Thoughts on the Klauss Vianna Technique (KVT) and/as Decolonial Practice
This is a non-linear text composed of five pieces. You can choose the order you read them using the links below to skip from one to the other.
Questions and Perceptions
How are you moving now? Feel the motion of your gaze over the page. Is the screen too bright or too dark? Observe if you want to change anything. What parts of your body touch the floor? How do you feel your weight now? Acknowledge the space you are in; is it familiar or not? Inviting or intimidating? What is the history of this space? What are the sounds you hear? What has happened in this land so you can be there now? Remember your trajectory up to this moment. And now, is it different to be where you are? Feel all the surfaces that you touch, feel your skin in relation to your cloth, furniture, and also the air around. Is there someone close? How do you feel their effects on your movement and stillness? What parts of your body are touching the floor now? Feel them and push the floor. Pay attention to the antigravitational response. If you want, walk before continuing to read this text (or after, or in between, or none of these options). How are you now? Are there other ways to move? Are there different ways to read?
Questions and perceptions move the Klauss Vianna Technique (KVT), a Brazilian dance improvisation approach. Questions and perceptions while moving. In the actions’ unpredictability, we work our presence state, our readiness to and for the present moment. We seek a dance that dialogues with others and our surroundings, listening to and learning from them in the same way that we listen and learn from ourselves. I offered a KVT workshop for my cohort at the Performance Studies MA at NYU, stemming from the desire to share the KVT—the base of my artistic and teaching practice— and from the need to enable new dialogues even when working remotely. The video Why Do We Move This Way was created in partnership with Rachel Vishanoff, Marquita Flowers, and Tanais Perez in the class Introduction to Performance Studies in Fall 2020 when studying improvisation and practice-based research. The workshop experience triggered a series of action to the group: Rachel wrote a poem reflecting on the experience, Marquita created the video both from her experience dancing and from the input of the poem, and Tanais Perez narrated the text.
I began this text with the video because it instantiates several points I want to elaborate on: more horizontal ways of teaching, learning, and creating; an attentiveness and responsiveness to ourselves, space, and others (even when it happens in the virtual space); a way of thinking about translations interested in the contaminations and exchanges from one idea to the other; a process provoked by questions; and a desire to dance together even when it seems impossible. And I see those points related to the decolonial foundation of the KVT. I suggest that we go deeper into conversations with what Boaventura de Sousa Santos called “epistemologies of the south”. Similar to how we invent other ways of dancing together by questioning and resisting the imposed dance forms and their imposed ideal bodies, we can keep this attentiveness when dealing with theories and their ideal pieces of knowledge.
I have long wanted to study the KVT in relation to decolonial struggles. This desire increased substantially after the feeling of disorientation I experienced when I moved from Brazil to New York in 2018. Soon, I realized that such disorientation resulted not from leaving my home country but from living in a place where my artistic and theoretical practice, the KVT, was completely unknown. The issue is greater than simply translating words from Portuguese to English; translation is not (only) about the language, or language is not only about words. Transplantation of a movement practice—that also embodies theory—involves action.
Presence as a Decolonial Practice
If decolonial theories are currently multiplying and becoming an essential agenda to progressive politics and policies, that is because decolonial practices and poetics have been in place since the beginning of the colonial process. If we understand that postcolonialism is a concept with no actual object—since colonial structures are reinvented and disguised in neoliberal economies and relations between ex-colonies and ex-colonizers under different names—it is because those under the current colonialisms did, would, and could not keep their silence. If there are hints, glimpses of possible ways to dismantle that which Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick call the “monohumanist world,” it is because there were people that have refused, for generations, to be integrated into this unity. In short, decolonization is not a novelty, and even less as a trend; it is the collective work of a multitude of people across generations. It is the work of the people that have been most affected by colonial—and neoliberal—necropolitics: the indigenous communities, racialized and gendered people in the various and complex geographies of exploration. Above all, decolonization is—or should be—about the struggle to resist colonial exterminations with a politics of life that secures not only survival, but that also guarantees vivacity.
