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dancing in the streets of dusseldorf

Project proposed by Jean-Jacques Sanchez

Text by Irina Raskin

“A little bit bizarre, I would say“- just one of many witnesses’ comments on the „Dancing in the Streets of Düsseldorf“project. Having the stage exchanged for the streets, public outdoor spaces have become the performing milieu of Jean-Jacques Sanchez. The aspect of meeting people lies in the focus of his practice as a dancer, so it was a natural evolution to take the step outside and to get in contact with strangers that probably have nothing to do with dance in their everyday life. This way of discovering a city – by improvising, reacting to architecture, the inhabitants and how their movement is organized – creates a different atmosphere within the usual everyday procedures. It allows catching the people’s attitude and communicating with them differently. So it is not about performing a show in a public space, but rather admitting into the flows of the city.

Together with Gudrun Lange, jayrope, Moritz Kotzerke from the media team and Julia Turbahn from tanzhaus nrw, Jean-Jacques set off to encounter Düsseldorf and its citizens. While Julia recorded the people’s reaction on audio, jayrope made photographs, Moritz followed the process via video camera and Gudrun took the chance to adapt Jean-Jacques’ approach.

Jean-Jacques started the first route at tanzhaus nrw, passed the drug advice and the railway station at Worringer Platz, went from the afro-barber-shops and Indian vegetables stores at the Kölner Straße through the huge construction sites at Am Wehrhahn to the branded retail stores at Schadow Straße and ended at the shopping district center Jan-Wellem-Platz. Here Gudrun started with the second route, which led through this area to the Königsalle, a landmark road of Düsseldorf with luxurious designer stores.

No matter, where the dance took place, the reactions of the people marked it as an unusual practice, however those reactions, their level of attention and evaluation towards this kind of irritation were very different.

When Jean-Jacques stayed at the railway station, his movements changed from dynamic open, wide ones with outwards extending limbs to typical waiting postures. Here many people followed his moves with curiosity. Some even asked what was happening and why he danced. Whereby, as some observers were asked about their thoughts on this situation, the majority speculated about drug consumption or a show for a reason behind it. Other people avoided a direct observation, like one man standing close to Jean-Jacques, gazing in the other direction with his back turned to him. Nevertheless, as Jean-Jacques reported later on, he didn’t experience a transmitted feeling of rejection or fear, but rather an acceptance of his being, permitting a co-existence. Generally, the people in this quarter seemed on the one hand to show their irritation more directly and on the other hand not being bothered, allowing an approximate happening. As the women and children at “Mayo Hair Salon” received Jean-Jacques dancing simultaneously with a bit of confusion and kindly joy, granting him all the space, which animated Jean-Jacques even to gently touch the hairdresser’s shoulder.

Coming closer to the shopping street, the flood of people increased, the level of attention sank and notions on ballet and insanity appeared in the statements of the asked passers-by. The most people overlooked Jean-Jacques. Was it because they are used to performers in the centre of the city? Though the majority of the questioned people understood that it was not a common performance in order to entertain and collect money. This again led them to remark that such dancing should be practiced in private at home. The avoidance of eye contact was accompanied by maintaining corporal distance. Was it because they were afraid of the situation or simply feared to be drawn into participation? It is a thin line between tolerance and ignorance. Only two young women followed the process with apparent interest. They even spoke to Jean-Jacques, expressing their concerns according to his safety, as they thought dancing on the streets is dangerous.

Gudrun lifted her arm, pointing in the direction of her walk. Fluently her walking transferred into a turn. While her movements opened her corporal range into the explored public space, her face expressed pure joy. Though the attitude of strollers stayed rather distant, the attention of the people rose, as one could notice more frequently direct observation of the happening. Here, comparable to the reactions at the beginning of the first route, people evaluated the dancing as a strange behavior, but nonetheless some seemed to have pleasure while watching. Whereas it is conspicuous, that the comments – describing it either as abnormal or as beautiful – evaluated the situation more in regard to the dance’s appearance and less according to its guessed reasons, as it had been the case before. Also new was the notion of some asked witnesses on the courage of Gudrun performing dance in public as well as the attempt to capture the event on video. Again, this marked the dancing as an exceptional situation.

Gudrun finished the exercise with joyful jumps, that created an image of lightness and delight, at a crossing on the Königsallee, on what many pedestrians responded with a smile.

It has become evident, that this practice exposes how the social demographic structures function and change through the intervention of a body with deviated behavior into a place. Doubtless, the observation of the reactions towards the dancing in public are rather superficial so as the made conclusions according to the social demographic structures. But in first place, there is the notion, that movement in public space immediately becomes behavior.

The performed dance here is an event – not in a sense of a showing, but of a happening, which resulted through the ongoing translation of the encounter between dancer, people, place, time, perceptible surrounding etc. into movement. What becomes here dance is the invisible negotiation between the present points of relation.

Following the sociologist Henri Lefebvre, one of the characteristics of modern public spaces is their illusion of transparency. This means, that the power and social relations between people become naturalized conditions, where those reign relations become invisible, so that the space seems to be transparent and all kinds of actions possible [compare: Irit Rogoff: “Deep Space”. In: „Projektionen. Rassismus und Sexismus in der Visuellen Kultur“. Jonas Publisher‘s, 1997, p. 52-60]. In a sense, the practice of dancing in the streets brought an irritation into this illusion of transparency – it opened up the specific place into a space of different possibilities through sketching parts of its conditions. Although the dancers were neither restricted, nor offensively asked to refrain their doing by authorities or other individuals; there were a lot of comments that marked them as the abnormal otherness (for example by associating drugs or insanity with the happening), which operates on the edge of the visible social structures and is suppressed out of public in order to keep the clear image. At the same time, this borderline behavior wouldn’t be possible without the generously acceptance of the other people. So the experienced public space is indeed heterogenic.

Surely, the practice of dancing in the streets has got the potential to reveal social structures within the public. At least, it reminds us of the possibility of a differently shaped public space. And this is happening neither in an offending or insulting manner, not through aiming to cause a sensation in terms of a spectacle or intervention, but rather intending to create invisible effects with long-term impact through the encounters. And after all, this practice introduces a poetic way of communication into our everyday life proceedings.