Dance research

Dancing into belonging: towards co-presence in place

The paper advocates for the possibilities of dance in community development and place-making contexts through its proposition of a ‘phenomenology of belonging’. From her vantage as facilitator/director of video series Dancing Place, the author observes sensory interactions between participants’ bodies and the sites in which they performed, as enhancing relationality between participants and place.

Conceived as part of an ARC Discovery Project exploring potentials of artistic methods to challenge neighbourhood-based stigma, led by sociologist Deborah Warr, and employing the expertise of screendance artist Dianne Reid to create the video works, Dancing Place invited diverse residents of Wyndham, Victoria, to dance to their favourite music in their favourite local sites. Through reflection upon the project, the author teases out issues of visibility, embodiment, identity, marginalisation and changing relationships to place.

The participants of varied cultural and social backgrounds, age, gender and levels of dance training, inevitably chose to dance in very different styles and places. The paper explores some political and social ramifications of (being represented via video) dancing in relation to place for particular groups and individuals, and outlines the facilitating artist’s motivations for the project’s structural framework. Rather than presuming or contriving a unified ‘community’, the nine distinctively discrete videos were presented side by side, which collectively evoked a sense of co-presence, or parallel belonging.   

Placing knowledge in the body: Western Australian choreographers dancing ‘With a Bullet’

This research investigates the studio processes of seven Western Australian choreographers to develop case studies that unpack the memories, emotions, and sensations that illuminate creative decision making in experts. These dance professionals participated in Natalie Cursio’s With A Bullet: The Album Project (2006-7; 2013–4) that invites them to recall the first song to which they ever ‘made up a dance’, and to use this piece of music as a springboard for, and soundtrack to, a new piece of choreography.

The study uses qualitative measures of phenomenological and somatic modes of attention to examine choreographic cognition, with a focus on ‘knowing how’, and other manifestations of ‘feeling’ that a decision is ‘right’, in order to illuminate creative decision making in choreography. I use the choreographers’ memories, emotions, and sensations to interpret their strategies for problem solving in the complex physical, emotional and social space of the studio. Memories and knowledge can take the form of tacit understandings performed during the process of transmission from choreographers to dancers, offering alternative ways of knowing and articulating creative processes.

Cursio’s With A Bullet offered a unique opportunity for choreographers to reflect on their own development as artists, and the research presented here makes a contribution to the ongoing task of placing embodied knowledge on a par with that expressed through linguistic propositions.

Improcinemaniac

In this paper, Dianne demonstrates the intersections of her research/practice, mixing live and screen bodies, poetic and academic writing. She is posing an improvisational approach to screendance and an embodied approach to writing as possibilities for seeing, imagining and being in the dancing, researching body. She is interrogating her own embodied knowledge as hybrid site within a live screendance body.

Peace moves: dance, identity and peacebuilding

Dance is a potential asset for peacebuilding, creating opportunities for nonverbal, embodied learning, exploring identity, and relationships. Peace scholars consider identity and relationships to the ‘other’ as key components in transforming conflict. Focusing on a case study in Mindanao, the Philippines, this paper explores the potential of dance in a peacebuilding context through embodied identity and relationships. In Mindanao, deep-seated cultural prejudices contribute to ongoing conflict entwined with identity. The permeable membrane (Cohen, Gutiérrez & Walker, 2011) is the organising framework describing the constant interaction between artists, facilitators, participants, and communities. It expands peace scholar John Paul Lederach’s concept of the moral imagination, requiring the capacity to envisage one’s self within a web of relationships. In this paper multiple methods of qualitative research including personal interviews are used to further the discussion regarding dance’s potential to diversify the nonverbal tools available for peacebuilding.

