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Performance Research
A Journal of the Performing Arts
ISSN: 1352-8165 (Print) 1469-9990 (Online) Journal homepage:
A Phantom in Contemporary European
Choreography: What is Beckett doing to us dancemakers? Can we do something to him in return?
or, a series of realizations, three instances and an
Efrosini Protopapa
To cite this article: Efrosini Protopapa (2007) A Phantom in Contemporary European
Choreography: What is Beckett doing to us dance-makers? Can we do something to him in return?
or, a series of realizations, three instances and an afterthought, Performance Research, 12:1,
20-34, DOI: 10.1080/13528160701398008
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Published online: 16 Feb 2011.
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A Phantom in Contemporary European
What is Beckett doing to us dance-makers? Can we do
something to him in return?
or, a series of realizations, three instances and an
e f r o s i n i p r oto pa pa
a series of realizations: from m.a. to
ph.d., still holding on to beckett
Such works have been
performed by Lapsus
Corpi, a London-based
performance group
directed by Efrosini
Protopapa. For more
information, visit
Quad was first
transmitted in Germany
by Süddeutscher
Rundfunk in 1982 under
the title Quadrat 1+2 and
consequently by BBC 2 on
16 December 1982. It was
first published by Faber
and Faber, London, in
1984 (Beckett 1984: 290).
The translation was
based on the text
published by Faber and
Faber (1984) and was for
the Athens-based streettheatre group of Titina
Halmatzi in November
F titles her Masters dissertation Waiting for
Audi-Audi: In Dialogue with Samuel Beckett
(Protopapa 2003). As part of this project, she
choreographs a performance through which she
claims to have been able to investigate ‘the
methodologies that Beckett employs as a
theatre playwright in order to negotiate his
main thematic ideas and form his structural
principles’ (5). The choreographed work –
entitled Waiting for Audi-Audi (2003–2004) –
does not feature much dance, in the sense of
that which she has been taught in dance
technique classes, but it does include stillness,
repetition of singular movements until
exhaustion, games with everyday habituallyused objects, and a clownish hat-exchange
scene. F also maintains that she has placed the
work that she created ‘in dialogue with Samuel
Beckett’ in the context of the performance event
itself. It features two clownish figures in an act
of waiting for the moment of performance,
thought of here as the moment when the
performer confronts the audience – hence the
nickname ‘Audi-Audi’.
Later on, she embarks on a Ph.D. project,
whose aim is described in terms of constructing
‘something like a “dance-philosophy”, which is
meant here as an exploration – in dance terms
and through performance practice – of issues of
fact and the real, representation and meaning’
(Protopapa 2004: 5). In truth, the reason she
ever undertook the project was because she
believed that it would enable her to create more
choreographic work informed by her reflections
on Beckett’s theatre. Regardless of the direction
this research will take, she remains a Beckett
enthusiast and creates three more
choreographic works – is this with reference to
and influenced by Beckett’s plays? Yes, that’s a
possible way to think of them. Those are titled
QUADish-ish (2005–2006), Umm . . . I . . . and
uh . . . (2005–2006) and wish + qish (2006)
The first is a reworking and development of
F’s older work QUADish (2002), which in turn
was created in response to her experience of
translating Beckett’s play for television Quad 2
from English to Greek.3 Both QUADish and
QUADish-ish take place on a stage with
fluorescent tape used to mark out four-sided
shapes and their diagonals. Groups of
performers exercise all sorts of ‘walks’ – that is,
ways of proceeding in space on the lines – to
conduct their individual journeys in the marked
space. For QUADish, F seems to have composed a
rigid system of geometrical possibilities. As the
work progresses and the possibilities get
exhausted, she creates QUADish-ish, where she
Pe rf o rm a n c e R e s e a r c h 1 2 ( 1 ) , p p . 2 0 – 3 4 © Ta y l o r & F ra n c i s L td 2 0 0 7
D O I : 1 0 . 1 0 8 0 / 1 3 5 2 8 1 6 0 7 01 3 9 8 0 0 8
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A Phantom in Choreography
adopts the principle of adding new performers
on stage – always by multiplying the number of
the existing performers on stage times two – so
that the system constantly adjusts and is recreated in order for the performers to have new
spatial rules by which to proceed in an everchanging stage-situation. For F, then, the work
suggests the possibility of an endless
multiplying process – towards infinity perhaps?4
Somehow, this echoes Beckett for her much
more than the visual effect of the four-sided
shapes on the floor. F feels she is getting closer
to what appears as the structural processes in
Beckett – the Beckett method, could she say? –
and wonders whether and how she can move
from specific plays by Beckett, images and
words, to something underlying the whole of his
theatre; something to do with Beckett’s ways of
In Umm . . . I . . . and uh . . . , a solo performer
wearing a t-shirt which says ‘performer’ moves
to the sound of three recorded monologues.
These are monologues of people whom F asked
to narrate a memory they did not remember
well. What the choreographer was aiming for
here were those moments of hesitation,
ambiguity and uncertainty in one’s speaking,
when it becomes full of ‘thinking hums’ or
‘remembering sounds’, such as ‘umm’, ‘uh’ and
‘er’. The solo then explores similar notions in
movement, as the performer also executes tasks
of having to remember, think and decide her
actions on stage, both in response to what she is
hearing and in relation to what she has been
doing previously in rehearsal and in the
immediately preceding moments of the piece. F
understands how Umm . . . I . . . and uh . . . could
be compared to Not I 5 and Krapp’s Last Tape,6
mainly as regards the ways in which operations
of memory and structures of thought are
revealed through language. And, indeed, she
believes that there is something of her
Beckettian obsession in Umm . . . I . . . and
uh . . . . However, this time the work is not a
response to her reading of any specific play by
Beckett. Therefore, she decides that, contrary to
the cases of Waiting for Audi-Audi and QUADishish, neither the title of the work nor the
programme notes distributed for the work’s
performance needs to make a direct reference to
any of Beckett’s plays. F decides that Umm . . . I
. . . and uh . . . is an independent work, which
could be viewed as exploring physically –
through the human body and its movement (and
stillness) – qualities and processes which
Beckett’s ‘characters’ often explore in language
(and silence).
