Proxemics is a recent terminology (1966, E. Hall) that is part of non-verbal communication, defining that in daily life, the distance between people runs in parallel with their interpersonal relationships. It establishes four different spheres of relationships (each subdivided into far/close): Intimate, personal, social and public, which respective distance span may vary from one culture to the other.
In a theatrical context, dance displays proxemics that the viewer interprets as signs, because they are part of everyone’s physical background.
However dance practitioners will look at them in a dynamic perspective, i.e. focusing also on the movement in between these different relationships and on how they become one another to create meaning.
In current choreographic works, proxemics are not only displayed to the viewer, but also used between the performer and the spectator with the intent of closing the kinesthetic gap -gap between experience of the performer and experience of the viewer (Preston-Dunlop, 2002)- by bringing the latter at the centre of the work.
Tino Sehgal’s Unilever Commission at Tate Modern, “These associations”, calls for a subjective experience by the nature and dimension of its set-up: a three-month long choreography that gathers an ever-changing cast of professional and non-professional dancers, framing the space of the Turbine Hall eight hours a day through movement patterns, spatial structures, physical games, sound and personal stories.
There is no separation between performers of all ages dressed casually and visitors-spectators, who are invited to make choices in terms of proxemics: either to passively observe these vary in reference to them (performers come towards and away, and may touch them or speak to them), or to actively seek or avoid interaction with them by entering the performers’ personal space or preserving their own. All of Hall’s distances are covered through the structure of the choreography in a space that provides detached and immersive points of view. Because of the simplicity of the movement material, the spectators become part of the choreography against their will. By proposing pure experience and therefore immateriality in a product-orientated society, this work wants to give it value: all performers are paid an hourly wage to interact in a personal way with strangers.
Dance films too use proxemics to bring the viewer closer, but they break the continuity of real life interactions. Taking the screen as their stage they provide a multiplicity of viewpoints impossible to experience live, as it would break physical laws and/or social conventions. The choreographer has total control on what the spectator will see: dance film uses editing and cuts between shots to create motion for the spectator between in and out, here and there, now and then, in front of their screen. It blurs our conventions about private and public to artistic effect, opening up the field of “dream-movement” and “dream-architecture” (Laban, 1966, p.5).
Today this dream-area has such expansion that performances can even happen in Second Life . This is one of the biggest differences between the moment Laban was practicing and nowadays. As I come to watch this kind of performance, my physical relationship to the performers is fragmented: I recognize their movements on a flat image and see them still next to me in front of their computer. On one hand, it is a rather intimate experience, because their fantasies are exposed on the screen, however, the unity between proxemics and meaning being physically broken, I cannot feel but only think empathetically. I wonder if screen interface -of a computer or a camera- might now have to be added to the categories of relationships that Laban had established, with the subcategory of far and close geographically.