About the making of the Performance TALES OF THE BODILESS
Bojana Cvejić (2011)

THE HISTORY of TALES OF THE BODILESS (TB) dates from earlier than its process ofmaking. The initial idea originated in one of eight projects during 6MONTHS1LOCATION (CNC Montpellier, 2007), a platform about research, production and education devised byeight choreographers, performers and theorists. In her project “Elucidations”, Eszter Salamon proposed a vague yet compelling notion of “not having a body” to a group of artists and collaborators (including Sasa Asentić and myself) with whom she then went on to write andexplore vocal expressions for six months. By summer 2008 the decision was made to proceed toward creating a work for which an original text, music, light and acoustic space were to becomposed, resulting in the performance TB. Instead of music theater, we prefer to call it a MUSICAL FICTION WITHOUT SCIENCE. The four tales are bound by a condition that ishard to imagine: a world without human bodies. Out of many improvisations on the theme“not having a body”, four fantasy worlds emerged, each one accounting for another form ofnonhuman existence, where humans are a thing of the past, and no longer central. None ofthese worlds is based on scientific or futurological insights. The stories neither fulfill the plotsof science fiction - they don’t project a utopian vision of future - nor do they sketch anapocalyptic end to this world. Our wish was to speculate about various destinies that involvethe loss of humans, or their subtraction from this world, and about the motivations andimplications that bodilessness could have for all-too-human concerns, for the care of the bodyand the self, sexual desire and reproduction, evolution and species companionship.

The first tale explores the bog, a rather sensitive habitat and ecosystem which stores organicdeposits, from plants to human bodies. This wetland formed from acidic rains isn’t only amarvel of nature reserved for geologists’ interest; it is a peculiar, dark place, an efficient gravefor preserving human bodies, with their organs, skin, flesh and hair staying intact overcenturies. The medieval custom of sacrificing and burying human bodies so that theirintestines might become signs for reading future from the ancient past, now known to usthrough the famous bog bodies such as Tollund Man or Lindow Man, aroused our interest. We sought to describe an environment in which organic matter subsists by remaining less. Or,to pose the same question from the human perspective: what would it be like to choose to dieas a bog body and become one with a landscape?

The second tale gives a glimpse into a world that humans have abandoned to their bestfriends - dogs. The history of humans begins with hunting and farming, which would havenever progressed towards civilization without taming wolves and recruiting them into humantribes. Dogs were domesticated according to a number of roles and services they could contribute to humans: guide dogs, utility dogs, assistance dogs, hearing dogs, therapy dogs,medical subjects, emotional slaves. The origin of the dog race is ambiguous: its shortbiological history doesn’t clarify whether dogs were born by natural mutation of the wolves orby human manipulation, i.e. domestication. By in-breeding over the last three centuries,humans have engineered a limited variety of dogs based on the characteristics they desired toproduce, which is necessarily coupled with a bouquet of hereditary diseases. If the last fifteenthousand years (a relatively brief period for the evolution of a race like dogs) have beenmarked as the age of the Under-Dog, could dogs experience a decolonization once their masters disappear? The encounter between the two dogs occurs in a broken rhythm of verbalaggressions or insults similar to the compulsive and obsessive dog behavior. It is a texted dialogue - i.e. set between a pair of whispering (“texting”) and a pair of speaking (“texted”) voices - that explores contradictory prospects: melancholy and the wish for death, the prideand victory of a canine evolution that can henceforth continue without humans.

