Letter to Mila
Written in the frame of Dance by Other Means research lab, funded by the Berlin Senat Department of Culture and Europe, and took place as part of the project OUR DANCE by PSR Collective.
Publisher, editor: Mila Pavićević / Copy editor, proofreader: Daniel Belasco Rogers / Graphic design: Diego Agulló
The publication, based on the lab, was created in cooperation with UFERSTUDIOS GmbH as part of the Performance Situation Room module of the European network project Life Long Burning, co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.
Letter to Mila
Thank you for inviting me to share this week with you at Heizhaus, without knowing me very well. I always like meeting people this way (sharing studio space and time) because it has a certain intimacy, as well as clear frame and context, which allows intimacy to arise, rather than forcing it to happen.
The first thing I thought about, when you posed the question, “How do we relate to dramaturgy?”, is a conversation I had a few days ago with my father, in which I was explaining to him what the role of the dramaturge in dance pieces is. I was talking to him about this because he asked me what I had been doing and I had just come back from two days with the dramaturge Lidy Mouw, with whom I am working on two of my current pieces. The reason I decided to explain to him in detail what I was doing and get specific with what dramaturgy means (instead of simply saying “I was doing research with my colleague for a piece”), is because in the past two years, since my mother passed away, my relationship with my father has changed and I took the decision to share with him many more details about my life than before. Before my mother died I would talk with her in detail about what I was doing (in my work, private life, my thoughts about life in general), but with my father I would only give a kind of overview and rough structure of my life. After she died and things radically changed in our family and in our relations to each other, I decided to experiment with new ways of communicating, allowing the change we all had experienced to manifest itself. One of the things I started to practice is to share with my father everything I do and go through, of course to a limited extent and with care (for both myself and for him).
I decided that there is nothing that I shouldn’t be able to at least share with him, even if he would not understand it completely or would be critical towards it. The decision to practice this format of sharing with him is also a way for me to re-think and re-name the things I do and experience, which means that this process of sharing is also a process of translating, because I have to find a different language—a language we can both communicate in. It has to be a language that is accessible also to someone who lives a very different life than mine. This notion of translation and the idea of finding a language are also very import to my work and to how I think and process things.
So in our conversation I told him that I had been working with Lidy for the past few days. First I gave him a bit of context about the person I was working with, and also about where dramaturgy comes from. I said it’s a role that was developed mainly in the German theatre context and that over time had also became very present in the dance field—I hope this is true? I said that the role of the dramaturge in dance pieces can vary a lot from work to work. Usually I see the role as someone who is a kind of mediator or even psychologist, mediating the process between artists and the creation of artworks. I said that often what happens while working on your own piece, is that you lose a sense of objectivity towards the work. Somehow it becomes too personal, like looking in the mirror. Your work (and by work I mean the whole thing: concept, rehearsals, colleagues, staging etc.) unconsciously becomes a reflection of yourself. Art making is also a complex experience. On the one hand, the work of art is always a reflection of the artist in some way, but on the other hand it isn‘t. A bit like your child or your lover or your friend, it is also completely independent from you. In the end it has nothing to do with you. For me this is a very important aspect of making work—allowing it to claim its own sense, its own self, to become what it needs to become, reminding us (artists) that through making a piece of art, we gain the privilege of practicing making something without owning it, without possessing it, but rather creating the ground for it to grow, to become something in the world.
Before I go back to the role of the dramaturge, I will allow myself to linger a bit longer on this thought (because we don’t really know each other and this letter is a way for us to get to know each other). Here is a short text I wrote a while ago after reading a book that impressed me a lot. It’s called Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter:
I know a piece of art is good when I notice that I leave the book a different person to the one that arrived. With some pieces it takes time and I gradually see myself changing... and sometimes it starts and I know that change is already happening.
After about 3 pages of this book I already knew that I was different—I could feel it making space in me to settle down.
It’s a tiny book with a heart that explodes in every word and every word is chosen with such precision and intensity that beauty simply happens. Not because things should be beautiful, but because if beauty exists in a raw, chaotic, untrained form—it is in a heart exploding from the intense attempt to be precise in this chaos.
I know that a piece of art is good when it reminds me that metaphors are kind of artistic survival instinct— When the gap between the metaphor and what it refers to disappears. When the metaphor is not like a thing, it is the thing , and there is no other way for this thing to be. If there is something that grief can teach you, it’s that you do not own your love.
If there is something that art can teach you, it’s that love is not meant to be owned.
It’s meant to be carried, to be shared, to be given space, to be taken care of.
What if your art can carve a place for love to be in, without your desire to own it.
I’m sharing this text because it has a lot to do with what I’ve been practicing in my artistic work and also in my personal life, how to love something without claiming ownership of it. I am very happy to go deeper into this idea, and also into these different notions of art, work, love and ownership. I would be very happy to know if you also make connections between them and how do you think about these connections.
Now, back to the role of the dramaturge—I think the dramaturge’s job is to support the artist in maintaining a healthy relationship to their work, by keeping the relationship between the artist and the work dynamic and non-hierarchical. In Jonathan Burrow’s book A Choreographer’s Handbook he writes: “Even when you are not working, the work is working.” The dramaturge can allow the work to be at work, even when the artist cannot see that.
Of course there’s much more to talk about, so let’s do it! I’m very curious to hear and read your response.
Berlin, 29 June 2020
1 Porter, Max, Grief is the thing with feathers, London: Faber & Faber, 2015.
2 My text: Thoughts after reading Max Porter‘s ‚Grief is the Thing with Feathers, written in March, 2020.
3 Burrows, Jonathan, A Choreographers Handbook, New York: Routledge, 2010.
© 2021 by Lee Méir .