The last of the three abovementioned works
by F – called wish + qish – features two main parts.
4 Or, as critic Donald
Hutera wrote in his
review of QUADish-ish, it
could also be seen as a
staged situation that
makes possible ‘[a]ll sorts
of metaphorical readings
about repeated historical
patterns and new social
orders’ (Hutera 2005).
One is a reduced version of QUADish-ish – hence
qish – as her preoccupation with infinite
multiplying processes remains. The other part
of wish + qish is composed by a number of short
diverse scenes. These almost autonomous small
performances, one could say, have been created
through a process of creating movement scores
based on answers gathered from a public who
was asked ‘What would you like to see on stage?’
The scenes are then presented next to the
remaining version of QUADish-ish, as
performances someone could have wished for –
in September 1972, and
its first performance in
Britain was at the Royal
Court Theatre, London, in
January 1973 (Beckett
1984: 214).
Not I was written in
English in spring 1972
and was first published
by Faber and Faber,
London, in 1973. It was
first performed at the
Forum Theater of the
Lincoln Center, New York,
6 Krapp’s Last Tape was
written in English in
early 1958. It was first
published in Evergreen
Review in summer 1958
and was first performed
in October 1958 at the
Royal Court Theatre,
London (Beckett 1984:
• Above: Susanna Recchia in Lapsus Corpi’s Waiting for Audi-Audi.
Choreographed by: Efrosini Protopapa. Photo by: Christian Kipp.
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Page 22
F therefore wonders whether it would be more
appropriate to conclude that Beckett’s theatre is
present in her choreographic practice (and her
thinking about her practice) in an undefined yet
unquestionable way. What follows is her
attempt to write on three instances that came
about in her work and life as a young
choreographer-researcher over the last couple of
years. Such instances concern occasions when F
found links between other choreographers’
works and Beckett’s theatre, as well as
occasions when she heard or read the
choreographers themselves mentioning
Beckett’s influence on their practice. These
occasions will be discussed particularly in
relation to Beckett-related points raised by
Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, Jonathan Rée and
Steven Connor, which F finds correlate to issues
that emerge from and within the encounters
between contemporary European
choreographers and Beckett. Subsequently, it
might become easier for F to understand why
and how Beckett ‘appears’ in her own
choreography, and, if not, this in itself will be a
new idea worth considering.
hence wish – in proposing an alternative to the
ultimate but exhausted (and exhaustive)
performance of QUADish-ish. F realizes that in
this piece she might have thematized her desire
finally to be able to escape from Beckett, or
perhaps even from her tendency to relate and
discuss her work in relation to Beckett.
Is this an impossible task? Although it has
never been a case of making adaptations of
Beckett’s plays by translating them into dance
terms, nor even a case of extracting textual,
instance 1
• Anastasia Tsonou and
Susanna Recchia in
Lapsus Corpi’s Waiting for
Audi-Audi. Choreographed
by: Efrosini Protopapa.
Photo by: Christian Kipp.
scenic or movement elements from his
theatrical works and recomposing them into a
new performance outcome, F realizes that one
can indeed detect elements of what she would
call ‘his theatre thinking’ in her overall
choreographic thinking. She would propose,
then, that her obsession with Beckett be
understood as an imagined relation with the
playwright on the level of methodology: through
reflections on means and modes of composing
the theatrical, through a testing of the limits of
words, images and actions on stage, through an
understanding of the ways in which the
theatrical operates in performance. But this
again seems vague and unspecific.
Vera Mantero: When Thinking Replaces Talking
– or, Does it not?
In Ploebst’s recent book on new choreography,
Portuguese choreographer Vera Mantero states:
I’m not a dancer, I don’t want to be a dancer, I
want to do whatever I feel like doing, I want to do
whatever is necessary to do. It’s not obvious to
me to make dances in terms of theatrical,
composed dance. . . . I don’t make dances. I make
(quoted in Ploebst 2001: 54).
Ploebst presents Mantero as an artist who has
translated many of her questions concerning
her art-form into choreography. Such questions
include: What does dance say? What can I say
with dance? What am I saying when I’m
dancing? (42–3). Her relationship to her training
background as a dancer, of ballet in particular,
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A Phantom in Choreography
is also given much attention, as Mantero claims
that she has turned to everything that was
forbidden in ballet, such as ‘touching the lights
and curtains and breathing a little on the stage,
being a little normal, looking at and touching
things’ (38). Mantero becomes the
choreographer who ‘left dance in the dust’, since
‘dance vocabulary seemed simply too poor’ to
express ‘that side of the inner being’ that she
wants to explore, as a dance-maker who is
interested in the letting go of things and
emptiness, in a certain lassitude, or the idea of
falling into nothingness (40).
It is important here briefly to contextualize
Mantero within a current movement in European
dance7 whose main concerns and characteristics
have been pinpointed by Lepecki as a reduction
of ‘theatrics’, of expansiveness, of the
spectacular and of the unessential, which brings
these choreographers’ work formally closer to
performance art (1999a: 129–30), a critique of
representation and an interrogation of
choreography’s ‘political ontology’, as Lepecki
calls it (2006: 45), often through the performance
of still-acts rather than continuous movement, so
that what is enabled is a rethinking of action and
mobility within dance (2006: 15) as well as the
shattering of (dance) techniques and the
privileging of the dancer as co-author (1999b).
On one level, then, Mantero’s rejection of the
strict framework of theatrical dance, her open
critique of ballet technique as one that does not
allow normal actions on stage, her questions
about dance’s capacity to convey meaning, as
well as her interest in reduction and the less,
could be understood within and through the
context of this recent European dance
movement. There is one more claim, however,
that Mantero makes in Ploebst (2001: 43), which
has not yet received much attention and by
which I am also quite intrigued. This is the
choreographer’s direct reference to Samuel
Beckett as the one in whose work ‘thinking’
replaces ‘talking’.
