- Philosophical Inquiry and Life’s Meanings
- The Philosophy of Dance
- A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art
- January 5, 2012
- Product | Evolution of Aesthetic and Expressive Dance in Boston
His thought here is that dance appreciation happens at the level of a person who appreciates, someone with the cultural resources to understand dance as a form of art, not at the level of neurobiology. Montero, Carroll and Seeley would probably agree that kinesthetic responses cannot alone provide an appreciation of dance as art. The difference is that, unlike McFee, they think that something important about dance and what we indeed appreciate about it is connected to how we do, indeed, respond to it, in bodily as well as in cognitive ways.
For McFee b , by contrast, audience kinesthetic responses inform nothing and instead are just behavioral evidence of an appreciation that is not, in essence, bodily. He agrees with McFee that there are some questions relevant to philosophical aesthetics, and to the philosophy of dance understood as a part of aesthetics, that cannot be answered by empirical research, no matter how accurate that research may be for answering certain scientific, causal questions. Empirical research, where used by dance and other philosophers, must, according to Davies, be applied carefully to the relevant questions see a and ; see also Davies is only moderately pessimistic about empirical research, however, rather than extremely pessimistic, because he thinks that philosophy ought not to partition itself away from science and away from other disciplines that might inform our thinking.
Here he suggests that we ought to follow the Quinean idea that philosophy ought to respond to and at least be cognizant of current science so that we know how our philosophic views fit into our web of other beliefs about the world. For more on audience appreciation, perception and experience in general ways, ways pertaining to dance and ways that incorporate research from the sciences, see Freisen , Gallese , Goldman , Hanna , Martin b, Reason and Reynolds , Sklar , Smyth , and Sparshott The philosophy of dance criticism is connected closely to the question of what is to be evaluated when one critically evaluates a dance.
As in the sections above, philosophy of dance must decide to what extent to follow the concepts of criticism developed for the other arts by Western philosophical aesthetics. The traditional model of dance criticism, understood as Western aesthetics criticism, can be found in McFee b. McFee points out that dance criticism can be formal or informal, but that criticism properly understood must lead to an interpretation of a particular dance work of art that can be understood in some demonstrable sense in terms of its history, context and in terms of its relevant techniques.
Hence, not all interpretations of a dance work of art are valid see McFee a, b and b. Support for the value of criticism for philosophical aesthetics, including dance, can be found in the discussion of dance as an ephemeral art see section of this article above , since that view of dance philosophers has been inspired, at least in part, by a reflection offered by the dance critic Siegel see Conroy It also finds support in the work of Beardsley and and Van Camp , and a.
Beardsley , for example, holds the view that aesthetics depends on criticism and that criticism depends on aesthetics. She also holds that dance criticism can help the dance philosopher to distinguish the creative from interpretive aspects of a dance performance and to describe and identify other features of evaluation and appreciation that are not always perceivable in performance, such as certain historical or production factors.
Finally, Van Camp agrees with McFee that dance criticism can assist the dance philosopher to distinguish art-essential from non-art-essential features of performance, thereby assisting the dance philosopher to make ontological claims pertaining to the nature and identity of the dance work of art. Sparshott disagrees with the idea that dance criticism is valuable for understanding dance and he appears to be the sole dance philosopher who holds this view. In short, his claim is that, because dance criticism is based on dance practice and performance, to use it to understand dance gets things backwards.
If this is true then Sparshott must believe that dance criticism can help when assisted by dance philosophy, even if he thinks it cannot be of great value to our understanding of dance on its own. Beardsley, Monroe C. Here I would like to thank the members of the DancePhilosophers Google group who provided suggestions for texts and readings in the development of this article, particularly Julie Van Camp.
I would also like to thank the editors of the SEP for their support of dance philosophy. Special thanks are also given to Stephen Davies, in particular for his help in understanding the ontology of music in relation to dance. The Status of the Field 2. What Is Dance? Comparisons with Music and Theater 3. Dance As Ephemeral Art 5. Representation and Expression 5.
- Kitty Lord 1 - Le secret des Nephilim (Aventure) (French Edition);
- La Iliada y la Odisea (Spanish Edition)!
- Путь под звездами (Russian Edition).
