The Choreography of Singularity and Difference: AND THEN by Eszter Salamon
Ana Vujanović (2007)

The theater is entirely in darkness. Then a girl appears on the scene, and without any introduction, she addresses the audience, explaining her “little job” in the Human Resources department of a major company (IBM) provided with many little details and experiences from her work. Although she appears out of the darkness as an artificial figure in the spotlight, her story is ordinary, everyday, singular, without generalizations… The lights turn off. In the new spotlight another girl appears and presents us with her memories of “sirens”, the Mediterranean coast where she spent her vacations during her childhood, and the taste of the salty sea and boiled corn on the beach. Fade out. Fade in. Then she moves on to her “family history”, leaving Israel and moving with her family to the USA, and then she recalls her feeling of fear and insecurity in the new country, the language she couldn’t speak… The relation between these two stories is unknown. There is not even a possible place and time where they might meet. The first person speaks to us in the actual present on stage and off stage. The other one treats us as a confidante, dragging us into the past, whose future we do not yet know anything about, since she speaks from it. But it is dark on stage and its present is given to us as the “event of the present” itself, as a few artificial moments and places of emptied figures in spotlights. Thereby, she (the figure) does not speak live, but the speaking plays on play-back, overcoming the present of the stage. Fade out. Fade in. On the screen on the back wall of the stage, a film starts to play; the first girl now talks about having wanted to be a singer when she was still a girl, but nobody took her seriously, and now she sings in two bands… She now speaks in a different tone, as in a friendly chat, in Hungarian. Maybe the voices from the soundtrack are not at all the voices of the performers on stage. Her story has barely anything to do with the first one and nothing to do with the other actor on the stage. Nor does it indicate a relation between them. It goes in some third direction. Confusion starts. Information is multiplied; it is hard to put all of it together. We are thrown into the middle of heterogeneous flows of different stories by “certain individuals”, stories that are opened to the voyeuristic desire of the audience in the dark. We grasp this and that detail; make relations which disintegrate quickly; we presuppose subjects of the speakers we cannot locate; we go from the stage over to the screen and vice versa; performers appear out of the darkness and go back into it; the stories are interrupted, they interrupt each other, continue in directions we cannot anticipate …

This is how “And then” by Eszter Salamon starts. In the words of the dramaturge Bojana Cvejić: Imagine you pick up a photo album from the street. You open it and see people you don’t know: pictures from holiday, familiar poses and gestures, faces of strangers smiling at you as if you were their relative or close friend who was meant to see those photos… Is it strange to peep into the life of others by the pure chance of coming across the evidence of it? And already during the first minutes of the show the meaning of its title becomes clear to us. The accounts of “other people” are being accumulated, they include more and more details, they lend themselves to numerous possible relations and connections, but at the same time do not prescribe how they should be connected. “And” is without a doubt the most widespread and most open conjunction, which can take over the function of many other conjunctions, but can also appear as the undetermined sign for the conjunction itself. And exactly in this way does the “and then” function in this performance – as a conjunction which marks a connection, but not the nature of that connection. “And then” at times lists, and at other times creates a surprise, or it determines a causal sequence, turning point, accumulation, juxtaposition, addition, interruption of the sequence, and event… Thus shortly after the performance begins, Cvejic and Salamon’s central dramaturgical approach to the media and materials becomes obvious to the spectators. From then on, we stop looking for the “key” to connect in a certain way the stories of various actors into one single narrative; their multiplicity ceases to frustrate us and we start to follow their heterogeneities, multiple directions, singularities, splits, and differences as (impossible) “positive qualities” — that is, as exactly what is happening, and not as what (negativity) hides, stands for, or points to something else, something pre-existing as a specified object of observation.

In order to find one’s way within this tight web of flows and threads, diverse media, choreographic and dramaturgical procedures, it would be desirable to be familiar with many theoretical, artistic, and film references: Badiou, Nancy, Bourriaud, Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari, Duras, Woolf, Spinoza, Godard, Jarman, Resnais, Rainer, Lynch, etc. However, the performance itself is procedurally and phenomenally so precise and consistent that it demands no more than the viewer’s attention and intelligence without requiring knowledge of any references. The performance neither invites an infinite number of arbitrary readings, nor can it be reduced to my interpretation of its semantic dispersion. These starting references are worked out to the extent of becoming autonomous choreographic, dramaturgical, and performance elements, understandable and effective without the theoretical-artistic networks they might be associated with.

