Peter Stamer & Guests 12-20 mars

Peter Stamer & Guests

Pneumatic Bodies – A Research on Muteness in Film, Body, and Dance

“When the discotheques are empty and the academies are desolate, the silence of the theatre will be heard again, which is the cause of its language.”

(Heiner Müller, letter to the director of the first Bulgarian production of Philotekt, 27 March 1983)

Müller’s silence is heard as breathing, in our theatre of pneumatics. It inhales and it exhales. It is a theatre of bulging chests. Like in a film in which the actors are edited out just as they lift to speak, so that all we see is characters breathing in. Our films are cut precisely in the moment a first sound would have been audible from the mouth. Thus, the word is separated from the body so that only a breath is heard and seen. It is an oral breath, not a nasal one. Our films are not silent however, on the contrary. The audio track is of great importance. Because while in silent films the lips move and pretend to be able to speak, in our films the actors’ mouths only open. Incredible eloquence.

A new notion of rhythm: when does the actor close his mouth again? An entire art of inhalation: soundless, slowly taking in the air, or done so that the soft palate vibrates and a quiet but audible plosive is heard, or by inhaling the air through trembling lips in order to create a slight wind?

Dance is not the wordless medium performed by dumb, dull bodies, creating a mystery of meaning by saying nothing and therefore being meaningful. That would be non-talking mime. Because the mime artist promises to be silent. That is the condition of his theatre, without which he would not be able to perform, his genre rendered non-existent. He expresses meaning merely by using images not words, but never omits meaning in any way. The dancer, on the other hand, conceals the fact that he is able to speak. It is here that his dance is kept safe, because he could at any moment open his mouth and speak. His silence is eloquent because in his breathing silence the potentiality of meaning will be held. Not in what he is doing; that is the rhetorics of movement, perhaps, which communicate energetically (what do I know of it). If a dancer happens to breathe more heavily than other stage performers, it is only due to his physical effort, to catch his breath. In order to do this he has to open his mouth. It is the mechanics of the lung which force him to supply his blood with oxygen, the mechanics which resemble the Manzoni balloon, which is pumped up by a machine. Sheer physiological necessity, parallelised with the physical exhaustion which in the past misled to place dance outside the sphere of language. Yet, this is not what we are speaking of here.


It is the inhaling which comes before speaking, which the dancer follows because he travels within language. He is before language, which seems to be made solely for him because he doesn't need to speak it. His silence is not a pause between words, not an interruption between meaning and meaning. Our pneumatic theatre, dance, does not just mechanically fill and empty the balloon of meaning. Here, meaning is released into the air, oxidise in the mouth of the dancer, sweep past the lips, the teeth, towards the tongue, touching it without oscillating. The hissing sound is heard right up to the back row. As it opens, the mouth connects the body with the world, and inhales its air, all alone. Our pneumatic dance remains a dance of the loneliness of meaning.

(An altered and unabridged version of the text was first published under the title PNEUMATICS in: Gareis, Sigrid; Krassimira Kruschkova: Uncalled. Dance and Performance of the Future. Theater der Zeit 2009.)


Peter Stamer is a free-lance dramaturg, author, curator, and performer. His projects explore discursive power within performative setups. Develops series of talk performances like AT HOME (Vienna 2005), SANS PAPIERS (Berlin 2006), HEAD ROOM – CHINESE WHISPERS – LES BOÎTES  (Beijing/Vienna 2006, Lypon 2008 with Daniel Aschwanden), PERSONALE (Vienna 2006/2007). Festival dramaturg for Young Choreographers’ Project (Beijing 2007). Coaching project  ON TIME at Impulstanzfestival (VIENNA 2007, with Philipp Gehmacher). Artistic director of the dance biennal TANZNACHT 2008 (Berlin 2008) and the lab project PRACTICE (Performative Research And Choreographic Tools In Contemporary Environments, Berlin 2008). Head of the lab project FORWARD VIENNA (FOR Widespread Artistic Research And Development, Vienna 2009). Mentor and artist-in-residence at APT (Antwerp 2008).