In relation to “Improvising Translation”

During the last two OPENLAB sessions I facilitated at Chisenhale Dance Space I proposed some ideas inspired by reading Jaques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster.

I would like to share with you here a series of randoms thoughts and writings before and after the session, in one part there is a facebook thread including a passage from the book that was partially the reason for the inspiration, especially for the idea of ‘improvising’. The ‘translation’ bit comes from the main fact described in the book.

This is going to be a sketchy posts, so sit down and fasten your sit belts.

This was the description I wrote for the session for a facebook event :

Imagine you are given a book which language you cannot read. Let us assume your only interest in life is to become able to read this book for all other activities in and around you are either humdrum or vacuous. It will be work, possibly felt as hard, but as you make your way through the lines of the book you will realised that you have already a copy of the book in your own language. This will not mean that by knowing then later you will have immediate access to understanding the former. However, as you keep up at making your way through these (now precious) coupled books you will be able to improvise translation. Maybe, it won’t be so much a translation of the language you don’t know to the language you do but rather from the version you did understand to start with to this other version which may feel little by little less foreign.

I also shared the event in a facebook group. This is a copy of what I posted followed by a series of comments which I found quite thoughtprovoking:

Improvising Translation… It doesn’t need to be literally about improvisation (unless you want it) but improvisation can be the means to what you want to work on.

This Friday at Chisenhale Dance, 10am-12pm.

Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Improvisation is the means/part of the process upon which one develops a piece.
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe “We know that improvisation is one of the canonical exercises of universal teaching. But it is first of all the exercise of our intelligence’s leading virtue: the poetic virtue. The impossibility of our saying the truth, even when we feel it, makes us speak as poets, makes us tell the story of our mind’s adventures and verify that they are understood by other adventurers, makes us communicate our feelings and see them shared by other feeling beings. Improvisation is the exercise by which the human being knows himself and is confirmed in his nature as a reasonable man, that is to say, as an animal “who makes words, figures, and comparisons, to tell the story of what he thinks to those like him.” The virtue of our intelligence is less in knowing than in doing. “Knowing is nothing, doing is everything.” But this doing is fundamentally an act of communication. And, for that, “speaking is the best proof of the capacity to do whatever it is.” In the act of speaking, man doesn’t transmit his knowledge, he makes poetry; he translates and invites others to do the same. He communicates as an artisan: as a person who handles words like tools. Man communicates with man through the works of his hands just as through the words of his speech: “When man acts on matter, the body’s adventures become the story of the mind’s adventures.“ And the artisan’s emancipation is first the regaining of that story, the consciousness that one’s material activity is of the nature of discourse. He communicates as a poet: as a being who believes his thought communicable, his emotions sharable. That is why speech and the conception of all works as discourse are, according to universal teaching’s logic, a prerequisite to any learning. The artisan must speak about his works in order to be emancipated; the student must speak about the art he wants to learn. “Speaking about human works is the way to know human art.“”
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe From Jacques Raciere’s “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Ref: ‘Knowing is nothing, doing is everything..’ One has to know inorder to do. (In my view)
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Ref: ‘Speaking about human works…..’. Speaking also requires the speakers capacity to hold the attention of the one to whom he/she is communicating, and then we can move onto focus on idea rather than making. Where we have the concept acting as permission for its existence! (Your last sentence implies this)
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney ‘In the act of speaking, man doeasn’t transmit his knowledge, he makes poetry; he tranlates and invites other to do the same…..words like tools’. This implies that everyone is a poet, is an artist? Again I refer back to the speaker, and his/her capacity to hold the attention of the one to whom he/she is communicating to. I wouls add here that words in themselves move, they have stylistic devices, they can roll and pause, a sort of kinetic equivalent to inflection in the voice. Words move along relentlessly, up and down, stopping, starting….one is involved in rhythm, pauses, and pacing…time. To hold the attention of the viewer the composition of the words requires tailoring/careful thought. Variety, almost musicality. This works together with utmost attention to ‘content’. Hmmmm…I’m not sure all ‘are poets’.
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe Fiona, thank you for engaging with my posts and sharing your thoughts. You are provoking many more thoughts on me. Let me answer to your comments. I feel almost obliged to do so, at least to share my two cents and share with you my view on this. I first would like to clarify one thing, which I think probably doesn’t need to be clarified but I would like to do so to avoid misunderstandings – at a point in the second comment from the three consecutive comments above this one of mine you say, “Your last sentence implies this.” However, as much as I would like that the sentence was mine it isn’t mine. I’m quoting Jacques Rancière (“The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Fives Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation” (1991). Standford University Press, Stanford: CA, pp. 64-65.), and in fact in the last sentence of that paragraph Rancière is quoting within his quote: He is using Joseph Jacotot words from a book titled “Enseignement Universel: Musique,” 3rd ed. (1830), p. 163. It would be pretentious from me to say that I fully understand Rancières words and I am not totally sure what is my positions towards all of the statements that he seems to put forwards. These statements, and others in his book, have nonetheless stimulated my imagination and inspired me for the OPENLAB session which is what the event is about. The book talks about emancipation in education and the proposition for the lab is at some level to be independent but collaborative in the way we continue developing as performing artists. At least that’s the wish I have for the lab for myself and I share that point of view with the other people who come to the lab.
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe Now, I responded to your first comment at the top of this thread with that quote because I was thinking on it when I use the word Improvising. The session is called *Improvising Translation*, and I’m using it in the way that Racière uses it in the first sentence in the quote, “We know that improvisation is one of the canonical exercises of universal teaching.” I think he is using improvisation as a faculty that at least humans (although it could be argued that other non-human beings could also) have and that apply continuously in the way the interact with the world around them and with each other and that it is part of the process of acquiring new knowledge(s). In a way for me that’s a bit different to a more specific use of the word improvisation as a tool or mode which is sometimes (or often) use within the performing arts. My knowledge of improvisations as a label for a performance tool/mode comes from my experiences with it in dance both as a student and as a professional performer and maker. However, I don’t want necessarily to direct people towards the study of improvisation as a subject for this session but to embrace our inherent capacity to improvise our way through our emancipated learning. Does that make sense?
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe I feel that I haven’t touched all the points that you have but I’m afraid I have to go now. I would love to continue the conversation though.
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Antonio, for me the fun of reading such philosophical works is that all the formula that is often confered upon works can then be reversed!, and in Rancieres Politics of Aesthetics he speaks of the need for an art form to be recognised as art by the ‘masses’. ‘That is to say that they first need to be put into practice and recognised……’ Hmmm this is a lengthy discussion – interesting though in light of your comments. I would just like to leave with a quote from Maurice Merleau Ponty – Phenomonology of Peception – Sense Experience where he say’s, ‘ The sense’s translate each other without any need of an interpreter, and are mutually comprehesible withot any intervention of any idea. …My body is the seat or rather the very actuality of the phenomenon of expression, and theere are visual and auditory experiences, for example, are pregnant one with the other, and there expressive value is the ground of the antipredictive unity of the perceived world, and through it, of verbal expression(Darstellung)and intellectual significance(Bedeutung).My body is the fabric into which all objects are woven, and it is, at least in relation to the perceived world, the general instrument of my ‘comprehension’. It is my body which gives significance not only to the natural object, but also cultural objects like words. If a word is shown to a subject for too short a time fr him to beable to read it, the word ‘warm’ for example induces a kind of experience of warmth……meaningful halo..Before becoming the indication of a concept it is first of all an event which grips my body…words have a physiognomy because we adopt towards them, as towards a person a certain form of behaviour which makes its complete appearance the moment ach work is given. ‘I try to grasp the word red in its living expression; but at first it is no more than peripheral for me, no more than a sign along with the knowledge of its the meaning. It is not red itself..the word itself on paper also takes on an expressive value…..’
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney These ideas engage me also in my work. Apologies for the lenght of discourse above….I am ploughing through the work of Merleau Ponty which seems to me to have such relevance for my work as an Interdisciplinary Artist – whether working in collaboration with dancers/actors/singers, or in solitary work in my studio with paint/clay/canvas…….there is an immediacy/ a physicality/ an energy (of different dynamic intensity that has to impart itself into a work inorder to create successful communication. This is in my view relevant across all art forms. This immediacy is ‘felt’ ‘physically’. This though cannot in my view come through unless the ‘idea’/’meaning’ is worked through from conception -improvisation – realisation. Kind Regards Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Antonio I will respond to your comment of two hours ago when I have given extra thought. Interesting……
Antonio de la Fe
Antonio de la Fe I’m interested in reversing in the practice certain phylosophical discourses too. Is that what you meant? In any case, I think that conception – improvisation – realisation could be inverted or permutated. Totally valid but not the only valid route? No need to permutate but at the same time why not? This is personal and has to make sense to a personal enquiry I think…
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Yes, through starting the process of ‘improvisation’ with a playful approach I know from experience that idea/s can take form. the same can happen in the engagement in other art forms, and yes, this is personal enquiry, as is fundamentally in my view the only honest way for the artist to work.
Fiona Chaney
Fiona Chaney Ref to ‘improvisation’. It is very much an art of the present with no seperation between thinking feeling and writing. My heady experiences of improvisation came in the sixties and seventies and linked to the sense of openness and possibility. With Alwin Nikolais, the elements of time, and space, and shape were isolated and explored as the elements of dance composition. But, back to the ‘personal enquiry’, I think the point is not to accept other peoples revelations (ref -dance/movement, but applicable again to other art forms) about their own body instead of finding one’s own movement sources within oneself. Its about working from in inside in the recoveryof ones own body’s language. (although of course any discipline can have its own usefullness in strengthening, and training one’s body -) I also question my work with the words you use above, ‘and why not’. Oh, enjoy your Improv session today, its been an engaging discourse here. Kind RegardsFiona Chaney