I am trying to approach the performance in this text with the same logic. And what I will offer is not a theorization in a strict sense, but several possible theoretically driven vectors of cognition and of positioning of the performance in spectatorship; in other words, in spectatorship as the site of recognition of this performance as a theatrical and choreographic one.

WHAT? Content: the plot and the subject matter – the homonyms, ordinary people

The plot, or more precisely, the para-plot of the performance is composed of the life stories of eight women; their age, places of birth, occupations, geo-political contexts, and life experiences are very different. The characters given the most space are an IBM employee and singer in a band (25), a dancer (25-30), an art consultant from Newcastle (55), and a lawyer from Szeged (57). Then there are: a high school girl from Zalaegerszeg in Hungary (16), a costume designer and film music composer from Budapest (34), and a freelance producer in the cultural industry from Budapest (37). An Italian language and film professor at the University in Budapest (37) and a woman from Hamburg (80) whose friend was killed in a concentration camp in Germany each appear only in one scene. Their stories are stories about ordinary people: individual, singular, and incomparable. As initial material as well as at the beginning of the performance they are independent of each other. During the performance, however, these stories and characters enter into various relations of coexistence in which they do not remain untouched by each other: they interrupt each other, comment, communicate, interweave and overlap, re-read… and thus draw a complex plot map. This map, does not establish a causal-consequential narrative sequence till the end of the performance, so it is not properly a plot, but rather functions as a para-plot platform, open for new additions.

Towards the end, there is a film scene where all the characters engage in a collective conversation. We learn then something unusual about all these women: they are called Eszter Salamon. Only the woman from Hamburg is Hannah Birnfeld, but in the performance she does not speak about herself, we do not even see her. She appears as a voice-over narrating about her girlfriend, Eszter Salamon, who was killed in the camp. This homonymy is not to be understood as an obvious, first-degree conceptual key to the sense of the whole performance. This fact is not introduced at the end as a “revelation” to finally clarify a fundamental connection between all these stories. In the final analysis, this would be a rather banal albeit somewhat witty connection. Since names are arbitrary and, in the case of personal names in Western civilization today, such a quest could not rise above the problematic levels of nomination, (de)essentialization, and the interpretation of an individual as subject. The fact that all the characters and actors share the name Eszter Salamon reflects the initial logic of the plot, where it functions as the minimum criterion for the choice, the connection, and the confrontation of exactly those different life experiences. “What’s in a name”, or homonymy, is thus a matter of arbitrariness and coincidence that condition the performance, while in the performance, the name “Eszter Salamon” functions metonymically – not as a sign of the congruence of the Salamons, but exactly as a sign for individuation among singular homonyms. And this exploration and affirmation of the difference in sameness: Badiou’s in-difference-homonymous is the problematizing framework of the performance. In accordance with it, at the end of the performance – along with ES, the IBM officer, Bojana Cvejic in the role of the young version of ES from Newcastle, and the dancer (whose name we do not know), who can be regarded as only a performer on stage until then – a visual double of ES the dancer appears on stage as well. But, this visual homonym is actually the author of the performance, Eszter Salamon herself, while the dancer who stands in for her during the whole performance is Aude Lachaise. This visual doubling of the dancer converts the relation of the original (who should be ES but is actually AL) and the double (who one might expect to be AL but is actually ES). More precisely, and seen from the auditorium, the hierarchy of this relation is unsettled, because we cannot visually determine whether the dancer on stage was Eszter Salamon or Aude Lachaise or whether they appeared in different scenes.

Basically, the plot of the performance is based on the framework of female autobiography. In the last thirty years, this topic/format has been much deployed in the performance world, especially for its potential for reinforcing female sex and gender subjectivity, identity politics, and the emancipation of the female subject. How the topic is treated in “And then” not only steps out of this tradition, but also goes beyond it. Autobiography is here separated from the empirically determinable female subject, which precedes or follows documentary material, since it is fictionalized. It partly expresses a specific subject, but it cannot be reduced to it. Autobiography becomes a relatively autonomous story entering into a net of other stories that communicate through their subjects, while they remain unfinished, multidirectional, virtual, and not fulfilled as specific identities…