- La tragédie du Batavia (Lettres du Pacifique) (French Edition)?
Dance Improvisation 7. Dance Appreciation 7. The Status of the Field Dance is underrepresented in philosophical aesthetics. Comparisons with Music and Theater The art of dance is closest in form to music and theater, since in many salient instances it involves a performance setting in which performers and audience members share a physical and temporal space during the course of a live performance event.
Dance As Ephemeral Art One of the features of dance as a performing art that has been often noted is that it moves and it changes, both during the course of any given performance and over time. Representation and Expression in Dance 5. Dance Improvisation Three types of improvisation in theater dance have been identified by Carter , : 1 embellishments where set choreography persists, 2 improvisation as spontaneous free movement for use in set choreography and 3 improvisation for its own sake brought to a high level of performance.
Bibliography Works Cited Ailey, A. Albright, A. Gere eds. Alperson, P. Kelly ed. Anderson, J. Aristotle, c. Hamilton Fyfe ed. Armelagos, A. Banes, S. Harris ed. Acocella and L. Bannerman, H. Bunker, A. Pakes and B. Rowell eds. Barnes, C. Beardsley, M. Beauquel, J. Best, D. McFee ed. Bicknell, J. Ribeiro ed. Brannigan, E. Bresnahan, A. Briginshaw, V. Brown, L. Carr, D. Carroll, N. Fancher and G. Myers eds.
Yanal ed. Levinson ed. Carter, C. Cohen ed. Challis, C. Clemente, K. Cohen, S. Conroy, R. Copeland, R. Cohen eds. Readings in Theory and Criticism. Croce, A. Cunningham, M. Daly, A. Danto, A. Davies, D. Schellekens and P. Goldie eds. Currie, M. Kieran, A. Meskin, and J. Robson eds. Davies, S. Stock ed. De Spain, K. Denby, E. Dewey, J. Elswit, K. Franko ed. Foster, S. Albright and D. Rothfield and C.
Dunagan eds. Davis ed. Fraleigh, S. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Franko, M. Foster ed. Friesen, J. Gallese, V. Gautier, T. Guest ed. Godlovitch, S. London: Routledge. Goehr, L. Goldman, A. Goldman, D. Goodman, N. Gould, C. Gracyk, T. Kania, eds. Guest, A. Hagberg, G. Hamilton, A. Hamilton, J. Gaut and D M. Lopes eds. Hanna, J. Hegel, G. Knox trans. Hill, C. Houlgate, S. Zalta ed. Johnson, M. Jowitt, D. Kania, A. Khatchadourian, H. Kloppenberg, A. Lakoff, G. Langer, S.
Lavender, L. Levin, D. Copeland and M.
Philosophical Inquiry and Life’s Meanings
Levinson, J. Lewis, G. Manning, E. Margolis, J. Martin, J. Readings in Theory and Criticism , Copeland, R. Matheson, K. McFee, G. Turvey and R. Allen eds. Sukla ed. Coplan and P. Gaut and D. Geneva: Minkoff, Merleau-Ponty, M. Smith trans. Edie ed. Dallery trans. Revised by M. Johnson ed. Meskin, A. Montero, B. Nietzsche, F. Kaufmann trans.
Noland, C. Novack, C. Carter and J. Noverre, J. Beaumont trans. Osipovich, D. Piekut and G. Lewis eds. Paxton, S. Pepper, S. Pickard, H. Plato, c. Grube trans. Reeve rev. Reason, M. Rubidge, S. Jordan ed. Saltz, D.
The Philosophy of Dance
Sawyer, R. Seeley, W. Sheets-Johnstone, M. Shusterman, R. Carman and M. Hansen eds. Burgos eds. Sklar, D. Ness eds. Siegel, M. Sirridge, M. Smyth, M. Sparshott, F. Kivy ed. Thom, P. Walton, K. Wollheim, R. Wolterstorff, N. Woodruff, P. Van Camp, J. Viera and R. Thorne eds. Davies, K. A backless wheelchair? A woman? A nude? Do you see pain or pleasure?
Are you in pain or pleasure? How do you see me? Most likely you don't see a dancer, for the combined discourses of idealized femininity and aesthetic virtuosity which serve to regulate theatrical dancing throughout much of the Western world refuse the very possibility of this opening moment.
