ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Pierre Droulers - 2016 - De dagen van de week [EN, essay]
The Days of the Week
A book about Pierre Droulers’ work
In a large room, situated at the heart of a dance centre in Brussels, thirty tables put together end to end make up a rectangular space in the middle. On the tables are hundreds of documents that recall twenty-eight choreographies: scores, commentaries, notes, sketches, photos, photocopied articles, books, invitations, posters. In the middle, sitting at a lone table, Pierre Droulers and a few colleagues are in the middle of a brainstorming session on the organisation of all this material for the publication of a proposed book.
I remember already having encountered this problem during previous editorial ventures. When we try to set out the life or work of an older artist by opting for a chronological order, we end up with an uneven book because the quality and nature of the photos are extremely variable. At the beginning, we have black and white photos or cheap snapshots; then we come across attractive prints of photos with marked contrasts, certainly the work of professional photographers; then we discover a few poor-quality images taken from videos, and even two colour photocopies; finally, the first digital photos with pale colours and poor clarity, followed by digital photos that seem too clean, before discovering digital photos deliberately distorted, etc. It’s not so much the diversity that poses a problem, but rather the chronology that determines a linear progression, making the composition of a book difficult, even impossible. Certainly, reversing the chronology allows, in certain cases, beginning with the most recent images, so that the book takes on the appearance of an archaeological excavation, where we dig down layer by layer, discovering the most recent layer at the beginning.
Presented in this way, the problem still seems straightforward. But to that is added the diversity of types of image for each work. Sometimes most of the images were taken during rehearsals, sometimes only during the performance, even sometimes after the performance. Occasionally there is a group photo; generally, there isn’t one. Sometimes there are portraits of dancers, and sometimes not. In this one they were photographed in their final costumes; in that one in their everyday dancewear. In certain cases, the staging and the lighting were not yet ready. In a few snapshots, the photographer has succeeded in capturing an atmosphere, a lighting effect, a movement, a composition, but in most of them there is none of this. And we could go on, not to mention all the types of writing. Here, we’ve kept an interview, there, a review in English. There again, we’ve found a work transcript, or even a letter addressed to the mayor. Sometimes we come across a few dance commentaries and some sketches. Sometimes, nothing has survived.
To be honest, almost everything has disappeared: the general prevailing mood at the time, the social or political significance of a particular venue, the reputation of a dancer or a dramatist, the connotations of certain costumes, the movement of the dancers, the arrangements, the lighting, the music, the sound, the silence, the expectations and the reactions of the audience, the rivalries between colleagues, the love affairs, the friendships, the resentments and the joyfulness.
The picture that needs to be pinpointed goes off in three or five and even seven directions, and in each of these directions, this picture spreads outwards again and again like a firework going off. Because it’s not a question of dealing with a single artist here, but a group of artists – in constant evolution – each of whom brings their personality and their approach and who, through their coming together, create a new specific form.
It’s not only Proust or Joyce who would be capable of rising to this challenge, we then say to ourselves. And it’s then that we remember that, for Droulers, the universal and proteic approach of Joyce was inseparably linked to the pared-down approach of Beckett. Those who watch his choreographies see that he dreams of an intermediate form: a composition made up of a few brushstrokes and light touches, pared down, but in counterpoint, capable of conjuring up the whole universe. Each time, he begins with innumerable discussions, images, texts, sounds, and suggestions from the dancers or other collaborators, which he slowly puts together, like the pieces of a puzzle, most of the material finally being rejected. The final composition speaks to us about the world like a song or a painting, sometimes giving us the impression that everything has been said because everything seems to be there: the rain and the wind, the silence and the noise, love and death, waiting and forgetting, the wheelbarrow and the shadow, the rustling tree and the buzzing insect, the decisive word and the hesitant gesture.
We still find ourselves around the table in the space in the middle of the assembled tables. I suggest organising the twenty-eight performances alphabetically by title, and to present them in this order in the book. That could end up producing both a varied and balanced publication. The end of the book would also feature a chronological list of the performances, so that one could also read the book in that order.
Pierre Droulers sets out another proposition. With his right hand, he makes a shape of a small animal’s head in order to give more weight to his words. Half of what he says seems to be spoken by this hand, which contributes to the thought process through very carefully chosen words: ‘I would like to organise the book by the days of the week,’ he says: ‘Monday: preparation. Tuesday: action. Wednesday: communication. Thursday: expansion. Friday: feeling. Saturday: sedimentation. Sunday: being, not doing.’ I was enchanted by this attractive definition of the days of the week, which immediately reminded me of a painter who told me that he represented each day of the week differently and that he would like, when the occasion arose, to paint them.
Then, Droulers shows me a circular diagram that he has put together himself.
