Six: Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, particular kinds of performances enact and reinforce the hegemonic power position of the archive, precluding or at least attempting to preclude the complexity that remains of the past practices. Re-construction implies the re-building, reinforcing of an edifice, that which is permanent and more-or-less unchanging. Even re-performance resists the tendency inherent in a performing art of changing and growing in unexpected directions at each iteration. Re-imagining, re-positioning is perhaps the best we can do in this tension between the archive and the repertory, but I would argue that as a method, re-imaging requires coming to terms with contradiction, gaps and absences, and not knowing. Perhaps for that reason, the re-imagining of Jeux: re-imagined requires exposure of the process and the studio work, as the performed end result left us with a sense of slight dissatisfaction, at least based on how, in the post-production interviews (21.2. and 3.3.2017), the four choreographers responded to my question of what they would have liked to do differently or continue working with after the scheduled performances, which coincidentally gave the work exactly as many exposures to audiences in two cities as the 1913 Jeux had.

If anything, the work by performance scholars like Taylor and Schneider points to how much postcolonialist theoretisation of performance has to offer even for the study of that whitest, Eurocentric notion of a canon of art. In doing performance art, this means we need to look at what the scenarios instigated in works that we canonise reiterate and re-enact – how the works of art are not unique and original but stereotypical and repetitive. This is another reason why Jeux: re-imagined deliberately ignored gender roles in the composition and downplayed what contemporary sources claim were overtly sexual movements (the hand-holding, kissing, and so on that Louis Laloy complained about in La Grande revue 25.5.1913). The threesome in Nijinsky’s scenario privileges the male role, reinforcing the male genius-choreographer-dancer scenario. For a historian, working in movement drew my attention to how specific gestures and movements have changed meaning over the past century: the heart-shape Tamara Karsavina makes in one of the photographs now seems like a gestural emoji, whereas lying down on the ground is not a particularly sexual move for anyone familiar with contemporary dance. It is through such difference in signification that contemporaneity operates, since bodies can never entirely ignore their past corporeal practices even as the significance of these practices shifts. 

Any performed scenario and any archival source holds both considerable hegemonic potential (instigating what is performed into the canon, stabilizing and fixing ‘the work’ both ontologically and epistemologically) and a promise of resistance, of destabilizing the already-known, through parody, excess, evasion, or outright subversion. It is a political choice where we situate ourselves on those axes, for the past and for the future, just as it is a political choice whose work is thought of as worthwhile the effort or cost of re-performance, or who are the authorities on the past we reference and to whom we adhere. We can change the future by making the past seem not self-evident and set in stone but as malleable. That way lies agency and hope for a more inclusive future.