‘Longing for unknown words’, by Riikka Laakso

Certamen Coreográfico de Madrid describes itself as a platform that ‘supports the work of emerging contemporary dance artists’. Its intention is to ‘nurture creative people’, in order to develop ‘new work’. But, what does the term ‘new work’ actually signify?

The word ‘new’ usually refers to something innovative, not seen before, appearing for the first time, novel. Especially inspiring, in relation to dance, is the definition of new as ‘improved in physical or moral quality’. In corporeality this could be translated as fresh, different ways of using a body, the invention of new kinds of movement – something that appeared during the Certamen in Joaquín Collado’s Nereidas, that turned the dancers’ bodies into a liquid mass of flesh, rolling and unfolding on the floor; an exploration into the materiality of the body. With a new ‘moral quality’ we might refer to a thought, to a bodily perception on contemporary society, and the themes that emerge from these critical or sensible observations. Javier Guerrero’s Business World timidly developed this aspect, suggesting an ironic approach towards the body as an instrument of capitalist society: accentuating the image-obsessed and the hyper-sexualized dancing bodies, moving as efficiently as perfectly mechanized machines.

Certamen is also keen to support creators with ‘their own voice and a potential to develop it’. This voice could emerge through delving deep into the own body; opening up the body as a unique cultural and social construction of the 21st century. In linguistics, new signifies ‘living language at the present time’. Language – as with the body – lives in constant change, and launches new words to refer to upcoming concepts, as the inclusion of photobomb, supercentenarian or microbiome in the English dictionary in 2017 clearly demonstrates. So, what kind of ‘new words’ does the contemporary body need? Or, how does the surrounding, living world mould and modify our bodies – as it does with the language – and how can we talk about that? What comes out when we enter into the body as a product of this era, as an unknown, mysterious and multi-layered living organism?

The dominant style in Certamen could be described as contemporary dance – a history based on fragmented but consecutive avant-gardes – where the new constantly opens a road. So, what is this generation in dance, the ‘emerging contemporary dance artists’, up to?

The majority of the work seen in the final of Certamen Coreográfico 2017 somehow seems familiar: well-known choreographic patterns, influences of dance seen in popular culture, or clear references to dance theatre of the 80s and 90s. So, what’s new, understood as different from what one has had or seen, other than the former or the old?

Maybe we’re facing (another) crisis in choreography? Is ‘everything already done’, as the dance world itself desperately repeats, like a mantra that justifies a certain attitude including tones of resignation? Have we arrived at a limit in the possibilities of the body?

Or, is all provocative, awkward and uncomfortable work eliminated before the public showings? Were there some unpolished diamonds among the 60 proposals received this year in the open call, which just didn’t fit among the 14 semi-finalists? Maybe we’re still afraid of unfinished thoughts?

Where are the rough angles, the brilliant but only half-developed works, the minimalistic or the excessive; the potential that should be supported to flourish in years to come? Who is even able to tell what’s valuable in dance in a term of 5, 10 or 15 years?

Is dance just giving a new form to history, without the real innovation and risk that always includes the possibility of a failure?

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