pere faura
   performance artist
  Politics of documentarism
in choreography

Live-video in the works of Pere Faura

text by Jeroen Fabius
26 July 2008
Kalamata International Dance Festival
Unpublished lecture (please make mention)


In this festival Pere Faura presents two works: This is a picture of a person I don’t know (2006) and Stripteases (2008), both works that deal with live video in the theatre. I will explore how these works can be seen within the persistent attempts of Pere Faura over the past years to investigate the possibilities and meanings that live-video can bring to dance and the theatre. In particular Pere has been working with video to explore the sensation of liveness, showing the very constructions how video creates a sense of presence. The liveness also implies its opposite, absence, how theatre promises a meeting, but at the same time creates a gap between performer and spectator that cannot be overcome. Live-video then starts to reveal something about the politics of performance: the way temporary communities are made and unmade. This is done in a transparent way allowing the spectator to follow the interventions through which the footage is made and shown, we can call the work a form of documentarism. I will argue that documentarism presents a particular politics of performance that reflects thinking about politics in contemporary society.

Theatre and the political

First we can ask how a theatre piece can be political at all nowadays, then we can discover how a documentarist art project can be understood to reflect on contemporary political realities. According to Hans-Thies Lehmann, theatre theorist, the theatre as moral institution ‘cannot believe in itself’, it is a realm of the fictive. Whatever theatre does, it is always permeated with the uncertainty of the fictive. What it can do in the realm of the fictive is to deconstruct political discourse. Art escapes the rule, where politics sets the rule. Art privileges the singular and unique, that is how art, or theatre interrupts the political order. The theatre opens a space of possibility, in the sense of impossiblizing the real. It is a ceasure, an interruption where reality is made ‘impossible’. By interrupting the rule, it makes the rule visible, and makes the questionability and arbitrariness of the rule visible.

At the end of the 20th century it is not so much in the message, in representations of reality, but rather in forms of perception that theatre can exploit its political potential. In dealing with politics, theatre cannot compete in directness or speed with the means of communication of mass society. But at the same time what characterises communication in contemporary society is the loss of the communicative. Lehmann defines the communicative as what implicates both the speaker and the spoken to. Speaking as such is an accountable speaking. In contemporary culture however the flooding of media communications causes an erosion of the communicative. It produces an accumulation of information instead of communication. The bond between perception and action, receiving message and ‘answerability’ is dissolved. The information represents delocalized events that contain so many additional levels of mediation, that a spectator cannot assess anymore the value of what is presented, everything is reduced to information. It is exactly that gap that the theatre can address. To exploit its political potential theatre needs to engage with its own ways of presenting in order to establish conditions for true communication (2006, p.184).

This can only be done by making the use of signs transparent, i.e. the making of theatre itself, and by taking risk in dealing with what is presented. Lehmann calls this the politics of perception.

Theatre can respond to this only with a politics of perception, which would at the same time be called an aesthetic of responsibility (or response-ability). Instead of the deceptively comforting reality of here and there, inside and outside, it can move the mutual implication of actors and spectators in the theatrical production of images into the centre and make visible the broken thread between personal experience and perception.(italics in original)(2006 p. 185)

This theatre is no longer ‘spectatorial’ but becomes what Lehmann calls ‘a social situation’ that eludes objective description, because for each individual participant it represents an experience that does not match the experience of others. Viewers are made aware of their own presence, which is also a condition for the entire event and process (2006, p. 106).

I will now proceed to discuss two works by Pere Faura to show how his manipulations of live and recorded video can be considered as forms of this kind of transparent implication of the spectator, and raises questions about the gap between spectator and performance.

Panoramas 2

Panoramas 2 (2005) shows the construction of a live video event, i.e. the manipulation of the recording of the event itself. As the title suggests, it shows us views, possible views of a choreography that is repeated three times, and every time we see it differently through interventions of video, transparent manipulations of video technology on the stage. Panoramas 2 constructs ways for us to look at one event and perceive different co-existing realities. In that process we become part of the theatrical event, and thus also of the multiple co-existing realities.

