Daniel Linehan

Daniel Linehan

Daniel Linehan worked as a dancer and choreographer in New York before moving to Brussels in 2008, where he completed the Research Cycle at PARTS. As a performer, Linehan has worked internationally with Miguel Gutierrez, Big Art Group, and Michael Helland. His choreography has been presented at numerous venues and festivals including New York, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and Amsterdam. He presented Not About Everything and Zombie Aporia at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Theatre in 2011 and 2012, and returns in 2013 with a Sadler’s Wells co-commission work A Gaze is A Gap is a Ghost.

Reflection on Gaze is a Gap in London


photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

When I began touring my latest creation, Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost, I knew that I was setting myself up for some problems and potential failures somewhere along the line. The set-up is time-consuming: in every venue where we perform, we first have to film a 70-minute video of the performance—with full costumes, decor, and lights—and then I have to edit this video, before we actually have the first performance in front of a public. During the filming, the dancers are wearing a point-of-view video camera that records the choreography from the inside perspective of the dance, and this video is later projected simultaneously alongside the live performance.


As you can imagine, it is a complicated set-up, and many things can go wrong along the way. We often have to shoot multiple takes of the same scene in the dance to get the best shot, and it often happens that I am still editing the movie until a few minutes before the live performance.


photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

An important aspect of this film is that it gives the audience the ability to see things on stage that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see from their seats: the tiny details of various objects and costumes that the dancers interact with. So when we found out that our shipment of material—containing our set, our objects, and our costumes—was stuck in Holland and might not make it to London before the first show, we had to go into immediate problem-solving mode.


The unpredictability was the worst aspect. Would our set arrive in time to make a new film? Would it arrive just before the show? Would it arrive too late? We made three different contingency plans, depending on what time the set actually showed up at the theater.


In the end, the set showed up at 8:00 PM, just when the show was supposed to begin. We quickly assembled it, and the performance went on with an older video that was created in a different venue. (Strangely, that venue, Théâtre de la Bastille had some quite striking similarity of details to the Lilian Baylis Studio…similar dimension, certain pipes and doors and ladders in a similar location.)


Was it ideal to use an older video from a different theater space? No. Did the piece still work? Yes. When I reflect on it, this is kind of how it always feels to present a dance. There are always aspects that fall short of what I imagine to be the ideal version of the piece, and that’s part of what is interesting about live performance.


When we were thinking up the contingency plans, someone brought up the important point that whatever we decided to do should be something that I could defend artistically. That’s true, but at a certain point, don’t we as artists also have to take a kind of leap of faith? We have to just put something out into the world without knowing if it’s completely artistically defensible. During creation, I can often get so much inside my own process, that I don’t really know what I’ve made until after the premiere, or much later. Or perhaps it never happens that I fully know what I’ve made. One has to take the risk and put their work out there before they can know the consequences.


A big thanks to the team at Sadler’s Wells for helping to make the show happen! Once the set arrived, we assembled everything in less than 30 minutes and the show, as it must do, did go on. On the second night, we created a new video for the Lilian Baylis Studio, and it was very interesting to see the two nights consecutively, to see more clearly and specifically the difference between a video from another theater and a video from the same space. My sense is that the video in the actual performance space really allows the audience to go much deeper into the piece. It was good to have this re-affirmation that it is important to follow through with the concept of the piece all the way to the end, and that it does not require us to do a lot of pointless work for nothing!


photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

photo by Jean Luc Tanghe

Reflections on “Vita Activa”



Last week at deSingel in Antwerp, Michael Helland and I worked with a group of 37 participants for one week, creating a framework in which each individual would give one hour of their time to one person, and receive one hour of time from another person in the group. The project was called Vita Activa. The goal was to create a small, alternative island of non-reciprocal time-based exchange which would be very different from the reciprocal monetary forms of exchange with which we are all so accustomed. At the end of the week, we held a performance for the public in which each individual recounted whatever they found most impacting or provoking about their experience.

Before we started the week, I had no idea how it would received by those involved. As we were seeking people for this project, the outreach had two particular terms that produced some misunderstandings at the outset. First, it was said that the workshop would be led by “choreographer” Daniel Linehan. But I wasn’t really planning to make a dance in the normal sense of the term. Conceptually, I considered that the organization of these time-based exchanges would be a kind of choreography of interactions between people that would form one large circuit of exchange among the whole group. But this is not really a choreography that can be seen. Only tiny parts of it can be experienced from the inside. At the beginning, it seemed that many participants were expecting that I would lead them in a dance experience. So I was a bit nervous that many people who had come expecting a dance workshop would be disappointed that there was not very much “dance” involved. But I was glad to be dispelled of my doubts as the week went on, as most of the participants expressed real enthusiasm about their time exchanges, and had very interesting stories to tell about their experiences.

