Poetry, Theatre, Dance and Other Arts

This topic has arisen here through one of us (Andy Lock) going to see a performance by a theatre company, Death Defying Theatre, who intend, as one of the aims of a work called Noroc!, to 'connect to curricula in performance, cultural studies, women's studies, linguistics, and media, and provide staff with a work that illustrates the theoretical/critical perspectives they are teaching'. Discussing the performance with colleagues led to the following note from Bronwyn Davies that serves to introduce our intentions here:

Bronwyn Davies

May 1996

The mind-body dualism is something we as academics talk and write about in an attempt at deconstruction. But, when we do this, the body remains an object of talk, and its object-like status (i.e., as relatively static) is held intact. This continued stasis may be the reverse of what we are trying to do.

Through dance and movement, the work is done on and through the body. What might otherwise remain at the level of an idea expressed through talk becomes more real as it is observably lived out through the material body as it moves across those boundaries that we might have thought were in some sense static no matter how much we might talk about movement. Male-female; body-landscape; human-animal; fact-fiction are some of the binaries I have seen thoroughly called into question in theatre and in particular dance. The imagination is opened up to as yet unthought of or unspoken possibilities through the medium of the body.

The ease of movement from one medium to another - seeing a person leap out of a film and on to the stage for example - and registering the effect of the shift - is more vivid on stage than in writing. Some research I heard about the other day suggested the visual is dominant over the auditory senses. There may be more to seeing something in the heightened situation of dance/theatre than we as yet understand in terms of its effect on our imaginations.

So much writing about the body ends up omitting the body because it inevitably becomes talk about the body or ideas about the body. The body thus becomes really inadequately theorised in our writing and talking and theatre/dance is the place where I think the subsequent lack in our imaginations can be addressed.

Perhaps the most profound transgression for me in dance and theatre is the one that plays with fact and fiction. With lighting effects and with emotions fully engaged through the music, the invitation to live fully what you see on stage is very powerful. Though we have learned to make typescript live in our minds - when we read a novel for example - the immediacy of the lived experience of seeing someone physically move across a boundary you had only thought possible as an idea - is very powerful.

And lately I've seen not just movement across binary categories, but obliteration of the categories as meaningful categories. Last week, for example, I watched the Bangarra dance group perform an extraordinary dance in which all the dancers were almost entirely naked except for skimpy loin cloths and bodies painted white. Watching, at first, there is a painfully acute awareness of the nakedness of the women, and in particular of their breasts, and then that awareness gets overlaid with another awareness that often you don't know which is male and which is female, and it doesn't actually matter, because it's irrelevant.

It's interesting to look at the programmes to see whether words will be provided that match the extraordinary spectacle that is to unfold, and there is rarely any match between what might be said and what is done. This may be appropriate at this stage, as words might be too controlling and containing. Which is why I'm really fumbling for words here now, in trying to say why I think dance/theatre is so important to us.

Ken Gergen has also been thinking along these lines in a project with similar intentions