, and so the responsibility has shifted to whom has the power over the text. The reader’s power will however not be authorial, for the reason that the power will be shared. No solitary interpretation will dominate and neither will an exclusive meaning be attached to the text. I would in a dance context stress the power of the audience as “readers” and that whatever was intended from the choreographer should not affect the perception of a performance as the choreographer never can provide an explicit meaning of the dance.


Observing light passing through a prism (though ‘we know’ that the prism is not the absolute origin of the resplendent spectacle before us) we do not deny its effect upon the light, still less call for the death of the prism. That the author can only be conceived as a manifestation of the Absolute Subject, this is the root message of every authocide. One must at base, be deeply auteurist to call for the Death of the Author.’ (Burke, 1998, p. 27)

Whilst Barthes and Foucalt try to achieve a liberation of restricted interpretations of texts they are at the same time succeeding in producing contradictions within their own texts that serve to be bothersome for the critical reader. Their own texts (The Death of the Author and What is an Author?) are recognising other authorities of texts which manifests that ‘the concept of the author is never more alive than when pronounced dead.’(Burke, 1998, p. 121). One cannot prescribe value to an author in one sentence and in the next reject the author’s value. Throughout this paper the choreographic authority has been questioned in terms of its importance - and this very question confirms its importance and proves its existence.

Let us then claim the choreographer for real, but in another guise. This “other” choreographer will not claim authority over her/his work and can therefore not be prescribed to create original dance. The choreographer can because of this neither claim ownership and copyright over her/his dance. If there is no ownership there is nothing to steal and the choreographer can be free from accusations based on property over movements. Theft functions on the basis that property exists. How can a choreographer steal if s/he cannot own anything? Dance

movement thus becomes an open – source material, free and available for the interested user, whether this person entitles her/himself choreographer or not. Today more than ever before we live in a society where we have so much knowledge accessible that it is hard to differentiate intention from influence. The Internet has created a space in which the author’s


role has expanded in the sense that anybody can have the authority to publish text, video or pictures. Artist’s work are made visible through displaying it on homepages, YouTube, blogs Et cetera. Dance can be published and reviewed without authorship involved, it is yet again the reader who is taking over the responsibility.

After the funeral our guests will leave the ceremony with a reinforced energy that only the event of a death can produce as one becomes aware of life’s uncertain presence when it is absent. The guests will remember how little or much the deceased affected their own life and they will wonder in what way this departure will affect them from this point on. Even though a certain presence has vanished, another has taken its place and the deceased can still exist even if this existence has changed. The memories of what has been will affect what will come and the dead will eventually die again, joining the trace of other deaths.


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