Yoga for Theatres

Hans Petter’s granduncle E. was a lover of nature and a fervent nazi. He believed in Hitler and a healthy lifestyle. The SS even recommended yoga to their concentration camp employees to attain inner peace. After being in jail, he painted his nephew picking blueberries in the forest.

‘Yoga for Theatres' is an opera, a galactic song-situation for four berry-pickers, a yogaturg and a virtual swastika; a space to come up with new strategies to celebrate the cosmos and our relation with the world. If ecological culture and politics is about “the re-enchantment of the world” as they say, our task might be to find 'magic' in the world and its (un)digested histories, from yoga and nazism to eco-bliss. Blindfolded we dig deep in the everyday to find the countless invisible lines that connect the theatre and the body to the world and the galaxy. An almost archaeological way of working; sexy and slow, deep and wide, to make us receptive to the unexpected.

Yoga for Theatres will practice mindful stretching and bending of the world as we know it, expanding our consciousness through songs: Flexing our ideas on the monstrous deformity of human concepts. In close harmony with characters as diverse as the Striped Fly Mouse, the Dog, Pumpkin, Water Woman and the Golden Frog we sing to make friends again with the earth through humbleness:

We are 7,73 billion people sharing the song, but we all sing alone.

Galactical premiere Malersalen, Nationaltheatret Oslo Norway10th of October 2019 at 20:00.
Further singings 11th and 12th of october same space.

Meteor, BIT Bergen, Studio USF 17th and 18th of October.

December Dance 19, Bruges 7th and 8th of December.

CREDITS Yoga for Theatres

Concept: MaisonDahlBonnema

Text: Anna Sophia Bonnema

Music: Hans Petter Melø Dahl

Art Direction: MDB/HPMD

Costumes: Love & Orgasm

Berry-pickers: Anna Sohia Bonnema, Hans Petter Melø Dahl, Joana Preiss, Elke van Campenhout

Yogaturgy: Elke van Campenhout

Financial producer: Elisabeth C. Gmeiner

Diffusion ad Interim: Eva LC Blaute

Production: MaisonDahlBonnema

Co-production: Nasjonaltheateret (N), BIT Teatergarasjen (N), ImPulsTanz (A), Needcompany (B).

Supported by: Norsk Kulturråd / Arts Council Norway

Special thanx: Eva Blaute, Christel Simons, Dog the Dog (Daisy & Nala)

Critic in pzazz: (original i Dutch:)

Yoga for theaters - a galactic song situation


Do you like yoga?

Seen on December 7, 2019, Biekorf Bruges. December Dance 2019

Pieter T’Jonck

"Yoga for theaters - a galactic song situation" by MaisonDahlBonnema is one of those rare performances that leaves you speechless. Not because bombs explode or other spectacular things happen, quite the contrary. It is a long litany, with strange rituals, that touches so many things at the same time that you get lost in it. Gregorian 2.0 for frivolous but dangerous times.

The situation is simple: the stage of the small Biekorf theater in Bruges has been completely cleared. Chairs are arranged on the four sides of the empty playing surface. A hairy white Maltese dog wanders around in it. Four players are waiting for you on a seat on each of the four sides.

They are strikingly dressed. Hans Petter Dahl in White Tie and Anna Sophia Bonnema in a red evening dress. The two guest performers, Elke Van Campenhout and Joana Preiss, wear equally festive clothing: one in a white evening dress with a leather belt that runs from her neck to her wrist, the other in a flirtatious green glitter dress. Dressed to kill for a chic reception.

The foursome gets up and gathers for a first song on the poppy, somewhat dreary electronic music from Dahl. The first lyrics are an invitation: imagine how your body would expand in such a way that this theater, or even all theaters, and even the entire galaxy would fit into your body.

In the following songs the question then arises how many voices you would then hear. Perhaps the walls would ‘sweat out’ the voice of Medea, or give the echo of all other crimes, conflicts, battles that took place within these walls. The perspective soon expands: the songs are no longer about theater, but about nature, about your responsibility for nature and the approaching ecological disaster. It quickly becomes incomprehensible. Too big to choose a position.

The strange thing, however, is that, meanwhile, these performers are now standing there as if they were at a cocktail party. A slightly stylized social ballet, in which the players walk past each other with thoughtful movements with precisely choreographed steps. Like that usually happens, this company lightheartedly uses the biggest problems and issues such as ecological disasters and footprints as pocket-change in a conversation.

