KATALIN ERDŐDI WHAT LEAPS OUT OF HISTORY?
By focusing on an embodied approach to history and memory, curator and writer Katalin Erdődi provides a poetic exploration of The Art of Movement: a film made by dancer and choreographer Boglárka Börcsök in collaboration with filmmaker Andreas Bolm, as well as an avant-garde dance/performance movement that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century in Hungary.
Her breathing is laboured and heavy, as she enters the stage. Already in the opening scene of the film The Art of Movement, we are confronted with the reality of the ageing body, its fragility, its different pace, and at the same time its power, its accumulated knowledge. Its will to express, its will to remember.
She advances slowly, step by step, with the help of a cane. On stage, she sits in a chair, as she doesn’t have the strength to stand for so long. As she starts to move, her eyes flash, her arms and legs reach out and lift up, with a lightness and energy that seem to belie her age. She reaches out and reaches back—back in time—to relive and reenact a choreography that she once performed. She appears transformed and I am not surprised when she says: “For me it’s a strange, multi-layered thing, part of me is an 18 year old and another part is 120 years old. And there are different layers in-between. The 18 year old thinks just like she did back then. But just for moments… then she vanishes.”
This is such an accurate and deeply personal rendering of the multiple temporalities we embody. Transgressing an objective notion of age—understood as the number of years that we have lived—it points to the fact that remembering is very much about how we can traverse and articulate these different temporalities contained within our bodies. Not only by way of intellectually grasped and verbally transmitted memories, but also via the non-verbal memory of the body, which may sound more abstract, but articulated in movements, it often proves much more precise and expressive. Movements fill in the gaps of memory that can no longer be conjured up in words. The body remembers as it relives, as it constantly transforms memories into physical re-articulations within the possibilities of the ageing body, while also transgressing its limitations and revealing the youthful energy contained within.
On screen, we witness flashes of these layers and temporalities, as the filmmaker, dancer, and choreographer Boglárka Börcsök engages in a corporeal dialogue with the three protagonists—Ágnes, Éva, and Irén—all over 90 years old at the time. They reenact past choreographies and talk about the history of the Art of Movement, an avant-garde dance and life reform movement that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century in Hungary and that they were all part of. However, there is much more at stake here than the mere act of remembering. Their embodied narrations are also about the transfer of knowledge, for which Boglárka offers her younger body as an active counterpart, as a receiver and an enabler of their memories—the movements stored in their bodies—which she strives to learn and understand. In art history, the transmission of dance choreographies remains a challenge that various generations have addressed with different strategies and technologies, from complex notations and scores to the currently widespread use of video documentation. Boglárka uses the invitation to learn from the three women in a multi-layered and strategic way: she offers them a role that they are all familiar with, thanks to their long-standing experience with body work as dance teachers or practicing physiotherapists, while also providing them with a way to channel their personal narrations of history through movement.
Akin to how Éva talks about the ethos of Art of Movement (“To take a starting point and then broaden it out”), The Art of Movement departs from intimate encounters with the three women—most often in their private homes and surroundings—introducing us to their individual trajectories, while ‘broadening out’ as they recount lives that are intermeshed with seminal events of 20th-century history. They speak of their desire for emancipation and freedom of movement, in times when both were curtailed by authoritarianism in different guises (patriarchal male figures such as fathers or husbands, or state authorities striving to exercise control over artistic activities). The struggle therefore—as Ágnes puts it—was to find ways to live on, to move forward, to move as freely as possible. Punctuated by animated and emotional movement sequences from the past that are articulated anew, the film makes clear what potential for resistance and resilience their bodies hold. How the freedom of movement could not be taken away from them, even if they had to practice the Art of Movement under the label of gymnastics, even if they had to withdraw from the public realm into their private homes to run clandestine schools dedicated to a bourgeois art form outlawed by the communist regime, or had to search for compromises within the existing institutional frameworks in order to find outlets for artistic innovation, for new approaches to dance and choreography.
As I watch the breathtaking scene of Éva doing her morning exercises in her bed, in which the simultaneity of the different layers and temporalities she speaks about—the 18- and the 120-year old—appear before us, I am reminded of the question the London-based nanopolitics group posed: “How to think politics with and through the body?”
No matter the limitations of age, of oppressive political regimes, our bodies are capable of finding and articulating freedom within the movements available to them, of empowering us to challenge and transgress these boundaries. As Éva puts it, “The Art of Movement was like that: from nuance to giant.” Just as behind the nuance of Irén slowly tilting her head in an arc, her gaze tracing the horizon of both a past movement and a life’s journey, a minimalist, yet powerful choreography emerges. The body manifests its will to remember, its will to express freedom.
“What matters is not that we are alive now. Life just exists, like one great block, it has consistency. There are moments that leap out of it, which are still very clear…” Éva concludes. Attesting to both the personal and the societal significance of liberating avant-garde movements such as the Art of Movement—thanks to Boglárka Börcsök and her collaborator Andreas Bolm—what leaps out has now been captured on film.
Katalin Erdődi is an independent curator, dramaturg and writer based in Vienna and Budapest, who works across disciplines in the fields of contemporary art and performance. As a curator she has worked for art institutions and festivals, such as steirischer herbst (Graz), brut/imagetanz festival (Vienna), Impulse Theater Festival (Düsseldorf/Köln/Mülheim), GfZK - Museum of Contemporary Art (Leipzig), Ludwig Museum (Budapest) and Trafó House of Contemporary Arts (Budapest). With a focus on politically engaged artistic and curatorial strategies, experimental performative practices and art in public space, she realizes projects in diverse formats, ranging from exhibition-making through performance to site-specific and research-oriented approaches. Her recent work investigates processes of socio-political transformation from the vantage point of rural subjectivities, through collaborative artistic and curatorial practice, focusing on post-socialist rural space in Hungary. Alongside her curatorial work, Erdődi also collaborates as a dramaturg/outside eye with performance artists, such as Igor and Ivan Buharov, Sonja Jokiniemi, Gin Müller, Oleg Soulimenko, Sööt/Zeyringer and Doris Uhlich. As an author she writes for various journals, including Bildpunkt, Springerin, Mezosfera and etcetera - Performing Arts Magazine.
Boglárka Börcsök is a choreographer, artist and performer based in Berlin and Budapest. She is interested in how memory and history are embedded into gestures and movement, and how it conditions both the materiality and representations of the body. Her work departs from personal encounters, archival and historical research and the practice of listening and looking. She frequently uses voice, facial expressions and minutely composed embodiments. As a dancer and performer, she worked with Eszter Salamon, Ligia Lewis, Kate McIntosh, Tino Seghal, Boris Charmatz and Joachim Koester presented in theaters, galleries and museums worldwide.
Andreas Bolm is a filmmaker and artist living and working in Germany, Hungary and France. His films portray people in their social and familial environments, examining the fine line between documentary and fiction. His films have been screened at many festivals worldwide, including Festival de Cannes, Berlinale, MoMA New York. Since 2018, Börcsök and Bolm have collaborated on the documentary film The Art of Movement and on the performance-installation Figuring Age.
1. Cover image: Boglárka Börcsök with Éva E. Kovács © Lisa Rave
2. Archival photo of Éva E. Kovács © Lisa Rave
3. Ágnes Roboz © Lisa Rave
4. Teaching notebook of Éva E. Kovács © Lisa Rave