CONFESSIONS: TINO SEHGAL’S TWO-DAY DANCE WORKSHOP by Anja Isabel Schneider

The French word répétition has a double meaning, for its use can imply repetition as well as rehearsal. Tino Sehgal’s two-day dance workshop which took place at the Royal Festival Hall on 26-27 November in the context of the Hayward Gallery’s recent exhibition Move: Choreographing You, seemed to evoke quite literally, a rehearsal of a rehearsal.
Rehearsing ideas from the 1960s as well as his own, Tino Sehgal proposed exercises based on the choreography of movement, some of which brought to mind Yvonne Rainer’s We Shall Run (1963) or Steven Paxton’s contact improvisation. From the 50 participants who attended the workshop’s first day less than half returned the following day. This diminished size seemed to work better in the elongated space in which it took place, allowing the formation of smaller groups. Under Sehgal’s instructions, the participants positioned themselves in a large circle, moving slowly clockwise, while the artist started with a first question aimed at one’s sense of achievement: “When did you have the impression of having arrived in your life?” One question led to another: “When have you felt dissatisfied with yourself?”, triggering confessions of a more or less detailed and personal nature. The exercise was rehearsed again in a more complex version of circular movement while each person shared their answers.
Sehgal is known for his conversation-based work. The workshop’s second day certainly exploited this aspect, revealing in some ways the stakes of his practice: a situation is created which allows for a certain intimacy and dialogue with a set of oral instructions and rules given by the artist. However, Sehgal foregrounded his interest in the decision making of each individual within a collective. This was reflected in most of the dance exercises in which the artist’s rules were left open for discussion and its participants invited to act individually by inventing new rules of movement and choreography which were at times applied collectively. Thus each individual’s move or action influenced the other participants as they made decisions of their own.
Similar to his work This Objective of That Object (2004) in which the process of a conversation, starting in whispers and reaching a crescendo of voices, is part of the work’s underlying construction, the workshop’s most telling and fulfilling exercise involved a similar structure translated into movement, an acceleration from slow walking to running (and its reversal), which involved self-initiated one-to-one confessions within a group dynamic. In this last exercise, Sehgal took on the role of an attentive spectator. The created situations, which combined conversation and choreography, are further examples of his interrogating social processes, conventions as well as decision- or rule making.
Sehgal’s work materializes itself in human beings as opposed to objects, in a given time and space. The workshop’s volunteers became to an extent part of Sehgal’s creative process, that which allowed for insights into the artist’s working method. However, the format of the workshop, which Sehgal has recently adopted, has a long history. Originally a place of manufacturing or repairing goods, the volunteers, became in a way the artist’s tools, to rehearse alternative ways of production. As Sehgal stated in an interview with Tim Griffin for Artforum: “The reason I’m interested in the transformation of actions. . . is because I think that the appearance of both an excess supply of basic material goods and of mankind’s endangering of the specific disposition of “nature” in which human life seems possible renders the hegemony of the dominant mode of production questionable. Obviously, this doesn’t mean to propose an essentialist “No” to material objects in general but rather leads to the question as to how we could produce things that, on the one hand, aren’t problematic and, on the other, are more interesting or complex, or less static.”1

1 Tim Griffin, “Tino Sehgal. An Interview”, Artforum, May 2005, pp. 218-219.

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