The dog Rikki is the disturber in the game, because he does not “perform", and, on the evening I experienced, clings to Dahl's leg with unabashed erotic drive. The dog is completely himself here, while the players constantly repeat that they can only dream of saying "I" without shame. What they also try to do.

During the fifteenth song Van Campenhout falls to her knees to evoke an orgasmic act of love with great conviction. Moments later, all performers become a dog, panting and excited, looking from behind the rows of seats to the empty stage. You suspect, more than the text says explicitly, that they want, in a ritualistic way, to evoke something here that is elusive and impossible to imagine. Something like "self-loss."

Without drama, without screeching or shouting. This is no doom, but a slow disappearance; a dissolving of the human in a cloud of words. Words that continue to drift about, without a conclusion or a meaning. This performance is like a party at the Titanic. A "Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise". Pretending that nothing is wrong, while we slowly sink into the sea, disappearing at the end.

In "Yoga for theaters”, we are beyond the panic for the coming end. It is a monotonous song, carried by monotonous gestures and figures that are a prelude to the moment when we no longer try to know and master it all, but give in to the realization that man is nothing more than an intensified concentration of life, which is invasive and everywhere. That it is all beyond our comprehension, and that every explanation is not much more than "spitting against the wind".

Such a strange ritual throws you radically back on yourself as a spectator. How do you deal with theater from which all drama has slipped away, which is not much more than an empty canvas on which ideas roam freely, without fitting into the line of a full-fledged criticism? Do you want that? Do you recognize that powerlessness? Do you see a kind of liberation in it? Do you like yoga?

translated from Dutch MDB translations

....the blueberry group....

....the plastic group....

live-photos from the galctic song-situation here under: Audun S. Eftevåg


On Yoga for Theatres by MaisonDahlBonnema

"Because being ecological includes a sense of my weird inclusion in what I’m experiencing..."

Timothy Morton in Being Ecological

"Nonhuman life-forms also represent the world."

Eduardo Kohn in How Forests Think

  1. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. (Samuel Beckett in ‘The Unnamable’)

I always depended on the words of others. We all do. There is no thought that has not been produced by countless predecessors. Philosophers, ancestors, teachers, friends. In schools, café’s, theatres, libraries, lover’s beds and during YouTube binges. In that sense the ecology of things starts with the very first word we utter. The things we say are what make us (not) what we are. In itself this is a simple enough thought. We are aware of the forces of time that pushed us into being. Of the waves of history that shape our thoughts and preconceptions. Of the subconscious muddy crevices of drives and desires that appear on the surface as well-formed thoughts and ideas. Much less are we attentive to the unnameable objects and things, critters and others, that make us act and be in the world in a very particular way. In the inspiring text ‘Queer Phenomenology’, Sarah Ahmed points out the ‘orientation’ of our daily surroundings. The objects that surround us, that are close at hand, that make us move, work, sit and eat in a particular way. The table of the philosopher Husserl, for example, is exemplary in that sense. His thoughts were moulded by the objects that surrounded him, that were ‘at hand’. His writing table. The women’s kitchen quarters nearby. The view on the garden. Familiar things. We are surrounded by objects that ‘orient’ us, she argues, that shape our bodies and our journeys into the world. “Being ‘orientated’ means feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach”. Today’s ecological crisis, however, seems to alienate us from our homely perception of the world. Against the backdrop of the dismal echoes of doomsday speeches, of ecological disaster and extinction, the world increasingly appears as ungovernable. Its objects wildly flailing in their rejection of domestication, of disappearing in the human discourse, of being sanitised out of the creation of histories.

If objects and ‘critters’ are what make us move and think, they are also what make us relate, dream and produce. Timothy Morton, in his influential philosophical discourse on ecology, points out that the problem of the ecological crisis today is not that we cannot imagine its dimensions, but rather that we can. And these dimensions exceed the proportions of human experience to such a degree that they knock us into a realisation of the sublime. Into terror and despondency. Spitting and pissing against the wind. Shouting into the storm. Our problem is not that we cannot imagine the ecological crisis but that we assume thinking and shouting about it is the only possible response. In our attempt to grasp the seriousness of the situation, humans repeat the same mistake that brought them there in the first place: reducing multifaceted life to the ‘factoids’ (deceivingly truthful data) of ‘bad news’. Forgetting about the sighs and whispers of the snails, the uncanny caress of an Indian summer, ‘bananas were they say’… Or, as Twin Peaks already pointed out so succinctly: ‘The owls are not what they seem…’.