Once again, just the appearance of Beckett’s
name here could easily be connected with many
of Mantero’s earlier claims, on the basis of
Beckett being seen as having renewed theatrical
practice by rejecting complex plots and
thoroughly outlined characters, instead counterproposing minimalist compositions of images,
movements and words on stage, in order to
express the deeper condition of the human
being (to take the existentialist view). I would
like particularly to focus, though, on the specific
idea of the replacement of talking with thinking,
as for Mantero herself, it is the ‘thinker’ Beckett
to whom she relates, being, she claims, a
‘thinker’ herself (Ploebst 2001: 49). It is through
her reference to Beckett in terms of ‘thinking’
and ‘talking’ that we might perhaps start
understanding Mantero’s question ‘What am I
saying when I’m dancing?’.
In Beckett, Mantero finds the perfect example
of how art becomes ‘thinking’, ‘reading the
world’ (Ploebst 2001: 49–52). Her own ‘thinking’,
as she describes it, concerns the fact that
‘currently we live on a very flat existential level’
(52). Mantero acknowledges that ‘[w]e are set on
forgoing many experiences, relations and
possibilities of being’ (49). For her, it is to this
problem that Beckett provides the answer, by
opening up possible processes of reading the
world, registering experiences, and thinking
about and reflecting on our being. Already,
here, Badiou’s clear-cut definition of how
Beckett philosophizes provides a key to what
Mantero might mean by a resistance to the
forgoing of experiences; Badiou notices that
Beckett registers truths, rather than producing
them: ‘[n]o longer to produce unheard-of
impurities, but to wallow in the apparent
purity of the concept. To philosophize, in
short’ (cited in Power and Toscano 2003:
Might this throw some light on Mantero’s
definition of a ‘thinking’ which replaces
‘talking’? What is the relationship that emerges
between the terms ‘talking’, ‘thinking’ and
‘dancing’, in the choreographer’s attempt to
register truths, to resist the forgoing of
experiences? It feels as if ‘thinking’ does not
7 Other choreographers
who are considered part
of such movement are
Jérôme Bel, Jonathan
Burrows, Boris
Charmatz, La Ribot,
Thomas Lehmen, Xavier
Le Roy and Meg Stuart,
among others. As Lepecki
(2006: 45) clarifies
however, although the
particular European
movement in dance has
been gaining shape,
visibility and force since
the mid-1990s, it does
not constitute an
organized movement;
neither does it have a
proper name. Writers
who have focused on the
choreographers and who
discuss the issues such
works raise about
choreography today
include Ramsay Burt,
Bojana Cvejic, Pirkko
Husemann, André
Lepecki, Joroen Peeters,
Helmut Ploebst, Gerald
Siegmund and Dorothea
von Hantelmann.
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Page 24
exactly replace ‘talking’ or ‘dancing’, but
perhaps we are dealing here with a kind of
talking or dancing that remains, even – or
precisely at the moment – when talking and
dancing seem to have been made redundant.
Therefore, and if one is to keep talking, could it
also be suggested that it is more a matter of the
thinking ‘cracking through’ the talking or being
allowed to ‘emerge in’ the dancing? Is this when
dancing starts saying? What kind of dancing do
we have then? It is this latter set of questions
that Mantero’s thinking brings up for me, and
that allows me to connect her to Beckett. What
is more, in exploring such questions I would
suggest that the choreographer does not hint at
a rejection of talking (and moving) altogether,
but quite the opposite: towards a new
consideration of the ways in which
choreography might use – as well as overuse and
abuse – language (and movement).
This becomes clearer in a text that critic,
dramaturge and writer Jeroen Peeters wrote
when asked to join a research project Mantero
led under the title ‘Thought, Poetry and the
Body in Action’ as part of ImPulsTanz in Vienna
2002. Peeters was invited to join as an observer
and consequently produced a text that traces
several exercises and includes some of his
remarks and thoughts on the collaborations and
processes he witnessed. To begin with, Peeters
introduces the way in which language is
involved in Mantero’s process by explaining that
she works through a series of tasks which
accumulate into complex procedures, in order to
lead both body and mind into ‘a state of
ignorance, discomfort and doubt, of allowance,
discovery and surprise, not to be perceived as
“natural” or preceding language. . . . [L]anguage
was even a main tool . . . to enter different
states’ (Peeters 2002).
In particular, Peeters describes exercises of
automatic writing and outlines a few main
strategies that seem to be at the core of
Mantero’s approach. These include: the principle
of horizontality, which allows for the
juxtaposition of words, so that hierarchy is
erased and ordinary meaning is often prevented
from emerging clearly; the principle of
superposition, which emerges out of thinking
about two different things at once and merging
them into a single image; connecting thinking
and writing in a self-reflexive moment of
writing about writing itself; arriving at mere
nonsense, as when haunted by a brain that runs
fast, incessantly producing meaning; allowing
nothing to happen, accepting that free writing
can remain disappointing, banal, and can reveal
nothing unexpected.
Such strategies have indeed already been
detected as key principles of Beckett’s novels
and his characters’ monologues. Isn’t it in
Beckett that the one who speaks, who never
ceases to speak, at the same time asks ‘who’s
speaking’? Isn’t it Beckett who seems to be
haunted by games with language and long
internal monologues (whether these reveal the
influence of Joyce or not)? Isn’t it Beckett’s
characters who are not sure whether they have
started to mean something? Just as Beckett
aims at destroying language ‘by excess and
saturation’, ‘through the violence inflicted on
words’, in order to obtain silence (Badiou 2003:
54), so Mantero approaches ‘thinking’ through
forced excessive talking rather than the
rejection of talking altogether.
• Anastasia Tsonou in
Lapsus Corpi’s
Choreographed by: Efrosini
Protopapa. Photo by:
Christian Kipp.
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A Phantom in Choreography
As Power and Toscano explain, Beckett
himself expresses his ‘attempt to think through
and beyond the limitations imposed by the
linguistic set-up’, ‘to attain something other
than language’ (2003: xxviii) in his much
discussed letter to Axel Kaun in 1937:
more and more my own language appears to me
like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get
at the things (or the Nothingness) behind it. . . .
[L]anguage is most efficiently used when it is
most efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate
language all at once, we should at least leave
nothing undone that might contribute to its
falling into disrepute.