Another interesting project inspired by The Ignorant Schoolmaster:

Oh Antonio, I’d love to be able to come ! (but no, too far)
Jacques Rancière’s “Le maître ignorant” has also inspired this :,
a very interesting workshop to experience, very much lacking of body work however ! (quoi qu’il en soit, on this page you’ll find a link offering the chapter XXI of “Le petit prince” de St Exupery in 50 languages, nice to share)
“improvising translation” heart emoticon Enjoy !

A random poem I wrote yesterday: 

Who wants to know will doubt forever. Who actually doesn’t want to know will believe that s/he knows. I’m probably an ignorant for saying this. I’m probably proving it so… by saying this.

We don’t know, we just think to know. I must admit I know less than I believe I do. How could it be otherwise?

“I’m always right!” I say, and I must embrace being right only in a place of full ignorance.

Can I enter that space?

Feedback from Cathy Burfield: Personal Correspondance


Sorry i had to rush off so abruptly yesterday. I just wanted to thank you for the sessions that you run. I’m not sure that I really have the right words to express what I want to say and as someone who is still so inexperienced myself on my dance path I hardly feel that I have the right to comment. That said I will try.

I love the philosophical connections that you make between life and dance, I do the same myself all the time, it sometime drives me in circles as I try to make sense of something, place it into movement and then get more questions or solutions that drive the next thought processes. I can see you doing the same. Like you I write a lot!

I admire your courage and willingness to openly share with us some of the internal journeys that you are on, at the point where you yourself have little or no idea where they will lead.  To me it is very exciting to physically attempt to ‘follow’, ‘represent’ or at least explore someone else’s thought processes.   I believe it is a rare thing. It is something I aspire to do myself and already your sessions are giving me the inspiration and confidence to do so.

I am also so impressed that you have been dedicated to this way of working for such a long time irrespective of who joins you, even if you have been alone on a number of occasions. It must have been hard to continue on sometimes, yet, you are still there. If you were not I would not have had this opportunity of working alongside you now.

Thank you.

I look forward to the next expedition into the unknown. At some point I will take a risk and lead the group down one of my own trails of discovery before I even know where it goes!


An OPENLAB open letter for Devising Think Tank at TripSpace Projects

(I was invited by Laura Doehler to join the Devising Think Tank event at TripSpace and share in one way or another OPENLAB for a few minutes – I wasn’t able to attend, so I wrote this letter for them instead)

Hello everybody,

My name is Antonio de la Fe and for the last few years I have been organising this thing called OPENLAB.

Laura Dohler invited me to attend the Devising Think Tank at TripSpace last Sunday, 4 October and share in about 15 minutes, somewhat practically somewhat conceptually, what it is OPENLAB… or at least offer a taste, even if partial, of what it could be.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend as you may have noticed.

I decided, however, to take up Laura’s proposition and I proposed to write this letter instead. This is a letter through which I could hopefully share at least a facet of OPENLAB, even if OPENLAB as model is fluid and ever changing, responding to the different constellations of people who configure it throughout time.