In a talk with Olafur Eliasson, Morton talks about art as a form of camouflage. A form of relating to our surroundings in such a way that we almost disappear in the act. Any such form of osmosis is a play with disappearing, and as such, with death. Because, if my bacterial make-up inside no longer differs from the bacterial make-up outside of me, I no longer exist. To talk through things, to give the critters their fair due in the story, means to disappear from the scene. To take leave of the theatre. To no longer take centre stage.

2. This is not Here (Yoko Ono)

In the early runs of Yoga for Theatres, an influential programmer described the piece as ‘deeply Brechtian’. And indeed, in theatre terms, the use of alienation techniques, the commenting on the goings-on, the reflections on contemporary life are all there. But we no longer live in critical times. Critique as the deconstruction of world views and ideologies, has been replaced by factoids and Twittering, by an opinionated dispersion of cries and whispers. Today’s critical gesture is not one that points a finger. But rather an act of trying (not) to be. To take backstage as humans. To hide. In the folds of things. In between objects, critters, facts and factoids. In this camouflage act we disappear, but contemporary existence reappears. In all its diversity and chaos and illogics.

Theatre to date has mostly been an act of mansplaining. Calling the world into being from a clearly defined orientation. Human, historical, western, critical and self-absorbed. In this sense the character of the theatre is inherently ‘fascist’. I use the quotation marks because I do not wish to be cynical or diminish the all-too-real context in which this term came into being. I am aware the term has been hollowed out by its frequent, uncritical use. Funnily enough, it lost its meaning precisely through its banalization in the context of so-called critical discourse which, by seeing fascism everywhere, has disempowered the term completely. If fascism is everywhere, then it actually becomes life itself. Such a ‘metaphorization’ of the term, which makes it applicable to all circumstances in which a play of hierarchical oppositions of power are at stake, is near-sighted and cynical.

But, let’s say, that by ‘fascism’ I mean a specific coming together of an overarching narrative, produced through the ordering of things into neatly defined critical pathways, with an orientation towards catharsis and transformation, against the backdrop of a strongly held belief system or ideology. A theatre built on the aesthetic organisation of thoughts and emotions that represent the political and/or critical world views of the present artistic/intellectual elite. In the wake of 20th century modernist fascist and communist critical strategies, a lot of these aesthetic devices have become suspect. Loaded with historical weight: be it romantic escapism, political incorrectness, social exclusion, uncritical acceptance of the bourgeois order, the crash and recuperation of the ideals of the 1960’s, and so on.

Increasingly, the mansplaining attitude of the theatre, to explain the world into being, is having to make way for a more ‘ecological’ attitude: the ‘theysplaining’ of queer orientations, of uncanny objects speaking out in the democracy of things. Of things gaining a voice and changing language. All contributing to a breaking up of ‘our histories’.

That’s why I don’t have a story anymore.

No hero.

No winner.

Possibly a theatre that speaks of contemporary existence, no longer speaks about the human-centered experience. No longer has sloganesque aspirations. Theatre no longer tries to unmask the ‘Truth’, but makes space for the unknown. And in that act, disappears. Theatre then is not about ‘Truth’ but about Orgasm: existing at the confluence of the experience of the interior and exterior, the experience of the ‘self’ expanding into that what appears as separate, outside. Unlike the fearful trepidation of facing the Sublime, this beauty is nothing if not powerful, energising, and emancipatory. To know you are connected, you are part of the whole, dissolves the artist, the theatre, the opinion and the truth into an orgasmic wave of disappearance. Language dissolving. Meaning overgrown by countless cells mutating and reorganising the grammar of the world. Orgasmic Theatre, in that sense, is a tool to overcome alienation THROUGH alienation, a kind of homeopathic medicine. It is an overcoming of the doctrine of individuality that has captured and narrowed our desires to the handkerchief-size of a human self-realisation project. Surely there must be more to be done with the energy of our desires than this empty craving for self-fulfilment.

Maybe this orgasmic quality needs a little more explanation. What the orgasm accomplishes is an osmosis of different things into one. The recognition of our otherness in the act of coming together. I was just reading this rather interesting paragraph about sexuality, that captures that quality beautifully: ‘Sex, for its part, likes nothing so much as mixtures. Mixtures of skins, salivas, humors, organs, words to the point of delirium, images, as well; sex makes do with anything, can put everything to use. (...) Sex is not the body. It is even the forgetting of the body. It is what makes us, in jouissance, feel desire, or sadness, excitement, fear, longing - everything about the body that is not ‘the body’, that is, flesh. When the body becomes world, landscape, moor, sand, language, collage, collapse, memory, the entire body is convoked as other than flesh. Other indeed, for it is a matter of otherness, for philosophy as well as for sex. Their history is the same, like two sides of a single coin stamped with the seal of that recognition.’

