Sheila T. Cavanagh
This chapter considers work created by the Synetic Theater Company in the Washington, DC, area. Since its inception in 2002, Synetic has produced an award-winning series of “physical theater.” Under the co-direction of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, both of whom were trained professionally in the Republic of Georgia, Synetic has created over a dozen “wordless” Shakespeare performances that have received numerous awards. They recently remounted their original production, Hamlet: The Rest Is Silence, although they have offered a wide range of successful, though surprisingly diverse, Shakespearean adaptations, including Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, King Lear, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado about Nothing. According to their website, “Synetic” reflects the company’s artistic goal of combining “synthesis,” or the “coming together of distinct elements to form a whole,” and “Kinetic: pertaining to or imparting motion, active, dynamic” to create Synetic: a dynamic synthesis of the arts.” They state their ambition to become “the premier American physical theater . . . fusing dynamic art forms—such as text, drama, movement, acrobatics, dance, and music.” Synetic labels itself as “physical theater,” not as dance, but dance theory provides a relevant framework through which to discuss their creations. This chapter discusses the theoretical and practical implications of presenting Shakespeare through movement and music rather than spoken language.
Above and Beyond the Battle: Virtuosity and Collectivity within Televised Street Dance Crew Competitions
This chapter explores competitive street dance crew choreography in relation to interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks regarding virtuosity and excess. Through a close analysis of five performances featured on the British television talent shows of Britain’s Got Talent and Got to Dance, this chapter examines the concept of virtuosity as transcendence in relation to the continued emphasis on technology and the street dance body. Through the choreographic application of animation techniques, synchronicity, the construction of “meta-bodies,” and the narrative of ordinary versus extraordinary, this chapter reveals that crews create the illusion of transgression through their affinity with technology, while also competing with their cinematic counterparts. Through this analysis, this chapter further reveals the negotiation between the individualistic nature of the virtuoso and the crew collective within the neoliberal capitalist framework of the competition.
Affect, Technique, and Discourse: Being Actively Passive in the Face of History: Reconstruction of Reconstruction
Taking its examples from a European context, this chapter describes three possible ways of reenacting history in dance. First, it analyzes Martin Nachbar’s reconstruction of Dore Hoyer’s cycle of dances, Affectos Humanos, as a way of affecting bodies. Second, William Forsythe’s deconstruction of neo-classical ballet understands dance technique as a residue of dance history and the bodies it produces. Third, the work of the French Albrecht Knust Quartet on the notation of dances highlights choreography as writing and examines the score as the basis for possible reenactments. All three examples center around an impossibility that sets their reenactments adrift: the impossibility of the body of Dore Hoyer, the impossibility of perfectly incorporating dance technique, and the impossibility of translating the notation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Afternoon of a Faun into a definitive version of the piece.
Stephanie L. Batiste
This chapter argues that the African American dance practice of krumping editorialized in the 2005 David LaChapelle film RIZE defines a space of home as a system of feeling in early twenty-first-century Los Angeles. It offers the notion of kinetic affect as a means of understanding dancers’ charismatic formation of community within dance practice and its spaces. Krump dancing reveals a rich world of love and pain that characterizes life in black Los Angeles. The dancers’ commando-style ownership of venue, content, embodiment, and performance presentation challenge the confining spaces of ethnographic film, urban disenfranchisement, and stereotype.
Susan Leigh Foster
The Afterword identifies key ideas regarding dance and competition that are collectively generated throughout the book: how dance competition engages matters of identity; how institutions shape competition; its rewards, losses, and political potential; and how it facilitates community interaction. The Afterword moves on to question the kind of sociality that competition produces and whether it is possible to engage in competition geared toward forms of social exchange outside the dominant capitalist culture. Both within dance and across the broader social realm, a collective understanding of the world has disappeared in favor of a positioning and repositioning of the self within a network of similar selves. Individuals begin to assume that each is jockeying for a better position, using his or her contacts with others to advance, to acquire more resources, to present a better image. In short, they become entrepreneurial.