(Beckett cited in Power and
Toscano 2003: xxviii–ix)
Eventually though, Mantero choreographs
movement rather than words. The question
arises, then, whether Beckett’s thoughts on
language could shed some light on the way
Mantero deals not only with words but also with
movement. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it is those
same strategies described by Peeters (2002)
that seem to determine the choreographer’s
passage from language to movement too, as if a
third layer is now added to the already
multilayered process of automatic writing.
‘Untwining’ (as Peeters calls it), detachment,
disconnection between words and gestures,
articulating body and mind separately and
tracing the imbalance that occurs; these are the
principles that form the state Mantero seeks.
This is again a process of excess and
saturation. Full of words, so to speak, the dancer
is required to move, staying active within two (or
more) universes at the same time (as Peeters
puts it).
But this then becomes the way in which
Mantero seeks to tear apart the veil of
movement in order to get at her desired
emptiness; the way she surpasses the limits of
the dance set-up to attain something other than
dance – ‘that side of the inner being’ she aims
for; the way in which she attempts to make
dance fall into disrepute. And this is perhaps
how Mantero becomes a ‘thinker’, thereby
communicating, as she claims, with Beckett –
Beckett also as ‘thinker’.
instance 2
Maguy Marin: Through Exhaustion/Taking
Flight in Arithmetic8
In the publicity material for French
choreographer Maguy Marin’s Umwelt, which
was presented as part of the Dance Umbrella
Festival 2005 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall,
London, I read the following: ‘Influenced by the
work of playwright Samuel Beckett, Maguy
Marin has created a work in which the audience
is compelled to critique its own reflection’. The
work is presented as an ‘exquisite and often
humorous hour-long cycle of inherent activity’,
‘a hypnotic and colourful rear-window view of
Marin’s sense of the human condition’
(Unknown author, Dance Umbrella website).
In the post-show discussion I raise my arm
and ask Marin where exactly Beckett’s influence
is to be traced in Umwelt. She pauses, sighs,
shrugs her shoulders and says: ‘Well, in general,
it’s always inspired by Beckett!’ (Marin 2005).
The choreographer then refers to Deleuze’s text
on Beckett’s television play Quad, and speaks of
her interest in the idea of exhaustion. She
explains her choreographic methodology of
taking one theme or gesture and playing with
variation in order to make a performance,
linking it to Beckett, who, she says, ‘takes few
words and makes them into a lot of words’
‘We took flight in
arithmetic. What mental
calculations bent double
hand in hand!’ (Beckett
1965, quoted in
Gontarski 1995: 188).
• Eri Papacharalambous,
Neil Paris, Susanna
Recchia, Elena Prapidi,
Pano Masti, Alex Beech,
Priska Lüthi and Anastasia
Tsonou in Lapsus Corpi’s
Choreographed by: Efrosini
Protopapa. Photo by:
Christian Kipp.
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Page 26
• Susanna Recchia in
Lapsus Corpi’s Umm . . . I
. . . and uh . . . .
Choreographed by: Efrosini
Protopapa. Photo by:
Christian Kipp.
order not to die (as do Hamm and Clov in
Endgame); secondly, as the exhaustion of
possibilities in the strictly mathematical sense
of working out all the possible combinations of a
restricted number of elements through systems
and patterns (as with Beckett’s Molloy, who lists
all the possible combinations of the kinds of food
he has available to eat). It is therefore worth
looking both at these aspects of Beckett’s work,
in order to further understand how he appears in
Marin’s work, and at what this enables Marin to
achieve in her choreography.
To begin with, Marin admits her desire to
explore the embodied physicality that is
sometimes displayed by Beckett’s characters, by
which she means not only the look of the body
which appears on stage in Beckett’s theatre or is
described in his prose but also the repertory of
movement, the bodily behaviour which such
body becomes engaged in. Marin explains that
this interest emerges from the fact that she
trained in dance where ‘there is a prevailing
vision of the body, which has to be beautiful and
young’ (cited in Ricoux 2006: 13). Beckett
appeals to her because his bodies are shackled
and thus appear ‘more human than dancers’
bodies’, which do not interest her anymore (13).
It is true that in Beckett there are innumerable
instances of ‘the blind, the lame, the paralytic,
the helpless and the impotent’, as Badiou
observes, ‘and, in the end, those bodies . . . are
reduced, little by little, to a head, a mouth, a
skull with two holes’ (Badiou 2003: 45). Their
incompleteness and insufficiency is what Marin
points to as their first and foremost human
characteristics – characteristics that she clearly
differentiates from dancers’ bodily proficiency
and flawlessness, which makes the latter
drearily inhuman.
Badiou’s further comment on Beckett’s
theatre, which ‘swarms with libidinous blind
figures, with impotent old men relentlessly
following their passions, with battered but
triumphant maid-slaves, with imbecilic youths,
with crippled megalomaniacs’ (Badiou 2003: 75),
provides a base from which to understand how
the Beckettian (‘more human’) shackled body,
might (or should) also be considered comic; how
it produces humour and furthermore expresses
the ‘ human condition’ (also a characteristic of
Marin’s work). The philosopher argues that ‘[t]he
handicap is not a pathetic metaphor for the
human condition’; ‘this carnivalesque heritage’
is ‘neither a symbol nor a metaphysics in
disguise, and even less a derision, but rather a
powerful love for human obstinacy, for tireless
desire, for humanity reduced to its stubbornness
and malice’, for ‘anonymous figures of human
toil which the comedy renders at once
interchangeable and irreplaceable’ (75). Badiou
proposes that through such bodies Beckett
‘enables us to grasp that anyone is the equal of
anyone else’ (75). He thus points to Vladimir’s
exalted tirade in Waiting for Godot: ‘It is not
every day that we are needed. . . . Others would
(2005). This still does not provide me with
sufficient explanation either of why Umwelt was
advertised in this way or of why, for Marin, ‘it’s
always inspired by Beckett’.
