Chalking down the patterns of everyday movement

During Northern Ireland’s peace negotiations the word “choreography” popped up again and again in news statements. Both sides were aware of the importance of the “choreography” of the various stages of the process – troop withdrawals, decommissioning etc. Essentially they were seeking a correct order of events, but for Michael Klien choreography is much more than creating patterns. And very political.

Artistic director of the Limerick-based Daghdha Dance Company, his Choreography for Blackboards will feature this weekend at the Hayward Gallery’s ongoing exhibition Move: Choreographing You with the support of Culture Ireland.

“Dance is a highly political art and has always attracted the great philosophers,” he says. “I see choreography, and art, as the cane that taps forward for the whole of society. It senses what is coming forward.”

For him, choreography is different from dance. He choreographs works but the dancers dance them. In other words, he doesn’t create patterns of steps and moves that have to be faithfully reproduced, but instead evolves a structure that the dancers use to inspire and format their movement.

“I have always been dabbling with choreography as an autonomous artform,” he says. “Choreography can be anything that looks at patterning or putting things in relation to another. It looks at the deeper structures of how things hang together.” And it doesn’t necessarily need beautiful lithe bodies to do that. His first work in 1994 was called “68% choreography” and was basically a machine that turned around onstage.

“I’ve also choreographed kitchen processes,” he says. “What interests me is processes of order and processes of actions.” For Choreography for Blackboards he has translated his choreographic outline from an earlier work, Sediments of an Ordinary Mind.

“Instead of having masterful physical articulation of my ideas, I was interested in featuring citizens who use blackboards to throw those processes against, by just drawing.” He works with these people for three days and they then perform the work in a setting where the audience are free to wander around.

“The performers never leave their blackboards. They simply go through a script step-by-step, but it’s not very specific so they have almost complete freedom. The chalk becomes like a needle that you’d use to measure earthquakes. They are free to look at the other performers’ drawings so you see a language develop, symbols that grow or transform. Each performer is entering in to a very simple dialogue via their blackboard”.

The Hayward exhibition aims to make people aware of their own bodies in space and how they can interact with the environment around them.

“The visitors are the ones that are choreographed through the sculptural works in the exhibition,” says Stephanie Rosenthal, chief curator at the Hayward. “So that argument can lead to the question, in which way do objects define our everyday movement?” Our lives are continually choreographed according to Klien. “There is no such thing as individualistic movement,” he says. “We all walk according to socially-accepted norms. If we don’t we are weird.”

Within dance this issue has its roots in the Judson Church movement in New York in the 1960’s and Move features some of the most influential dance artists from that era, including Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti and Trisha Brown, as well as provocative contemporary figures like Xavier le Roy, Boris Charmatz and La Ribot.

“I am interested in Michael Klien’s work in this context because he is using local non-professional performers that are working with and around the possibilities a blackboard provides,” Rosenthal says. “Furthermore the drawing aspect is crucial as the show has its starting point in choreography and the different ways it can be discovered in the movement related to artworks.”

Klien’s appearance at Move is hugely significant and evidence of his growing international profile. At home, things aren’t quite the same. For the past few years Daghdha has received ever-decreasing grants from the Arts Council and this year received no funding for new productions. In spite of this it produced over fifty local and international events this year.

“With relation to the Arts Council we have gone from being the favourite child to a misfit,” Klien says. “Yet, we were one of three dance groups chosen to go to New York and showcase at the APAP conference, [also with the support of Culture Ireland]. Anytime we are independently curated we have been successful.” He considered his position as artistic director earlier this year, but now has a renewed confidence in the company’s future. Central to this is it’s home, the converted St. John’s Church.

“Limerick is a great place to create and work,” he says, but adds that a Dublin-bias means it’s easy to get forgotten about. “If we produce in our space, we see it as a national event, not that we are hiding away in our home in Limerick.”