It is evident then that decolonization is an enormous task profoundly entangled with the most pressing demands of our time, especially the already ongoing environmental collapse. By attempting to get hold of this ungraspable reality, I face the enigma Diana Taylor poses in ¡Presente!: “What can we do when apparently nothing can be done, and doing nothing is not an option?” Underlying the book’s content, reflections, and propositions is the answer already given in the title: be present. And such presence conflates many meanings: the potency of being with others occupying and transforming the space; the act of remembering others, so that they remain present; and also the awareness of one’s own body in the present moment. Those aspects should not be understood separately from one another. To engage in a transformative presence in the world, we need to occupy the multiple meanings of this “word/act”. KVT’s engagement with presence—a central topic—adds layers to this discussion.
Presence for the KVT, is not a natural talent nor a finished state of being. One achieves and maintains the state of presence by directing the attention to oneself while expanding it to the other people, the surrounding space, and—when in a performance—the audience. Presence is constantly pursued in the studio, in the scene, and everyday life. To be present is to engage with the present moment actively. Through a process of listening to our body and the surroundings while in movement (that encompasses stillness), we engage in the task of grasping the present, dialoguing with it, transforming, and being transformed by each new instant.
Studies of presence dialogue with the concept of enchantment developed by Luiz Antonio Simas and Luiz Rufino. Enchantment is an act of disobedience, transgression, inventions, and reconnection—an act of life affirmation. Disenchantment, by contrast, drains vitality, creates separations and hierarchies; it is a production scarcity policy, the actual opposite of life. Simas and Rufino also affirm that enchantment does not exclude the other as a possible interlocutor. The task of enchantment is for all of us: we need to be alert and open to the multiple practices that enchant the world, practices that pluralize the beings and communities, embracing the incompleteness of the process. Enchantment is about being in a community—not only of humans but an expanded notion of community that encompasses nature. The KVT creates enchantment by provoking presence even when the absence is constantly imposed.
KVT History and Present
KVT is decolonial in both its practice and history. Let us then briefly look back to the KVT’s origins and trajectory. The technique stems from the work of a couple of dancers, Klauss and Angel Vianna. At the initial stage of their research, back in the 1950s, they began by posing questions and resisting the European dance form they were trained in, the classical ballet—an action aligned to what we currently call decolonization. This first movement, the question of “why do we move this way” associated with the will not to dance like that, moved them to invent their path into contemporary dance. The KVT long gestation is enmeshed in Brazil’s recent history, traversing a vast landscape of intense periods of cultural and political turmoil. From Belo Horizonte to Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, their propositions opened new spaces and understandings of dance, improvisation, and movement research within the Brazilian artistic scene. Klauss died in 1992. Angel is a 92-year-old dancer, still active. Their son, Rainer Vianna, died unexpectedly in 1995 while in the process of systematizing the KVT, a project concluded in the 2000s by the other partners in the research, especially Neide Neves and Jussara Miller.
The KVT became a pioneering approach to contemporary dance in Brazil by focusing on dance improvisation, movement awareness, and presence studies. At a high level of abstraction, the technique proposes that art and life are inseparable, thus calling for the recognition of protean bodies within constantly changing environments. According to the KVT, dance should be understood as research in movement and of movement. Hence, the word “technique” here does not signify a set of steps that envision the achievement of a specific end or form—technique for the KVT is better understood as a prompt and guardrail to a heuristic flow that intensifies as the performer’s corporeality expands.
By affirming that the KVT is an artistic and pedagogical approach, we mean it does not separate technique from creation. It comprises the ludic process—which encompasses seven topics—and the vectors process—which includes eight bone directions. These topics and bone directions are meant to provoke dance improvisation, movement research, and the creation of choreographies and scores. To make the technique visible to those not familiar with it, I will describe briefly how such explorations can happen. When engaging with a topic, for example, articulations, one directs the attention to the body joints. The student-dancer is invited to investigate each joint separately and compare this investigation to the conjoined movement of all the joints—a total motion connected with the awareness of the detail. The topics focus or attention without enclosing it. By creating and modulating very flexible constraints, the TKV practice allows one to recognize their movement tendencies and habits and then find other ways to move. All the topics and vectors are interconnected, and there is no strict way to work with them. As Miller writes, the KVT invites each one to engage with the original work with their own originality. Therefore, the aim of the systematization is not that of determining rules or a user manual for the KVT. It comprises topics for research and principles to consider when mobilizing them.
