I take wide steps
which are punctuated by a swinging of the arms
which initiate the movement of the torso
to bend and turn from one direction to the other.
I never grow tired of watching Shade Théret twist herself into delicate and meticulous contortions. There is something deeply satisfying about witnessing someone exercise incredible physical control while lost in dance. She bends and arches, paces, jerks, writhes and undulates, swells and releases, performing choreographic sequences always with a serious, almost deadpan expression, though every so often the corners of her mouth draw down in a melodramatic grimace. I am seduced by her ability to move, and to embody movement.
The moving body is in constant negotiation with the space it occupies. It adapts and accommodates, it pushes out and against external limitations, and is at times constrained by them. The dancing body works according to similar principles, navigating through and pushing against constraints: corporeal, social, spatial. Shade orients some of her practice around her perceived boundaries, seeming to constantly invent new configurations for her own dancing body.
Shade’s work deals with the persistent tension between controlled gesture and impulsive movement, between improvisation and intention, navigating the somewhat liminal area that divides choreography and ordinary motion. Hers is an exaggerated mode that is both disorienting and absorbing. She is curious about the viewer’s role in performance, and often breaks the formality of staging to provoke a reaction in her audience. Her piece ‘Work’, for instance, danced in the throughway adjoining Galerie Weisser Elefant, situated audience members across from one another in the small arcade as Shade slithered in the space between them to a Baroque-jazz fusion, her dancing punctuated with extravagant gesture, her gaze breaking performative conventions to confront onlookers with her stares, as they were equally obligated to contemplate one other.
Sometimes her work is pulsing and durational, like an aerobic exercise: one in which she frantically bends and unbends her knees, for instance, or thrusts her arms from side to side to swing around her torso. At other times, she moves fluidly, lyrically, with a ballerina’s steady control. For most performances, Shade equips herself with a lexicon of choreographic options, to be drawn at will as she navigates physical space. There is no ‘choreographic score’ per se, no linear structure that connects a beginning and an end of performance, but rather, a range of movement options that can be engaged according to feeling, perhaps at random. The ephemerality of performance is the condition of her practice, and choreography, usually encased in a set of predetermined gestural sequences, is instead used as a form of physical parlance, a tool of communication expressed largely through spontaneous or figurative gesture.
Choreography acts as the trigger that releases movement, rather than a rigid notation to keep the performer in check. It is mutable, and is thus subject to change. In her own words, Shade is ‘de-programming’ herself from thinking in movement, aspiring instead to elevate an intuitive motion that is tinged with theatrics.
Twisting in circles, the arms unfurl from the body to slip beneath the skirt, hands straining against a polyester and lycra blend. Bend and stretch, bend and stretch, snap the waistband. Another dress: pleated, heavy fabric, a flat smack of hand on thigh, brushed down the leg, smoothing the pleats, out and away. The fabric of clothing is an extension of the body, the medium through which the dancer communicates, building sentences, phrases, whole paragraphs out of twisting limb and shroud. The body’s articulations can be soft and gestural, or firm and severe, depending on the materials that envelop it.
‘Clothing Studies’ is an ongoing physical experiment that has become something of a methodology. It acts as a frame to Shade’s practice, a sustained, yet peripheral study of the ways in which movement is sartorially mediated (though clothing, of course, is not simply the fact of fabric on skin). The use of clothing sets a tone or an atmosphere: how does the body respond to socially inscribed garments, and how does the combination of materiality and symbolic significance mediate, restrict or enhance movement? Shade notes that she is interested in the notion of uniform, or uniformity. This is worked into her practice both in her style of dress (despite ‘Clothing Studies’ examining a variety of garments and the resultant range of motion, she adheres to a minimalist, pragmatic costuming that itself rides an ambiguous line between the every day and the performative), as well as in the uniformity of bodies, that is to say, bodies moving in unison. Shade’s work with artist Magdalena Mitterhofer further explores notions of uniformity outside of the ‘Clothing Studies’ series, often playing with elements of synchronicity and mimicry between a pairing of performers. While on one hand, ‘uniformity’ in dance and in dress already suggests a prescriptive set of behaviours—the uniform is the physical expression of identity—on the other hand, the notion of the uniform might also examine the alienation of the body from its attendant materials and signifiers, considering how the codification of garments can be, in fact, a limitation to individual expression. Clothing is a projection onto the self.
Dance is a fragile art, particularly because it concerns the moving body in the here and now. The spacetime of performance is immediate, ephemeral and intimate, and in most cases, the form dissolves with the final transition from posture to posture. Yet, despite an emphasis on the immediacy of performance, Shade’s practice also incorporates video and alternative media. In particular, her performances are often recorded, and later edited with an overlapping of video footage, text and sound to produce work that is hybrid, long-lasting, that can be played and replayed, that can be broadcast online and thus relegated to the privacy of the computer screen. This is less an effort to archive past performances than it is an attempt to re-arrange the linear relationship between spectator and performer. The camera lens embeds the spectator in the framework of the performance, engaging an omnipresent, but unseen witness to the dancer’s movements.
In this current period of intensified physicality—both in terms of a collective awareness of bodies in space, as well as in widespread restrictions to individual movement—the incorporation of spectator into performance makes sense to me: watching someone dance gives me an impulse to move, too. I suppose that’s where dance really takes on a communicative dimension. It’s not always one-way, even when only one person is moving. Dance can enact a dialogue, a sort of call and response. The observer reads the moving body and soundlessly develops a reply.
Sarah Messerschmidt is a writer and researcher based in Berlin. Her writing has been published by Burlington Contemporary, Ocula Magazine, and she has edited for Phile: The International Journal of Desire and Curiosity.
Shade Théret is a dancer and choreographer based in Berlin. Previous performances and projects include, ‘Parallels’, Cell Project Space, London (2020), ‘Official Dreaming (il vetro ci allega)’ 3hd festival, Exhibition (Un) Real E-State, Berlin (2019), ‘Work’, Galerie Weisser Elefant, Berlin (2019), ‘Maybe’, Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles (2018), ‘I do not believe you know me, although you know my name’, PS120, Berlin (2018), ‘Between the Window and the Wall’, FUTURA, Prague (2017), ‘Body Archive’, DUVE, Berlin (2017).