A few months later, though, I read an interview
where Maguy Marin gives an interview to Estelle
Ricoux, which is published in Dance Theatre
Journal (2006), in which she expands on what
interests her in Beckett. Here, the idea of
exhaustion emerges doubly: firstly, as physical
exhaustion, through restricted bodies which
mostly appear in pairs and are complementary so
that they have an obligation to live together in
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A Phantom in Choreography
meet the case equally well, if not better. . . . But
at this place, at this moment of time, all
mankind is us, whether we like it or not’
(Beckett 1956: 71–2). In order to portray ‘all
mankind’, Beckett first suspends the
subjectivity of his characters, reducing them to
what Badiou considers their indestructible
functions, their bare determinants and
primordial constituents (Power and Toscano,
2003: xviii–ix, xxii).
Marin seems to be seeking something similar;
she says she aims at ‘a sort of anonymity’ –
something she describes as ‘more human and
more extensive than the identification of one of
the performers or of one specific person’ (cited
in Ricoux 2006: 13). In Umwelt she stages bodies
coming onstage backwards, in order to make the
audience identify with them not as individuals
but rather as bodies. Additionally, she
choreographs the whole work as an endless act
of walking, something she sees as very basic in
her work but which comes across as rich in
effect – complex and simple at the same time,
the action that is ‘at the origin of everything’
(13). Umwelt can hereby be considered a work in
which movement is reduced to the elemental
function of walking, while specific individuals
become universal humans. In this sense, Marin’s
Beckett is the one who deals with ‘all mankind’
via bodies whose repertories of action are
restricted to primordial functions, ‘their bare
Moving on from the exhaustion of the
physical body to the mathematical exhaustion of
combinatorial possibilities, Umwelt’s
choreography is (as Marin admits) entirely
generated by a system that reproduces Beckett’s
processes of exhaustion, his exploration of
possibilities without intention or aim. Umwelt is
based on polyrhythmic patterns that are
combined using mathematical permutations of
multiplication and repetition (14). Despite the
madness and obsession that lie at the centre of
such processes, Marin admits that she finds
pleasure in applying combinatorial procedures
to her own work and that now more than ever
she is able to relate to the plays of Beckett,
which employ such procedures. While at the
heart of Umwelt there lies the methodology of
potential exhaustion, Marin nevertheless
explains that the process of working through
possibilities never actually seems to exhaust
them; rather, for her it opens up new
possibilities, without ever marking them out, or
resolving them.
This echoes Marin’s reading of Deleuze’s The
Exhausted (1993), where the philosopher
differentiates between tiredness and
exhaustion, between realizing and possibilizing.
Deleuze wonders whether one must be
exhausted to give oneself over to the
combinatorial, or whether it is the
combinatorial that leads us to exhaustion, or
whether it is even the two together, the
combinatorial and the exhaustion, that exhaust
us (152), but Steven Connor makes a remark that
summarizes how I see such process working in
Exhaustion appears to be the rim, or the horizon
of exertion, to belong to the far edge of things:
but it is in fact implicit in its beginnings.
Exhaustion is closer to vitality than might
appear, since the sign of vigour is that it desires
the consummation of exhaustion. Strength
consists in the power and the will to be drained
to the invigorating extreme of exhaustion.
‘Nothing like breathing your last to put new life
in you’, as somebody says in Beckett.
(2004: 54)
This is how Marin perceives exhaustion; as
implicit in beginnings, an opening out of
possibilities. What fascinates her in Beckett’s
exhaustion is how it affirms a notion of the
present, which the choreographer herself
characterizes as ‘Spinozean’; she searches for
the keys that are available to humans in order
for them to be ‘at the maximum potential of
present life’ (Marin 2006). Following Deleuze’s
proposition, then, I consider Marin’s
combinatorial procedures, too, not as realizing
the possible but rather as giving the possible ‘a
reality that is proper to it, a reality that is,
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• Priska Lüthi, Pano Masti, Elena
Prapidi, Neil Paris, Eri
Papacharalambous, Susanna Recchia,
Alex Beech and Anastasia Tsonou in
Lapsus Corpi’s wish + qish.
Choreographed by: Efrosini
Protopapa. Photo by: Christian Kipp.
•Neil Paris, Priska Lüthi,
Alex Beech, Pano Masti,
Eri Papacharalambous,
Elena Prapidi, Susanna
Recchia, Efrosini
Protopapa and Anastasia
Tsonou in rehearsal for
Lapsus Corpi’s wish + qish.
Choreographed by: Efrosini
Protopapa. Photo by:
Christian Kipp.
precisely, exhaustible’, so that, as Deleuze puts
it, in exhaustion one remains active, even if for
nothing (1993: 153). Marin holds on to the
system of exhausting possibilities, in order for
Umwelt to keep going, until the thread that has
been unwinding between two spools during the
performance finally becomes entirely unwound:
‘The piece is not resolved. It just has to stop
eventually’ (Marin, cited in Ricoux 2006: 14).
The choice of a specific structural principle is
what defines the end.
It follows that the choreographer herself has
only to choose and refine the structure, to
organize energy, to understand how the
sequence of images must happen while keeping
to the structural principle. The link with Beckett
is clearly distinguishable here: the methodical
treatment of elements, which pushes logic to its
extreme, becomes the tool for formal
innovation. Echoing Beckett’s statement, ‘[t]o
find a form that accommodates the mess, that is
the task of the artist now’ (cited in Fletcher
2003: 67), the choreographer concedes: ‘It’s a big
mess to make a creation. We try to put order but
eventually it’s always a big fight between mess
and order’ (Marin 2006).
Finally, Marin, like Mantero, describes herself
as always having worked on the fringe of dance.
Even if dance is fundamental to her because she
trained in dance, she feels the need to go beyond
it. Here she draws one last parallel between
herself and Beckett; just as in his late career
Beckett hardly used words at all in his plays, so
Marin wonders whether, as her work matures,
she still needs movement (or what we call dance)
as the driving force in her work. ‘Probably so’,
Marin concludes, ‘but I don’t really care whether
there is dance or not. I don’t care about what it is
made of’ (cited in Ricoux 2006: 16).