Evoking poetics of memory through performing site

Memory, time and metaphor are central triggers for artists in exploring and shaping their creative work. This paper examines the place of artists as ‘memory-keepers’, and ‘memory-makers’, in particular through engagement with the time-based art of site-specific performance. Naik Naik (Ascent) was a multi-site performance project in the historic setting of Melaka, Malaysia, and is partially recaptured through the presence and voices of its collaborating artists. Distilled from moments recalled, this paper seeks to uncover the poetics of memory to emerge from the project; one steeped in metaphor rather than narrative. It elicits some of the complex and interdependent layers of experience revealed by the artists in Naik Naik; cultural, ancestral, historical, personal, instinctual and embodied memories connected to sound, smell, touch, sensation and light, in a spatiotemporal context for which site is the catalyst. The liminal nature of memory at the heart of Naik Naik, provides a shared experience of past and present and future, performatively interwoven.

Linking the tradition to modernity

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has inspired a plethora of artists in its hundred years of history. As it transcends geographic barriers, it has also been choreographed by many great dance masters such as Maurice Béjart and Pina Bausch from the West, and Hwai-Min Lin and Helen Lai from the East. In this paper, Ting-Ting Chang focuses on the choreographic aesthetics of versions of The Rite of Spring by choreographers Zhang Xiaoxiong and Shen Wei. Zhang’s version depicts images with references both to the original work of Vaslav Nijinsky, and to aspects of Asian culture in a way that is sensitive to the original music and to his memories as a child living in Cambodia. Shen has been known for his organic movement vocabulary and unique way of using Chinese cultural elements. By tracing their separate creative processes, she discuss how choreographers negotiate tradition and innovation through their different choreographic methods and aesthetic visions through contemporary dance.

Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre: body, language and fleshing out Irish cultural heritage

Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre (1979–1989) was a significant company in the development of dance in Ireland, and the first state funded contemporary dance group. For a period, the company were leading innovators in the country in contemporary dance and explored the boundaries of what constituted the dance form, leaving a lasting impact on Irish dance heritage, although relatively little has been written about their work to date. This paper explores the context for the company’s work, discussing the relationship between the body and language in Irish social, political and cultural history. Specifically, I focus on their production Bloomsday based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, which reveals key issues about the relationship between body and language in the company’s work.

The documentation of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s choreography in A Choreographer’s Score

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker has published three different volumes of A Choreographer’s Score in which she explains her choreographic processes. Each of the volumes contains interviews and parts of the choreography which are recorded on DVDs and published in writing together with the scores. The need for those publications might have been triggered by Beyonce’s use of de Keersmaeker’s choreography in her video Countdown and by a general need to create a legacy for her work. The question that such a publication poses is: what is documented here? Is it based on an idea of the work or a choreographic process or is it an instruction manual for performance? How does de Keersmaeker’s attempt relate to the archive as a place of reinforcing patriarchal law as stated by Jacques Derrida or is it rather an open approach to dance and performance as an art form, able to escape that law as Rebecca Schneider has discussed?

Reclaiming the community of Cabelo Seco through dance

Paulo Freire and John Dewey are helping the youth of Cabelo Seco in the southern reaches of the Amazon to reclaim their violated community. Freire (1921–1997) and Dewey (1859–1952) remain alive in Cabelo Seco, identified as one of Brazil’s most dangerous communities. After describing the context of Cabelo Seco, the local community arts projects and the philosophies driving this work, I examine meanings of community dance in Cabelo Seco. Utilising a constructivist methodology that values dialogic interaction to build shared understandings, interviews and observations provide insights into diverse ways that people experience, value and make meaning from dance in community contexts. Dewey, Freire, Eisner, Boal, Zequinha and other arts educators are ever present in Cabelo Seco; understanding a lineage of influence helps to examine current practices and envision future projects. This paper explores the shifting and emerging role of dance in this community, focusing on how dance is helping to reclaim it.

Decentring dance dramaturgy—a proposition for multiplicity in dance

The last decades have revealed how dance artists can recast the body in dance through multiple points of view, genres and styles. The outcomes offer a challenge to the means of engagement with performances that mine from multiple sources and inspirations. This paper proposes that the means by which to engage with and understand the dramaturgical reasoning in these contemporary works is through a decentred perspective. In considering the contemporaneity (Agamben, 2007) of current dance practice, together with cultural, scientific and philosophical inquiries into order from chaos or complexity theory, the paper invokes Derrida’s use of the term decentred—used to reposition the dynamic aspects of cultural structures, with Deleuze’s suggestion of rhizomatic thinking—which goes even further in delineating structure—to describe a somewhat idealistic proposition that may enable contradictory practices within dance to inhabit the same philosophical space.