Dancers and choreographers have developed numerous improvisation techniques to facilitate the real-time composition of movement sequences, from simple behavioural tasks, such as drawing imaginary figures with different parts of the body, to problem-solving tasks that require the dancer to translate a word or a phrase into movement. This chapter explores the science behind a number of improvisation techniques. Among other things, it will show how some familiar dance improvisation techniques have their roots in properties of the motor system. In addition, it will show how experimental findings from cognitive neuroscience and psychology may inspire novel improvisation techniques. The emphasis is on practical techniques that can be easily performed by dancers and nondancers alike. Ultimately, the chapter argues that dance improvisation requires not just an agile body but first and foremost an agile mind.
“An Interesting Experiment in Eugenics”: Ted Shawn, American Dance, and the Discourses of Sex, Race, and Ethnicity
Paul A. Scolieri
The “ethnic dance” movement in the United States is closely associated with Ted Shawn, the “Father of American Dance” (1891–1972). Shawn and his wife and dancing partner, Ruth St. Denis, founded a dance company called Denishawn, whose repertory incorporated Native American, “Negro,” and Spanish folk dances. By the mid-1920s, Shawn viewed American dance in terms of moral and physical purity—a philosophy he based on the discourse of eugenics. This article explores how the eugenics movement informed Shawn’s vision of American dance in the 1920s, particularly with respect to two of his related writings, The American Ballet and “An American Ballet.” It explains how Shawn’s personal and professional relationship with Havelock Ellis, a British physician who was a leading proponent of the eugenics movement in Europe and whom he considered his idol, influenced his views about eugenics. It also examines how Shawn’s anxiety about his own sexual “unfitness” (his homosexuality) shaped his racist, nativist, and xenophobic “experiment” with eugenics in American dance.
“And I Make My Own”: Class Performance, Black Urban Identity, and Depression-Era Harlem’s Physical Culture
Christopher J. Wells
This chapter applies spatial practice theory to the intersections of power relations, social spaces, and embodied performance in the dance culture of Great Depression-era Harlem. Tracing the movement in black communities away from signifiers of ethnicity toward social-class-based hierarchies, it shows how ethnicized tropes have been used to exoticize and commodify black identity and to create the American black/white racial binary. This strategy has its roots in the marketing labels of the slave trade and the performative tropes of minstrel shows, and it continued in the floor shows of the Cotton Club and other “jungle alley” nightclubs in Harlem. The chapter charts the trajectory of the Savoy Ballroom’s drift from an upscale, dignified dance palace to an incubator for the lindy hop and Harlem’s other popular dance innovations. It argues that considering dance demands a model of ethnicity that creates more space for individual agency and processes of self-definition.
The black-cast backstage musical Stormy Weather (1943) is the first Hollywood film to explicitly celebrate black achievement. Featuring key figures of African American dance and more black dance numbers than any other mainstream musical, it testifies to the versatility and—crucially—the hybridity of jazz dance culture. This article analyzes dance in Stormy Weather by addressing questions of appreciation, appropriation, and assimilation in the context of both film and dance history. Stormy Weather’s panoply of styles and stars negotiates several contradictory processes: white appropriation of “authentic” black talent, black assimilation to “classy” white styles, but also black adaptation and appropriation of hitherto white domains of performance. Through its self-referential narrative of dance history—and through some omissions—it simultaneously chronicles the history of black performers and racial stereotypes in white Hollywood, and thus reveals the industry’s strategies in the exploitation of black talent.
Kerry Chappell and Lizzie Swinford
This chapter focuses on improvisation in early years dance. It arises from the practice and research interests of the chapter’s two authors. It articulates the dynamics of this practice, drawing on practitioner, researcher, and parent reflections to develop three themes: knowing yourself in your body, dialogues with children, and making and being made. The authors express and illustrate the creative, social, and personal value of dance experiences at an early age. They debate the questions and challenges which ensue from an improvisational approach to this practice and give readers a taste of the newness and joy of improvisation in this context.
