It is necessary here to speak about an ontological intuition, which steps beyond the opposition of matter and form, dominating traditional metaphysics and which thus champions the idea of transformability as the only a-substantial substance. (Boyan Manchev - Pornoscopy and Performance- Fragments on the History of Modern Art in Perverted Persepective)
Usually, texts that serve as tools for contemporary performances are left behind as far as their meaning which resonates in the final product is concerned, even when they are quoted and assumed as sources, not to speak about the cases when they are slightly reffered to as points of departure in the construction of the show.
This is by no means the case of Willy Prager's performance Transformability (presented in eXplore dance and performance festival, Bucharest, 2012), created together with Sonja Pregrad and Tian Rotveel (the latter being also the author of the inspired music of the performance) and based on the homonymous text signed by Boyan Manchev. As we will consequently see, Manchev's theory enforces a form of performance that is obviously a kind of resistance applied to the body as a place defined in the text as "the original locus of event and transformation". (Boyan Manchev)
In an accurate way, the performance draws back upon the text and creates the possibility of a further reading of it. In fact, the two creations (the text and the performance) are in the position of a steady exchange of meanings. It is questionable if a performance can stand by itself, without the backup of the text that inspires it, when this is loudly assumed and underlined in the performance itself.
This performance, even if it is an exercise of freedom of artistic language that departs from a philosophical text, it is also an assumed diving into the situation when the performative structure is at the same time generated by itself and by the original philosophical starting point. On its turn, the text stands by itself, as it precedes the performance, but it also gets additional meanings that the reader can figure out after seeing the performance, in the way that the substance of the text is not fixed, but in progress, fed by the dynamic materialization of the show.
Before properly entering the analysis of the performance, we should have a look at the concept of transformability forged by Boyan Manchev. If we get back to the Pre-Socratic era of philosophy, we can find change (or eternal flow) as a main assumption of Heraclitus' philosophy. Considering him a philosopher of the flux and denying the possibility of knowledge because of this eternal flow of the sensible things, Plato makes the synthesis between this view and the one that belongs to Parmenides (the philosophy of the immobile and unchanging Being). We are thus at the very core of a starting point of the metaphysics that will generate the duality present in the philosophical discourse and attaining its climax in the body/mind split specific to Descartes' theory, that will influence all the views on the body ever after.
Elaborating the concept of transformability, Boyan Manchev is aiming at reconsidering this trauma of western thinking which has its origin in the traditional metaphysics. Even if we are not faced with a concept belonging completely to the same universe of discourse as the Heraclitian flux, transformability is designed as a key concept which stands for the human condition viewed beyond the metaphysics that sets the duality forth.
The heraclitian flux is not, as it came out to be understood according to the Platonic tradition, as an ephemeral flow that impedes knowledge, but the very ground on which the relation with the Logos can be experienced. Accordingly, though "fluidity, transgression of borders, destabilization of all sorts are becoming the rule" (Boyan Manchev) within the global capitalist society, "this originary transformability must not be understood as a simple fluidity, though, not as the unlimited permeability and speed of the contemporary market. On the contrary, the transformability implies an inherent resistance, a resistability, in which resides the gravity of experience". (Boyan Manchev, Transformability).
Now we get to the point where the transformability approached by Willy Prager's performance comes into the picture. A form of (dual) resistance is developed from the beginning. A girl's brushing the teeth with her own finger develops into a smile that we will also find on the face of the two men that will join her onstage, a smile that will not leave until the end (it clearly reminds of the fabricated smile of superstars, of the enlarged smile of the masks changing on the faces of capitalism).
A shy bow to the audience transforms gradually into a steady jump that will be interrupted only a few times by acts and gestures that will increase the significance of the jumping. The resistance of the body is dual because it can be read in the following directions: the jumping bodies write on the floor words that will turn into a map on which they will place the lines of a politics of the body which will plea at the same time for opening and resistance. In the beginning the jumping seems to resist the writing....or maybe we have another direction, maybe the writing is resisting the bodies... Afterwards, coming together all three of them, they deliver (while jumping) phrases taken out from Boyan Manchev's text.
They also deliver a chain of names, starting with Clark Gable and ending with Lassie . We find ourselves at the threshold of a market that commercializes images, that turns everything into a "society of spectacle" (according to Guy Debord), we are getting closer, little by little, performative gesture by performative gesture to the embodied reflection of what Boyan Manchev calls perverted capitalism and it is getting clear why the word Tekhne, among words like Bethany, The Dog, Jesus or All is in the center of the map designed on the floor (anyway, the "map" is not a fixed, finished one, concepts are added during the show, according to the dynamics of the exposed ideas): originary, the body was the "tekhne epitomized", but now we are faced with a crucial question: how to escape from the pitfall of (re)productibility and technologization, preserving at the same time the original potentiality for transformation of tekhne?
The irony is made obvious by the constant rhythm of the jumping: all the clichés of nowadays commercial shows are exhibited, from the stage smoke or changing lights to the applause, from the undressing onstage to kissing, from gestures inspired by cartoons and musical poses to the physicality specific to rock concerts.
The jumping in the show functions as the principle that relates to the expressed idea of transformability: the bodies are inhabited by a form of resistance that is opposed to the production specific to contemporary show market. This resistance against the ever speeding and ever flowing patterns of consumerism is the embodied expression of the thought displayed by Boyan Manchev in his text: "In this way, contemporary dance makes room for resistance against the fetishism of the inorganic, against the contemporary political and economic appropriation of the body" (Boyan Manchev).
This resistance which is the very principle of Willy Prager's performance creates a form of an opening towards the possibility of freedom through the means specific to contemporary dance: the steady production of awareness that endows the body with the function that identifies itself with "the exploration of the conditions of life within the metamorphosis - that is, of body as the opening itself" (Boyan Manchev, Transformability).
Concept and choreography: Willy Prager
Creation and performance: Sonja Pregrad, Tian Rotteveel,Willy Prager
In collaboration with: Sonja Pregrad, Tian Rotteveel
Music: Tian Rotteveel
Coproduction: TANZTAGE BERLIN / SOPHIENSÆLE
Thanks to: HZT
Boyan Manchev is philosopher and cultural theorist, Director of Program and Vice-President of the International College of Philosophy in Paris (2007-2010), Associate Professor at the New Bulgarian University and Visiting Professor at the Sofia University and The Berlin University of the Arts.