By Sarah Louise Kristiansen, (over)protection Lab participant
Distant Dancing - The Corona Edition (I.e ONLINE)
I had just returned from a 2 month trip to Peru with my project Making Dance Happen, when COVID-19 voted to remain in Europe. While I had made it back to the safety of responsible politcal leadership and my Copenhagen apartment, I followed intensely as the situation worsened in the U.K and around the world.
I was hopeful that I would be able to continue presenting my carefully curated spring season, but to my immediate disbelief, I watched the cancellations tick in on my email. Every day for two weeks, I was reminded of all the exiting work I had lined up this year. Because in those two weeks, it all got cancelled. It was very sad.
I was starkly reminded that risk taking is at the heart of cultural production - and a particular risky business when your primary tool is moving bodies, that suddenly aren’t allowed to move anymore. Overnight our entire lives had become infected with a greater threat to our livelihoods than my usual battle of whether to put my dancer in a skirt or a set of trousers. This new war, I quickly realised, was far bigger than my continuous fight for equal representation in choreography and artistic leadership #feminism.
When I make a dance piece, the worst that can happen is a bad review. The Guardian once said my piece was “an emotional wallow in self pity” so in reality - the worst has already happened. If no one turns up to my show, I still get to put the credit on my C.V - and I once booked a tour based on a wonky corporate gig, that had a total audience count of 12 people.
Now even going to the supermarket is risky. I’d like to hear The Guardian call my trip to pick up my milk alternatives “ambitious”, because certainly it feels like venturing into unchartered territory, towards an unorthodox armageddon where only chocolate can save the world. Or my world, at least.
My colleague said it well: “I just don’t want to be responsible for someone else dying”.
And so I abide by the rules and regulations. I (over) protect my surroundings. Because she is right. This isn’t my show anymore and more people will, sadly, pass away.
I am not an expert in virology, so I’ll spare you my opinion on that. But I do know a thing or two about how humans move. So as the days went on, I started to notice how our performance in collective choreography had changed. The New York Times even wrote an article about it. So it must be a real thing, right?
We now have a heightened awareness of our phenomenological bodies and its presence in the space that we take up. As we navigate the isles of the supermarket, our physical and peripheral surroundings have been given a new, lifesaving importance. Turns out, this is hard for people. At one point after a specifically difficult roadblock in the vegetable isle, a woman erupted “I just don’t know how to behave”. I empathised with her and then felt really smug about my successful route to the cucumbers. I guess that master thesis in choreographic process finally came to good use. Public life is no longer a welldressed solo, but an unfiltered ensemble piece. Far from clean, most audiences clap on 1 and 3 and WHICH LEFT DO YOU MEAN, yours or mine?
The sudden collective awareness of personal/public space has certainly been worthwhile of hours of philosophical pondering, but interestingly this protection of our personal space has not extended to the phenomena of our virtual selves - the contemporary augmentation of our physical bodies. While we’ve learned to give each other space as we cross paths by the chocolate bars, we still haven’t mastered the art of protecting each other (and each others’ work) in our virtual, but very real, matrix.
I watched as one online offer tried to overthrow the previous, in a new war for audiences and precious screen time. Suddenly it is possible to take morning class with world class ballerinas and to enhance your daily yoga practice with
We all seemed to suddenly participate in “living room” choreographies or film ourselves dancing in empty streets. We stream our daily workouts for the entire web to tune into.
… and within 24 hours two of my colleagues had, individually of each other, launched the same project. As a response to the urgency of needing to stay relevant during lockdown, my colleagues had arrived at an almost identical idea. At first, I thought maybe one of them had hijacked the idea from the other, but as I dug a little deeper - it turns out they simply just had the same idea. It wasn’t the same project. It was just very similar. To the unknowing eye, the same.
Well, we’ve all been given the same stimuli: our homes and our empty streets. So naturally our corona-projects would end up looking alike, right? But when do things simply look alike? And when is something plagiarism? It’s hard to tell when we’re all dancing with our sofas and creating content with the same camera phones. For once, we’re in the same situation. Our ideas will arrive in our consciousness based on what we are experiencing. Which is currently (and purely objectively) the same.
But while we adapt adequate measures to protect our physical bodies, have we forgotten to protect our virtual identities? And is it even worthwhile to talk about intellectual property in the midst of a global pandemic? It’s just “a silly little project”, right?
How do we protect artistry in an oversaturated online sea of content - And are you really OK with the entire internet knowing the colour of your bedsheets and the intricate architecture of your home decour and local neighbourhood? Or is inviting the world into our homes simply an act of humanising the artist? Where does public end and private start and have you even considered this before saying yes to that project? Does your decision affect anyone else in your household and what about that creepy distant relative or that overactive fan that stalks your profile?
It’s a grey zone with a broad a spectrum and I find myself with very few solutions to offer. Because I too, am trying to navigate the ins and outs of virtual creative production. But I do think it is important to know where my home ends and my stage begins. I don’t want to (over) protect, I don’t want to (under) share and I don’t know which risks are appropriate to take.
So maybe our next collective choreography can take place online, figuring out how to successfully give consent to the projects that we invite into our homes? Perhaps we start by addressing online behaviour as risky business and then maybe, eventually, assessing virtual risk becomes second nature - just as giving each other space in supermarket queue has become.
Because right now, its look more like a fight for the last pack of toilet paper and I have become the one erupting “I just don’t know how to behave”. We’ve been moving in unchartered territory for a while and I’m out of chocolate, desperately running off to meet my armageddon. I just don’t know if I’ll insta-story my way to the battlefield, because hand sanitisers won’t stop cyber-thieves and I’m late for my principal role in the online premiere of “Distant Dancing - The Corona Edition number 134.971©®”.
See you on Zoom!
Sarah Louise Kristiansen took part in the (over)protection Lab in Belgium in September 2017. You can read about her here.