My work and life are deeply informed by the KVT. I practice it since childhood, when my mother, Jussara Miller, was researching the approaches of teaching the KVT for children. My trajectory as a dancer then emerges from improvisation, a trait that I carry on my artistic creations in various ways. I have also engaged in academic research about the technique, mainly concerning my pedagogical practice of KVT for teenagers. This practice-based research has been published in my book Outros Caminhos de Dança. The KVT focus on presence allows me to create strategies to collaborate with other artists, engage with other dance forms, and listen to my surroundings in everyday actions.
Questions to a Decolonial Practice of Translation
Nowadays, the KVT is well-known in Brazil, with professionals teaching and researching it throughout the country. There is a graduate specialization course on it at PUC-SP, besides Angel Vianna’s dance college in Rio de Janeiro (Faculdade Angel Vianna). The practice of the KVT is not restricted to dancers and artists; it welcomes researchers from different areas—within and outside academia—applying the KVT to their work and establishing fruitful dialogues and ramifications. However, the technique is still largely unknown to the rest of the world, not having any major publication in English or recognition in the so-called Global North. There is an increasing engagement of the KVT researchers in trying to change this scenario, an endeavor I include myself in. Translating and sharing a technique in foreign lands is inevitably a complex task that will involve several people. This text is a reflection on how the very principles of the KVT can help us to keep alert while engaging in this translation task.
A possible path to propel the KVT to the international context is by means of parallels with other theories and practices—what I here understand as a form of translation. For example, one could—should—compare the KVT to North Atlantic modern dance techniques; or reflect on the KVT through the lens of famous and important scholars (such as Deleuze, Guattari, Agamben, and Foucault). Moreover, there was an important action to recognize the KVT as part of the larger body of somatic education techniques, defining the KVT as the Brazilian representative in this group formed mostly by European, and US American approaches. This work of expanding the relations the KVT can establish is happening in Brazil since the early 2000s by several scholars and artists, generating rich reflections and practices by introducing new points of view to the KVT and eventually expanding it. However, I believe this path can be dangerous if taken alone. It can lock us in Eurocentric modes of knowledge production that, as Aníbal Quijano points out, works as a mirror that distorts that which reflects. Quijano says that we, Latin Americans, “have all been led, knowingly or not, wanting it or not, to see and accept that image as our own and as belonging to us alone. In this way, we continue being what we are not. And as a result, we can never identify our true problems, much less resolve them except in a partial and distorted way.” The danger, then, is to neglect the potentiality already present in the environment surrounding the technique by seeking to belong to eurocentric structures. Klauss and Angel Vianna have dedicated their life and research to find other ways to dance—eventually enlarging what was considered “dance”—by avoiding imposed form. This is evident in one detail of the practice: the KVT does not use mirrors in the dance class in order to provoke engagement with the movement from the movement experience and not from the image it generates. Then when researching and writing, we need to keep this awareness to avoid the eurocentric mirrors that distort and prevent being present.
Another way, then, to think about the KVT’s translation to the world is that of a dialogue with other Global South epistemologies. In this manner, one avoids that which Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls the incapacity of learning in non-colonial terms, “that is, in terms that allow for the existence of histories other than the universal history of the West.” Juan López Intzín is even more precise in addressing this problem in what he calls epistemologies of the heart and the necessity to “‘in-think,’ that is, to think and reflect from within”. To in-think the KVT is both to reflect from within itself and from within other epistemologies from the South it dialogues with.
I do not think the aforementioned ways are exclusionary. The aim of a translation is not to submit under what the other language and culture already understand, but to offer different possibilities and knowledge. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s concept of ch’ixi can help us in this case. This term means the “condition of being ‘stained,’ a dialectic without synthesis.” It is completely different from the notion of hybridity, which connotes a process of fusion. “The notion of ch’ixi,” says Rivera Cusicanqui, “expresses the parallel coexistence of multiple cultural differences that do not extinguish but instead antagonize and complement each other. Each one reproduces itself from the depths of the past and relates to others in a contentious way.” The metaphor of ch’ixi, as Rivera Cusicanqui presents, can develop more dialogical ways of contributing knowledge. Therefore, the KVT, by seeking dialogues with other theories and practices, has the opportunity to recognize its stains and enlarge this process of staining. Translation of dance improvisation technique is made in the improvisational relations and responses with others and the surrounding.