The third tale unfolds the world of substitution, in which sexual differences are replaced bythe difference between the bodiless and those who still have bodies, who are “bodiful”. This relationship between the bodiless and the bodiful, called “substitution”, descends from thetrade formerly known as prostitution. In substitution, the bodiless are agents of desire; theirdesire consists of longing for the body they lost. It drives the bodiless to seek vicariously thephysical pleasure in the sensations they aren’t capable of - since they no longer have bodies - in those who can live out this pleasure immediately in their own bodies. Thesubstitutes are the only beings who can still enjoy their bodies. They substitute for thebodiless, by doing and acting sensorial pleasure on their behalf. The very act is a kind oftextual fucking, done without any physical contact, because physical contact, like touch, is, ofcourse, impossible between a body and a non-body. The invention of substitution was inspired by a wish to ennoble prostitutes and avenge theirhistory of being contained in ghettos, pushed to the margins of the cities and locked up in darkand smelly cells. Now it is the substitutes who can grow, proliferate and expand in territory. They become ubiquitous - an extreme opposite to being tolerated as an indispensible, yet shameful exception to the rule of morality. This is why women’s voices proliferate in numberand languages here: they merge into each other, split or double in English, but also in - what is hardly audible - Russian, French, Japanese and Lebanese Arabic languages.The bodies of substitutes grow obese, uncontainable and unimaginable. Their flesh turns intoa foam made of a centillion of bubbles, one-cell organisms that explode into a centillionmicro-orgasms. This process is similar to bacterial sex. It isn’t a reproduction of a species, butof the particles of one being - the substitute.At the moment when the force of break down is greater than the force of desire, substitutesexperience their ultimate pleasure - a kind of heat death - and pass into dust.

The fourth taledescribes their transformation into dots, or particles of infinitely small mass, that can exist for a fraction of a second, or for a long time, between a septillion and an octillion years. The dot signifies a terminus of all life. It is a fantastic extra-being whose invention was inspired by the following questions: Would it be a relief not to have a body, not to feel its weight, mass andsize? What would it be like to exist without the pain of the body? This is to advocate amovement out of this world into a rationalist conception of ideas and forms, of logic and geometry. Or, it might mean that we are just reaching the edge of our fantasy…


As early as 1907, Edward Gordon Craig professed that “the actor must go”, so that “in hisplace comes the inanimate figure – the Übermarionette.” Only once, TB offers the image oftwo bodies, but their stage presence and liveness is uncertain, uncanny. It is unclear whetherthey are moved by light or move by themselves.

A bodiless world requires that theater send its proper body - the stage - on vacation. Thisentails a series of subtractions from the apparatus of theatrical representation:

No bodies = no live presence
No figure = no image
No tableau = stage no longer central
No dominance of vision = no clarity, transparency or stability

The only human organ left is the voice, but divorced from the bodies, an acousmatic voicewhose power lies in demanding: “listen to me”. TB is a composition of, first and foremost,voices, differentiating between their color, number, texture and localization. Like the voicesthat move in space, thanks to the design of Peter Boehm, light and fog, designed by SylvieGarrot, also make “apparitions” that move through the audience. The function of light andstage fog changes, through ambulant sculpture, from two dimensional screen to thearchitecture and material or the thickness and color of the air.

The main medium of this bodiless theater is music, composed by Cédric Dambrain in the firstand second tale (“The Bog” and “Dogs”) and Terre Thaemlitz in the third and the fourth tale (“Substitution” and “Dots”). The music doesn’t only support voices, but carries the mainaction, event and process in this performance, whose dramaturgy is guided through distinctsensations. By sensations we mean the embodied feeling of having perceptions, a recursivesense of one’s body being affected by perception, without the distance of observation. We proceeded by evoking and synthesizing recognizable and more oblique, hybrid sensations, which would be engendered by music in the first place, and extended in light and space. These sensations are primarily characterized by movements and humors. “The Bog” consistsof endless sinking in spirals, ever deeper and lower, from the warm to the cold, colorful tocolorless. “Dogs” brings about movements that are chaotic, neurotic, born from a compulsionto move and aggress the other. “Substitution” builds from a harmonious stasis, expanding inheat waves that explode in cyclical “whoregasms”. “Dots” appear as a diminutive “tail” of“Substitution”, a pointillist echo of dissipation and dispersion of a myriad of voice-particles.

Two principles have guided us in unsettling the theatrical regime of senses and faculties inthis performance. Firstly, to engage the imagination of the audience by fiction, we couldn’t resort to the conventional apparatus of theater. Moreover, in order to compose a journey ofsensations, not only is a new apparatus desirable; indeed, a single apparatus wouldn’t be enough. Hence, the apparatus has to change. This is why we tried to shuffle and rearrange thecomponents of the theatrical machine - music, light, space, voices, text and the way they address the audience - from one tale to the other. Each tale unfolds one or more situations inwhich the audience has to readjust its listening or vision. Secondly, the terminus of this performance are the bodies of its attenders. They are the site of sensations, whose intensity causes events. The bodies of the attenders remain a rare live presence that gives duration to the fictions they inhabit.