When we speak of ‘being elsewhere’ we tend to think in terms of geographical shifts, such as flying from Beijing or Taipei to London, or vice versa, or migrating to another place from where we were born, raised or ‘socialised’ – as I did in 1999 when I left my native Germany to live in the UK and later New Zealand. The choreographer Riccardo Buscarini also used a spatial metaphor, commenting after yesterday’s rehearsal that for him, being elsewhere meant having no roots (like a tree dislodged from the earth), or embarking on an Odyssey.
Being elsewhere can, however, be taken in several less literal senses, as encapsulating distractedness, boredom, or alternative modes of consciousness such as ecstasy: a word derived from the Ancient Greek ekstasis, meaning standing outside oneself i.e. a removal to ‘elsewhere’. Ecstasy is a topos that has been used extensively in dance: not just in the classic example of Turkish dervish dances; but also in Western theatre dance, for instance some of Mary Wigman’s works; and indeed as part of ‘rave’ club culture. It entails a complete letting go or abandonment of conventions and forms of control in order to seek different or ‘higher’ forms of consciousness.
I think this invites another approach to habitus, which was mentioned at the opening event and subsequently on the discussion forum: a notion closely associated with Bourdieu, created in the interstice between the subject’s will and (societal and other) structures. In dance, the notion could be applied to the habits formed as a result of our daily training which comes with an internalisation of certain bodily codes and practices. When I first arrived to study in Cambridge, I vividly remember taking my first RAD ballet class and my sheer astonishment at the fact that everyone seemed to know and was able to execute their exercises even before the teachers entered the studio (such syllabus-based classes are all but unknown in Germany).
These differences are not just of genre and style, but essentially of corporeal habits. In the rehearsals I observed yesterday and last year in Beijing, performers had to jettison some of their learned physical training and acquire new skills which could even be at odds with their previous experience: for instance giving and sharing weight (aka contact improvisation exercises) as in Vera Tussing’s rehearsal, partnering and lifting etc. All of this is about ‘being elsewhere’: not in the most obvious sense, but in one that is inevitably associated with a letting go of one’s roots, shedding control of what has been previously learned and often accepted as normal and ‘default’.