A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art
As a dancer, I am a body on display. As a body on display, I am expected to reside within a certain continuum of fitness and bodily control, not to mention sexuality and beauty. But as a woman in a wheelchair, I am neither expected to be a dancer nor to position myself in front of an audience's gaze.
In doing this performance, I confronted a whole host of contradictions both within myself and within the audience. The work was a conscious attempt to both deconstruct the representational codes of dance production and communicate an "other" bodily reality. It was also one of the hardest pieces I've ever performed. Ann Cooper Albright performing a dance about disability.
Photo: John Seyfried. I take my place in total darkness, carefully situating myself in the backless wheelchair set center stage. Gradually a square frame of light comes up around me to reveal the glint of metal and the softness of my naked flesh. I am still for a long time, allowing the audience time to absorb this image, and giving myself time to experience the physical and emotional vulnerability that is central to this performance. I focus on my breathing, allowing it to expand through my back.
Soon, I can feel the audience beginning to notice the small motions of the constant expansion and contraction of my breathing. This moment is interrupted by a recorded voice which tells the mythic story of another woman many centuries ago, whose parents carved the names of their enemies onto her back. The first image fades into blackness as my voice continues:. What followed when the lights came up again was a performance about disability—both the cultural constructions of disability and the textures of my own experiences with disability.
The spoken text was structured around stories, stories about my son's frantic first days of life in intensive care, about my grandfather's life with multiple sclerosis and the recent diagnosis of MS in one of my students, as well as the story of my own spinal degeneration and episodes of partial paralysis. These bodily histories interlaced with my dancing to provide a genealogy of gestures, emotional states, and physical experiences surrounding many of our personal and social reactions to disability.
Because my performance was staged on a body at once marked by the physical and psychic scars of disability and yet unmarked by any specifically visible physical limitation, I was consciously challenging the usual representational codes of theatrical dance. Indeed, I wanted the audience to be put off balance, not knowing whether this was an enactment of disability or the real thing. Was this artistic expression or autobiographical confession?
Did I choose not to do more technical dancing artistic interpretation , or was this all that I could accomplish aesthetic limitation? And why would I, a dance professor, want to expose myself including my ample buttocks and disfigured spine like that anyway? Given that Western theatrical dance has traditionally been structured by an exclusionary mindset that projects a very narrow vision of a dancer as white, female, thin, long-limbed, flexible, heterosexual, and able-bodied, my desire to stage the cultural antithesis of the fit, healthy body disrupted the conventional voyeuristic pleasures inherent in watching most dancers.
Traditionally, when dancers take their place in front of the spotlight, they are displayed in ways that accentuate the double role of technical prowess and sexual desirability the latter being implicit in the very fact of a body's visual availability. In contrast, the disabled body is supposed to be covered up or hidden from view, to be compensated for or overcome either literally or metaphorically in an attempt to live as "normal" a life as possible.
When a disabled dancer takes the stage, he or she stakes claim to a radical space, an unruly location where disparate assumptions about representation, subjectivity, and visual pleasure collide with one another. This is an essay about dance and disability. It is an essay which, on the one hand, will detail how American culture constructs these realms of experience oppositionally in terms of either fit or frail, beautiful or ugly, and, on the other hand, will discuss the growing desire among various dance communities and professional companies to challenge this binary paradigm by reenvisioning just what kind of movements can constitute a dance and, by extension, what kind of body can constitute a dancer.
It is an essay about a cultural movement in both the political and physical senses of the word that radically revises the aesthetic structures of dance performances and just as radically extends the theoretical space of disability studies into the realm of live performing bodies. This intersection of dance and disability is an extraordinarily rich site at which to explore the overlapping constructions of the body's physical ability, subjectivity, and cultural visibility that are implicated within many of our dominant cultural paradigms of health and self-determination.
Excavating the social meanings of these constructions is like an archaeological dig into the deep psychic fears that disability creates within the field of professional dance. In order to examine ablist preconceptions in the dance world, one must confront both the ideological and symbolic meanings that the disabled body holds in our culture, as well as the practical conditions of disability. Watching disabled bodies dancing forces us to see with a double vision, and helps us to recognize that while a dance performance is grounded in the physical capacities of a dancer, it is not limited by them.
