Thursday 26 February 2015

anima(l) mundi: bartabas

With the arrival of Bartabas to perform The Centaur and the Animal at Sadler's Wells this week, in collaboration with the Butoh practitioner Ko Murobushi and four horses, I'm pasting below some extracts from an article I wrote over 10 years ago. An account of some of the exquisite encounter-events Bartabas staged with horses in the work of his Paris-based company Théâtre Zingaro, and in particular in his training.

‘The construction of the human is a differential operation that produces the more and the less “human”, the inhuman, the humanly unthinkable. These excluded sites come to bound the “human” as its constitutive outside, and to haunt those boundaries as the persistent possibility of their disruption and rearticulation’ (Butler 1993: 8).

In this account of aspects of the equestrian performances of Théâtre Zingaro, my primary concerns are with the nature of animal ‘performance’ and the possibility of an inter-species inter-subjectivity. Bartabas’s encounters with horse-performers seem to actualise certain core elements of the philosophical discourses of contemporary theorists of alterity and ethics. They rehearse, in the fire of the moment each time a-new a-gain, a constellation of questions relating to identity and difference, seeming and doing, being and the infinite works-in-progress that becomings make of identities. How might one interact with another whose difference is recognised as an active event, rather than a failure of plenitude? What are the productive qualities of alterity? In what ways might one work (in) an existential in-between and perceive other-wise? How, in Jean-Luc Nancy’s terms, might one ‘think on the limit’ (Nancy 1997:70) and ex-pose oneself to the event/advent of meaning? In other words, if the ‘animal’ comprises a constitutive outside of the ‘human’, (how) can this limit-horizon be experienced as ‘not that at which something stops but [...] that from which something begins its presencing’ (Heidegger 1971:154)?



‘[Man] was bound to fear the eye of the animal as the carrier of a view of himself over which he had no control’ (Berger 1984:99. Italics in original)

Animals - ‘trapped in a place of endless misrecognition’, like all of patriarchal humanism’s others - have often been defined in terms of lack: of reason, memory, imagination, free will, conscience, language, and so on. Early Christian philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel and others constructed hierarchies of the senses, categorised according to degrees of ‘humanity’ and ‘animality’. They tell us nothing about the particularities and differences of animal senses and perception; they homogenise ‘animals’, and privilege human vision and its connections with the cogito (eye/I) above all else. Horses, for example, are often homogenised as a species, despite the enormous diversity of forms and types of equus caballus, and the very particular qualities of individual horses; and, like ballet dancers, their bodies are often defined in relation to an abstract ideal (‘conformation’). Furthermore, the mapping of an animal’s body, the naming of many of its constituent parts, tends to be effected through an anthropomorphic lens. For example, the ‘points’ of a horse include forelock, jowls, throat, shoulders, breast, elbows, forearms, knees, heels, belly. The Empire of the Selfsame.

But what can a horse’s body do? Let’s take two examples.

Firstly, horses are often homogenised as a species, despite the enormous array of forms and types of equus caballus, and the particular qualities of individual horses; and, like ballet dancers, their bodies are often defined in relation to an abstract ideal (‘conformation’). The Akhal-Teke, a golden-sheened desert horse from Turkmenistan highly prized by desert nomads, is all ‘wrong’ in terms of this ideal; in addition to its notorious disdain for humans, its back is too long, its hind legs marred by sickle hocks and lacking the ‘second thigh’ so valued by Western riders, its chest too narrow, its rib cage too shallow, its withers too high, its head held impossibly high ‘above the bit’, i.e. above the level of the rider’s hands, and therefore ‘uncontrollable’. In (classical Western) theory, an Akhal-Teke should be unrideable. Yet as a long-distance endurance horse, its resilience remains unparallelled. In 1935, in a journey lasting 84 days Akhal-Tekes were ridden from Ashkhabad to Moscow, a distance of over 4,000 kms., almost 1,000 of which was over desert; they covered 400 kms. through the arid Karakoum in just three days. The Olympic gold medal winner for dressage in Rome in 1960, a stallion called Absent, was an Akhal-Teke. At present, there are Akhal-Teke performers in Bartabas’s ‘equestrian operas’ with Théâtre Zingaro (see below).