A fundamental principle of the KVT is the ongoingness of the work, a continuous practice that generates transformation and does not aim at ideal and finished form or self. There are numerous parallels between the KVT and Paulo Freire’s theories and practices. Freire proposes a pedagogy forged with people and not for people. A position essentially aligned with a piece of advice by Klauss Vianna that became a catchphrase for Brazilian contemporary dance: “Don’t memorize steps, learn a way.” Moreover, Freire’s concept of praxis as a dialectical unity bespeaks this: a theory-informed action that impacts reality and, in doing so, also transforms theoretical production, thus resolving the contradiction between these two aspects by way of positive feedback. A dialectic without synthesis, as in Rivera Cusicanqui’s concept of ch’ixi. “There can be no discourse of decolonization, no theory of decolonization,” affirm Rivera Cusicanqui, “without a decolonizing practice.”The KVT also follows this path of non-separability of theory and practice, inviting new dialogues, inventing other ways, and accepting the ongoingness. The inconclusion.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London and New York: Continuum, 2005.
Laszlo, Cora Miller. Outros Caminhos de Dança: Técnica Klauss Vianna para Adolescentes e para Adolescer. São Paulo: Summus, 2018.
López Intzín, Juan. 2021. “Sp’ijilal O’tan: Knowledges or Epistemologies of the Heart.” Resistant Strategies. New York: Tome Press, https://resistantstrategies.tome.press/spijilal-otan-knowledges-or-epistemologies-of-the-heart/.
Mbembé, J.-A., and Libby Meintjes. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11-40. muse.jhu.edu/article/39984.
McKittrick, Katherine, and Sylvia Wynter. On Being Human as Praxis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
Miller, Jussara. A Escuta do Corpo: Sitematizacão da Técnica Klauss Vianna. São Paulo: Summus, 2007.
Miller, Jussara. Qual o Corpo que Dança? Dança e Educação Somática para Adultos e Crianças. São Paulo: Summus, 2012.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. “Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: A Reflection on the Practices and Discourses of Decolonization.” South Atlantic Quarterly, 1 Jan 2012.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. “The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality.” Decolonial Gesture, 1 May 2021. Accessed https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/emisferica-11-1-decolonial-gesture/11-1-essays/the-potosi-principle-another-view-of-totality.html.
Rufino, Luiz, and Luiz Antonio Simas. Encantamento: sobre política de vida. Rio de Janeiro: Mórula Editorial, 2020.
Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America” Coloniality at Large : Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate. eds. Mabel Maraña, and Enrique Dussel. CarlosA. Jáuregui, 181-244. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2008.
Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Taylor, Diana. 2020. ¡Presente!: The Politics of Presence (Dissident Acts). Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books,Mbembe, Achille. "Necropolitics." Public Culture 15. no. 1: 2003. Accessed 1 May 2021. Laszlo, Cora Miller. Outros Caminhos de Dança: Técnica Klauss Vianna para Adolescentes e para Adolescer. São Paulo: Summus, 2018. Miller, Jussara. Qual o Corpo que Dança? Dança e Educação Somática para Adultos e Crianças.. São Paulo: Summus, 2012. Miller, Jussara. A Escuta do Corpo. São Paulo: Summus, 2007. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London and New York: Continuum, 2005. Rufino, Luiz, and Luiz Antonio Simas. Encantamento: sobre política de vida. Rio de Janeiro: Mórula Editorial, 2020. McKittrick, Katherine, and Sylvia Wynter. On Being Human as Praxis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. López Intzín, Juan. 2021. "Sp’ijilal O’tan: Knowledges or Epistemologies of the Heart." Resistant Strategies. -. New York: Tome Press, https://resistantstrategies.tome.press/spijilal-otan-knowledges-or-epistemologies-of-the-heart/. Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. "Ch'ixinakax utxiwa: A Reflection on the Practices and Discourses of Decolonization." South Atlantic Quarterly, 1 Jan 2012. Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. "The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality." Decolonial Gesture, 1 May 2021. Accessed https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/emisferica-11-1-decolonial-gesture/11-1-essays/the-potosi-principle-another-view-of-totality.html. Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. New York: Routledge, 2016. Quijano, Aníbal. "Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America" Coloniality at Large : Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate. eds. Mabel Maraña, and Enrique Dussel. CarlosA. Jáuregui, 181-244. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2008. Taylor, Diana. 2020. ¡Presente!: The Politics of Presence (Dissident Acts). Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books,