This text is published in an anthology on ‘Dance and Theory’ in 2012. The publication was preceded by working group meetings in which a.o. the notion of ‘next generation’ was scrutinized under different aspects.
The term ‘next generation’ seems to suggest a homogeneous and definable stratum of artists and academics who follow similar strategies or aims – which is not the case, neither now, nor in the future. I am more interested in discussing the adjective ‘next’ that supplements the title. Therefore, I am not turning to the question about who this next generation might be, but what ‘next’ as an aesthetic perception could offer us. For elaborating on ‘nextness’ seems to hold more promises for engaging in an aesthetic discourse than for prognosticating the future.
At first, perceived from the perspective of temporality, the notion of ‘next’ secures the time axis in two ways: the ‘next’ is always already conditioned by what we call the now. The future is already present now for the present conditions and thus represents the possibility of the future. At the same time, the future confirms the factuality of the present in such a way as, for example, fear or hope, promises or threats (modes of relating to the future) have some effects already here and now. The impact of the figure of the next is of much greater importance for the present than for what is to come. For the present can no longer just be seen as the cause for the future. On the contrary, it is somehow becoming increasingly important to deal with the notion of future as a cause for the present. Since many (social, economic, epistemic, emotional, monetary) systems are currently in a state of crisis, talking about the ‘next’ gives birth to the future – by uttering a promise. ‘Promising,’ being a commissive, illocutionary speech act, commits the speaker to some future action. A promise is not just a moral obligation (and thus privatized), but foremost a motor for social improvement and therefore systemic cohesion. Promises, having a discursive effect, provide social bonds and maximize economic, emotional, social output and prospect. The future then appears to be integrated into the logic chain of events, of before and after, of now and next: a promise predicts the next in such a sense as it discoursifies the future. Connecting the ‘next’ to a discourse, the next holds a promise to what is to come and performs its socially soothing effect at the very moment of the utterance.
Within the production of aesthetic experience the ‘next’ takes on a different function. It rather opposes the logic of calculability. Not knowing what is going to happen, leaving blurred what is to come, the logic of surprise seems to rule the aesthetic condition of, say, dance performance. Concatenating steps and movements follow a “logic of sense” (see Deleuze: 1990) where the sense of a (precedent) phrase (be it discursive or structurally composed) is uttered by the following, the next one. The production of sense thus works both back and forth; forth since sense is not fulfilled in the moment of utterance and needs a complementary unit, back since every complementary unit reveals the precedent one. Everything that is uttered, that is ‘said’ is never said now, but always suspended to a next time. It’s in the essence of aesthetic appreciation to leave the next in the realm of suspension, to leave it incalculable.
Thus, we are dealing with two different concepts of ‘nextness’: One is already being realized in the present, while the other remains unrealized in the present; one creates the future, the other continuously suspends the future; one is a figure of the performance of promise, the other a figure of aesthetics; one reduces contiguity and introduces meaning, the other produces contiguity and introduces sense. Jacques Derrida’s distinction of the future and ‘l’avenir’ helps to look at these differences from another perspective: “In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and l’avenir. The future is that which – tomorrow, later, next century – will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. […] That which is totally unpredictable.“(Dick/Kofman 2002) In Derrida’s concept, the ‘future’ resides where the present is not, whereas the ‘avenir’ (what is to come) is moving towards the present. Whereas the ‘future’ resides in a different space that cannot be shared but is calculable, the space of ‘l’avenir’ merges with the space of the present, enters its presence. The future is absent right now and will take place at another time, l’avenir is potentially present right now, but might never take place. The concept of the future needs to be placed in the present to tame the next to be, in the words of Derrida, calculable, „programmed, scheduled, foreseeable“ (Dick/Kofman: 2002). Whereas the called future is invited to have an effect on and in the present, the uncalled future resides outside a horizon of predictability, suspended, unexpected, unpredictable.