Over the last seven years, I have followed the evolution of various dance groups which are working to integrate visibly disabled and visibly nondisabled dancers. It seems to me that all of these disabilities profoundly affect one's physical position in the world, although they certainly don't all affect the accessibility of the world in the same way. In addition, there are several dance companies such as Liz Lerman's Dancers of the Third Age, which work with older performers, as well as various contemporary choregraphers who consistently work with nontraditional performers from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Unfortunately, the radical work of these groups is often tokenized in the dance press in terms of "special" human interest profiles rather than choreographic rigor. Of course this critical marginalization implicitly suggests that this new work, while important, won't really disrupt the existing aesthetic structures of cultural institutions.
For instance, when Dancing Wheels, a group dedicated to promoting "the diversity of dance and the abilities of artists with physical challenges," joined up with the Cleveland Ballet in to become Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels , it was as an educational and outreach extension of the mainstream arts organization. The Dancing Wheels dancers rarely perform in the company's regular repertoire, and certainly never in classical works such as Balanchine's Serenade.
January 5, 2012
Even in the less mainstream examples of integrated dancing, the financial reality of grassroots arts organizations often means that nondisabled dancers receive much more touring and teaching work than even the most highly renowned disabled dancers. It is still prohibitively expensive to travel as a disabled person, especially if one needs to bring an aide along. Even though many of us are familiar with the work of disabled writers, artists, and musicians, physically disabled dancers are still seen as a contradiction in terms.
This is because dance, unlike other forms of cultural production such as books or painting, makes the body visible within the representation itself. Thus when we look at dance with disabled dancers, we are looking at both the choreography and the disability. Cracking the porcelain image of the dancer as graceful sylph, disabled dancers force the viewer to confront the cultural opposite of the classical body—the grotesque body. I am using the term "grotesque" as Bakhtin invokes it in his analysis of representation within Rabelais.
In her discussion of carnival, spectacle, and Bakhtinian theory, Mary Russo identifies these two bodily tropes in the following manner:. It is not my intention to invoke old stereotypes of disabled bodies as grotesque bodies. I employ these terms not to describe specific bodies, but rather to call upon cultural constructs that deeply influence our attitudes toward bodies, particularly dancing bodies. Over the past few years, I have felt this opposition of classical and grotesque bodies profoundly as I have fought my way back to the stage. Look again at the opening image of my performance and then at any other image of a dancer in Dancemagazine , or another popular dance journal.
The difference is striking, and I believe that it has much to do with the cultural separation between these bodies. In the rest of this essay, I would like to explore the transgressive nature of the "grotesque" body in order to see if and how the disabled body could deconstruct and radically reform the representational structures of dance performances.
But just as all disabilities are not created equal, dances made with disabled dancers are not completely alike. Many of these dances recreate the representational frames of traditional proscenium performances, emphasizing the elements of virtuosity and technical expertise to reaffirm a classical body in spite of its limitations. In contrast, some dances, particularly those influenced by the dance practice of Contact Improvisation, work to break down the distinctions between the classical and the grotesque body, radically restructuring traditional ways of seeing dancers. While all dance created on disabled bodies must negotiate the palpable contradictions between the discourses of ideal and deviant bodies, each piece meets this challenge in a different way.
Gus Solomons' account of a romantic duet describes one of the first choreographic ventures of Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels, a professional dance company comprised of dancers on legs and dancers in wheelchairs. Essentially a pas de deux for legs and wheels, "Gypsy" extends the aesthetic heritage of nineteenth century Romantic ballet into several intriguing new directions. Like a traditional balletic duet, "Gypsy" is built on an illusion of grace provided by the fluid movements and physics of partnering.
The use of the fabric in conjunction with the wheels gives the movement a continuous quality that is difficult to achieve on legs. When Solomons describes Verdi-Fletcher's dancing as "gliding," he is describing more than a metaphor; rather, he is transcribing the physical reality of her movement. Whether they are physically touching or connected only by their silken umbilical cord, the dancers in this pas de deux partner one another with a combination of the delicacy of ballet and the mystery of tango.
