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Eleanor Bauer / Good Move

Before coming to Brussels in 2005 to follow the research cycle of P.A.R.T.S., American Eleanor Bauer had already successfully explored the dance scene of New York the USA. In no time Europe became aware of her existence, not in the least due to the hilarious show ‘ELEANOR!’ from 2004. In it she mixes together stand-up comedy, a lecture-performance and a deceptively simple dance. At first glance it leads to an ironic reflection on the problems of an artist making her way through an overcrowded landscape. A very interesting part, however, is the dance. It appears to be a mixture of choreographic platitudes, which Bauer repeats a few times, until the ‘joke’ is truly ended. But only then is the true purpose revealed: at the end of the evening Bauer explains each movement as if its significance is completely self-evident and unquestionable. She does so with so much aplomb that you don’t have an immediate answer, even if you intuitively feel that her explanation makes absolutely no sense. By taking things to extremes, she shows that movement can never be exhaustively explained or framed. Thus she demands the right to simply do her own thing. Which she in fact did all through her further career.

Bauer is never satisfied with ‘just’ dance: it has to reflect on something, such as this new position dance entered into.

After ‘ELEANOR!’, followed ‘E-M-P-A-T-H-Y (authorship is a black hole)’. It was originally entitled ‘Empathy, empathy, empathy... ‘. The new, but similar title, refers to ‘L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E’, the avant-garde poetry magazine that ran in the USA between 1978 and 1981. This fact again points to Bauer’s interest in the difference between language-meaning and dance-meaning. The piece offers some striking observations, for instance in a brief lecture about the point at the end of a sentence that actually makes a point out of the line, because the point makes one look back at the sentence to discover the whole in the sum of words. Something similar can of course also be said about dance. So again this work is about the way dance is producing its own meaning in its own way next to other systems of signification.

The next production, ‘At Large’ (2008) revealed that Bauer saw things pretty big. It was not only a performance but also a booklet, a video series that teaches a new dance fad (in the genre of the popular types of dance hypes among youth that circulate via the internet) and an internet project. Bauer, together with dancers Femke Gyselinck and Manon Santkin and videographer Inneke Van Waeyenberghe, wondered what role dance plays in the world; Youtube was invented only recently at that moment but the effects were obvious right away. Dance became a kind of currency on its own. Its communicative, contagious aspects, its ability to form a body-to-body, almost tribal community within a globalising world suddenly could circulate faster and be promoted in an entirely new way, for example through merchandising. Bauer tried all sorts of dances, imitated soul and country singers, and devised a new ‘dance hype’ live before the audience. The project confirmed that Bauer is never satisfied with ‘just’ dance: it has to reflect on something, such as this new position dance entered into.

Meanwhile Bauer also participated in projects by many other artists such as David Zambrano, Mette Ingvartsen and Xavier Le Roy. Quite remarkable was her contribution to the Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas production ‘The Song’. In it she stole the show in a solo in which she gave her all in and moreover illustrated ‘Rocky Racoon’ by the Beatles, a parody on a country song, with a stunning dance, almost like a stand-up comedian. This side of her stage personality would come fully to the fore in ‘Big Girls Do Big Things’, a solo from 2010. The piece shows Bauer’s extroverted side and her feeling for (self-) ridicule. And it’s again about ‘bigness’.

It starts with the fact that she puts on a much too big polar bear costume, which prevents any meaningful action. After that, Bauer dances the suit half off, in order to present an imitation of rapper Ice Cube. She then uses the polar bear hide as a glamorous train of fur. In it she presents a hilarious version of Patsy Clines ‘Crazy’ from 1963. She climbs a ladder and with each step sings a not higher until she ends in shrill screams. After which she begins a monologue about how ‘lonely’ it is ‘at the top’. In this way, Bauer explores before our eyes all sorts of models for being ‘big’ in a convincing way. This difficult pursuit also resonates in a monologue inspired by New York performer Karen Finley. It is reflected in a very different mode in the final dance however. In it, Bauer presents a personal ‘digest’ of the many ballet scenes which includes swans. This dance ends with the dancer being engulfed by and disappearing totally behind the undulating curtains at the back of the stage.

It is indeed a piece about unadulterated playing, acting characters without identifying with them, in order to exaggerate unabashedly. Bauer understands very well that theatre is of a different nature than ‘real’ life, nor should theatre imitate life. It rather floats on the rhetoric of condensing, exaggerating, thickening. 

Eleanor Bauer describes the piece as ‘An empty promise, a preemptive lament, a flirtation with expectations, a wrestling match with potential, whispering what should be shouted and singing what should be whispered, (BIG GIRLS DO BIG THINGS) is a solo on scale, volume, extreme limits and the grey areas between them; on grandeur and vulnerability, hubris and humility, visibility and subtlety; on the fragile braggadocio of living large when less is more but more is also unmistakably more.’. It is indeed a piece about unadulterated playing, acting characters without identifying with them, in order to exaggerate unabashedly. Bauer understands very well that theatre is of a different nature than ‘real’ life, nor should theatre imitate life. It rather floats on the rhetoric of condensing, exaggerating, thickening.

