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This essay discusses three recent British contemporary dance works that radically rework the spatial relation between audience and performer. These are Nicola Conibere's Assembly (2013), Katye Coe's (To) Constantly Vent (2014), and Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small's Voodoo (2017). The essay draws on Henri Lefebvre theorization of the social and political production of space to analyze the kinds of reworkings of space-time that these works enact. It argues that the works evade capture by the apparatuses that maintain normative ideologies, not only those governing the reception of art but also the apparatuses of racial classification.
The music and dance of African Diasporan artists has impacted current dance practice in Britain, and their legacies are testament to the global circulation of artistic ideas. This paper discusses the British Dance and the African Diaspora research project which seeks to write Black British dance artists and their legacies back into history. It aims to understand the nexus of aesthetic, institutional, and conceptual problems that have rendered these dancers invisible.
Since the 1970s, a number of black British-based dancers has been teaching and producing performance work in a variety of dance styles. It was influenced by the context of anti-colonialism and the struggle for independence, which has been the motivation for the post-war generation of Caribbean and Asian artists who migrated to Britain. These historical and cultural contexts form the basis for our argument for new approaches to frameworks for analysis of the work of black British dance artists.
Theater dance is an interdisciplinary form, and some of the most interesting advances in progressive and experimental dance work in recent years have been interdisciplinary in nature. Where Anglo-American dance scholarship is concerned, however, a “theoretical turn” that has led some dance scholars to develop interdisciplinary methodologies has proved highly controversial. Interdisciplinarity is in danger of becoming a specter haunting dance scholarship.
Dance has not been alone in finding this transition difficult. As art historian and cultural theorist Mieke Bal has recently noted, one challenge facing the academy today is to find “a theoretical link between linguistic, visual and aural domains that blend so consistently in contemporary culture but remain so insistently separated as fields of study in the academy” (Bal 1999a, 10). Where dance is concerned, corporeality needs to be added to Bal's list of domains. This essay explores some of the reasons underlying resistance among Anglo-American dance scholars to the use of interdisciplinary methodologies. By doing so it aims to give an account of the public space in which recent examples of theater dance from Europe and the United States map out complex webs of relationships between corporeal, linguistic, visual, and aural levels of signification.
Since the mid-1990s European dancers and audiences have played a significant role in the revival of interest in Yvonne Rainer's dance work. Two key examples of this are the restaging of Rainer's Continuous Project-Altered Daily (CP-AD) in 1996 by the French group Quatuor Albrecht Knust and the more recent creation and trial of the Labanotation score of Trio A in London. In her reminiscences printed above, Pat Catterson suggests that Trio A' s “relaxed natural quality, equality of parts, its tame simplicity, and durational patience may be out of synch with today's Zeitgeist.” During Charles Atlas's documentary, Rainer Variations, Rainer herself suggests today's audiences would no longer be prepared to sit through the long slow works she made during the Judson period. If this is currently the case with audiences in the United States, it is not so on the other side of the Atlantic. European audiences for innovative dance and live art seem prepared to take the time to experience and appreciate slow, demanding, experimental work.
European choreographers and dance artists who have been interested in Trio A often have a keen and sophisticated, if idiosyncratic, interest in dance history. Artists I have spoken to suggest this interest helps them build on what has already been done and makes them aware of a broader range of creative possibilities. Some say they find it useful to discover dance artists in the past who were working in ways that are similar to their own practices. For example, Xavier Le Roy, who took part in the 1996 restaging of Rainer's CP-AD, performed the “chair pillow” section from it during his 1999 performative lecture Product of Circumstances. His discovery of ordinary, task-based, and pedestrian movement in Rainer's work affirmed his own research into similar kinds of movement.
This essay gives an overview of recurring themes and concerns in Trisha Brown's work through close readings of three dance pieces from three very different periods in her career: Trillium (1962), from the early stages of Judson Dance Theatre; Roof Piece (1973), when Brown was working in close proximity with visual artists in SoHo; and Newark (1987), from the period when the Trisha Brown Company had begun performing in major international theaters and arts festivals. Throughout the successive phases or cycles of her choreographic career, Brown has continually pushed the boundaries of her work as if never satisfied but always restlessly needing to move on. Nevertheless, looking back from the first decade of the twenty-first century, two artistic concerns emerge that have remained in constant, productive tension throughout Brown's long career as a dancer and choreographer. On the one hand, she has searched for new ways of moving by working with improvisation and by investigating through body images the neuro-skeleto-muscular sources of movement. But the ways in which she has set innovative new movement nevertheless exemplify a radical, often conceptual approach to choreographic structure. Her work thus forecloses safe, known, predictable aesthetic experiences and pushes the spectator to find and appreciate new, previously unknown qualities.
Now Jocasta kneels on the floor at the foot of the bed and then she rises with her leg close to her breast and to her head, and her foot way beyond her head, her body open in a deep contraction. I call this the vaginal cry; it is the cry from her vagina. It is either the cry for her lover, her husband, or the cry for her children. The dance proceeds but there are small intimacies that I have never revealed in words. All of these things mean a tremendous amount to me. I don't talk about them much because people might think I'm a little cuckoo. But as other people took over the dance it seemed necessary to explain the certain small mysteries that animate the instant in the reliving of the tale. (Graham 1991, 214)
Martha Graham wrote this passage about the opening of Night Journey (1947) in her autobiography Blood Memory (1991). Night Journey tells the story of Jocasta who at the end of her life is reluctantly forced by the blind prophet Tiresias to relive the most significant and thus painful moments of her life. Graham too, at the end of her own life, seems almost to have been forced, perhaps by time or perhaps by the obligation to fulfil a publisher's contract, to write her autobiography (1). There is a nice symmetry here.