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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Listening to the Dancing Body: Understanding the Dancing Body as Performative Agent within the Choreographic Process
by Davidson, Julia Rose, M.A., Mills College, 2016, 52; 10096902
Abstract (Summary)

The performativity of dance relies on the the power that different dance practices and choreographies have to shape culture, “making and unmaking” identities by “molding” the moving body (Franko, 2012). While theorists have connected dance technique and instruction to the perpetuation of larger cultural and historical ideologies, few methods yet have attempted a critical study of how performative impact is connected to a dancer’s own embodied experience.

Working from an understanding of embodied experience as central to the performative impact of dance, my research examines the dancing body’s role in constructing its own performativity. I begin with an analysis of how choreography “does” performativity, looking at historical changes in dance theory over time that have led to the imperative to examine agency specifically in relation to individually experienced embodiment. Current scholarship on the status of the 21st century contemporary dancer recognizes this need to study individual embodiment; dancers are creative agents within the choreographic process, able to alter the performative impact of a piece on the basis of how they learn or embody the movement. In order to substantiate this understanding of the dancing body’s agency, my research culminates in an interview project that includes dancers’ voices and lived experiences together with scholarship that prescribes agency and performativity to the moving body. Tracking a group of dancers through the process of learning new choreography, I attempt a method of understanding the moving body itself as communicative agent. The philosophical field of phenomenology supports such an understanding, viewing the body as having its own consciousness and perspective. In addition to phenomenology, I use critical ethnography and oral history practices to construct a reflexive interview process and affect theory to conduct a deep analysis of the dancers’ descriptions. Affect, being defined as those intensities, feelings and forces at the base of personal experience and social patterns, offers a way of comprehending dancers’ felt sense of embodiment from their own perspective.

An examination of affect within the dancers’ descriptions shows how the dancers’ linguistic moves parallel their diverse kinesthetic experiences of learning movement. The dancers’ heightened kinesthetic awareness throughout the process of learning choreography demonstrates how they experience their bodies in a different phenomenological way and ultimately how they enact performative impact through their very processes of embodiment. The resulting interviews, transcriptions and discussion in this project support practice-based research, in the form of phenomenologically-centered and analyzed interviews, as a way to include dancers’ embodied experiences in studies of the dancing body’s performativity.

Reference: Franko, Mark. "Dance and the Political: States of Exception." Dance. Ed. André Lepecki. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2012. 145-48. Print.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Murphy, Ann
School: Mills College
Department: Dance
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 55/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Dance, Performing Arts
Keywords: Affect, Agency, Choreography, Embodiment, Performative, Phenomenology
Publication Number: 10096902
ISBN: 978-1-339-60982-9
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