Secondly, a horse’s ‘surplus of seeing’ (Bakhtin) is humanly unthinkable. Its eyes are the largest of any land mammal. Set laterally on the head, they have a field of vision of approximately 357 degrees, of which only about 60 degrees frontally are binocular. A horse holding its head level has two narrow blind spots: one directly behind its rump, one a few centimetres directly in front of its nose. In a horse’s eyes, active receptivity and blindness coexist. The placement of the eyes permits a panoramic view in the horizontal plane of vision; but with only limited accommodation in its lenses (about 1/5th the diopters of human eyes), a horse has restricted focusing ability. Its relatively fixed focal length is set at some distance, where it has a high degree of visual acuity - but without a fovea (enabling the tight, ‘grasping’ area of focus in human vision), a horse’s vision remains planar, largely undifferentiated: i.e. peripheral throughout the panoramic vista, tactile. Like many mammals, horses are dichromates; they have red-blue colour vision, analogous to colour-blindness in humans. Like many mammals, and unlike most humans, however, they have excellent night vision.



‘In the eyes of a horse, sometimes I have even thought I’ve seen the primitive beauty of a world before the arrival of human beings’ (Bartabas in Pascaud 1997: 34)

‘Heaven and earth are one finger: all things are one horse’ (Chuang Tzu in Breytenbach 1990: 9)

Over the past fifteen years, Thèâtre Zingaro have created six different productions: three versions of Cabaret Équestre (1984-90), Opéra Équestre (1991-3), Chimère (1994-6), and Éclipse (1997-99), as well as two feature films, Mazeppa and Chamane. A new performance, Triptyk, opens in March 2000 in Amsterdam. This body of work is characterised by an aesthetic heterogeneity and the centrality of animal-performers, particularly horses; it has its roots in new circus, street theatre, impulse-based dance forms (e.g. contact), the corrida and, above all, Spanish and Portuguese ‘high school’ dressage forms (e.g. in the teachings of rider-philosopher Nuno Oliveira). However, although company director, trainer and performer Bartabas is an écuyer of exquisite finesse, his equestrian project is minoritarian; he is a foreigner in his own tongue. Here the machinic assemblage of classical dressage ‘stutters’ (repetition) and ‘stammers’ (suspension), it frays and unravels to produce im-possible lines of flight. So, for example, Bartabas is only the second known rider this century, after James Fillis, to have realised the (‘unnatural’) reverse canter:

‘The way in which I work in dressage is very particular. I attempt to use the least possible physical force. What I do has almost nothing to do with classical dressage, which uses all sorts of aids, the hands, the legs. My approach relates to an old French training tradition which was then taken up by the Portuguese. The horse stands freely, supports himself; he is very well balanced. Physical strength has no role to play at all. Everything is based on sensation’ (Bartabas in Eyquem & Shungu 1997:39).

Each of the Zingaro productions has been conceived scenographically and musically in terms of a particular horse-/traveller-culture. The company’s stylistic trajectory has traced an itinerary from quasi-Orientalist spectacle to increasing sobriety in performances which have drawn in turn on the cultures of Mitteleuropan gypsies, Berber and Caucasian nomads, Rajasthani itinerant musicians, Korean shamanism and, most recently in Triptyk, a conjunction between the music of Stravinsky, Boulez and the Keralan martial art kalarippayyatt. Above all, Bartabas structures every show - and every day at their communal base in Aubervilliers, north-east of Paris - around the primacy of encounters with horses. As well as core performers, the horses constitute a kind of anima(l) mundi, the cornerstone of a way of life for these contemporary nomads:

‘Horses have taught me everything. It is said [originally by the French natural historian Buffon] that ‘the horse is man’s most noble conquest’, but I don’t agree at all. Man is the horse’s most noble conquest. For a horse is a mirror; it reflects back at us our mistakes and our moods. Every horse must be approached in a different way, just like people, and sometimes the encounter is completely disarming. Horses have taught me that there are no absolute rules. Nothing is ever finally acquired with them, and nothing ever happens as predicted. Working with horses means knowing how to adapt. [...] Loving horses and living with them also means being chained to them, like children. It’s not enough just to ride them, you have to look after them, care for them, stay vigilant; they didn’t choose to be there, we chose for them. Horses have also taught me that there’s a vast world between the dream one has and what one manages to do. But the greater the richness at the outset, the greater what remains at the end. At that stage, the relationship is no longer physical but psychic; one thinks of a movement and the horse does it. Sometimes the horse only traces the outline of the movement desired, and you must reward him for that, for he will have understood the work’s essence. Time spent with a horse is never time wasted; it’s fundamental, it’s the soul. One mustn’t let oneself be caught in the dissipations and dispersals that characterise our flawed lives at this century’s end. One mustn’t give in to comfort’ (Bartabas in Ciupa 1997:79).

But in what ways do (the) animals ‘perform’?


‘The essential concern at the heart of all our performances is the relationship between people and horses. The theatrical subject is only a pretext’ (Bartabas in Eyquem & Shungu 1997: 37).

‘The animal eye perceives and reacts to the animal image in the other’ (James Hillman in Moore 1989:68-9) 

In 1904, a retired Berlin schoolteacher called Wilhelm von Osten attracted international attention when he produced public ‘evidence’ that a stallion, Clever Hans, was able to communicate ‘verbally’ and execute relatively complex mathematical, temporal and musical calculations; it was claimed, for example, that Hans could identify coins and musical scores, and answer questions about history, politics and geography. Using a blackboard, von Osten believed he had taught the horse a simple system correlating numbers with individual letters of the alphabet. Hans would tap a number on a board with his hoof to produce letters (1 tap = a, 2 taps = b etc.), then words, sentences, ‘thoughts’; he would also nod or shake his head in response to questions. Every correct answer elicited a sugar-cube reward. The Prussian Academy of Sciences was understandably skeptical, and set up a commission to explore these claims of inter-species communication. Ultimately their research revealed that von Osten was unconsciously cueing the horse through subtle corporeal micro-tensions and releases, powerful catalytic triggers for the animal of which the human-trainer was not even aware. Hans was indeed sufficiently clever (and familiar with von Osten) to work out that if he stopped the tapping of his hoof at the point when von Osten relaxed, he would be rewarded.

Since that time, Clever Hans has been returned to repeatedly by animal behaviourists, psychologists and others as both cautionary tale and proof of the restricted parameters of animal ideation, and of the deep-seated projections and assimilationist tendencies of an anthropomorphism that yearns, like Dr Doolittle, to ‘speak with the animals’. The so-called ‘Clever Hans phenomenon’, they suggest, underlines the fact that an animal’s actions are little more than imprinted behavioural patternings (e.g. causal reward-based exchanges) or genetically hard-wired manifestations of instinctive response patterns (e.g. dominance/ submission, flight/fight). But isn’t the give-and-take of any dyad, human and/or animal, marked to some degree by aspects of this phenomenon? And, to borrow the title of a Peggy Lee song, is that all there is? For Clever Hans also signals the humanly unthinkable sensitivity of animal perceptions in terms of an ability to apprehend the micro-details of expression, mood, shifts in skeleto-muscular tension, thermal skin patterning, olfaction, and so on. Oskar Pfungst, a scientist who published his study of Hans in 1907, concluded that the horse, when compared with his critics, was in reality a ‘superior observer’ (Hediger 1981:15). It seems an animal’s ‘dumbness’ is really the measure of our ‘deafness’.

Similarly, Bartabas contends that:‘A horse’s perception of the real is so much finer than our’s. If intelligence is sensitivity to what is around us, then horses are far more subtle than us. The more one knows, the less one feels’ (Bartabas in Pascaud 1997).