OPENLAB normally takes the form of approximately two hour-long studio sessions which happen most Friday mornings at Chisenhale Dance Space… or it has been so for at least the last 2 years. The sessions are always facilitated by one of the participants. Normally it is myself who facilitate although any session could be facilitated by any other participant given that they show interest and propose a theme for the session – the offer is always there. Anyway, the prerogative of the OPENLAB is to offer a space for emancipation in our development as performers, in which we take fool responsibility as well as agency of our artistry. The idea is …

“do it yourself, but don’t do it alone”

… because there is something very special from doing this kind of work in the same space with other people.

… because it is reassuring.

… because it validates what we do even if we do it differently, even if our work is unique and idiosyncratic.

… because it may help us to get in the work itself instead of procrastinating or spending time working around the work of what performing is.

… and because after all it can open possibilities for activities that can only be done with others sometimes.

And the notion of a facilitator is to actually enable a common ground or frame which allows like in any laboratory that different experiments can co-exist together without interrupting one another. Basically the facilitator becomes the gate keeper who tries that truly you don’t do it alone but still do it yourself.

I said before that OPENLAB normally takes the form of regular studio sessions but not only. We have had outdoor sessions or sessions run by occupying other public spaces like art galleries, we have had sessions with audiences in different setting from studio theatres to concert halls, passing through sport centres or private homes. Although from all the forms that OPENLAB has taken I really like the form of the take-away session. So far I have only suggested a take-away session once. On that occasion the session was a recorded track that people could listen to and follow (or not) the best way it suit them.

The idea for the sound track came from the fact that I normally tell openlabbers to treat whatever I say during sessions as though they are listening to a set of instructions coming from a tape, so they can actually feel like it is not a big deal whether they follow the instructions or not, whether they missed the instructions or not, whether they understand the instructions or not, whether they achieve anything from the instructions or not…

For Sunday, I was wondering whether I could be able to offer another kind of take-away session. Take-away so you could possibly try it elsewhere. My proposition for this take-away class would be that you bring it to another existing dance (or maybe not dance) class. In any case, it is just an offer and you can work with it as it pleases you (or not). I hope some of you will try it sometime, maybe if you think that there is something interesting in it. Before I try to write down the parameters of the session let me share with you a little story that has to do in part with the reasons for me to organise and carry out this thing that I call OPENLAB in the first place.

This story has to do with education in general and with dance education in particular:

When I was a child I grow up to believe that there was such a thing as The Truth (yes, in capital letters). I believed that this Truth was complete and therefore it could be apprehended. Although I never believed that one person could hold this Truth in its entirety. However, I would see my teachers as all-knowing, or at list holding some portion of The Truth. I believed that when they were teaching they were offering their portion of The Truth, the part of it that they knew very well, and I thought that my work as a student was to gain as much as possible from that portion of The Truth. I thought learning and intelligence had to do with the ability to get the information they had on their brains and place it within mine. This may seem like I was a dumb arse who became a Dictaphone, recording everything it was told, but the truth is that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I knew that knowing had to do less with memorising and more with understanding. Anyway, I still saw my teachers as the ones who knew and me the one who didn’t know but could get to know if I tried hard enough.

Obviously dance training wasn’t so much about knowing what but about knowing how, dance classes didn’t have to do with learning about stuff but it had to do with becoming able at doing things, but even so I felt that my teachers knew something that I didn’t know, and at this point my relationship with my dance teachers started to become almost mystical. It felt to me that what my dance teachers really knew wasn’t data that they could share with the students through spoken or written word.

They new The Way (yes, again in capital letters). The Way a student should be guided through, which things they should do and when, the step-by-step order of things in order to achieve those technical skills which are required to be a dancer. It felt like they knew a secret (or many secrets) and that they would only show you a bit of those secrets each time, like the tip of an iceberg, with the promise that if you were a good student maybe one day, when you will be ready for it, the secrets will slowly be revealed to you.

I love exaggerations and my recount of the story is obviously one of those. However, I can’t help but wonder if in a way this attitude towards dance education is tacitly implicit in the many formats it takes. On the one had I think, maybe it was just me who ended believing that learning was happening in those terms. On the other hand I can’t help but wonder: isn’t it this reinforced paradigm in which the notion of a teacher’s knowledge of a class structure and of a technique are conceived as absolutes?