The fact that Bauer sees things really big only became truly evident in the ‘Triangle-Tent-Time’ trilogy that she created in the following years with composer Chris Peck as her sparring partner. The trilogy unfolded from an inquiry of what it means to dance together, what kind of sense making is at stake in the intersubjective negotiation of form, underlining the synthesis and integration of all embodied intelligences in dance.  In the first part, ‘a dance for the newest age’ (the triangle piece) - the science/past third’ (2011), Bauer explored what science means to us. It starts from the observation that in modernity, a tripartite separation between science, politics, and religion/philosophy leaves us with three modes of “truth production” floating apart.  Pre-modern cultures were more unified or holistic, and only New Age philosophers are still looking for the ‘big’ story. Here, Bauer follows in their footsteps. Modelling the three truth-perspectives looking towards the same whole as an equilateral triangle with the audience on three sides, the tribunes around a triangular playing field feels ‘new agey’ in its symbolic patterns. The dance is here conceived as ‘embodied’ science, with an anachronistic or pre-modern/new-age mysticism about forms and their significance. For example, the six dancers represent the aggregation states of matter or demonstrate the ideas of Buckminster Fuller about world-wide structures. However, there is no explanation, so that as a viewer you often see and feel something different from what is actually being shown. Which seems precisely to be the point: giving space to another, artistic mode of scientific thinking.   

While as an audience member, you felt in the first part a certain political-social aim, this became obvious in the second part, the ‘tentative assembly (the tent piece) - politics/present third’ (2012). The audience is already sitting in tribunes around a triangular playing field. At the start, ‘The Internationale’ slowly bubbles up from disordered background noises. Not coincidently, as the piece reflects on new forms of community in a world that, through the combination of democracy and capitalism, consists only of atomised individuals. But dance, as a fundamentally collective and artistic experience, precisely resists such. Here the dancers together create large string figures that eventually merge into an actual tent of ropes above the stage.

Finally, ‘Midday and eternity (the time piece)’ (2013) was ‘the future/spiritual third’. Here Bauer presents dance as a fragment of the larger choreography of world events. This time she flirts explicitly with the fuzziness of ‘new age’. The vague texts, for example, exaggerate the fact that individual events mean more together than apart. So there is a greater meaning that connects things, although it usually escapes us. Bauer evokes this by having three dancers move like an ingenious clock mechanism. It runs very slowly, and sometimes literally stops. Yet it is intriguing how even then you barely get an idea of how it works. The bodies and movements, the rhythm, the light, the text, together produce something much more complex than each element separately. Exactly what the text promised. It gives the piece an unusual, meditative quality. 

Music and singing played an important role in the trilogy: one could almost speak of dance concerts. In ‘Meyoucycle’ (2016) – a neologism that sounds like ‘musical’ but also evokes the bond between people – Bauer with Chris Peck further develop the idea of a dance concert. This time too it is about a social issue, and how social media and the companies behind it are colonising our consciousness, our time, and our creativity, seemingly without us being able to evade it. Tarek Halaby evokes this addiction in a funny way with a story that bites itself in the tail. This is the prelude to a true musical with a real plot: four people try to escape that addiction by going underground and constantly changing their identity to remain untraceable. The songs and the actions express the twisted ideas that arise in the process and challenge the viewer on all fronts. Bauer often reverts to texts by others, from Hélène Cixous to T.S. Elliot. She leads the dance together with Halaby, Inga Hákonardóttir and Gaël Santisteva, and is supported by Gerrit Nulens, Gwenaelle Rouger and Kobe Van Cauwenberghe of the Ictus Ensemble.

With this work, Bauer has struck out on a new and promising path in her work. But there was more happening in the same period. Between 2013 and 2015, she also regularly did a ‘Bauer hour’, a ‘solo with guests’ which she describes in this way: ‘a talk show, variety show, shit show, parlor show, all or none of the above and also an experiment. A space and time for whatever seems most important now and not later. An occasion to practice the unknown, to share the musings and amusings that decorate life  (…) BAUER HOUR is not about Bauer, it's all about the guests… within the ruckus frame of Bauer, of course’. She also did some after talks with artists, whenever an organization asked her to. She calls them ‘Prototalks’ to insist on the fact that she doesn’t want the artist to ‘explain’ his/her work. She rather looks for the hidden, unexplainable or unresolved issues in the work. Although dance is still the basis of her artistic work, activities as these show that her repertoire has become so broad that one can speak of an all-round artist.

At this moment, Eleanor Bauer is residing in Sweden Sje works on a PhD on ‘choreo|graphy’ as the relationship between dance-thought and language-thought. Anno 2018, she is also working on new productions for the Cullberg Ballet, for Schauspielhaus Bochum and a new solo.