Foreign Tongues

Foreign Tongues (Toulouse)

The project series Foreign Tongues puts the act of speaking at the center of the choreographic focus and reflects the experience of contemporary urban life, its polyphony and multilingualism. The starting point are voice recordings based on personal conversations with various individuals in different regions of Europe, focusing mainly on regional and minority languages. In rehearsals, these voice recordings become connected to the body language of the dancers. A spoken phrase is translated into movement sequences, based on all its attributes such as tone, sound, dynamics or intonation.

Foreign Tongues
deals with the dilemma of lived translation, which requires us to tolerate that which divides us and find a common space therein. By means of contradictions and surprising correlations it demonstrates, among other things, how much can be comprehended, even when you have not yet understood anything.

The performances of the Foreign Tongues projects are based on slangs and regional languages from all over Europe and change their format and characteristics according to location and architecture. Foreign Tongues (Toulouse) is a stage performance, that originates from a research phase in Occitanie, France in collaboration with CDC Toulouse.

Currently Foreign Tongues expands into public space in different cities of Europe within the framework of an IN SITU pilot project. The site-specific performances are based on local languages and jargons, reflecting the sound environment of the place. With every location, the "Spoken Word Symphony“ grows, the characteristic architecture of the site becomes the scenery of the play.  

Code inconnu.
Notes on Foreign Tongues (Toulouse)

Stefan Grissemann 

In the realm of the signs a certain confusion cannot be avoided. Humans, who turn to each other in language or gestures move on unsafe terrain. Understanding is in itself a perfect word because in it lapse and fallacy already seem to be contained. Is there not an ‘un’- in understand, like there is in unclear, uncertain or unreliable? Still, each misunderstanding holds a chance: An initially impregnable word can, through a simple movement of the body, gain an ambiguity thus hinting at something one may not really want to know. A pose, on the other hand, hard to interpret as it is may, might - through a spoken sound - become interpretable, if, possibly, not fully comprehensible.

Foreign Tongues revolves around the mystery of communication, around polyphony and multilingualism, around the free play between body and language. Someone who speaks in tongues does not give himself up, remains ambiguous, as if outwardly governed: closer to faith than to knowledge.

Foreign Tongues makes the handicaps of communication, the thousand options of misunderstanding, but also the associative deflections that lie in the interaction of language and gesture transparent. In using the extended means of the body to speak out one does so demonstratively: speaking visibly in an act of bodily onomatopoeia. In the attempt to describe a state of affairs, the semantic field is stretched, and the communication gets complicated, when the appropriate physical motions are used alongside the necessary terms. Physical-acoustic transmission of sense is decisively more than the sum of its parts. Body language lays open ideas and suggests things that can’t be found within the words themselves.

In Foreign Tongues the fluidity of meanings is acted out in different stimulus-response constellations: in entanglements of recorded voices trapped in loops with choreographed bodies. In lip-synced performances, a reverted dubbing, a staple of Liquid Loft endeavours, is practiced – not the speaking onto on-demand alien bodies, but the “incarnation” of foreign voices. The fundamental questions of this evening – how is the spoken transferred into body language? How do sound and movement interact? – are related to the quotidian, lived acts of translation. Here we are offered choreography in (formal) conversation. The movement starts from the speech act, and gestural movement, in return, speaks up. Are we still speaking, or already dancing?

Boundaries are fluid, in every meaning of the word: In Foreign Tongues minority languages are used, which - often threatened with extinction - are thought and spoken beyond national, political boundaries. The sonic source material consists of field recordings in Basque, Occitan, Romani, Gaelic, Catalan and other languages. The Babylonian principle of manifold and overlapping voices and modes of speech is translated through dance into the establishing and the breakdowns of contact, all the hellos and goodbyes, the longing and denial, in between which lie the moments of closeness, which language itself yearns for just as much. Foreign Tongues is a game of contradictions and surprising relationships which demonstrates, among other things, how much can be comprehended, even when you have the feeling you have not yet understood anything.

Toulouse, the subtitle of this first stage of a planned new cycle of performances, points to the central recording location of the voices recorded by Liquid Loft: In the southern French city, the majority of audible material was captured, thus forming the results of local field research. This is how diverse Toulouse sounds – at least if you listen closely enough. The Foreign-Tongues-series can now be expanded as desired, the work can be supplemented with- and re-modulated by reservoirs of local language at any place in the world.

With gently surreal humor Foreign Tongues – literally - presses social reality hard, drawing a subtly unreal, yet always recognizable world, in which authentic speaking meets highly stylized posing, and the real existence of the dancers meets the virtual presence of those unknown ones, of which only a ghostly trace of conserved language sounds is available. One of the decisive conditions of the work of Liquid Loft is the systematic separation of (re-played) voice and (representing) body. At the end of this evening the physical and the vocal are surprisingly reunited, however accompanied by a distant drone; caught in the loop of a live composition for five bodies and voices, in the fading light of an artificial day.


Translation from German: Oliver Stummer.