Attending to the Heartbeat in Dance Movement Psychotherapy: Improvements in Mood and Quality of Life for Patients with Coronary Heart Disease
Mariam Mchitarian, Jospeh A. Moutiris, and Vicky Karkou
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Interventions to reduce future events in patients with established CHD include, apart from medical and pharmaceutical means, a change in lifestyle, social, and psychological support, and other interventions such as dance movement psychotherapy (DMP). This chapter describes the potential usefulness of DMP as a therapeutic tool in acute and chronic cardiac patients. Data from two studies among CHD patients, conducted in a tertiary hospital and in a rehabilitation centre, are presented. Both of these studies show short-term benefit in the quality of life and psychological status of patients. Although methodological limitations did not allow for the establishment of long-term benefits of this intervention for CHD patients, this chapter hypothesizes that long-lasting benefits are possible.
Audience Improvisation and Immersive Experiences: The Sensuous World of the Body in the Work of Lundahl & Seitl
Immersive events have evolved the idea and the practice of audience into spontaneous-decision-making improvisers within the work. In concept, content and form, immersive work relies on its audience for intuitive interaction. An immediate, sensory relationship in the experience of work embraces the play between choreographed and improvised moments. The sensual immersion in each piece enables audience members to retrace the immediacy and intimacy of these moments in any subsequent embodied recall of the work. This chapter analyses audience as improviser in immersive practice with close consideration of the work of Lundahl & Seitl. It touches on how immersive performance might position the audience member as practitioner, and the ways the audience-participant in immersive performance could contribute to practice-as-research. In so doing it offers an approach to audience appreciation as embodied philosophy, performance theory that evolves from improvisatory practice.
Reviewers of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) often claimed to be bombarded, overloaded, or pathologically infected by the film’s rapid-fire imagery and eclectic cultural references. This chapter explores these visceral experiences of spectatorship, focusing on the film’s dance sequences. It argues that in these sequences, choreography and digital technology (including computer-generated imagery and editing) combine to allow spectators to physically experience on-screen bodies that are historically and culturally complex, distant, and “other.” Alison Landsberg’s notion of “prosthetic memory” (2004) suggests that films can physically connect spectators with pasts and memories they have not directly experienced. This chapter argues that Moulin Rouge! achieves this physical connection by tapping into, and updating, a bohemian tradition of cross-cultural and transhistorical self-performance.
This chapter explores the possibility of a relationship between spiritual practices and some of the many facets of wellbeing. It considers the distinction between religion and spirituality with reference to the literature. It discusses Authentic Movement, an inner-directed movement process rooted in the intersection of dance/movement therapy and Jungian depth psychology, and the concept of embodied spirituality in which the relationship between the mover and the witness is explored. In particular, it explores the relationship of this practice to health and the increased sense of wellbeing that stems from a direct experience of the sacred, which supports a deepening sense of connection to one’s true self.
Practitioners working with the somatic practice of Authentic Movement often employ a holistic notion of wellbeing that includes psyche, soma, and spirit. This approach is widely believed to be crucial to the sense of wellbeing often generated. Authentic Movement, developed in the 1950s by Mary Starks Whitehouse, is an expressive and improvised movement practice based originally on the theories of C. G. Jung, to help individuals find their ‘authentic’ moving self. This is often a deeply liberating and transforming experience. In Authentic Movement, appropriate strategies are developed to engage the body as a moving container, as well as articulation strategies for bringing moving experiences into language. These allow the participant to experience a sense of ‘authenticity’ that is beyond current ego consciousness. This chapter aims to explore Authentic Movement as a philosophy to understand more fully how this practice might help transform trauma and engender wellbeing.