For Bartabas, human-horse interactions represent the possibility of a conjunction of two very different ontologies and epistemologies - one sensory-motor-perceptual, the other intellectual - and, in riding, the temporary creation of a third composite assemblage much greater than the sum of its parts: equestrianism as a becoming-centaur for both rider and horse (2):

‘A horse perceives us on an internal level, that’s his great strength. All the more so if you work with him every day. He feels your internal energy. Your moods, your joys, your troubles, he senses them all. Since a horse is a kind of mirror, he doesn’t miss a thing, and that’s why he won’t ever forgive you. Errors are almost always the rider’s fault. [...] The work with horses, as with other artists in the company, is always directed at a heightening and focusing of sensitivity. How to sublimate the beauty of a horse’s gesture, how to create conditions which will allow such actions to be produced with a certain warmth which is both emotionally rich and gentle, how to develop this affective aspect within the relationship between a human being and a horse. [...] In Europe there’s a common tendency to seek reassurance by thinking of animals as humans. To my mind, animals in general, and horses in particular, have a highly developed instinctive perception - contrary to humans, who possess another kind of intelligence (which sometimes creates problems for them): reflexive awareness of life, death, time, which can be channeled into art, etc. It seems in the interest of both humans and horses to find ways to come together; what happens if you conjoin a horse’s instinctive modes of perception and a human’s intellectual reflection? The basis of all of my work is in trying to get closer to their perceptions of the world; and this is at the centre of my whole way of life. What counts is what lies behind the intention of a gesture, what informs it. Any gesture only has value if it touches on grace’ (Bartabas in Corre 1997:14).


‘Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnyhnmland, that by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able [...] to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species: especially the Europeans’ (Swift [1726] 1985:40]

Ethologists have written extensively about animal display, their so-called displacement/redirected activities and ritualized behaviours, in terms of performance. But what kind of performance? In a paper presented at a conference on the Clever Hans phenomenon in 1981, Paul Bouissac considered circus animal acts in terms of constructed and partial overlappings of different socio-biological and semiotic frames - those of trainer, audience, and animal:

‘On the one hand the trainers interact with their charges on the basis of their socio-biological competence, on the other they frame these interactions in particular situations relevant to the system of social interactions shared by the public for which they perform. Therefore all animal acts are the combination of a biologically patterned behavioural sequence and a constructed social situation’ (Bouissac 1981:19).

For example, the bear who performs the ‘kiss of death’ on the mouth of his female trainer simply pursues and consumes bait (a carrot discreetly concealed in the trainer’s mouth); spectators, however, see only the ‘kiss’ as part of a micro-narrative relating to, say, sexual power and an infantilised bestiality. In this way the trainer, ‘a professional deceiver’ (ibid:21) aware of both perspectives, manipulates hard-wired or imprinted animal responses by recontextualising them to provide spectators with what they desire: charged narrative imagery and the illusion of an erasure of socio-biological ‘otherness’, i.e. the illusion that the animal recognises and shares the world of the social situation in which he is placed, a world he is able to inhabit with ‘pleasure’.

Bouissac concludes his causally behaviourist, zoosemiotic account of these constructed illusions of inter-species communication by suggesting that a circus animal can only be said to ‘perform’ in a very limited way:

‘[it] negotiates social situations by relying on the repertory of ritualized behaviour that characterizes its species. [...] The trainer can elicit at will some segments of behaviour and frame them in a situation of his/her choice, but the animal’s behaviour is never performed out of its own socio-biological context’ (ibid: 24).

In other words, animals cannot knowingly enact the fictions of make-believe. Like Swift’s equine Houyhnyhnms, they are unable to say ‘the thing which was not (for they have no word in their language to express lying or falsehood)’ (Swift [1726] 1985:281).

Performance theorist Richard Schechner reaffirms this perspective when he suggests that, because most ritualized animal behaviour is genetically determined, animals lack one of the defining qualities of theatre:

‘[A] great difference between human and non-human performers is the ability of humans to lie and pretend [...] Although a few species specialize in “deceit”, most animal performances are automatically released, fixed, and stereotyped. There is no irony, no pliable back-and-forth play between the role and the performer, no trilogical interaction linking performer to performer to spectator’ (Schechner 1988:225,248).