Being visible: dance, disability and difference

Several UK dancers with physical impairments have been developing careers as dance makers, leaders and performers but there remain many barriers for dancers with disabilities to enter training and then the dance profession. Each has a story about the experience of being accepted, or not, within the ‘mainstream’ contemporary dance environment. This paper examines the experience of artists who are contributing to a research project that brings together experts in dance and law to discover more about what would better enable dancers with disabilities to play a full role within the cultural landscape. Observations based on witnessing rehearsals together with analysing the discourse that emerges from the artists’ work shows the potential impact of this work on legal frameworks and the dominant aesthetic frameworks that take root in professional dance practice. The paper brings fresh insights to questions about how we critically engage with and value disabled dance.

Salsa and the city: a case study on a Glaswegian ‘community’

‘Globalisation has led to the global export of salsa as a leisure pursuit’ (Skinner, 2007, p. 495), with salsa classes, clubs and congresses taking place ‘from Gothenberg (Sweden) to Sacramento’ (Skinner, 2007, p. 486). However, as Hannerz (1996) argues, cultural life continues to be heterogeneous despite the impact of globalisation, and with particular reference to social salsa dancing, ‘local particularities and individual reactions’ (Skinner, 2007, p. 485) give particular distinctions to ‘salsa communities’. Recent ethnographic case studies have interrogated the salsa scenes in London (Urquía, 2005), Los Angeles (García, 2013) and Belfast (Skinner, 2008). This paper interrogates the distinct nature of the ‘salsa community’ in the heart of the city of Glasgow, Scotland. Erving Goffman’s (1959/1990) model of dramaturgy is utilised to frame qualitative data gathered through observations and interviews, to ask: How may this ‘salsa community’, a product of globalisation, be considered as having a distinct identity?

The establishment of a policy for contemporary dance in France (1975–2010)

Right up until the 1960s, classical dance occupied a monopolistic position in France. In the mid-1970s, we could observe a repositioning of dance policy through the recognition of contemporary dance as an area of specific public intervention. This policy, pivoting on professional arts subsidy, also included measures in relation to distribution and teaching. It led to the establishment of an artistic world distinct from classical dance, and the existence of rich and diverse performance choices. In the 1980s and 1990s, scheduling and the contemporary dance public expanded significantly, as did companies’ offerings, which increased in equivalent proportions. This paper therefore meets two main objectives: an analysis on the means deployed to develop contemporary dance audience statistics, and presentation of a report on these actions; demonstrating both their tangible results and the stumbling blocks encountered.

Dance in higher education in the UK

Universities are not individually unique. They stand next to each other in the various hierarchies of excellence that are underpinned by commonalities of the various statures that they accrue in learning, teaching, research and a host of cultural and social impacts as are measured regionally, nationally and internationally. It is as we move toward closer international ties with our World Dance Alliance colleagues in higher education who work in dance that we look to our own ways and means with a view to revealing what we, in the UK, do in our delivery of dance to higher education students, and some of the constraints within which we work. With this in hand as a reference, we might then seek to discuss with our colleagues in other countries the many ways and means in which the similarities and differences have emerged from our various contexts as we all work towards inspiring the next generation of dancing graduates.

Indeterminacy in site-specific performance

‘Site-specificity’ is typically aligned to those practices of visual art where their meanings are inextricable to site; however, its theorisation has been elaborated through a defense of disciplinary boundaries. In One Place After Another, Miwon Kwon begins by referring to site-specific art as: ‘Site-determined, site-orientated, site-referenced, site-conscious, site-related’. Yet site-specificity in relation to site-performance, would I propose, be better served by negotiating the intersections of body and site. Site-specificity and indeterminacy will be considered through what happens between site and performance: disruption, undetermined and permeability. Detailing a number of projects from my own practice including: White Trash 2006,Toulouse, France; En Residencia 2009 Gijón, Spain and Patrwn 2010 Minde, Portugal, I will highlight the indeterminacies of site and boundary, performance and spectator through the practice of site-specific performance.

