A letter: Oslo | Black

By Diana Damian Martin

Dear Mette

It was really nice to meet you in Stamsund, in the midst of a cold, sunny spell, amongst low wooden buildings and dramatic, steep cliffs that fall into the sea. I had forgotten, how a state of remoteness, almost independent of geography, can make for a very particular kind of attention. And your works reminded me of language and choreography at a very particular interstice between attention and perception.

I remember, following your performance of Black, how the score was muttered on the slowly moving lips of audience members keen to remind themselves of their being in space (and there was so much space for being in space there). Your word repetitions, that felt domestic and intimate, table table table table table table table table table, chair chair chair chair chair chair chair chair, made for this palpable absence, for a group of bodies being a group of bodies thinking about place (fullness) or even space (lessness). As they were leaving the bright afternoon room where we’d all congregated for the performance, everyone felt so keen to play with the expressions of these words that had contoured our imagination, moved or fixed us in and out of place (there there there there there there there there).

During the performance, the room felt really warm, and your presence very gentle, and so I saw this choreography of eyelids poke out open (here here here here here here here here) and sudden scribbles on fingers and palms and wrists, as if without writing, something would go away. ‘Where does text take place’, you ask in your piece The Picture of a Stone, ‘what is the notion of the written, and how does it relate to the body in time and place?’

I was thinking about the process of writing and the body because I am increasingly interested in how texts about something, or about a referent, perform, or, how they might perform, release or confront something outside of themselves, but through and in the body of the scribe. Perhaps this is in the back of my mind because my encounter with writing has been through a journey within criticism, but one that moved away from the fixity offered by its traditions of valuation. In Black, I was thinking about the weight of language as your body traced, without any commitment to representation, the passing of a body through a room; and about the choreographic voice that (dis)locates these items, objects really, in a room. How they are named, and there is a choice about their visibility- there’s something that marks this poetics as political, I think.

In our conversation, you spoke to us about Black as a first in a series of pieces about language and choreography, and the intent to search for an expanded dance. Oslo, which I saw first, before our conversation, is the fourth in the series that ended up as a trilogy with an afterpiece. We talked a lot about how Oslo is represented in the programme with a picture of a stone, a kind of exercise in non-relation, one surprisingly contentious, you said. In the same essay, you say that the stone is something you connect with the piece, ‘when I took the picture I was thinking about the piece.’ I thought about how this is a kind of ecological gesture, an intent to open up a journey between points of association, understanding the implication, but not always what is contained by those two points. I think about this a lot, because I’m always wondering, what the gesture of writing about something (particularly, an event) signals, or makes present, between those two points of connection.

I was moved by Oslo (you told us, it was an anagram for solo, yet the trilogy of pieces is intently not about being alone on stage, which, in some ways you are not). I was moved by Oslo partly, because of how I felt it made writing, that parallel between you, your voice, the occasional narrative fragments that emerge and collapse, the choir in the audience, the synchronicity and, after a while, disjointed use of two LED tickers where the text falls and realigns itself.

The piece starts with an anecdote of sorts, and moves gently, into an expansive textual choreography, variations on the sentence ‘A man walks into a room’ (we talked a lot about that statement, about how, the man is not really a man, or doesn’t have to be a man, about gender politics and identification, it couldn’t have been a woman at first, because it couldn’t have been you, walking into a room, and you play with the implications so rigorously in the piece). The tonal shifts in the piece as so palpable, because it holds the intimacy of Black in its memory, but it expands beyond the kind of specificity of language play; it is referential, formalist, minimal; it has the kinds of qualities we might ascribe to choreography, in that it plays with body landscapes, with action and gesture, except this time, these are orientations of writing- a kind of thinking through text that becomes a process on stage. This is what watching text on a ticker does, perhaps: give it a sense of being written, a duration of sorts.

It felt really important, to participate in this gesturing to duration, and to ways in which meaning is contained or expanded, ambiguous or committed. And I felt a beautiful looping into the local landscape happening too, because so much of the piece seemed to me, of palpable immaterials: thought, orientation, direction, encounters, being in or waiting outside, observing from a distance or being wrapped up within something.

I think we’re experiencing a time when language comes hand in hand with all kinds of displacements and watching Oslo, I kept thinking, how politically resonant, then, for choreography and dance to doing this kind of thinking in dialogue with it). It’s a piece that is as much filled with a very particular kind of presence – yours, that invites ours, too – as it is with gaps, or absence. I think between those two points, again, there is a thread, a kind of gap or pause, a kind of thinking. I’m very grateful for that, because these spaces for thinking, they are rare, and always with and of direction. If Black seemed to me about playing with the definite, I was struck by what spoke to me as a definite play with direction – with what compels us to move (a man walks into a room for a reason), and what shapes our sense of movement (a man walks into a room and no one notices).

Of course, this letter has an ending, or rather, it must come to an end, but I think, given everything I’ve just shared, it might be best to gesture to ending, or to see, how we can stay still, a kind of attentive stillness, where movement can still happen.

With thanks,


Published online in Something Other, 12.06.2017