In this work we see three dancers ‘at work’, setting up the event on the stage: with theatre lights, a video beamer and a camera on a tripod, a spatial setting is created where the dancing will take place. Once they have completed the set up, they execute the choreography, three times and each time with a different arrangement. First, the camera on the tripod is upstage pointed towards the spectators behind the dancers executing the choreography, but there is no image projected. In the second part, the camera is moved down stage in front of the audience, the beamer projects live close ups of their dancing. The third time that the dancers dance the choreography, we see the recording of the first time they danced the choreography projected on the back screen. The projection is life size, the projected image covers the entire width of the stage, including the live dancers and creating a doubling of recorded and live stage. It takes a while to understand what is happening, that we see a recording of a previous moment and not a live projection from the camera positioned in front of the dancers. And we can compare between the third version of the live dancing and the first version on the video, puzzling with how the different dimensions of the live figures, the mix up of left and right, as the recording was made from the back, and thus reverses the direction of our gaze. And importantly, through the reversal of the gaze we see ourselves and the entire seating with all the other spectators while we were watching the first version. We have become part of the performance.

The third version seems to finally bring the piece to the point that long eluded the spectator. By then it is clear that all that was happening was in function of making us aware of this: the fact that we are together here for this to happen. We have become part of the event. Theatre creates a space for people to come together. It seems the dance has taken on a sort of relay function, it has not demanded much reading. It has made us aware of the room, of the fact that the entire space is filled with energy and the presence of moving bodies, just like any dance would do. But the dance does not represent emotional messages or statess, it just ‘does’ something. Just like the work like setting up of the space with the equipment. The theatre is a place of promise, by ‘just doing’ the dance postpones a sense of revelation, of what it could all be about. In this case it was the video that delivered the promise that created the moment of revealing what the piece was proposing. Panoramas 2 has given us the opportunity to see one event in different ways, and has included the spectator as part of the event, theatre has been shown as a place of, multi-layered, gathering.

This is a picture of somebody I don’t know

The inclusion of the audience by the use of video augments a sense of gathering, of shared presence, that is so essential to the theatre. The jewel in This is a picture of somebody I don’t know (2006) is a scene in which a recording of a member of the audience is shown. She or he has been recorded for 40 seconds during the performance with a camera that looks more like a photo camera. So we do not expect that we will see the footage later on as a video close up projected on the back screen. The moment of the filming itself was already intense. Pere singles out one spectator for 40 seconds and points the camera at him or her. This person is surprised and uncomfortable and tries to keep up decorum over the stretch of time that seems to be endless. While the camera produces the close up through physical means of the lens, you can say that the embarrasment of the individual doubles the sense of intimacy of the close up. When we see the projection later in the performance, Pere describes in words what we see, while he looks at us, not at the screen. In fact, while not looking at the projection but at us, he tries to remember what he saw while he was filming this person. The scene creates gaps between what is happening in the projections and the words describing what we see. Pere speaks about factual things he remembers, the awkward face of the person in question, becoming red with embarrassment or starting to smile awkwardly, moving his or her hands about to find comfort, but he also speaks about what he thought the person was thinking. The timing of his descriptions and what we see does not coincide. All this together creates an eerie sense of liveness I have rarely witnessed before with video in the theatre. The sensation of the recorded version is extremely ‘live’, i.e. as if the thickness of emotion, the intimacy created by this scene is happening in the ‘here and now’ even though we know it was recorded before. We were present when he filmed this person, but that was minutes ago. The ‘here’ is clearly established, the ‘now’ is fully confused. Video warpes our sense of time by bringing back moments in time to the here and now.

