Ted talked on his post yesterday about the terms of engagement which we are using and are in the process of defining here in London. We began Friday morning with one such very rich discussion about the word ‘cosmopolitanism’. It derives from Greek cosmos (the universe) and polis (city) and it is said that when asked where he came from, Greek Philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope replied ‘I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês).
I had been thinking about this word in my work at University of Exeter, working with several PhD students from Asia who have been tracing the roots of their own national training practices or performance traditions and attempting to account for the myriad ways that a practice has been shaped and reshaped by interactions between East and West and/or shifting gepgraphical borders. I wondered if the word ‘cosmopolitan’ could help us account for some of this ‘movement’ and give us a useful way of thinking about the work we’re seeing here.
Of course, as the discussion usefully made clear, there are several issues. The first is assuming that everyone uses the term in the same way and the second is asking who uses it and why? Does its use immediately imply a western bias and does it imply that we all become the same? Is there a better word in Mandarin we could use?
I’ll be thinking about this more as we continue discussion, but what I found really exciting about the exchange of ideas was that it moved from very large scale ideas about nations, traditions, politics and ideologies to small scale examples: a phrase of movement in a particular way of training, the way the foot relates to the floor in the studio, where we carry our weight and how we use gravity.
One of the privileges of being involved in this project is the ability to move between these two scales — to observe dancers and choreographers working together ‘up close’ in minute detail and then to ‘stand back’ and think about the big questions.
I posted on the blog a few days ago that I’m interested in this space ‘in-between’. Just before 9.30pm last night Riccardo and one of his dancers were improvising a piece of a solo phrase. It was the end of the day, everyone was tired. Riccardo made some suggestions about the quality of the dancer’s relationship to the movement and to the the space around him that he wanted; ‘try an insect moving on roller skates’, ‘the floor is boiling’… He gave the dancer space to experiment, to feel for himself the potential of this quality — the choregraphy emerging in the place ‘between’… Philosopher Francois Jullien talks of ‘the between’ as ‘that by which the thing breathes, gains its freedom, is irrigated, and allows itself to be permeated’ (Jullien 2009: 95) which seems a fitting description of that interaction.