Throughout the years this attitude towards education made me feel a failure as a performer, because of all the skills I seemed to never achieve. No matter how hard I worked at it, it looked like I would never manage to do those idealised versions of technical treats that were thrown to me with the message, “This, my little kid, is what Dance is.”

Although from 2006 to 2011 my approach towards dance classes started to change. I kept going to classes but my attitude towards the hierarchy between myself and the teachers was shifted at first, and ended dissolving eventually (well, more or less… you know how they say, “Old habits die hard” so let’s leave it at that, I’m still working at it). I started to listen to myself more deeply, in a way through which I allow myself to try to do things but keeping in mind the gentle the task of learning new ways of doing.

The teachers little by little became these recorded tapes, only better because they were able to see what was going on and respond to it and so they would many times add valuable information. However, “valuable information” didn’t always came at the right time for me to be able to hear it or understand it, and if I heard and understood that “valuable information” it didn’t always came at the right time for me to do anything with it. So I started to accept that it. I started to accept that any given time was maybe the right time for any information to be processed, but then any given time could be maybe the non-right time for it and therefore I could let some information go. I started to accept that I could sort of do, more or less, what they were asking me to do but I didn’t have to be anxious or too worried about doing exactly what they were asking me to do.

Sometimes it would be obvious that I would do something else because I would allow myself to it really differently, or even stop doing altogether, just because it wasn’t the right thing for me – whether physically, mentally or emotionally – at that moment. Other times it would be less obvious, as I manage to continue doing something that didn’t look too different from what I was asked to do. I basically allowed myself to make any class to work for me (even those classes that I didn’t like much). A bit of a rebel, a pariah… but in a subtle way and always trying that what I did didn’t influenced me negatively with the process or with the other people taking the class.

However, this allowance to do whatever else didn’t mean that I always had to do something else by default. After all, if what I was explained and asked to do was possible for me to do it fully (because I was in the right place to do it, for example) then I would allow myself to simply do it. Or else I would do it (as I was told) and also add something of my own to it.

In a way, this thing I have just said is the OPENLAB take-away session I promised. At the beginning I imagined I would write a list of punchy sentences and I could still do so, to reduce it to its quintessence for you but… then I wouldn’t be trusting your inherent intelligence, would I? So what if simply after reading this you chose any class, maybe even a class you don’t know very well what’s about or who’s the teacher, and you decide to do the class as best as you can but doing so the best way the class fits you?

I hope that this letters has been at least interesting for you, and if you’ve fond it also useful I will be very happy.

Thank you for reading.

With best wishes,

Antonio de la Fe

Intimacy and space – exploration of the performing body

Openlab 19th June 15

This OPENLAB session was an invitation to ask questions regarding the performing body. Exploring intimacy and space was a suggested perspective from which to explore. Looking at the performing body as being observed and at the same time knowing that I am being observed from outside. Negotiating between inner focus and awareness to the body movement in the external space.

As a performer there is a constant awareness to the accuracy in which a movement conveys an intention. From this point the performer might negotiate between inner tension and its manifestation through the body movement in the external space. This inner tension is invisible and we explored the process in which it transforms towards a visible movement. A constant navigation between inner and external space might determine the mind’s role or the mind’s tuning within the performing body.

Another aspect that might be considered is the tension between inner focus as intimate or hidden and on the contrary the physical movement in the external space as an act of revealing the hidden. Is it then possible that while the performing body reveals an intention and share it with the observer- an intimate moment is created?

During the exploration each participant connected with a particular way of sensing and experiencing the private and intimate. While staying with eyes closed and visualising myself observing myself from outside- I ask a question regarding knowing that I am present and whether I should do anything about it?

The tension between inside and outside and between sensing and seeing suggested an engagement of the senses and in a way it suggested the three dimensionality of the performing body and its negotiation in and within the space. Being present in space and time.

How near and how far can I extend my spatial awareness and therefore maybe the boundaries between inside out, hidden and visible, intangible and tangible? Exploring the boundaries of the performing body and mind that allows me to become one with others in the shared space.

This session was a suggested exploration of the body as an instrument- through breath, sensation and senses.

Revital Snir