I am now able to envisage an environment –
umwelt, in German – where Marin meets
Beckett. It incorporates and explores
mathematical formulae and processes of
exhaustion, structure and chaos, physical
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A Phantom in Choreography
weakness and humour, insufficiency and
humanity, walking and dance.
instance 3
Jérôme Bel: Towards redefining theatre/when
dance and theatre collapse into one
A few months after reading Maguy Marin’s
interview, I find myself in Dublin. This is after
the Beckett Centenary Festival, and the city is
full of posters of Beckett’s face and placards
with lines from his plays and prose. The
playwright’s name comes up in a public
interview with French choreographer Jérôme Bel
at the Project Arts Centre, as part of the International Dance Festival of Ireland 2006, where
Bel is invited to present his work Pichet
Klunchun and Myself (2005), a commission by
Tang Fu Kuen for the Bangkok Fringe Festival.
Despite the interviewer’s comment that ‘well, we
are a bit over Beckett here nowadays’, Bel insists
on clarifying what attracts him in Beckett: it is
the fact that Beckett’s plays ‘show us the limit of
theatre’ and therefore provide us with a redefinition of theatre; as the choreographer
explains, ‘when Krapp is listening to the tape, it
is no longer theatre; this makes you understand
what theatre is’ (Bel 2006). Bel then goes on to
describe theatre as a setting in which ‘people sit
in the darkness with their mouths shut, while
other people are in the light speaking’ (2006).
Or, as Etchells writes of Bel’s performance The
Show Must Go On, ‘theatre is a frame (game)
constructed so that people can look at other
people’ (Etchells 2004: 198)–a contract, as
Etchells has claimed on other occasions,
between you-the spectator and me-the
‘It is important that I do what I do in theatre’,
Bel claims (2006). He speaks about the
relationships, the history, the habits and the
tradition of Western theatre. In fact, he
describes his Rite of Spring as an exercise after
Pina Bausch and Maurice Bejart, ‘to connect to
dance history’, ‘to connect to a main score of
modernity’. Bel also clarifies – similarly to
Mantero and Marin – that he is now interested
in the idea of stopping the dance, although ‘of
course you need to know how to dance in order
to able to do this’ (2006). Hence, while he admits
that ‘you are defined by the context’, he is now
interested not in dance but in a few artists; in
ideas, not in the medium. In the end, what Bel
sees as pure choreography is the instruction to
be ‘eating a banana with your right hand’; he
then wonders, ‘What is performance?’, and once
again replies, ‘For me, it is clear in Beckett’
The choreographer’s preoccupation with the
theatrical apparatus is what seems to lead him
to a definition of theatre via Krapp’s listening to
the tape, or eating his banana; via an act which
in Bel’s terms ceases to be theatre. On the one
hand, one could argue that ‘Bel’s work
continually shifts between boundaries of dance,
live art and performance and transcends
definition and labelling’ (Ploebst 2001), so that
he redefines theatre by working across art
forms. But on the other, his comments on
Beckett show how what he explores is in the end
theatre and all the operations that take place
within it.
As Lepecki notes, ‘[i]t is given in cybernetics
that every system, in order to operate smoothly,
necessitates a functional degree of amnesia’
(2000). In the same way, then, that Lepecki
realizes that ‘to write on the work of Jérôme Bel
is to suddenly awake from this amnesia of habit’
(2000), so perhaps do audiences wake up from
the amnesia of their habits as spectators of the
theatrical when confronted with work that
transcends the boundaries of theatre but within
the theatrical setting itself. The way in which
Bel achieves this awakening, or the undoing of
the theatrical setting, is perhaps what links his
work to the scene of Krapp listening to his tapes
or eating his banana. Reading Etchells’s lines on
The Show Must Go On, one could also think of
[P]eriods of boredom, waiting and anticipation
are the constituent economy. . . . Bel plays a
double game with the watcher, who, faced with
more and more less – nothingness, voids,
9 At a post-show
discussion after the
performance of Bloody
Mess at Riverside
Studios, November 2005,
for example.
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For more info, visit
But what exactly does the audience face?
What is this ‘more and more less’, and how does
it resemble Krapp eating his banana? I attempt
to make this link through Siegmund’s
discussion of the theatricality of the bodies in
Bel’s works. Starting from the premise that ‘a
body on stage cannot help but be inscribed in
the symbolic’, Siegmund argues that the body in
Bel is situated at the crossroads between the
eighteenth-century authentic or natural body
and the avant-garde ‘real’ body (2003: 84–7). The
first he names authentic because of its ability
‘to imitate the correct gestures, postures and
facial expressions to validate the actor’s speech’,
and by the latter he means the body that fell ‘out
of character’, so that ‘[t]he subordination of the
actor under his or her role was turned upside
down’ (Siegmund 2003: 86). In Bel, then, as
Siegmund explains, bodies do not perform a
character – this links them to the bodies of the
avant-garde – but indeed they do operate from
within the framework of traditional eighteenthcentury theatrical representation. Here, bodies
‘appear to be truthful not because they are
naturally presented or do not act at all
(everything is on the contrary perfectly staged
and rehearsed), but because they are
untheatrical bodies’, so that ‘[d]ance and theatre
fall into one’ (Siegmund 2003: 87).
The specificity of the theatre described here is
what is at stake for Bel in Krapp’s Last Tape. As
Bel sees it, Krapp is not extracted from the
traditional representational theatrical setting,
but appears within it. Still, he engages with
what Bel describes as ‘pure mechanic and
precise action without any expression or
emotion’ (Bel 2006), action that is performed
‘out of character’ and does not presuppose the
‘subordination of the actor under his role’ in
Siegmund’s terms (see above). It is precisely this
kind of reduction of theatrics in Beckett, this
less, which for Bel ‘challenges the question of
why theatre is so live and therefore
underlines its very liveliness’ (Bel 2006) – its
very ‘more’.
Arguably, Bel’s performers do not appear on
stage in the same manner as Krapp. Krapp is
bound to those precisely staged actions that Bel
describes, but he is still the character of a play,
much closer to the notion of a ‘role’ than the
people one sees on stage in The show must go
on. Even so, Bel goes back to Beckett in order to
redefine the theatrical framework within which
he places his own work. What he seems to be
seeking in Beckett is the precise choreographed
action, the body that commits to real action
from within the representational setting, the
minimal of action that allows for the maximal of
doubling, blankness, redundancy, the banal, the
obvious, the everyday – begins to find more and
more more.