Interrogating the contemporary in contemporary dance: presence, performativity, actuality

The notion of “contemporary” is based on dialectical tensions between: actuality/ virtuality, presence/representation, narrativity/performativity, action/reflexivity, or even vocalised text/performed gesture. A “contemporary” choreographic work, where syn-chrony and ana-chrony intensely interplay, may be defined as a process of temporal (de)sedimentation, which consciously associates several co-present temporalities: measured time and felt duration, eternal flow and occasional moment, and more traditionally the essential and triadic tension of past—present—future. Thus danced contemporary time may be figured as a spiral; intrinsically multi-versal (and not uni-versal), based on a cyclic repetition, but swerving in a layered linear progression. This perspective of “contemporary” is explored here through specific effects of presence, actuality, performativity, and reflexivity, in four works: Maguy Marin’s Description d’un combat (2009), François Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal ‘s Duchesses (2009), Carlotta Ikeda et Pascal Quignard’s Medea (2012), and Olivier Dubois’ Tragédie (2013).

Dance of a Tibetan lama in exile

It is not very often that monks are spotted dancing in costumes. This paper is as much about the rarity of such a performance as it is the sanctity of ’cham (also referred to as Tibetan Sacred Dance) that has been in existence for over a thousand years. Too little is known about the origin of the dances, the meaning and significance of them, not to mention how they have come to survive over the centuries and their evolution as a form of ritual. My research project focuses on the ’cham performance of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, a highly revered reincarnate lama of seventeen times, who currently resides in India as a refugee. Through fieldwork observations and interviews, I hope to provide a rare insight into the ancient all-male ritual that has withstood the erosion of time and space.

Haptics and the fall: spaces of contact improvisation

In this paper, Romain Bigé examines the way contact improvisation implies a redefinition of dancers’ subjective spatiality when they enter in contact. Bigé draws on his personal experience as a contact improviser, but also on the writings of Steve Paxton, who initiated the form in 1972, and on philosophical writings, notably phenomenology. He argues that contact improvisation is characterized by a specific sensory cartography, based on the haptical sense. This postural investment in touch produces an overlapping of the dancers’ kinetic spheres, whereby the possibilities of action become co-defined, in particular in the movements of falling and micro-falls that they share. The relationship to the surroundings is thus constructed through this commonality, making space an invitation for falling.

Playing past and future: knowledge as revealed by artist and scholar

History is not often regarded as a location to search for practice-based artistic researchers, since its relatively recent academic acceptance designates this activity as ‘new’ or of a pioneering nature leaping forward from the confines of history. However, the space devoted to Picasso’s 1957 ruminations upon or fierce dialogues with Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas (1656) at the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, presented evidence of an artist probing into thinking-in-practice. These paintings demonstrate how an artist pursues knowledge about representation that immediately interconnected with memories of Foucault’s (1970) play, in the introduction to Les mots et des choses, of the very same Velasquez art work. In using a classical art work as the touchstone for investigation, both researchers trusted in painterly vision as a viable mode of knowledge. This interrelationship between excavating what came before (Foucault) with what the future may hold (Picasso) is reflected in dance scholarship and its processes and choreographies.

Staging the logocentric body: transcribing dance as utterance

This paper proposes a challenge to the status of dance in writing practices, where historical definitions of dance writing found within modern western dance traditions of the early twentieth century might question dance’s dependency on writing as that which serves to ensure its permanence through inscription. Significantly, John Martin’s proposition of metakinesis will establish the grounds for an interpretative approach to viewing dance performance that offers a physiological rather than a verbal/written descriptive response. Drawing from debates surrounding ephemera and inscription put forward by Andre Lepecki (2006) and Susan Foster (1996), as also the author’s own phenomenological approach to writing dance practices, the writing will consider how dance writing practices have evolved over the past three decades to embrace the often hidden processes found within their own production methods.

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