Solomons is an African-American dance critic and independent choreographer who has been involved in the contemporary dance scene since his days dancing for Merce Cunningham in the s. An active member of the Dance Critics Association, he has spoken eloquently about the need to include diverse communities within our definitions of mainstream dance.
And yet Solomons, like many other liberal cultural critics and arts reviewers, sets up in the above passage a peculiar rhetoric which tries to deny difference. His remark, "Did I mention that Verdi-Fletcher dances in her wheelchair? In assuming that disability does not make a big difference, this writer is, in fact, limiting the real difference that disability can make in radically refiguring how we look at, conceive of, and organize bodies in the twenty-first century. Why, for instance, does Solomons begin with a description of Goodman's able body as "tall and elegant," and then fail to describe Verdi-Fletcher's body at all?
Why do most articles on Verdi-Fletcher's seminal dance company spend so much time celebrating how she has "overcome" her disability to "become"a dancer rather than inquiring how her bodily presence might radically refigure the very category of dancer itself? The answers to these questions lie not only in an examination of the critical reception of "Gypsy" and other choreographic ventures by Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels, but also in an analysis of the ways in which this company paradoxically acknowledges and then covers over the difference that disability makes.
There are contradictions embedded within this company's differing aesthetic and social priorities; while their outreach work has laid an important groundwork for the structural inclusion of people with disabilities in dance training programs and performance venues, the conservative aesthetic which guides much of Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels' performance work paradoxically reinforces, rather than disrupts, the negative connotations of disability. Photo: Edis Jurcys. The early s genesis of Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels is anecdotally related by Cleveland Ballet's artistic director Dennis Nahat, who recalls meeting Verdi-Fletcher at a reception when she introduced herself as a dancer and told him that she was interested in dancing with the Cleveland Ballet.
In the annotated biography of Verdi-Fletcher's dance career which was comissioned for Dancing Wheels' fifteenth anniversary gala, Nahat is quoted as saying: "When I first saw Mary perform, I said 'That is a dancer,' [. She had the spark, the spirit that makes a dancer. For instance, in the elaborate press packet assembled for a media event to celebrate the collaboration with Invacare Corporation's "Action Technology" a line of wheelchairs that are designed for extra ease and mobility , there is a picture of the company with the caption "A Victory of Spirit over Body" underneath.
Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels. Photo: Al Fuchs. I find this notion of a dancing "spirit" that transcends the limitations of a disabled body rather troubling. Although it seems to signal liberatory language—one should not be "confined" by social definitions of identity based on bodily attributes of race, gender, ability, etc.
Given that dancers' bodies are generally on display in a performance, this commitment to "spirit over body" risks covering over or erasing disabled bodies altogether. Just how do we represent spirit? The publicity photograph of the company on the same page gives us one example of the visual downplaying of disabled bodies. In this studio shot, the three dancers in wheelchairs are artistically surrounded by the able-bodied dancers such that we can barely see the wheelchairs at all; in fact, Verdi-Fletcher is raised up and closely flanked by four men such that she looks as if she is standing in the third row.
But most striking is the way in which the ballerina sitting on the right has her long, slender legs extended across the bottom of the picture. The effect, oddly enough, is to fetishize these working legs while at the same time making the "other" mobility—the wheels—invisible. I am not sugggesting that this photo was deliberately set up to minimize the visual representation of disability. But this example shows us that unless we consciously construct new images and ways of imaging the disabled body, we will inevitably end up reproducing an ablist aesthetic. Although the text jubilantly claims its identity, "Greetings from Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels," the picture normalizes the "difference" in bodies, reassuring prospective presenters and the press that they won't see anything too discomfiting.
Sabatino Verlezza, the new artistic co-director of Dancing Wheels and resident choreographer, has a background in modern dance which brings a welcome shift of physical vocabulary to Dancing Wheels. Unlike ballet, modern dance was created by working-class, female bodies, and its early democratic spirit was based on a belief that one should create movements specific to one's own body.
Ideally, then, this form would seem to lend itself to working with and without wheels. While he still often choreographs within his group pieces a central theme for dancers with legs, leaving the dancers on wheels to provide an architectural backdrop a process which works against the democratic principles of the company's stated claims , Verlezza has begun to experiment with creating movements specifically for the wheelchair dancers. The premiere of " MHZ" on August 19, , presented one of the most physically challenging works and provided a very good opportunity to see what extraordinary moves were possible on wheels.
