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When the American Daniel Linehan enrolled in Brussels P.A.R.T.S. in 2008, he had already established himself as a dancer and choreographer in New York. His career flourished in Flanders too: during his studies in Brussels, he was the youngest participant in the walk+talk series of lectures-performances by the choreographer Philipp Gehmacher to present the work principles that applied to his choreographic practice to the public. A year later, deSingel in Antwerp invited Linehan to be its artist in residence and in 2013, he also became artist in residence atto the Opéra de Lille. In 2015, he went on to found his company Hiatus, and was immediately able to count on structural support from the Flemish Community.
His work is simultaneously clever, down to earth, funny and innovative. (Im)possible relationships between voice, sound, speech, written text and movement play a key role therein.
It is clear from this impressive trajectory that Daniel Linehan could be considered a prodigy in the Flemish dance landscape. His work is simultaneously clever, down to earth, funny and innovative. (Im)possible relationships between voice, sound, speech, written text and movement play a key role therein. The choreographer may sometimes appear stubborn when asked about the meaning of his performances, on stage and in written opinions, self-interviews or poetic fragments he accurately turns himself inside out. His writing is as inventive as his choreographic work. He created the publication A No Can Make Space with the designer Gerard Leysen using drawings from his work processes and performances between 2006 and 2013. He playfully spurs the reader to action with this ingenious box of seven books, each related to a choreographic principle. A book as choreography, after all, reading is dancing: repeating when the only thing you can do is flip back through the pages to read a sentence that is printed in large letters across several pages, building tension by reading layers of text printed on top of each other, insert unprinted 'silent' pages, tearing a stamp to create space, etc. If you place all the books in a row their total length is as tall as Linehan himself.
Linehan enjoys playing with the zone of impossibility, with all the associated errors and imperfections.
Linehan enjoys playing with the zone of impossibility, with all the associated errors and imperfections. In Gaze is a gap is a ghost (2012) for example, his questioning turns to viewing. Linehan uses cameras and projections to allow the audience to look through the dancers' eyes. Could we ever see the same thing that a dancer does? The performers run around with cameras and screens to demonstrate that it is impossible: we see the space move rather than the dancers' view. In the interview that Linehan conducts with himself on the subject he explains this interest. It is only worth doing what you do if you pursue the impossible, he says, because the human dimension comes into its own (in Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost: Self-interview with David Linehan, Programme Notes).
Linehan: "I want to discover how text can be a resource for creating a kind of dance vocabulary, which is different from that based on internal physical impulses, and different from movement based on music."
In the same year, 2012, deSingel commissioned him to create Vita Activa, together with Michael Helland, another performer from New York. With 40 unemployed people they question the different value scales for work and activity, based on the three categories between which the philosopher Hannah Arendt differentiates: repetitive labour, unique creations, speaking and politics. In connection with the latter in 2014, Linehan along with seven dancers, unravelled the distinctiveness of voice and speaking in The Karaoke Dialogues. He puts extracts from world literature - all related to legal issues - through the karaoke mill to demonstrate how you can afford written text a voice and physicality. Like a finger exercise for the format in December 2013, he broadcast a live stream of a duet version named Untitled Duet from the Tate Modern in London. He has the following to say about the relationship between text and movement: "I want to discover how text can be a resource for creating a kind of dance vocabulary, which is different from that based on internal physical impulses, and different from movement based on music. A dance vocabulary based on the rhythm of music has a flow, pattern and repetition; whereas dance based on the rhythm of language stops, hesitates, stammers and demonstrates constant differences.
Doing while Doing (2011-2014)
In Doing while Doing Daniel Linehan presents a fine sampling from his work using reconstructed extracts from five earlier choreographies, while he formulates seemingly random thought associations about dance, literature or news items.
The reconstruction also clearly illustrates how Daniel Linehan tampers with the given of difference, repetition and recall in the eminently volatile format of performance. It goes like this: the first Doing while Doing under this name was performed at deSingel in 2012 but was based on his lecture-performance from the walk+talk series by Philipp Gehmacher in 2011. He retained the majority of actions from this early version but changed the text completely. Since no video recording had been made of the 2012 performance and very little text had been preserved from the rehearsal process, a week later Linehan wrote down what he could remember. The first part of the text at least, because the second part had been written and recorded earlier that year for a performance in 2012 in New York, which he didn't call Doing while Doing but Way Past Tense. This excerpt originates from a recording made in 2014 during a rerun in Concertgebouw Brugge.
Linehan has been intrigued by endings since the beginning of his still young oeuvre: "Endings of books, endings of songs, endings of films that have moved me and that have remained with me for one reason or another. I want to try and discover why a particular ending is efficient and stays with us." How to knit an end for a performance - is also the theme in this excerpt from Doing while Doing. “What’s outside the window? A sheet.” Linehan departs here from the final words in The Savage Detectives by his favourite author Roberto Bolaño to reflect in his disarming style on the perfect ending to this performance. His speech, movement, the way he looks on, his chair and the projection of his computer screen are also ways of transcending the boundaries of dance.
For dbddbb – a title as well as a rhyme scheme – Linehan derives inspiration from the poetry which emerged in the cabarets of Zurich during the First World War. Dadaists like Tristan Tzara presented meaningless sound poems based on sound rhythm and voice variation. In light of the conflagration they wanted to start from scratch to generate new sources of meaning. In dbddbb the dancers – including Linehan himself – embark on their own, updated search. With the impact of sound and rhythm in a group in motion as a choreographic tool, the question arises: how can the individual relate to a community? Breaking free, finding a shared rhythm, jointly reflecting, listening and breaking free of it once more.
The excerpt makes it clear that with dbddbb Daniel Linehan makes the switch to the ‘big’ stage and has devised a more abstract language. The production is a flawlessly orchestrated total environment in which rhythm, voices and steps echo in the set, costumes and light plan. The canopy installation is by the Belgian artist duo 88888: an abstract-looking forest of diaphanous sticks (233 pieces to be precise) that hang down in stunning rhythmic distances from each other. From a number of them a large, horizontal cross-shaped form of twenty sneakers dangles, twice as many as those with which the five dancers map out the stage.
Voice tone and rhythm steer their steps; or is it the other way around?
The clip is taken from the beginning of the performance: in the twilight a circle of five dancers forms, which starts to move while producing sound in all possible keys. Voice tone and rhythm steer their steps; or is it the other way around?
Throughout the performance their meaningless expressions follow the pulsating rhythm with which they map out the space, step after step, individually or in collective bursts in unison, jumping, waving, in squares, circles, and so on. The timbre, reach or the intonation of their voices display just as much variation. Their voices sound sweet, humming, imploring, screeching, clear, dark etc. The dancers' concentration is impressive. The mood is simultaneously upbeat and contagious. They are clearly enthusiastic, the audience equally so.
Lieve Dierckx is a theatre scientist. She writes about dance for various media, theatres and choreographers.