Monday: mystery, shadow–light, duality, birth–death
Tuesday: epic, combat, small–big space, ‘ugly is beautiful’, daydream
Wednesday: reality–activity, men–women, game, gather
Thursday: The Fault, felix culpa, mechanism–machine, karma, infernal machine, abracadabra, the dreamed of peace, the farm
Friday: the hips, lyrical, moaning, dancing, kissing–hold back, Mary Magdalene, throwing balls, Judas kiss, forbidden, sex, fall, eclipse, loss, ‘the coupling was not expected’
Saturday: individual, loss, waiting, isolation, tenebrae, the pain of bereavement, the path in the woods, heartbreak, war
Sunday: communion, redemption (mystical), Peace, shining white, good news, ‘we are only drops’, the void is inexistence, fiat lux
He also shows me a hand-drawn diagram by László Moholy-Nagy, Plan of Finnegans Wake, which has inspired his own diagram. Looking at it closer, apart from the circular shape, there was no similarity between the two diagrams. But I think I know why this work by Moholy-Nagy speaks to Droulers. Finnegans Wake is thought of by many people to be an inaccessible book. It is, in effect one of these polymorphic literary works that attempts to capture or reflect the complexity of the world through a complicated form. Yet, Moholy-Nagy’s diagram briefly gives us the impression that he knew how to decipher the novel. Put another way, it embodies our dream to be able to understand everything and to elucidate everything.
However, each time that we have the impression of being able to organise reality – for example, by dividing it between day and night – we forget that we quite simply rediscover the words that we already used previously to describe it. We discover that we can name something day and night, and we are happy. But what about dusk? Moonlight? Animals that come alive at night? Underground animal and vegetable life? The eternal darkness of the universe, which only lights up when something catches fire or when invisible rays of light strike an object?
First of all, there was the shapeless darkness and then came the Word, which brought light. Or is it the reverse: did the realisation of our mortality come only after we had received the gift of language?
If we now go back to Droulers’ diagram, we see that it’s in fact an excellent design for a dance performance. It’s presented like a three-dimensional fresco that changes with the passing of time. Thanks to the circular shape, several velocities are possible. At the front left of the stage, a week can last two minutes; at the back right-hand side, we see only the fragments of a Monday that slowly swings into action. And from the back left-hand side to the front right, Wednesday unfolds in a slow diagonal that lasts for the whole of the performance. The light and shadow can shine like a stroboscope, one melting into the other with an imperceptible slowness or dissolving into an indescribable fog.
On the advice of Ida de Vos and Ann Veronica Janssens, in 1996 I attended a dance performance by Pierre Droulers for the first time: De l’air et du vent. Back home I wrote a letter to the choreographer to thank him. I saw some things for the very first time. For the first time, in effect, I saw light on stage. Just like, years previously, I saw for the first time, in an Ingmar Bergman film, almost tangible shades of grey, in a scene that takes place in a church flooded by sunlight. I had the impression of seeing an almost tangible light, which lingered above the scene like an almost invisible bank of fog. I also saw a sublime leap by Stefan Dreher, which seemed to contain in mid-flight a very brief countermovement, which was apparently similar to certain hand movements of Thelonious Monk. The performance evolved through a series of lines, points, marks, plans, diagonals, horizontals and verticals: becoming a three-dimensional picture, appearing and disappearing at the same time. Suddenly I felt what dance could be: to draw, paint, write, think, watch, forget, hesitate, decide, act, rest. And all that in a four-dimensional space.
The other day I attended a performance of MA, sitting next to the most important collector of conceptual art in the country. At the end of the show the man said that he had found the performance sublime. He had found in it the beauty of his own collection, refined, pared down, almost disembodied. Joyce becoming Beckett.
We are still sitting at the table in the centre of this large dance studio. Droulers shows in broad outline what the book could look like if it were organised by days of the week. I realise that we are in the middle of a performance. The arrangement of the tables, the documents spread out, our gestures: everything is part of a new choreography, from which the book would be the result. I remember a Luis Buñuel film in which the protagonists suddenly realise that they are actors on a stage and do not know their lines. I think of Gustave Flaubert’s long years of preparation and of whom it is said that he cut down a whole forest to make a toothpick. I think of the monk who sculpted ten thousand Buddhas, whose final ones – small sticks showing three nicks – could be held in one hand. This is how you make things, I say to myself, just like God created our world: briefly rummaging through a basket of small dried fruit, attacked by seventeen tiny flies, shaking it all up in the palms of his cupped hands, and finally sowing it all in the void, like throwing beautifully perfumed and coloured dice. From a distance, it all seemed very clear: a bit of earth and water, a drifting mist that lit up in blue a carpet of green moss, and tiny little things that moved, lit up for a short while before immediately disappearing. A layer of glistening foam that softly popped, almost inaudible, and which produced, even if briefly, the Iliad, and some pretty little tunes, and some rhythms that entice one to dream.
Montagne de Miel, 2 August 2016