Authenticity and Ethnicity: Folk Dance, Americanization, and the Immigrant Body in the Early Twentieth Century
Jessica Ray Herzogenrath
During the Progressive Era, settlement workers attempted to regulate dance both within and outside settlement house walls as a method to instill proper “American” body behaviors, particularly in immigrant bodies. This essay examines the paradoxes of folk dance as encouraged by settlement workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago and New York. Settlement workers aimed to assimilate immigrants to American ideals of health, refinement, and respectability through the body; in folk dance they found a satisfying mode of nonsexualized dance, which also acted out a romanticized desire for simplicity in the midst of rapid modernization. The evidence reveals that folk dance in settlement houses traveled two paths: ethnic clubs devoted to the practice of immigrant traditions and structured classes offered to girls and young women. These developments fulfilled the project of Americanization prescribed by the settlement movement and provided a means for immigrants to continue folk practices from their home countries.
This chapter examines the history and practice of skin color prejudices in the ballet world, especially as they relate to conceptions of “whiteness.” The ethnic roots of ballet (Kealiinohomoku) and Africanist influences on George Balanchine, which led him to invent a new kind of classicism (Dixon Gottschild), are considered, as is the dance world’s reception of these topics. It is suggested that Balanchine might have been a strong force for the integration of ballet had he not been limited by his racially hidebound context. It is also suggested that ballet might always be “the kingdom of the pale” unless the ballet world moves beyond superficial ways of seeing.
This article examines the dancing joke-work of Jewish film stars as ballet swans in Be Yourself and Funny Girl. It shows how the joke of the Jewish swan queers white heterosexual femininity while revealing the sustained power of its classical Western-centric swan tropes. In situating Jewish swan humor within theories of parody, queer discourse, and gendered joke-work, the article highlights the pleasurable embodiment of enduring Jewish female stereotypes and reveals a comic dance legacy of the funny girl body unfit for love. It also explains how the humor of ballet parody and the swan constructs the Jewish funny girl body; how Be Yourself and Funny Girl stake a claim in ethnic and sexual otherness as sites of comic expression and critical difference; and how each film embodies critiques of classical ballet and its idealist proscriptions for white women even as both sustain romantic fantasies of female leads.
This chapter approaches dance archives and reenactment through analyses of the use of precious metals in drawings of dancers by the seventeenth-century French artist Daniel Rabel. Examining the artist’s album at the Louvre, Preston studies the visual effects of images and materials, testifying to French reimaginings of Indigenous performance practices in early seventeenth-century ballets in Paris. Turning to verse and livrets by René Bordier and Claude de l’Estoile, a founding member of the French Academy, she relates Rabel’s drawings to Andean dance, theater, and performance traditions in Cuzco, Peru. The Ballet de la Douairière de Billebahaut (1626) stages the Inca emperor Atahualpa (“Atabalipa”) as an effigy, satirizing Spanish colonial ambitions. Her approach situates global and trans-Atlantic circulations of performance in major works in the early archives of theatrical ballet in France, addressing reenactment through the work of spectatorship and its ties to archives of conquest.
This chapter seeks to recuperate the dance legacies in Saturday Night Fever (1977) through a choreographic and cinematographic analysis of the film’s dance sequences. The ways the camera centralizes racialized, dancing bodies offers a perhaps accidental acknowledgement of the debt owed to black dancers. Centered around John Travolta’s Italian-American character Tony Manero living in a homogeneous Brooklyn neighborhood—where blacks were (and continue to be) unwelcome—Saturday Night Fever paradoxically exposes and pays tribute to the black roots of the screendancing. Travolta’s training for the film uncovers a complex dance history that reflects significant interracial contact behind the scenes as well as between and within singular bodies. There was interracial mixing in the backgrounds of the film’s top-billed choreographer, Lester Wilson, and Travolta’s uncredited dance instructor, Deney Terrio, and the modern, jazz, and street dance roots of the choreography shifts the film into a history of American concert and commercial dance practice.