In a more comic, anecdotal vein, Laurie Anderson has articulated a similar perception:

‘We built a big platform in my loft to do the “angry dogs” film I needed for a song I was writing [...] Captain Hagerty, their trainer, promised: “They’re vicious! Really vicious!” But he could only get them into attack mode for a few seconds at a time before they began to smile those happy dog smiles they’ve all got. That’s what I love about dogs: they’re such lousy actors’ (Anderson 1994:73).

However, if one shifts the models of performance and the nature of its interactions, it may be possible to conceive of an animal’s ‘lack’ or ‘inability’ in rather more affirmative terms. In the mid 1960s, Grotowski had characterised his ideal of an actor’s psycho-physical organicity in animal terms. He described a cat’s ability to think with its body, short-circuiting the gap between internal impulse and external action; being is already doing. Bartabas’s training and aspects of the Théâtre Zingaro performances seem to me to inhabit the space of an unpredictable play between task or work-game, horse-performer and human-performer, where ‘performer’ is conceived in the terms of Grotowski’s later research as:

‘an organism-channel through which the energies circulate, the energies transform, the subtle is touched [...] Everything is in lightness, in evidence. With Performer, performing can become near process’ (Grotowski 1990:375-6).

The very ‘lousiness’ of animal ‘actors’, in terms of their inability to sustain fictive bodies and effect a consciously ironic meta-braiding of a not-self with a not-not-self, makes for a particular quality of attention, conductivity and present-ness in the face-to-face encounter. While there are sequences in Théâtre Zingaro performances which reflect Bouissac’s model of overlapping socio-biological frames constructing anthropomorphic images and narratives for spectators’ pleasure, the model is reductive. It occludes another economy based on the circuits and intensities of an unpredictable energetics, and a poetics of lightness. Furthermore, it ignores the ways in which the human is dis-placed by the call of the animal outside and required to respond by ex-posing something of the ‘animal’ within. When one watches Bartabas interact with a horse, there is no doubt that energies circulate and ‘the subtle is touched’. The question is whether we have the (animal) eye to perceive the detailed ‘matter’ of these tact-ful exchanges and flows, without the need to laminate them with, and ‘read’ them through, theatrical situations and narratives of the kind to which Bouissac refers. As Wilhelm von Osten discovered, what is ‘in evidence’ is determined above all by ways of seeing.


‘One does not conform to a model, one straddles the right horse’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1987:286).

Each Théâtre Zingaro performance is structured around a series of encounters, dialogues, singular interactional events (‘haecceities’) (3):

‘An encounter is perhaps the same thing as becoming, or nuptials [...] an effect, a zigzag, something which passes or happens between two [...] intermezzi, as sources of creation’ (Deleuze & Parnet 1987:6,28).

These encounters, ‘doings in the now moment' (4) in which the ‘saying’ takes precedence over the ‘said’, offer the possibility of what Deleuze calls ‘becoming-animal’:

‘In an animal-becoming a man and an animal combine, neither of which resembles the other, neither of which imitates the other, each deterritorialising the other [...] A system of relay and mutations through the middle’ (ibid: 50).

Consider, for example, the becoming-horse of Alexis le trotteur - ‘never as much of a horse as when he played the harmonica’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1987:305), and of Little Hans, so absurdly oedipalised by Freud (ibid: 257 ff). Or of Nietzsche, bareback-rider of unbroken thought, whose collapse around the neck of a flogged horse in Turin in 1889 was both a final s/tumble into madness (a becoming-hoarse) and, according to Milan Kundera, an apology to the horse for the barbarity of Descartes’ soul-less machinations (Kundera 1984:290). Nietzsche’s final break with human society thus occurred at the moment he wrapped himself around an animal face, and put the horse before Descartes.

Each of the Zingaro encounter-events emerges from Bartabas’s training processes, his pragmatic re-cognition of the particularities and differences of individual horses, what is ‘quick’ in them as opposed to dead: their ‘music’, qualities of energy, intensities, sensitivities, dis-abilities; their affects and their circulation in relation to an-other. Like Deleuze with reference to Spinoza, he asks, ‘What can a body do?’

