Le Merle Noir - dancing an interspecies relationship


by Lore Dekeyser

View Lore Dekeyser's Biography

Lore Dekeyser is a choreographer, dancer and philosopher based in Berlin.  

Le Merle Noir
      dancing an interspecies relationship

Lore Dekeyser



Video Credits:

With the support of Tanzfabrik Berlin, K77 Studio Raum für Tanz and Bewegung, Culterim Art Residence Dahlewitz.

When talking about blackbirds, birds or animals in general, people talk about specimens — examples representing groups of animals. "Look there, a blackbird!" "Look there, a peacock!" Only in relation to pets, one refers to animals as individuals, having their own specific movements, language, voice. But what happens when we talk about animals as individuals outside the realm of pets?

Le Merle Noir (EN: The Black Bird) refers to the likewise named musical piece of ornithologist and composer Olivier Messiaen made in 1952. Messiaen wilfully speaks here about le merle noir, instead of un merle noir; the black bird, instead of a black bird. His personal connection to a specific blackbird in his surroundings gave him the artistic inspiration to create this classical piece for flute and piano. Likewise I started with observing, hearing, recording a blackbird, who I named Jean-Jacques, in the courtyard of my former apartment in Berlin.

Being familiar with his songs I became more and more aware of the black birds' language. Cycling through the city, I spotted them everywhere; up in a tree, on top of a high building, next to me in a little bush. The syntaxis was recognisable; around six musical notes, with pauses in between. But no bird sang the intimate songs I knew so well from home. It became apparent that this black bird, like all individual black birds, has a highly idiosyncratic repertoire of songs.

Listening while recording at 4am on June 25th 2021, the incredible restlessness of his utterances struck me. A restlessness that I, as a human, recognised in myself:

The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary.[...] Man becomes aware of himself returning the look (Berger, 22).

Trying to make sense of his utterances, obvious biological — and learned — explanations came into my head. He is defending his territory, desperately trying to find a mate. Somehow all these theories and explanations felt incredibly insufficient, unsatisfying, underestimating Jean-Jacques's existence. What is it to be a blackbird? What is it to be Jean-Jacques? His screechy tunes had a sense of necessity. He had to sing those songs, every day and night. There was no way of escaping it. A [blackbird] sat on a branch reflecting on existence, as Roy Andersson cleverly called his comedy-drama in 2014.

You hardly ever

see a bird

hesitating, swerving, going back (Herzberg, 55).

Like the dancer and musicians in this piece, Jean-Jacques never hesitated, never went back, not in his movements, but especially not in his sounds, his music. Sometimes he incorporated nearby sounds — the sound of a man in my building whistling to his girlfriend when she left for work became part of his fixed repertoire. But most of the time he kept going, for hours, ignoring everything around him; a storm hitting the big tree he was sitting in, a baby crying, a chain saw cutting a nearby tree, crows crossing his path.

In L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze: A comme Animal, Deleuze describes: to be an animal is to be always on the look-out. An animal can never relax and is always on guard. By the same token the dancer in Le Merle Noir starts the performance — after coming out of the resting bird pose — with observing the audience much like an on guard bird. Followed by a tense whirlwind of turns, she finally ceases and collapses abruptly — like Jean-Jacques's singing — leaving behind a sudden unexpected silence and stillness.


Apart from the performance and its accompanying music, a separate music composition was created:

Works Cited

Berger, John. Why Look at Animals? Penguin Classics, 2009.

Herzberg, Judith. Doen en Laten, Uitgeverij Rainbow, 2003.

L'Abécédaire de GILLES DELEUZE: A comme Animal (HD) Youtube, uploaded by SUB-TIL productions, 22 Jan. 2020.