The other misunderstood term in our outreach was “unemployed.” This is partly my own fault. In the beginning, I wanted to work with a group of unemployed people, but I used that term less because unemployment was a major theme that I wanted to deal with, and more for practical reasons, because I wanted to work with people who had the availability in their schedule to participate in this workshop for a week. My use of the term “unemployed” was also an attempt to rethink how we use it. The word implies a negation and a lack: it implies that these people are lacking something, as if they have a problem and this problem needs to be solved through employment. Of course, many of the unemployed do consider that they have a problem; they would like to work, but they cannot find any work. But this was not true for everyone. Some of the participants did not feel particularly troubled about being unemployed at the moment, and they did not really identify with the label “unemployed.”

It was not that I wanted to cast unemployment in a positive light, but I wanted to take the focus off of the term as a mode of defining a particular group of people. If unemployment is a lack, then it did not really seem to be a good way of defining the participants of the workshop. They obviously did not lack the skills or ability to offer their time to each other. Everyone named something they would like to receive and something they would like to give, and everyone had something that they could give to another person which that person wanted to receive. So for me, the workshop had nothing to do with unemployment, and everything to do with the capacity that each individual has to exchange something valuable to another person. What is this valuable thing? Time.

My biggest fear is that by using of the term “unemployed,” I led the public to regard the participants as a group of 40 unemployed people. But I think the performance gave the audience a very different impression. “Unemployed” was not at all an important aspect of their identity as a group. By the end, the group’s identity came more from the experience of the time-based exchanges which linked every person in the group indirectly to every other person. I hope my call for “unemployed” people did not stick these people more firmly in this category, because my experience of the week was that everyone escaped this category. In the end, I remembered what each participant gave to another, but I was not always sure if this had anything to do with their profession or with what they normally to do earn a living. And I count this a great aspect of this project, that the participants were not relating to each other based on a professional label, nor on the label of “unemployed,” but they were relating to each other simply on how they chose to exchange their time with one another.

So, let me state for the record: We did not work with unemployed people! We worked with enthusiastic, committed, activated people! I was very touched by the deep level of commitment that everyone brought to this project, and I was amazed that the exchange of only one hour with a stranger could bring about such interesting stories and such meaningful encounters.




You don’t have to be so nice to the audience…

This is what one of my favorite choreographers in New York told me after she saw my performance “Zombie Aporia.” I understand what she means. The piece is very clear, one concept is displayed very transparently, and then another concept is displayed, and then another, and the audience can follow what is happening without too many questions like “what are they doing?” (although, I must say that there are a few questions like that.) Overall the piece communicates its ideas very straightforwardly, even if the performative tasks that we do are very complex and multi-layered. In some ways, I regard this as a positive aspect of the piece. I would rather make a clear proposal than an obscure, hermetic exercise that is completely closed off from the audience. But I do think that a performance should unsettle the audience. I don’t want to be pointlessly provocative, but I do want there to be a certain degree of cruelty or aggression. I myself enjoy pieces that are not all shiny happy people holding hands, but which contain a certain amount of disturbance and unease. I am not primarily interested in giving the audience something that gives easy pleasure, but something which forces one to be active, to think, perhaps to be bored sometimes. Something which tests, and something which unsettles.

After a work in progress showing of “Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost,” an audience member commented that the piece was very lonely and also a lot of fun. (Someone else commented that this sounded like a description of his life.) I think this is a strong comment, and I have been trying to push this aspect of the piece even further, the dualism of fun and loneliness. Because I don’t want the piece to be all frivolous fun and games, and I also don’t want it to be utterly sad and lonely. I want both of these two poles, fun and loneliness, to exist side by side, and generate a friction between them. The kind of performance that I appreciate, and the kind of performance that I want to make, is playful, but it also leaves you with some sense of dissatisfaction. With questions which still haven’t been answered. Something without an easy answer or solution; something which poses a problem which remains after the piece is over, a difficulty which still has to be dealt with. Because there are always still problems and questions that remain to be dealt with.