From Archive to Production: Contemporising the Past, Envisioning the Future
"Whoever has approved this idea of order … will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past" - T.S. Eliot
Summit Dance Theatre is a contemporary dance company re-envisioning works choreographed by dance innovator, theorist and founder of German Expressionist dance, Rudolf Laban, (1879-1958). Laban’s choreographic works include experimental dance theatre, often politically motivated, commenting on the culture of the time. Two of his early works Drumstick (1913) and Journey into Hades, (1913) have not been re-created before. Artistic Director and ‘practical historiographer’ (re- creator of past works for contemporary audiences) Alison Curtis-Jones’ approach includes practical embodiment of archive materials through the contemporary practice of dance making and transference of these in studio practice for public performance.
Remains of Laban’s dance theatre works are scarce, with no video footage or detailed notated scores, only archive materials including photographs and choreographic notes. With no identifiable steps to refer to, or draw from, the identity of the work has to be found through investigation of the originator’s style, methods and approaches. Laban’s work, therefore, cannot be reconstructed in its original form, but re-created. Laban’s work embraced ephemerality; works were often performed in different costumes, by different numbers of performers and with more or less sections, resulting in a change of surface-form. This lack of permanency emphasises that identity of his work lies in the content– the structures, scenarios, characters, meaning and expression, rather than the form. The re- creation process draw on Laban’s choreographic approach, his radical use of improvisation, where dancers contribute their movement responses to given tasks, his theories of Choreutics (Space Harmony), Eukinetics (Dynamics) and archeo-choreological methods to re-create the works for today.
Summit Dance Theatre’s re-creations are not exhumations of old works, nor are they intended to be exact reconstructions, they are re-created to create dynamic engagement with the past, a re- imagining of past works for current dance artists and contemporary audiences.
Following performances of Laban’s Nacht (1927) at The Teatro San Materno in Ascona, Switzerland, October 2013, the Suisse Federal Office of Culture, awarded the Dance as Cultural Heritage award for two new re-creations, Drumstick and Ishtar’s Journey into Hades to be premiered in Ascona, October 2015.
Re-embodying past dances with embodied corporeal knowledge in practice provides insight to the work for dancers and audiences in a way that studying materials alone cannot provide. The body–as- archive Embodied knowledge of theory in practice challenges current linear thinking of past in relation to present. Re-creation is not about the past that was, which is impossible to retrieve, it is about the present that is, proposing a circulatory past-present-past view, that current re-creations inspired by past practice and material remains can, in and through performance, influence the past.
The present can therefore, in some sense be seen as re-defining the past.