Looking at the future and l’avenir this way, we are somehow dealing with aesthetic categories. André Lepecki applies this distinction to discern choreography and dancing as two different logics: “We could say that choreography participates in the logic of the future – since choreography both demands and prepares the fulfilling and arrival of anticipated, preplanned, and expected movements, gestures, steps, and positions. […] Meanwhile, dancing (even when dancing the most strict choreography) is always and simultaneously a flight into and an opening up towards what is to come: an always renewed production of micro or macro events, manifested as singularities, on the most outward edge of any conglomerate of moment-matter.“ (Lepecki 2009: 342) In this equation, choreography would follow the logic of the future as it is to be realized in the present, whereas dancing´s (not dance!) singularity remains incalculable and uncalled, even if the actualization executes the choreographic map. In other words, choreography would have to be considered as being determined (a scripted next), while dancing on the other hand as being unpredictable (an uncalled next). Drawing from this, in both choreography and dancing, a more complex interplay would now allow us to look at ‘nextness’ as an aesthetic category rather from a double perspective of un/determination and un/predictability. We all know of not scripted or not planned choreographies as well as of not-uncalled dancing(s), where the ‘what is to come’ of dancing was/is predictable, where the ‘demand and preparation of choreography’ to fulfill expectation was/is not predictable.
Thus, the concepts of choreography/the determined and dancing/the unpredictable merge into four variables that negotiate modalities of aesthetics and dance genres. To discern different aesthetic styles dealing with different understandings of the next, this filter would allow to combine the parameters as a) determined – predictable; b) undetermined – unpredictable; c) determined – unpredictable; d) undetermined – predictable. Therefore, we might be able to discern at least three different types of aesthetic ‘nextness.’
a) Determined choreography – predictable dancing: ‘Nextness’ as an aesthetic category doesn’t seem to be of interest in repertoire pieces like classical ballet. The choreography being determined and demanding dancing to be an actualization of what has been determined (a scripted next) renders the performance predictable in such a way that any (uncalled) deviation would be considered as failure of the genre. Not just perfection of dance, but hardcore predictability is an intrinsic part of the genre of ballet (as well as in any scripted pieces). Nothing unexpected, no surprises are needed to grant aesthetic appreciation: an understanding of dance as oeuvre draws from a determined choreography and predictable dancing.
b) Undetermined choreography – unpredictable dancing: ‘Nextness’ gains importance in dance forms where both choreography and dancing are unscripted and not called forth, un-called, as in free dance or improvisation. Not knowing what’s next, but waiting to be ‘inspired,’ being moved rather than move, following the flow of energy (to use some of the key-words) rather than merely adhering to compositional decisions, these qualities coin an understanding of dance as event.
c) Determined choreography – unpredictable dancing: ‘Nextness’ in scores or manuals for movement, the rules of which are known by both the audience and dancers, emerges through the tension between knowing the map and claiming the performative freedom to deviate from it; performative actualization of applying scores or rules remains purposefully unpredictable. Not knowing what comes next despite of a given score coins the appreciation of performativity where the practice of individual and negotiated decision-making ‘on the go,’ suspending the map, sets forth aesthetic surplus. This category most fits Lepecki’s distinction between choreography and dancing, and elucidates the concept of dance as game. Combining un/determination and un/predictability in such a way enables us to look at ‘nextness’ not as a given (aesthetic) premise, but as being historicized, dependent upon dance styles and genres. The understanding and application of ‘nextness’ is subject to change. E.g. the predictability of dancing a choreographic score forms a constitutive part in a canonized oeuvre, in contrary to unpredictable inspirations of dancers in set game structures – and vice versa. The distinction between choreography and dancing is less an essential given than an aesthetic category that needs to be historicized due to the codes at stake. Looking at the four variables that provide a (rather heuristic) filter, one might be willing to discover a tendency of contemporary genres (improvisation, rule-bound performative games) toward a conception of dance that advocates a suspension of the scripted next and fosters unpredictability as its main aesthetic motor – if one wants to draw a line from dance as oeuvre to dance as event and game. Yet this would dismiss the fact that all three types are equally used and performed in the world of contemporary dance. ‘Nextness’ thus is not a matter of linear progression, simply following concepts of futurity. ‘Nextness’ is rather a code intrinsic to the given aesthetic format and its reading. Which also may account for a possible fourth combination of the variables that should be mentioned here for the sake of completeness: d) a dance genre the choreography of which is undetermined, its dancing nevertheless predictable. A dance that will not have been, the dance of the future perfect …