‘You have not defined an animal until you have listed its affects. In this sense there is a greater difference between a race horse and a work horse than between a work horse and an ox’ (ibid:60).

Thus, for example, Bartabas never obtains a particular horse to realise a specific activity (as in equestrian sports: a thoroughbred for speed, an Arab for endurance, a Selle français - the French warmblood - for jumping etc.). Initially attracted by a face, an eye, a coat, a rhythm, a quality of attention, an aberrant behavioural energy, he works with horses of many different kinds: Andalusians, Lusitanians, Hackney ponies, Anglo-Arab crosses, Percherons, Friesians, Akhal-Tekes. Many of them are bought cheaply from the corrida or the army, because they were injured or unable to do what their owners required of them. Some are salvaged from abattoirs and knacker’s yards. Most have been damaged in some way (like Bartabas, with both of his legs shattered in a motorcycle accident when he was 17), and considered physically or temperamentally flawed.

A delinquent, biting Hackney pony Félix (le monstre), purchased from a dealer in Milan; in Éclipse, he dances a sinuous slow-motion pas de deux with Bartabas, their bodies circling and intertwined. Vinaigre, an aggressive Lusitanian originally bought at the age of 7 ‘because of his head’, had been deemed untreatable on account of a floating fragment of bone in his pastern; after two years of training and osteopathy he calmed down, and now, at the age of 16, Bartabas considers him one of the finest ‘dancers’ in the company. A lame and formerly unrideable Anglo-Arab, Mitcha-Figa, was bought for the ‘radiance’ of his coat and the attentive mobility of his ears. Quichotte, an Ortigon Costa Lusitanian bought cheaply from a corrida rider who found him wholly unresponsive, has become the performer of percussive airs-above-ground sequences and the reverse canter. And Zingaro, the black Friesian stallion who gave his name to the company, who took part in almost 2,000 performances until his sudden death from a ‘twisted gut’ during the US tour of Eclipse in early 1999; acquired by Bartabas at the age of 1, this most imperious, playful and unpredictable of horse-performers was never backed during his 17 years of life, and trusted no one except for Bartabas.

In preparation for the most recent Théâtre Zingaro performance Triptyk, and for the first time, Bartabas has spent about two years working with six Portuguese/Lusitanian horses, all of them blue eyed albinoes, through herd (‘choral’) interactions in the same space. In general, however, he trains each horse individually over a long period of time through an interactive floor technique sometimes called ‘tackless’ training, or ‘free lungeing’: a listening ‘beyond the ear’, rather than a ‘whispering’. He shares a space with them, a close-up, haptic, smooth or ‘nomad’ space, with its imperative for a tactile or ‘animal’ eye (5). With them, through what he calls ‘a series of controlled accidents’ (Arvers 1991:19), he explores very fine, improvised dances of the im/possibility of contact, riding vectors, negotiating thresholds, sometimes dynamically, sometimes with an almost imperceptible slowness. He listens, watches, calls, attends to or provokes an impulse-based dialogue through a step, a shift in the angle of the head or gaze, a tension in the shoulders, a run, a sound, a pulse.

The aim of these inter-subjective encounters - which are event-based rather than structural, like much contemporary science and like Lyotard’s ‘dissemiotic’ theatre of energetics (Lyotard, 1976) - is to elicit trust and confidence, and to both encourage and witness the flaring into appearance of each horse’s particular differences. The ideal is that self-generating, forward-moving impulsion and centredness that equestrian theorists call ‘self-carriage’: a practised and decided body rather than a docile body. If, for behavioural scientists, the horses’ actions are simply hard-wired, Bartabas talks of learning through a common ‘birthing’ (co-naître), while in the same breath insisting that: ‘The more one knows, the less one feels’. These interactions are the means and material function of a choreographic devising process that takes between two and three years per performance. They represent a tactical singularity, an ephemeral exchange, the possibility of passibilité: Jean-Luc Nancy’s term for the respons-able activity of reception, the capacity to be affected by the irruption of presence. A delirious and deterritorialising provocation to ‘love the elsewhere of the other’ (Cixous 1997:94) through qualities of attunement, of answerability, of an ‘animal eye’/’I’. A becoming for both parties that is always ‘in the middle’.