This is a picture tells a story, about a man who is alone, who seeks company. This piece is both an audition and a proposal. It starts out with footage from the film the Chorus Line, where Michael Douglas as a musical director is auditioning dancers and tells them what is expected from them. Pere however says that this time he wants to be the choreographer of his own life, and love. It is a complicated woven structure of monologue, even dialogue with his alter ego, a recorded footage made of the stage before the public enters, video footage of famous films, also Singing in the Rain, that ends in an unresolved attempt to overcome his loneliness. The collage of the wide range of materials allows the spectator to ride a wealth of associations, but also proposes a puzzle to sort out the narrative of this lonely soul looking for a lover. When the piece ends, we see a dialogue of Pere with his video alter ego that ends when on the video screen we see the audience entering. As members of the audience we can discern ourselves and our neighbours joining him in that very room. Very confusing. It seems to express the impossibility for him to meet with us, with his lover, the unbridgeable gap between performer and audience. The dialogue with his alter ego is a declaration of love to the last resort, his own alter ego, when he has given up trying to find love with others. The gap with the audience has not been closed, but made impossible forever. The video carrying us back to where the very show started that very same evening, when we were there, implicates us in this very impossibility, we are back to where we started. We too, spectators, haven’t achieved anything to get closer to the performer this evening. If the theatre is a place of loneliness for Pere, then it is for us all, we are part of this game as much as he is, we are made to look at ourselves as part of his act. This is not the first time in Pere’s work that this is happening, but this time the video focuses on the gap, and the impossibility of overcoming the gap between performer and spectator, and showing the great desire for overcoming the gap that is so important for making theatre.

The video manipulation in the work of Pere can be considered as a form of documentarism in choreography. The video footage introduces a view of realities outside the performance, but also inside the performance that normally go unseen, in a documentary fashion.


A good example of documentarist choreography is the work of Jérome Bel called ‘Véronique Doisneau’ (2003). In this work we look at a ballet dancer called Véronique Doisneau who speaks to us about her life as a ballet dancer, and in particular her experiences dancing ‘Swan Lake’. As a dancer of the corps the ballet she will remain mostly inconspicuously member of the troupe, while the soloists attract our attention. She shows us how she will be standing still for minutes in particular poses while the ballet goes on, and what it means to her. The performance is a deceitfully simple and careful treatment of autobiographic narration of a ballet dancer that becomes at the same time an anthropological inquiry into the culture of romantic ballet.

Documentarist art works show something that has already been seen, art that deals with the déja vu (Laermans). It is seen by someone else at another moment. An important convention of documentation is formal neutrality, or transparency in presenting another reality. But in art this works more to suggest the onlooker to become witness rather than passive spectator. It is less about the question whether truth is represented but more about a shared exercise of reflection on what is presented. Documentarism fits well with Lehmann’s theory of the political of contemporary theatre.

I will not say too much about ‘Stripteases’, that will be shown tonight. It is a reworked version of a solo Pere Faura did in February this year. The piece delivers what it promises: a view on striptease, but in a puzzling way, by using Hollywood film, video documentary, choreography, romantic and epic narration, theoretical discourse it deconstructs what striptease is all about. Not unlike Bel’s ballet dancer you would say, but the bottom line is totally different here. Stripteases deals with sexuality but it does not present a singular political statement about sexuality or gender. One could say it works as a stripping of striptease, that ends up at again, looking at ourselves, at the desire for the moment of the performance, the kind of gathering it can be.

Contemporary politics

Those words ‘can be’ are particularly important in relation to contemporary politics. With Lehmann we have seen how theatre can be political by opening up space for possibility. That theatre does that by creating a social situation instead of representations. The audience becomes part of this situation by transparent ways of creating representations. The question political theory asks is of course, who is this community of people, or, even more basic, how to think of community itself. In his A Grammar of the Multitude political theorist Paolo Virno argues against closed definitions of community and to look for ways to describe collective identity in an open way, not oriented to a past but to a future, to potentials of what current gathering proposes many rather than cohesive unities, what he calls a ‘multitude’.

His analysis is further based on developments in contemporary information society, where human communication has become the central element of what he calls productive cooperation. He sees this as a process in which all work has become political, and informal human communication has become part of work. Then we can argue that theatre creates exactly the kind of flexible collectivities that Virno argues for as a model for contemporary politics. And if human communication has achieved such central importance in contemporary capitalism, it is exactly theatre that can show ways to create gatherings and modes of communication that allow to overcome the tendencies of control and standardization of contemporary information society.

Thank you for your attention