Two aspects of this thematic format are especially visible, and thus worth being discussed. One is feminism. It is important to emphasize that this piece does not promote feminism in a strict sense as a “feminist program” which insists on sexual and gender difference, thus demanding an emancipation of the female subject from the male one. Feminism is represented as a general pervasive tone, but womanhood is not a conceptual and political ultimatum of the performance. In a broader conceptual sense, feminism needs (female) identity in binary opposition, while “And then” challenges the concept of self-identification itself – which I will dwell on more later. On the other hand, since the plot is based on the stories by the homonyms of Eszter Salamon, only female characters and performers appear in the performance. In line with this, recognizably “female topics” necessarily pop up in the documentary material: menopause, marriage, children, sex, marital violence, adultery, love and passion, aging, etc. In the dramaturgical production of the material, they haven’t been erased in order to create a sexless and genderless plot, but they don’t overemphasize it either. When juxtaposed next to many other issues, these topics are treated with openness and sensitivity for sex and gender specifics in certain social and historical circumstances. I would therefore rather say that a “gender sensitive”, and not a feminist, perspective is taken here.

One more thematic thread looms in a similar fashion to the “feminist issues”: the socio-historical context of Hungary and Communism/Socialism in Eastern Europe. However, it isn’t especially emphasized or performed in such a way as to be read as a political statement by the author. It is necessarily contingent upon documentary material, since many Eszter Salamons come from Hungary or a region in Romania where Hungarian people live. The tradition of Hungary in the twentieth century, its culture and society — as well as the broader Communist-Socialist order and its collapse — are part of their life experiences. Certainly, Salamon and Cvejic decided to include this material in the performance, and it is not neglected but dealt with as one important aspect of these life stories. It also has broader implications, but they remain implications. In the performance, a certain “nostalgic” atmosphere is evoked, and my standpoint is that it is not a matter of romanticizing the real or the possible past of the individual characters, but above all this thematic aspect itself. It shows a finished period of Hungarian, European, and even world history, which resonates within many people’s life experiences and not only these characters’. And it is juxtaposed with the stories from current neo-liberal and globalization trends in the cases of ES working for IBM or ES from Newcastle, for example. Thus, the nostalgia arises from these implications in our own present experiences and reflections on these experiences, insofar as they are leftist.

In such a thematic grid, I will raise a polemical issue. What could be objected to in the performance is the absence of a more firm and clear political perspective, especially concerning questions of being a woman in (Post) Socialist Eastern Europe – one would expect it to be more sharply addressed. This could be answered from the position of immanence that “And then” does not deal with one specific political perspective, but above all with the problematic of the events of difference and singularity, which have yet to be defined in certain political conditions. However, without an elaboration of these contextual specificities, this problematic functions as a semantic-syntactic formation, which has social implications but is emptied of concrete political content… However, this wouldn’t end the argument, but only hint at it. Because from there one could develop a thorough consideration of the notion and practice of politics today, which counts on the potentialities of the singular and non-representable “multitude” in a public space when it wants to be critical and interventionist instead of aiming for a general transformation of society…

HOW? Stage– film: the third space of the performance

The entire stage design of “And then” derives from this problematic. In its formal appearance and use of media, the performance is conceived neither from a formalistic approach, whereby the content is subordinate to a medium-specific form, nor from the standpoint of communication and media theory that the “medium is the message”. The performance in its phenomenon is fundamentally based on a somewhat old-fashioned, standpoint that a certain subject matter “demands” to be transported in a certain medium. From a materialist-poststructuralist critical perspective it would mean that the medium materially intervenes in (a non-material, notional) content, however, the medium should be understood in Deleuzian or Massumian terms as a field of sensation, affects, and events, and not only as a field of social concepts and the practices of its material signifiers.

The space of the performance includes a proscenium stage, without set, and a full-size screen on the back wall, so that with the stage, the screen makes a unique maneuvering space. This means that the video is not an addition or an illustration of the stage, as is usually the case, but that the stage and the screen extend (into) each other, with a blurred boundary. Thus, the characters appear in the frame on screen, then go out from it in order to appear on the stage, the performers on the stage comment on events on the screen, the same objects circulate in both spaces, etc. In some scenes, the same procedures are conducted in both media; the movement of the camera in the film is analogous to the use of light on the stage (designed by Sylvie Garot), for instance. From time to time, the stage even functions as a supplement to the screen, giving, for example, the past of the story projected in the film (performed by Cvejić) or a commentary to the action on film (performers on stage, together with the actor in the film, follow a TV clip of Ceausescu’s execution in the film).