(Etchells 2004: 199)
afterthought: an encounter and
the emergence of the phantom
F is now in Warsaw, Poland, taking part in the
Mobile Academy 2006,10 where she meets Xavier
Le Roy, a choreographer whom she has been
linking to Beckett in a much more arbitrary way
than those above; neither Le Roy himself, nor
those writing about his work, ever mention
Beckett or attempt to suggest connections
between Le Roy’s work and Beckett. F asks Le
Roy to bring to Warsaw the score for three
performers that she performed and saw others
performing in a workshop he led at Greenwich
Dance Agency, as part of the London
International Summer School 2004. F seemed to
remember this as something quite ‘Beckettian’.
Le Roy brings the score to Warsaw, and F
searches in it for Beckett. At first, what strike
her are the names that are given to the three
performers: Pim, Pam and Boom. ‘For sure the
names are very Beckett’, Le Roy tells her (2006).
She emails a friend urgently to provide her with
all the names of Beckett’s characters which
resemble Pim, Pam and Boom. The friend
Yellow (1934, published in More Pricks Than
Kicks) features Bim and Bom, apparently the
name of Russian clowns of the 1920s. There is a
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A Phantom in Choreography
( <?
( m(r. ·
Page 31
‘Thomas “Bim” Clinch’ in Murphy (1936) who has
relatives called Bom and Bum.
Pim is a character in How It Is (1960). The
three parts are ‘before Pim with Pim after Pim’.
There is also a very minor character called ‘Mrs
Penny-a-hoist Pim’ in Watt (1948).
The list of characters in What Where (1983)
reads ‘Bam, Bem, Bim, Bom, Voice of Bam (V)’.
Can’t find a Pam or Boom, I’m afraid.11
(Mansell 2006).
The reference is there, but there is no exact
correspondence between the score’s characters
and those of Beckett. F keeps reading the score.
There seems to be a systematic way in which
Pim, Pam and Boom’s actions and words are
structured in Le Roy’s score, combining the set
of variables in the situation and exhausting the
possibilities. For a moment F recalls her
experience of watching Come & Go, as part of
the Beckett Centenary Festival 2006 at the
Barbican Centre. Here it was Flo, Vi and Ru
exploring three-ness and its mathematical
possibilities in a precisely choreographed
manner. Le Roy’s score, however, soon moves
beyond that; as she reads, F realizes that what is
at stake in this score is not so much the
precision with which it is to be realized but
rather the way it has been written and is
therefore read and acted out in performance.
The score creates misunderstandings and
Vrucr, or,s
( I'
• A score for three people
by Xavier Le Roy (page 1).
\in]_kt;,, co.{w,/
confusions by requiring the
performer/interpreter to exchange the score
with co-performers, to flip the page from one
side to the other, to skip some parts and repeat
others, to choose and combine elements from a
set of variables, and to determine one’s action in
relation to what the other performers are doing.
Somehow, Le Roy’s score is ‘very Beckett’ in
what it produces. But it is also in a way not
Beckett at all; the territory in which Le Roy
seeks to place his performers is one of intricacy
and real uncertainty rather than that of
determined and accurate choreographed
F finds a moment to speak to Le Roy about his
work in general and the score in particular. She
asks him directly whether his work is
influenced by Beckett. Le Roy’s response is no
surprise. His first words are: ‘Beckett is
everywhere’ (Le Roy 2006). He admits that he
has read Beckett and that the influence can
perhaps be traced, but that he began this
reading only after people remarked ‘this is so
Beckett!’ when seeing the his early work
Narcisse Flip (1997), where Le Roy explores the
possibilities of the moving body as if it is under
scrutiny in a laboratory situation. Therefore, the
choreographer suggests that his work might
have been the same had he not read Beckett at
11 With due
acknowledgement to
C.J. Ackerley and
S.E. Gontarski (2004) The
Grove Companion to
Samuel Beckett: A
Reader’s Guide to His
Works, Life and Thought.
020-034 rPRS1201-Protopapa (KM)
Page 32
• A score for three people
by Xavier Le Roy (page 2).
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all. Finally, he tells F: ‘Well, maybe in terms of
this exhaustion of possibilities. . . . I’m really
interested in that. Because Beckett loved
mathematics and I also know mathematics; so
it’s quite simple, maybe it’s only about that’
While lingering on her quest for Beckett in
contemporary European choreography – on the
statements she has collected from
choreographers, her reading on Beckett and her
thoughts on the links between such materials –
the encounter with Le Roy provides F with a new
view. She realizes that her enterprise will always
seem justified but is also in some ways always
bound to fail. Beckett’s presence in
contemporary European choreography needs
rethinking. It is there, but is not exactly a matter
of traceable, undistinguishable influence – often
not even a matter of reference. F needs to find
new terms with which to speak about her topic.
At this stage, two approaches to Beckett echo
in F’s mind. The first belongs to Badiou (2003),
and the second is that proposed recently by
Jonathan Rée (2006). For Badiou, ‘it is only by
confronting the characteristic operations or
procedures defining Beckett’s work that we can
really come to terms with the singularity and
force of Beckett’s contribution to thought’
(Power and Toscano 2003: xviii). If anything, it
seems that all choreographers point at the
‘thorough and unapologetic operation of
formalisation’ which is in order in Beckett’s
work, ‘the relentlessness and precision that
mark its fundamental moves’, his concern with
method above all (xviii). But, secondly, what is at
stake here is that this method is actualized in
theatre. What Beckett offers is a ‘philosophy of
theatre’ as described by Jonathan Rée.