The fact that the piece was made for three women on wheels allowed the audience to experience a truly enabling representation of difference without the physical comparisons inevitable when women on wheels dance with men on legs. Another piece by Verlezza entitled "May Ring" completed that evening's program. I was absolutely stunned by the final image of this dance, and I find it hard to believe that neither Verdi-Fletcher nor Verlezza were aware of how this image might appear to some of their audience members.
This is clearly meant to be a climactically transcendent moment. Yet its unavoidably sexist and ablist implications deeply disappointed me. Like Disney narratives and pop songs of my youth which promised salvation through love, this image portrays Verlezza as a prince charming, squiring Verdi-Fletcher out of her wheelchair in order to make her into a "real" woman. Now, it is possible to argue that this image is, in fact, a deconstruction of the ballerina's role, a way of winking to the audience to say that yes, a disabled woman can also fulfill that popular image.
But the rest of the work doesn't support this interpretation. Verdi-Fletcher's smiling, child-like presence suggests little personal agency, much less the sense of defiance or chutzpah it would take to pull off this deconstruction. In a short but potent essay reflecting on the interconnected issues of difference, disability, and identity politics entitled "The Other Body," Ynestra King describes a disabled woman in a wheelchair whom she sees on her way to work each day. She has a pretty face, and tiny legs she could not possibly walk on. Yet she wears black lace stockings and spike high heels.
Watching Verdi-Fletcher in the final moments of "May Ring" brings us face to face with the contradictions involved in being positioned as both a classical dancer at once sexualized and objectified , and a disabled woman an asexual child who needs help. Yet instead of one position bringing tension to or fracturing the other as in King's example of the disabled woman with high heels and black lace stockings , Verdi-Fletcher seems here to be embracing a position which is doubly disempowering. Since this performance, I have been searching for the reasons why, in the midst of an enormous publicity campaign which seeks to present Mary Verdi-Fletcher as an extraordinary woman who has overcome the challenges of spina bifida to realize her dream of becoming a professional dancer, she would accept being presented in such a fashion.
In retrospect, I think that this desire has everything to do with the powerfully seductive image of the Romantic ballerina. It seems to me that when Verdi-Fletcher closes her eyes and dreams about becoming a dancer, she still envisions a sugarplum fairy. Although she has successfully opened up the field of professional dance to dancers on wheels by creating Dancing Wheels, Verdi-Fletcher hasn't fully challenged this image of the sylph yet. Despite its recent forays into modern dance, her company still seems very much attached to an ideology of the classical body.
Mary Verdi-Fletcher is a dancer, and like many other dancers, both disabled and nondisabled, she has internalized an aesthetic of beauty, grace, and line which, if not centered on a completely mobile body, is nonetheless beholden to an idealized body image. There are very few professions where the struggle to maintain a "perfect" or at least near-perfect body has taken up as much psychic and physical energy as in the dance field. With few exceptions, this is true whether one's preferred technique is classical ballet, American modern dance, Bharata Natyam, or a form of African-American dance.
Although the styles and looks of bodies favored by different dance cultures may allow for some degree of variation for instance, the director of Urban Bush Women, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, talks about the freedom to have and move one's butt in African dance as wonderfully liberating after years of being told to tuck it in in modern dance classes , most professional dance is still inundated by body image and weight issues, particularly for women.
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Even companies, such as the Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company, who pride themselves on the physical diversity of their dancers, rarely have much variation among the women dancers all of whom are quite slim. Anytime a dancer's body is not completely svelte, the press usually mentions it. In fact, the discourse of weight and dieting in dance is so pervasive especially, but certainly not exclusively for women that we often don't even register it anymore. I am constantly amazed at dancers who have consciously deconstructed traditional images of female dancers in their choreographic work, and yet still complain of their extra weight, wrinkles, gray hair, or sagging whatevers.
As a body on display, the female dancer is subject to the regulating gaze of the choreographer and the public, but neither of these gazes is usually quite as debilitating or oppressive as the gaze which meets its own image in the mirror. I find it ironic that just as disability is finally beginning to enter the public consciousness and the independent living movement is beginning to gain momentum, American culture is emphasizing with a passion heretofore unfathomed the need for physical and bodily control.
