Archiving transitions: On writing the obvious

Elena Novakovits and Nassia Fourtouni

10 November 2023

Dear Reader, 

Let’s have fun and go for the new revolution.

Let’s help to push history in another direction.

Jan Ritsema

We had time, plenty of time, as we are still in the controversial 2020, to deeply dive into the first two issues of the initiative ‘From stage to page’ and to all these collected valuable records, all language-oriented fragments of creative processes of the various contributors of the Greek dance community. By exploring it we acknowledged once more the imperative necessity of archiving how dance/choreography is communicated through words and how these practices can be contextualised. From stage to page counts almost ten years of existence and belongs to the same family of projects like Everybody’s toolbox or Walk+Talk, where the agency for the writing of history is given to the makers themselves. The actualization of different modes in order to expand the limited discourse on dance and choreography situated in the Greek artistic landscape, let alone with a DIY format and a free online accessibility as this one does, functions as an alternative mode of knowledge of production and empowers the local community. Although the initial intention of writing these pages was a general reflection on the project and an attempt to articulate the relationship between making and sharing, we decided to shift our focus and align more to the contemporary problematics that have arisen, hence, moving from writing as a medium for documentation and sharing, to writing as a form of political act. How are the forms and the intentions of writing transforming, according to the current situation? And ultimately, thinking of the specific circumstances, what would be a subversive act or practice in relation to dance archiving in the here and now? 

It is urgent to reposition ourselves. We are now numb in a state of transition after the implementation of the Covid-19 regulations and its repercussions. Staying at home, connecting or disconnecting online, shutting down the theatres, dancing in the living rooms, choreographing via zoom, limiting the number of the audience in public space, cancelling flights, closing borders, changing plans…slowing down. But we still need to work, to be in the studio, to talk, to attend performances, to share practices, to collaborate, to produce. But what we mostly need is to collectively reflect, write and speak openly about working conditions and contexts, not as something external or separated from the creative process, but as something that was always part of it. 

The basic rights of the workers were hit on a fundamental level (was it the first time?), while different digital solidarity movements – in and beyond the dance field – were formulated, taking advantage of social media tools as open archival spaces for radical manifestations and organised action. The revolution cannot be digitised, but all these endeavours advocate the importance of raising voices and reclaiming the obvious. And, through these actions, more complicated dynamics arise and more ideas come up of what seems urgent to verbally express. But, of course, not everybody is on the same side. Numerous contradictions and paradoxes lie within the different solidarity movements: different roles in hierarchies, different backgrounds, different personal incomes, different access to subsidies and institutional support, different experiences of exclusion and power. This new crisis revealed even more the fact that not everybody lives in the same conditions or experiences the same context; the precarious working conditions in the (dance) artistic field – scarcity of jobs, co-dependent relations that can be toxic, favouritism, badly paid or unpaid positions, unofficial working hours, exploitation for the sake of a better Curriculum Vitae – are characteristics of the most vulnerable economically, under a state that is consciously and provocatively absent. These are facts that force us to re-think on how we work together and even more, to articulate how we want to work together from now on. No, we are not all in the same boat. Divisiveness or polarisation would be an easy result, however, an ‘us vs. them’ narrative would not be constructive. What is important is to keep the discussion alive. For the sake of clarity, in order to voice different understandings and not for an attempt of more theorization of the ‘precarious identity’, it is the moment to pose questions on the structures and on the abuse of power. 

At this point you might ask yourself, how is all this related to the practice of dance archiving? We will respond to the question with another question: How can we deploy these concerns on the practice of archiving, since we acknowledge their urgency? Remembering Derrida and his Archive Fever and thinking of the etymology of the word ‘archive’, the practice of archiving is directly related to authority, order; ‘arkhe names at once the commencement and the commandment’. Writing process in archiving is a detailed and specific exercise of memory of what its writer chooses to remember, to keep and what to omit. Composing archives for the dance field is intertwined with the writing of part of its historical line and proposes possible ways of readership. Writing is always a reaction to something, writing is essential in the process of social transformation, therefore, in this case, writing can not afford not to be a political act. An archive is key to elucidating, understanding and participating in a democratic society. In order to be able in the future to interrogate the past with high accuracy, it is crucial to integrate social and political concerns as part of the sharing of dance practices, to use this discursive mechanism in order to gather the various perspectives, to allow them to be voiced more vividly and to be part of the historical continuum. 

Writing in the here and now, acting against isolation, is our discursive tool to prioritise what matters most in this critical moment of political anxiety and social turmoil. Blank pages can function as an accessible means to participate in the public discourse, to shape political consciousness, to encourage practices of exchange, along with sharing choreographic tools and ideas. It is not the right moment for more romanticization within a conflictual artistic landscape. Let’s also emphasise on the healing aspect of dance – YES, it is a fact that dance has a healing aspect and that choreography can be inspiring, expanded and broad. The absence of a state cultural policy, the non-transparent methods of a united support, the dubious role of institutions and the insufficient relevant critique probably cannot immediately and easily be modified within a well-constructed neoliberal context. Thus, what about turning our gaze towards possible ways to transform, firstly, the micro-politics within the dance field? What about impeling fair practices as an alternative way to reinforce new modes of care, trust and resistance among the community? Which are the ‘new ecologies’ in process and production in moments of transition?

How do we re-imagine to be together otherwise and to reclaim a more sustainable future? And finally, what do we desire to archive and what not to archive in the map of the Greek dance scene? 

To be continued…

Elena Novakovits, Nassia Fourtouni

Brussels, December 2020