The orgasmic encounter is therefore not just an encounter between bodies but between othernesses: the microbes, cells, contexts, histories of these bodies, tangled up in the tentacles, the web of what they are made up of. Their shapes becoming undone in the vastness of their connection.

3. This Body is in Danger

‘There is so much more of me than the ‘I’ being responsible for climate change’, Timothy Morton argues in a YouTube lecture on ecology. Indeed, in this sense, our bodies are in danger. Maybe not so much our physical bodies, although for sure they too have an expiry date, but rather our conceptual bodies. Our subject bodies, artist bodies, autonomous heroes of the world bodies. In the bigger (they) story of things, our bodies become mere agglomerates of other creatures. Existing on the mesoscale between the microscopic and the macroscopic. A body losing its exclusivity, its language, its orientation. Our whole ecological speech speaks of a body in danger of extinction. The terror of losing one’s boundaries. Our anthropocentric grasp on the world around us. Since things are starting to take over. The belief being that the act of speaking about this danger is already an act for change. Whereas maybe to open up to the understanding that there is no such body, in short, might be a more inclusive democratic gesture.

What about a theatre without bodies. Without opinions. Without solutions. Without words.

In Yoga for Theatres, language has collapsed. Cut up, dispersed, cut loose from its grammatical bonds, language is again there to be listened to. Savoured rather than understood. Thinking becoming music, entering and exiting the body. Affecting the emotional DNA of our histories. ‘With remorseless gentleness’.

What if the true ecological crisis is not about climate change as such (although YES OF COURSE), but rather about coming to grips with the transcendence of things, and how to allow them to wriggle out of the grasp of our dominion. About climate change taking on proportions, in time, space and scale that are not reducible to the scientific factoid mould.

The smallest of critters producing unforeseeable consequences in a future that exceeds the life span of our imagination by hundreds of thousands of years. What if this crisis is not (only) about damage control, but rather about reorientation. The redirecting of thinking from acting to listening. Being present.

The character of the ecological discourse is one of doom and extinction. We live in the middle of that extinction. The apocalyptic screaming so loud we can barely hear the humming of our very aliveness. Our lives hiding in the folds. Our bodies discovering their uncanny dimensions under duress. In all that noise we are no longer capable of listening to life unfolding as ‘A’ life, to speak in Deleuzian terms. A particular life, an unrepeatable life, a quixotic product of circumstances. An impromptu meeting in the middle of the chaos. Of millions or even billions of critters, setting up temporary quarters and me calling that a body, my body, until we all move on.

These are two radically different language games: the Transcendence of the doom speech, opening up an overarching, unforgiving and rationalised Other that will bring history to its dramatic conclusion; or a theatre of consequences, of guilt and shame, blaming us all into the frantic submission to action. Only there is nothing really to submit to. And so we die. It seems almost blasphemous in the ecological context to think and act without drama or the need for transcendence. Without a lot of fuss about not knowing what to do. Without the glaring prospect of total destruction. Or the urge to push things around with reckless abandon. But let’s try anyway.

What about thinking of ecology rather like the distribution of Transcendence into transcendences. Bitesized bits of uncanniness hidden in all possible objects, as proposed by Bruno Latour. Allowing each and everyone of them (including concepts, ideas, abstractions, rationalisations) to exceed our grasp. To playfully hide in the shadows. To allow for ambiguity. Escaping reduction is the power of the object to transcend human perception. To be bigger on the inside than can be perceived outwardly. Our own bodies defy us. Our own thoughts escape our mind’s eye. We are surrounded by transcendences. By things allowing, as well as denying, us access. It is in their denial that their secret lies. In their allowing that lies their grace. They move us. Without effort. Orgasmic dancers in the dark.

The demise of the theatre is inextricably connected with the demise of ‘Truth’ and its prophets. This is a theatre of disappearance. Without a storyline. Without drama. The disappearance of the protagonist. Of the plot. And the catharsis. Into the coulisses. Exit stage.

Maybe what lingers is the light scent of melancholy. For what has disappeared. In the knowledge it was never there in the first place….

Elke Van Campenhout

Yogaturgy in Yoga for Theatres