Addressing the question of whether Beckett’s
writing after the Second World War reveals an
existentialist view of the human condition or
expresses the broader narrative of Nietzsche’s
loss of God or a loss of the centre of meaning,
the philosopher shrewdly pointed out that it is
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A Phantom in Choreography
necessary to understand that Beckett’s plays are
not his opinions in writing, but ‘words to be
spoken from actors towards audiences’ (Rée
2006). The originality of Beckett’s theatre is to
be found not in any philosophical themes that
he explores – existentialist or other – but in the
way he thematizes philosophical questions and
gives them new form. This form, F wants to
insist, belongs to theatre in particular. As Rée
suggests, Beckett rehearses the logic of the
‘dramatic voice’ – not the lyrical or the
philosophical voice, for example – and it is this
voice that determines the operations and
procedures in his plays.
Beckett appears in contemporary European
choreography precisely at this crossroads:
where formalization and method, pure
structural and mathematical principles, meet
the theatrical reality of people on stage being
watched by other people in the auditorium. It is
in this space that thinking is allowed to emerge
through words and silence, actions and
stillness, where reality is possibilized rather
than possibilities being realized, and where the
spectator is offered more and more more
through more and more less. And this is as clear
as it gets.
Indeed, Beckett is everywhere. Trying to pin
down his presence with examples and
references now seems an amusing yet
impossible task. In Warsaw, F hears Hannah
Hurtzig, director of the Mobile Academy 2006,
trying to define the presence of phantoms,
ghosts and spectres in her speech welcoming
the participants. This kind of presence is
defined as one that has not yet appeared but
that at the same time cannot cease appearing:
‘not living, not dead, not yet born or incapable
of dying, neither present nor absent – they
[ghosts, avatars, phantoms, the undead,
zombies] put reality on hold and rob it of
matter and provability’ (Hurtzig and
Hochleichter 2006: Mobile Academy website).
F has finally found a way to define Beckett’s
presence in contemporary European
choreography, as well as in her own work: as a
ghost, a phantom, a spectre, who has not yet
appeared, in concrete and distinguishable
terms, but at the same time cannot cease
appearing, in the words and thoughts of
choreographers. As for F’s attempt to explore
such presence, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No
matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’
(Beckett 1983: 101).
Thanks to Anna Pakes for encouraging me to
submit an article for this issue and to Joe
Kelleher, Catherine Laws and Thomas Mansell
for their help and fruitful comments on drafts of
this writing.
Ackerley, Chris and Gontarski, S. E. (2004) The Grove
Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to
His Works, Life and Thought, New York: Grove Press.
Badiou, Alain (2003) On Beckett, ed. and trans.
A. Toscano and N. Power, Manchester: Cinamen Press.
Beckett, Samuel (1956) Waiting for Godot, London:
Faber and Faber.
Beckett, Samuel (1995 [1965]) ‘Enough’, in
S. E. Gontarski (ed.) The Complete Short Prose
1929–1989, New York: Grove Press, pp. 186–92.
Beckett, Samuel (1983) ‘Worstward Ho’, in Nohow On:
Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho, London:
John Calder, pp. 101–28.
Beckett, Samuel (1984) Collected Shorter Plays,
London: Faber and Faber.
Bel, Jérôme (2006) Pre-show public interview at the
Projects Arts Space, Dublin, April (my notes).
Connor, Steven (2004) ‘Chronic Fatigue’, Performance
Research 9(4): 54–8.
Deleuze, Gilles (1997) [1993] ‘The Exhausted’, in
Essays critical and clinical, trans. D. W. Smith and
M.A. Greco, London: Verso, pp. 152–74.
Etchells, Tim (2004) ‘More and More Clever
Watching More and More Stupid’, in Adrian
Heathfield (ed.) Live: Art and Performance, London:
Tate Publishing.
Fletcher, John (2003) About Beckett: The Playwright
and the Work, London: Faber and Faber.
Hurtzig, Hannah and Hochleichter, Carolin (2006)
Welcome, 9 October, <>
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Unknown author (2005), Dance Umbrella: About Us:
Website Archive: France Moves: La Compagnie Maguy
Marin, 26 May 2006, <
Hutera, Donald (2005) Resolution! Review: Life is Too
Short. . . ? Parallels QUADish-ish, 6 February, <http:
Lepecki, André (1999a) ‘Skin, Body and Presence in
Contemporary European Choreography’, The Drama
Review 43(4): 129–40.
Lepecki, André (1999b) ‘Crystallisation: Unmaking
American Dance by Tradition’, 18 May 2005, <http:
Lepecki, André (2000) ‘Wake Up Call: Citation and the
Unmaking of Amnesia in The Last Performance’, 18
May 2005, <>
Lepecki, André (2006) Exhausting Dance:
Performance and the Politics of Movement, New York
and London: Routledge.
Le Roy, Xavier (2006) Conversation with the author,
Warsaw, August (my notes).
Mansell, Thomas (2006) Email correspondence with
the author.
Marin, Maguy (2005) Post-show talk at the Queen
Elizabeth Hall, London, October (my notes).
Peeters, Jeroen (2002) Places of Allowance: Untwining
Mind and Body in Writing, Gestures and Speech, 2
October, <>
Ploebst, Helmut (2001) No Wind No Word: New
Choreography in the Society of the Spectacle: 9
Portraits, München: Kieser.
Power, Nina and Toscano, Alberto (2003) ‘“Think,
Pig!” An Introduction to Badiou’s Beckett’, in Alain
Badiou On Beckett, ed. and trans. A. Toscano and N.
Power, Manchester: Cinamen Press, pp. ix–xxxvi.
Protopapa, Efrosini (2003) ‘Waiting for Audi-Audi’: In
Dialogue with Samuel Beckett, unpublished M.A.
dissertation, London: LABAN, City University.
Protopapa, Efrosini (2004) Application to Register for
a Higher Degree by Research (unpublished), London:
Roehampton University.
Rée, Jonathan (2006) ‘Beckett Post War’, panel
discussion in the Beckett Centenary Festival 2006,
Barbican Centre, London, March (my notes).
Ricoux, Estelle (2006) ‘Airstream: Estelle Ricoux
talks to Maguy Marin about her recent visit to
London with Umwelt’, Dance Theatre Journal 21(3):
Siegmund, Gerald (2003) ‘Strategies of Avoidance:
Dance in the Age of the Mass Culture of the Body’,
Performance Research 8(2): 82–90.