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Blog for dancers, choreographers, critics, pedagogues

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6.2.2023, 14:56:29   |  Photo: Julie Stehnová  |   Category: Space & context, Process of making, Education, Art & Society, Other

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Key words:
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Topic about public and intimate space emerged as theatrical space for dance and performing arts was challenged during the pandemic times. Artists around the world were searching for new ideas, concepts, or forms to stage their performances. Artists craved connections to the outside world and to their local communities, as did audiences. As theatres closed, artists were challenged to find new forms, venues, places or spaces to perform and share their work. The urge to share artwork was inevitable.

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Topic about public and intimate space emerged as theatrical space for dance and performing arts was challenged during the pandemic times. Artists around the world were searching for new ideas, concepts, or forms to stage their performances. Artists craved connections to the outside world and to their local communities, as did audiences. As theatres closed, artists were challenged to find new forms, venues, places or spaces to perform and share their work. The urge to share artwork was inevitable.

The Centre for Choreographic Development SE.S.TA regularly invites artists to talk about the most pressing issues, needs, and challenges facing artists at any given time. Thus, meetings with artists such as Johana Pocková (CZ), Stéphanie N'Durihae (FR) and Roman Zotov Mikshin (CZ) took place, where the topic of public and intimate space came up. In addition, the theme was addressed by choreographer and performer Martha Moore (USA), theoretician and performer Mish Rais (CZ), dance visionary and director of SE.S.TA Marie Kinsky, HAMU students, the Duncan Centre, and the audience further developed and contextualised the work. This group discussed and questioned the issue of public and intimate spaces in the context of dance performance and sought to frame it. "As long as we dance" by Renata Piotrowski-Aufrett, at Studio Hrdinu, in Prague, on the theme of space is extensive. 

In this article we will elaborate on the theme of intimacy and publicity of space from the points of view of the boundaries between intimate and public, the geography of space, the relationship, the change of convention and interpretation.


- Borders between intimate and public

What is intimate space and what is public space?

How do I view my personal space and public space? 

We all probably have different concepts of what is intimate and what is public. We can potentially and constantly redefine the categories of "intimate" and "public." But to start simply, our basis is physical space and place  (such as a theatre, church, hall, museum,…etc. and particular place within space) - something that is seen and open to the public) and intimate space - for example, the space within a body or even the body of dancers who project themselves into the space and the space that surrounds them. However, we can consider the intimate and the public as a continuum, rather than separating them into categories. Renata Piotrowski Aufrett, as an artist and a mother, has been interested in how intimate and public spaces relate to each other. (The performance "As long as we dance" combines videos of five female performers recorded during the pandemic in their intimate moments and private spaces - at home, with their children, during their daily rituals, while on the phone with choreographer Renata Piotrowski Aufrett. And the same female performers are on stage, telling their stories, dancing solemnly and changing places in the room. The stage set for the performance at Studio Hrdinu had several elevated places within stage where there was a lot of activity during the performance. In addition, the performers entered the audience. We were all wrapped in light. What a real merging of the boundaries between intimate and public! We witnessed an ever-changing intimacy in public space and a public observation of intimate acts.

"By observing these intimate acts during the performance, do we become voyeurs?

Is it voyeurism when it takes place on stage?"

"Mish Rais"


- Geography of  space

How and when does the organisation of a space make us more visible?

When does our decision of how to move in the given space make us more visible?

What are the tools that the choreographer uses in the creative process to decide within the given space?

Martha Moore made a practical suggestion to the group:

"Look around the space. Where would you spontaneously place yourself in the space? Where would you like to stand? When I count to 3, please go there. 1, 2, 3.” 

As the group spreads out in the room, we reflect on questions:

“What just happened to the geography of the room?

 What are our relationships to each other?

 Now go back to wherever you want."

This is an example of what I meant by the question, "How does our decision make the space more visible? Simply by changing our location and our relationships to each other, we see the space differently.

Is it a loop?

Does our movement cause the space to organise itself?

Could the organisation of space make us or our bodies more or less visible?

By approaching the geography of space from this perspective, we were able to describe some of the tools choreographer Renata Piotrowski-Aufrett has used to shift perspective between intimate and public spaces, such as:

a) Spatial category - placement of dancers along different trajectories (diagonally, under the projection screen, at the edge of the places where the audience sat...), movement on different levels (balcony, dance floor, on elevated stage objects, inside an auditorium - playing with the proximity of the audience),

b) Use of light to highlight or hide elements of the story,

c) time category - linking the past (video footage of performers in their intimate space at the beginning of the performance) and the present (the same performers acting on stage). At the very end of the show we saw a message - an object - a huge female reproductive organ hanging on the wall and illuminated by the Christmas lights. This could have been a hint of the future.