Together with the idea of media inter-extension, most of the procedures make us think that the film and the performing on stage are subject to a kind of inverted Spinozist challenge: “what is this specific medium capable of”… (that the other medium is not)? In some cases, they even answer that challenge. For example: by using the specific potential of the stage for presence, the performers on stage often address the audience, while the performers in the film gaze more at an invisible interlocutor than at the camera. In this sense, what I consider most characteristic is the dislocation, displacement, and re-appropriation of the elements, techniques, perceptive and affective possibilities of the film in the performance and vice versa. For example: the set in the film is minimal – objects like a table, a lamp, or a sofa appear in a black and empty space, which renders the film theatrical, i.e. as if it occurs on a virtual theatre stage. This relationship becomes more complex because here however it is purely a film reference to Jarman’s film “Wittgenstein”. However, if we make a short stop at this reference, a complex logic of referencing will become clear: the film itself obviously refers to theatre.

Therefore what we are confronted with here is not a unitary space, but a constant asymmetric circulation of possibilities, techniques, experiences, and sensations between the two media. Minze Tummescheit’s cinematographic procedures contribute to this as well. The film consists of interviews made with the actors in a studio as a re-enactment of their authentic personal stories taken from interviews conducted in the first research phase of the work. In this way they are placed amidst the Schechnerian “restored behavior”, which acts as the basis of the performance and differentiates it from both first-degree (spontaneous, “natural”) behavior and theatrical acting. Restored behavior is not traditional acting, but is based on awareness of the hiatus between the one who performs the act and the act itself, which is not the case in everyday behavior (if that is the case, we call it a performance). The camera follows this procedure. The action and the actors are not framed in a typically cinematic way, but rather a theatrical procedure is applied: a mise-en-cadre, in which actors move in a space the audience sees in total, while the camera shoots the figures off center in provisional shots, simulating the gaze of the theatre viewer. This circularity has consequences on the stage as well. The characters often appear in a spotlight, which undoes the total frame of the stage and offers the spectators a view analogous to the cinematic act of framing and cutting. Even the “shots” produced by the stage lighting are made in accordance with the basic grammar of film framing: close-up, medium close-up, medium shot, and most rarely long shot or total. One of the distinctive results of these media extensions is that, in the performance, the film seems theatrical, and the performance cinematic. However, they don’t form a binary dichotomy but rather, through asymmetric circularity, they generate a “third media space”. This space occurs between the screen and the stage, the film and the performance, as a virtual maneuvering space of the action and the actors, which potentially includes sensations and procedures of both spaces, approaching now one and then the other, so that at the end of the performance it all moves toward becoming a theatrical-screen.

Such a media space enables various performing modes in a broad range, from acting through self-representation to an artificial documentarism. Three, or four performers are credited as stage-performers: Bojana Cvejić, Aude Lachaise, and Eszter Salamon – whereby one ES works for IBM and the other is the author of the performance. Eight Eszter Salamons are credited in the credit list of performers in the film (Bojana Cvejic, a girl Kata, Aude Lachaise, and a boy Vinze appear in the film as well).

All the actors in the performance mainly act as themselves or directly represent themselves. The actors in the film perform parts of their interviews, which have been fictionalized through re-enacting their interviews in front of a camera in an artificial studio setting, and because the film of course was shot from particular angles and edited. To a degree ES from Newcastle is an exception, as she only appears in the film performing herself and is doubled on stage by Bojana Cvejic, who delivers her flash-back memory. Something similar also happens with a trans-gender FTM figure (Lachaise or Salamon?), who in the film doubles one of the Eszter Salamons, acting as her ego-ideal after she declares her wish to be male.

Regarding the performers on stage, ES from IBM mainly represents herself in the film and especially on stage; Bojana Cvejic performs a series of artificial poses, which simulate ES’s gesticulations and ways of speaking in the style of film acting. The performance of Aude Lachaise and ES, the author of the performance, is ambivalent, considering that this figure appears both in the film and on stage. Because of visual similarity (a sort of “visual homonymy”), the same job (dancer) and a lack of more precise autobiographical information, it is not certain who (and thus how) Aude Lachaise/Eszter Salamon represents – herself or her double, or both of them, or whether they are both performers who represent themselves.