‘I am at a rather delicate moment in my life. My relationship with the horses has become so intimate, so private that sometimes I wonder whether I’m reaching a stage of incommunicability. I no longer ask myself whether what I’m doing is ‘successful’ or not. In my personal research, I constantly feel ahead of what can be achieved with the Zingaro company. One life will not be enough to achieve what I would like to invent with horses. [...] The last few months of training have excited me so much that for the first time I’ve realised that I could let go of performing in front of audiences, I could give it away and stop directing Zingaro tomorrow. Then I would just shut myself away with three horses, working with them every day - but sparing them the cruel and contradictory requirements of daily performances in which what is most beautiful and rare is hardly ever seen’ (Bartabas in Garcin 1997:91).

Unless otherwise signaled, all translations are by David Williams. With heartfelt thanks to Bartabas, Manolo Mendes, Rachel Williams and Alan Read. This essay is dedicated to these animal others, to BJ, and to the memory of Zingaro; Non olvidaré la luz de los caballos (Pablo Neruda).

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[1] ‘Women and animals are represented as cohabitants of similar symbolic space - a kind of amorous disciplinary laboratory in obedience, tricks, and often bizarre balancing acts. [...] Women and animals are seemingly trapped in a place of endless misrecognition where they cannot gain access to symbolic space or to a re-cognition that proffers verification in a discourse of power’ (Schutzman 1998:136). For a comparison of the disciplinary regimes of equestrianism and patriarchy, see Griffin (1982). For an exhaustive critical account of constructions of animality in Western philosophy, see de Fontenay (1998).
[2] On display in the Théâtre Zingaro salle d’acceuil in Aubervilliers is a large sculpture of a centaur playing a violin, an object first used in performances of Cabaret Équestre. On both human and animal torsos, the ribcage covering the area of the heart is exposed, as in an anatomical écorché. Bartabas (l’homme-centaur, as he has often been called by French journalists) was the model for the human torso and head. The current Théâtre Zingaro logo is a violinist-centaur based on this sculpture. For Jorge Luis Borges, the centaur is ‘the most harmonious creature of fantastic zoology’ (Borges 1974:37).
[3] Deleuze and Guattari describe ‘haecceity’ as ‘a mode of individuation’ consisting ‘entirely of relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected [...] the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity [...] It is the wolf itself, and the horse, and the child, that cease to be subjects to become events, in assemblages that are inseparable from an hour, a season, an atmosphere, an air, a life. [...] A haecceity has neither beginning nor end, origin nor destination; it is always in the middle. It is not made of points, only of lines. It is a rhizome’ (1987:261-3).
[4] This phrase is used by Phillip B. Zarrilli to describe the goal of Asian performer training regimes in which performance techniques are ‘encoded within the body’: ‘the state of accomplishment (Sanskrit, siddhi) in which the doer and the done are one [...] a state of stillness in motion [which] frees the martial or performing artist from “consciousness about”, preparing him for a state of “concentratedness” [...] doings in the now moment’ (Zarrilli 1990:131,134). Such bodily enculturation and its holistic accomplishment is wholly pertinent to both horses and riders in classical equitation/dressage.
[5] ‘The first aspect of the haptic smooth space of close vision is that its orientations, landmarks, and linkages are in continuous variation; it operates step by step. [...] The eye that beholds them [has] a function that is haptic rather than optical. This is an animality that can be seen only by touching it with one’s mind, but without the mind becoming a finger, not even by way of the eye’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1987:493-4).

The full version of this article was first published as ‘The right horse, the animal eye: Bartabas and Théâtre Zingaro’, in Performance Research 5:2 (‘On Animals’), Summer 2002.

For a short video interview with Bartabas about the work being performed at Sadler's Wells, see here.