- Relationship - deception of spatial relationship.

What do we see?

Mish Rais presents the painting "Le Passage du Commerce Saint-Andre Private" by Balthus, printed on paper, to the group. She partially covers a part of the painting with another blank paper. We could only see a section of the painting. Starting from what remains visible in the painting, she asks us to look for relationships and invent stories based on what is visible. She also suggests a change of pace and asks the group: "How would the telling of our story change if they peeled off the blank paper quickly or slowly to reveal more or less of the painting? We have constructed the story based on the illusion of space.

"We humans strive for meaning - that's just how we are." - Mish Rais 

Martha Moore linked the theory about the deception of space to the performance of Renata Piotrowska Aufrett. What stories are told depends on where the performers were in the space, when they were isolated, when they were acting as a group, when the group was away from someone. How does your perspective change depending on what you heard or saw.

We might be afraid (as audience members) not to see everything on stage when several events are happening at the same time.

"Is it possible to see the whole picture all the time?"

"Is it the dramaturge's decision that you only see what you actually see at that moment?"


- Change of convention

Consider Change of convention with reference to literature.

Mish Rais shared several poems from the 1972 volume Typewriter Poems with the group.

"Think about literature and how do you usually read the poem - from left to right or from top to bottom?

It's not so much about the text, but what it says. But how do text or letters rhythmise space, and how do you change your perception of the media. How do the time, the gaps between the letters shape the space." She provokes with a question: "How might changing convention change our perception of space?"

The flow of letters shows the physicality of movement. It could also refer to the energy of movement.

The framing of the situation creates a SCORE. The SCORE shows how things are connected.

Martha Moore linked the theme of score with early postmodern references. “In postmodernism, the use of scores, tasks, and everyday physicality was a way to strip away the non essential and the codified dance vocabulary to achieve a more neutral, non theatrical presence. They questioned what spaces could be considered performing spaces as opposed to up till then traditional theatre.”

In 1967, Steve Paxton - a choreographer and philosopher - created a piece for 42 non-dancers called "Satisfying Lover". He created a minimalist score, which Martha Moore referred to as a type of co-dependent score, in which the participants relied on the action of those who entered before as cues to enter or contine walking. This score consisted of tasks such as walking, standing, stopping and sitting creating a spontaneous graphic design in space. Watching this simple score produced an amazing calm. We could see humanity passing by. To what extent does the use of a linear action in an empty, silent space emphasise our perception of people in that space and how does it enhance the ambient sounds? The narrative is extremely important, but the place where it is told, where we experience it, is equally important. 

Video (youtube): Satisfying Lover (1967) Steve Paxton

“But for me, every choreography is a score - how it begins, how it continues, how it moves forward... The score can evolve, it can become much more complex. You can think of the score as a series of ideas, there are so many definitions. Even the musical score is huge, and looking beyond it can be immense.” Martha Moore

- Interpretation

How do we interpret everything we see around us?

How do we understand (especially in the performance we saw) the characters or the people, the bodies in the situation presented to us?

How do we understand our (private) space (our personal space)?

Mish Rais suggested situations with the painting by Van Gogh - "Wheat Field with Crows" 

The idea of interpretation is taken from John Berger's publication "The Bird" (1972) - which can also be used for a simple extension of the view. Although his work has since been much criticised, his original suggestions are worth considering: space as a matter of interpretation and how intimate space and personal information change our view of space.

How does your perception of what you see change when I tell you that this is the last painting Van Gogh did before he committed suicide. Does that somehow change what you see?

Does it somehow change how you feel?

Do you move on with your story?

"Speaking of interpretation, we can interpret anything, anyway we want. That's the problem with social media and so on these days."

"We all have different experiences; we all have different tools. We are influenced by something here and now. Sometimes we cannot control that."

"Mish Rais"


This article is a compilation of conversations with lecturers: Martha Moore (performer, choreographer), Mish Rais (theoretician, performer), Renata Piotrowska -Aufrett (choreographer), Marie Kinsky (facilitator of discussion, dance visionary, director of SE.S.TA); and others: Michaela Suša (educator and Duncan Centre graduate), DAMU students: Barbora Špačková, Cheng-Te, Chiang, Duncan Centre Dance Conservatory students: Vladlena Klimek, Emily Jane Steele, Štěpánka Svejkovská, Roman Zotov-Mikshin (choreographer, Duncan Centre dance educator) and the audience.

Produced by Katarína Brestovanská (choreographer, dancer).

Photo credits: Julie Stehnová

Thank you for your contributions!


 “An alive society is one that creates”. 

SE.S.TA.  Center for choreographic development


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