This issue of control is, I am convinced, key to understanding not only the specific issues of prejudice against the disabled, but also the larger symbolic place that disability holds in our culture's psychic imagination. In dance, the contrast between the classical and grotesque bodies is often framed in terms of physical control and technical virtuosity. Although the dancing body is moving and, in this sense, is always changing and in flux, the choreography or movement style can emphasize images resonant of the classical body.
For instance, the statuesque poses of ballet are clear icons of the classical body. So too, however, are the dancers in some modern and contemporary companies which privilege an abstract body, for example those coolly elegant bodies performing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company these days. Based as it is in the live body, dance contains the cultural anxiety that the grotesque body will erupt unexpectedly through the image of the classical body, shattering the illusion of ease and grace by the disruptive presence of fleshy experience—heavy breathing, sweat, technical mistakes, physical injury, even evidence of a dancer's age or mortality.
How the disabled body gets positioned in terms of a classical discourse of technique and virtuosity is not unaffected by gender. Gender is inscribed very differently on a disabled body, and there has been a great deal written on the way that disability can emasculate men whose gendered identities are often contingent on displays of autonomy, independence, and strength , as well as desexualize women. Yet the social power which we accord representations of male bodies seems to give disabled men dancers with a few exceptions more freedom to display their bodies in dance.
My own observations and research suggest that disabled men dancers can evoke the virtuosic, technically amazing body even, as we shall see, without legs , while nevertheless deconstructing that classical body, allowing the audience to see their bodies in a different light. In the section that follows, I will look at various dance groups including Can do co and groups working with Contact Improvisation whose work has, in different ways, revolutionized notions of ability in contemporary dance.
This attention to the ever changing flux of bodies and the open-endedness of the improvisation refocuses the audience's gaze, helping us to see the disabled body on its own terms. Members of Candoco. Photo: Chris Nash. Can do co is a professional British dance company which evolved from conversations between Celeste Dandeker, a former dancer with the London Contemporary Dance Theater who was paralyzed as a result of a spinal injury incurred while performing, and Adam Benjamin, a dancer who was then teaching at the Heaffey Centre in London, a mixed abilities recreation center connected to ASPIRE The Association for Spinal Injury Research, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration.
In , these two dancers began a small dance class for disabled and non-disabled dancers. Since then, Benjamin and Dandeker have established a professional company which includes eight dancers and an extensive repertoire of works by some of the most interesting experimental choreographers in England today. Can do co has received various awards in recognition for its work, and the company was selected for BBC's Dance for Camera series. Introducing the company's philosophy to the press and the general public, Artistic Director Adam Benjamin has choosen to redefine the term "integration.
Although Benjamin's philosophy is quite radical in many ways and although Can do co has commissioned some very intriguing choreography which doesn't just "accommodate" the disabled dancers but recasts cultural perceptions about an "able" physicality, Benjamin is still committed to classical elements of technical virtuosity. For Benjamin, true integration means insisting on high standards of professional excellence in order to create interesting choreographic works for all the dancers in the company.
He criticizes companies,. Recognizing the need to create their own style of dancing that will accommodate different physical possibilities, the dancers in Can do co are constantly trying out new ways of using momentum, working in a variety of levels including the floor, and coordinating legs and wheels. In a review of the fall London season, Chris de Marigny registers his own astonishment at Can do co's work:. The press discussions of Can do co's first few seasons repeatedly emphasize to what extent this company has stretched people's notions of what is possible in mixed ability dance companies.
Yet because they rely on one very exceptional disabled dancer to break down the public's preconceptions about disability, Can do co sometimes recreates unwittingly new distinctions between the classical virtuosic and grotesque passive bodies within the company. Victoria Marks was one of the first choreographers to work with Can do co she was a member of their first class at the Heaffey Center, creating "The Edge of the Forest" for them in , and it is her choreography that is showcased in Margaret Williams' dance film for the BBC, "Outside In.
The camera lingers on each face, registering everyone's delight in receiving the kiss and allowing the viewer to see how each kiss is transformed en route to the next person. A jump-cut transports the action to a cavernous space in which a single empty wheelchair rolls into the camera's focus.