Mette Ingvartsen
69 positions – Soft Choreography

This text was first printed in TkH Journal #21: Social Choreography, 2013

I say “soft” because I do not want to say “social”. But what I really mean is another kind of organisation of performance that would not rely on a clear separation between the performers and the spectators, the stage and the auditorium, an encounter and a constructed event.

Soft choreography is the opposite of hard choreography.
Hard choreography means: a choreography written down to the smallest detail without much space for deviance. A performance that can run all by itself, even if there is no audience to witness it. It does not change when someone gets up and leaves, nor does it expand just because people want it to. It keeps its autonomy, its object-hood, and not much can shake it. It can be performed without people observing it and its writing does not change depending on whether there is anyone watching or not. (When such performances succeed, they are often called masterpieces.)

On the other hand, a soft choreography is one that cannot exist without an audience. It is a performance carried out in relation to the specific desires of a specific group of people at a certain time. It is a risky performance that might as well not happen. It is a fragile situation that asks the audience to share the responsibility for it.

That said, it does not follow that nothing is planned or that nothing will take place. Rather, the desire in soft choreography is to arrange conditions for encounters to occur.

The softness of choreography applies not only to human physical movement, but also to the organisation of space, the organisation of a group in space and of its behaviour. The softness carries a persuasive quality. It has a seductive but not sexual undertone, the seduction of being part of a collective, sharing a certain time and space, in order to construct something together. Today, the idea of the collective body may be a utopian idea. It is an idea that our individualist society is constantly trying to disrupt by making any kind of collective mobilisation and resistance impossible. Contrary to this tendency, soft choreography brings a group of people together, for a short, but precious moment in time.

The space grows soft when it is undivided, when the circulation in the room is open, when people are free to organise themselves as they like. It is important that the space is able to change. That it does not have only one configuration, but that other potentials may be realised in it as well. This means enabling people to change their activities without necessarily noticing when they pass from one state into another.

The mind grows soft when different modes of being start to intermingle. When critical reflection dissolves into a drifting sensation of pleasure and then returns, much sharper and clearer. When a mental thought becomes a movement or tone. When a tone turns into a melody and becomes a verbal narrative or a heated debate.

“Interactive”, “collaborative”, and “participatory” are only a few of the words that have been used for this type of theatre. “Democratic” is another. And even though the medium of dance has been revisiting such concepts in recent years by reconstructing utopias from the past (the 60s and the 70s), it’s time to give it another try. Too much hardness in the field of choreography (and in my own work) makes it urgent to think of other ways of being together in the theatre.