A Dance Mat: from the studio to a bull-fight arena
The project A Dance Mat started as a workshop proposal for the Carpa4 colloquium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts, which was held in Helsinki 11.–13.6.2015. The title of the colloquium was The Non-Human and the Inhuman in Performing Arts – Bodies, Organisms and Objects in Conflict.
Due to the framework of the colloquium, I decided to propose a workshop that would take a closer look at a dance mat, which is an object onto which I have literally rubbed my body for years while studying dance and working in dance studios. Since the colloquium took place at the Theatre Academy where the dance studios are mostly covered by dance mats, the proposal was motivated by this conceptual, material, and spatial context. I wanted to see what this material choice in this context would produce, and I wanted to gather some feedback and information from the participants in order to test how this project could be developed. My proposal for Carpa4 was as follows:
revolutionary abstraction rolled utopia bulldozing cliché rubbed atlas something else
This workshop proposal in Carpa is approached through working with the material circumstance of the dance studio in Theatre Academy where Carpa takes place, instead of giving a participant a report of an external research project in the given studio. Studio is thought here as a multidirectional and layered social and material processual entity and it is thought of as a common working-space of my discipline, choreography.
In order to contribute to Carpa’s theme, the focus here is in one particular material condition often used in the dance-studios: A dance mat. A dance mat is a techno-industrial object, which is at the same time physical, lived, mental and conceptual. It offers a plane, which rubs off and erases the characteristics of the surface beneath it attempting to homogenize the surface of the space. It aims to offer a feeling of safety and it is supposed to be an ideal plane to work. It lifts the bodies above the messy and noisy ground. It aims to offer neutralized and atemporal topography where the body is put, thrown and positioned on. The dance mat aims to open a place, which is nowhere and at the same time it has a possibility to interact with all places from e.g. ballet, butoh and belly-dance. Literally, the sensuous body is rubbed against a dance mat.
With this thinking above, the focus of the workshop here in Carpa is to explore the affective relation between a body, a dance mat and movement. What kind of aesthetics the mat brings out and what is in- and excluded when we get in touch with it?
In this project, I have been interested in studying questions such as: What kind of subject does this object produce? What kind of body does this object bring out? Who is used and how? Who or what is moved and how? Who or what is choreographed and how? How does the choreographic emerge and operate between materiality and corporeality? What does this object do in studios and on stages? If the dance studio has a dance mat, does the dance mat dominate my somatic life as a ground onto which I step? What kind of a sphere does this ground produce? Does it produce a will to move smoothly and become a virtuosic body, or what kind of moving does it support? What kind of an ideological plane it is?Initially, the project was contextualized in the realm of dance and in my history as a dance student at the Theatre Academy and a freelance choreographer, but the contextualization expanded when the project developed.
At Carpa4, in the beginning of the workshop, I briefly introduced the history of the dance mat through the information I had received after contacting one of the main manufacturers of dance mats and floors in Europe, Harlequin Floors. In order to activate the workshop as an experimental situation with the participants and co-researchers, I chose four perspectives to approach the dance mat with: 1) the sacred (dance mat with high terms and conditions for use), 2) obedience (referring, e.g., to dance education), 3) resistance (materiality of the object) and 4) conflict (how the body is literally rubbed on the mat).
For each viewpoint, I facilitated a five-minute action and intervention in which the participants could engage; they were also free to just observe as I went through these actions. The chosen actions were:
The sacred: to spend time quietly with the dance mat, leaving it untouched. The dance mat was erected upright as a roll in the middle of the studio.
Obedience: repeatedly pushing the erected, upright, dance mat so it fell to the floor.
Resistance: throwing the dance mat into the air.
Conflict: unrolling the dance mat and rubbing the body on and against it.
The workshop ended with a short discussion after the facilitated actions. Some of the participants were familiar with the dance mat as an object and others were not. The discussion travelled from the personal, previous, lived experiences to more conceptual ponderings about the dance mat. The choice of the concepts to approach the dance mat and their impact on what happened and their echo to broader social implications were discussed.
The aim of the workshop was to think about the dance mat’s instrumentality and materiality in practice and to test it with chosen actions in relation to the human body and choreography. The tryout was referenced, for example, with the ongoing research interests for new materalism’s mode of inquiry, which aims to reorientate the ways of thinking about matter and materiality (see, i.e., Coole and Frost 2010, Introduction). The proposal was also influenced by affect-theory (see, i.e., Gregg and Seigworth 2010, pp. 1–29) and ponderings about the relations between choreography, a human body, and an object (see, i.e., Lepecki 2012).
The workshop functioned as a testing ground for further possibilities of A Dance Mat to be developed for the first artistic part of the doctorate. With the choices, try-outs, and discussions done within the theme of Carpa 4, I found this experience an encouraging one to keep this project in process and to develop it further and to focus on experimenting with its materiality.