The voice, the speech, and the sound in general (designed by Peter Lenaerts) are treated with special care, so that the sound often produces a hyperrealist postproduction effect in relation to the image it is connected to. Thus, for example, the Hungarian language, a voice without its source in the image, concrete sounds and other digital sound effects, diegetic and non diegetic music, a singing of already spoken lines, etc, appear beyond the image, in the performance. The organic unity of sound+image is thus destroyed, and the sound emancipates itself in an intricately constructed sensual and conceptual level of performance.

The distribution of the voice and speech in the performance is mainly conducted according to a logic of extending the screen into the stage. In a web of intricate elaborations I will mention the most characteristic one. While the film uses a regular procedure of shooting, postproduction and broadcasting of the live speech of the interviewee, the entire speech of the characters on stage comes from a recorded soundtrack, which the stage performers more or less precisely mouth along with “as if they were speaking”. In this way, dynamic media discontinuity of voice, text, and speech in the performance, and especially on stage, is established. This also means that the duration of the performance, like the film, is fixed at 1h 30min.


The choreography in “And then” involves inscriptions of all sorts. That is to say, the choreography as an inscription of movement cannot be reduced to text only — although it is to a considerable degree a text — nor does it only include dancing (and it is least of all dancing), but it is also the speech as a soundtrack, the filmed interviews, the camera angles and movements, the lighting on stage, the dispositif of the screen-stage, the performing modes… However, choreography here relates to, but at the same time cannot be reduced to, the inscription of these various elements themselves. The choreography here is the inscription of differences, shifts, and the movements between them. Understood this way, choreography is carried out as a plot-directorial treatment of autobiographies, which deliver singular hypothetical homonymous subjects in the net of their differences… These singularities are not objectified, nor do they aspire to a generality or universality verified by a common meta-parameter, but they are themselves, in their irreducibility and non-representability, introduced into a conceptual and phenomenal space of the performance, then continuously modifying that space for their own differences. This also applies to choreographing the relation between the screen and the stage, which does not unify the stage space, but generates a new in-between-ness, a virtual space, in which the film and the performance exchange their initial propositions both in a physical sense and in terms of media.

The “difference” in the performance that I am insisting on is therefore not so much a Derridian difference (differAnce), which defers the presence of the sign by the presence of the erased trace, nor a Lyotardian différend, which disables the coexistence of differences that do not possess or cannot find a unique parameter to resolve their non-mutuality in favor of one or the other. A more precise definition would require several other references, first of all to Deleuze’s “philosophy of difference”: the Deleuzian concept of difference, which through repetition transforms the elements introduced into a process of abolishing self-identity; then to Nancy’s notion of différend, by which the event between nothing and something replaces a positive object; and above all to Badiou’s concept of event as discontinuity, a break in a situation or disentanglement of an element in a set, in which difference functions as the only instance of “what exists” (there is).

From this it follows that the basic choreographic unit in the performance is literally the movement itself, conceptually understood as (any) Godardian “between this and that…” (ici et ailleurs). This is the reason why one could speak of it as a “total choreography”, and at the same time not imply a Gesamtkunstwerk. On the contrary, the choreography is entirely present not through a unifying focus on the plurality of elements of the performance, but in passages, intervals, shifts between them to the place and moment of differences themselves as the basic event of each, and even resembling, singularity.

Therefore I would like to say at the end that “And then” is a choreographic discussion of choreography itself. It occurs at a moment of expansion of contemporary dance on the international scene, a moment seeking new choreography – because assembling dancing figures and material into dance movements composed in a dance performance can no longer suffice as a conceptual and technical ground for making dance. Similarly to what occurred in the early twentieth century when theater staging was fundamentally studied separately from (the interpretation of) dramatic text, leading to the introduction of a new paradigm of the director’s theatre, choreography is being investigated today separately from dancing, leading towards a new authorial practice of performing art. “And then” is therefore, in my view, aside from its numerous different flows and micro-problematics, above all relevant for the institution of the performing arts as a contribution to a thorough examination of the current possibilities for choreography, affirming it as an inscription of movement in contemporary artistic and philosophical terms as well as in terms of media.

Translated by: Nada Jacimovic / Geoff Garrison