body economy

Scott deLahunta (
Sun, 16 Nov 1997 11:05:03 +0100

1) The body as material or palette, the gesture as note or sign, the
movement as brush stroke or writing, the space as canvas or frame,
temporality as narrative or maker of meaning, modernism/ formalism as a means...

2) Historically speaking, dance is in a remarkable position of freedom
and/or opportunity. Politically and aesthetically speaking, all of the
positions have already been staked out for us... we need only to occupy them
whenever we see fit. Thusly the boundaries of what dance 'is' are fluid and
the borders are open. However, this does not mean that these boundaries and
borders are disappearing (despite the 'damages' caused by
multi/interdisciplinarity), in fact, just the opposite is occurring. Every
dance endeavor today reaffirms these borders by aligning itself on one side
or the other. Take every dance put together to form the 'field of dance',
and it is easy enough to see in the picture the border floating between
dance and theater, dance and film, dance and technology, dance and music,
dance and installation, etc. The 'pivotal point' at which dance 'is' or 'is
not' remains always moveable. If I am allowed a bit of a stretch, the
definition of dance is like the definition of an object in quantum mechanics
which rather than defining the object's precise position defines the wave or
line upon which that object will exist at any given time given certain
contingencies. (I am writing here about dance as an art form and assumes the
continued existence of art which one could also make the same claims for as
regards floating definitions, etc., and I could recommend Arthur Danto's
'after the end of art' on this.)

3) The major importance of something like the ideas represented by the
phrase "dance and technology" is that we are working along a 'border', a
boundary between what dance is and what technology is. Because of the
contemporary existence of the idea, all of our dance activities, whether
engaged with technologies or not, add to the definition of what dance and
what technology each are (both separately and taken together). A dance
artist who claims to be interested only in what the 'pure' body does on
stage and feels that 'technology' either detracts from this or adds nothing
or is ideologically opposed or whatever is ALWAYS adding something to an
articulation of the boundary between the two. Dance always has the
opportunity to step to the other side of that border -- to claim the
'rightness' in the moment of a dancing body which is consumed and subsumed
by technology (motion captured, digitized and produced as part of a cd-rom
for example). Then there are artists like Stelarc (not a 'dancer' one might
say, but why not? [see #2]) who, by claiming the obsolete-ness of the body
-- provides a counterbalance at the extreme end of the spectrum. Between the
obsolete body and the pure body lies the border, somewhere, which can be
recognized and defined at any point in time based on certain contingencies.

4) Gordon Craig and Oskar Schlemmer in the early part of this century laid
claim (or others have laid claim for them) to the idea that the performer
could eventually be replaced by technology, by the machine. Oskar Schlemmer
said that the only reason the performer was still on stage is that the
machinery was not sophisticated enough 'yet'. This was the period of
manifestos and utopianism in which such claims took themselves seriously and
sought out positions of historical singularity for themselves. In the latter
part of this century, we can look at the technology around us and say that
it is actually pretty sophisticated, the replacement of the human body on
stage seems possible to some, imminent to others maybe. And yet, at the same
time, the likelihood of it actually happening seems even further from the
truth -- as, in actual fact, what we are doing in the face of this
sophisticated machinery is defining what is and is not the human body. Donna
Haraway's incredibly articulate and seminal essay 'A Cyborg Manifesto'
through exposing assumptions about 'pure' organisms and nature helps to
develop new terms for defining the border between our 'bodies' and the
'machines'. The more sophisticated technology becomes, the more delicate and
sophisticated our rhetorical and poetic resistance becomes to being replaced
by it. Of course, this may indicate that Stelarc is 'wrong' but it is
inconceivable that Stelarc's 'wrongness' should not exist... without it we
would not be able to recognize ourselves or our dances for what they are and
what they are not, in terms of technology.

5) We live in a time when all these things will continue to become -- dance
is existing on film and it will/ does exist in hyperspace. But dance on
stage, just the body on stage, will not be replaced. In fact, it's existence
and importance is being reaffirmed with every technological exploration and
production. What would a new notion of Grotowski's "poor" theater look like
today? It would be a group of dancers throwing out all the technological
tools and means of expression -- to, for a moment in time at least, revisit
what it means to make dance on the stage without any of these. For a moment
in time I say, because historically speaking Grotowski's ideas existed with
the support of ideology. Today, a dance artist might choose for this moment
in a rush of emotion prompting him or her to a "I must do this" frame of
mind, but hopefully not to stay there indefinitely -- for this would be
getting stuck along the border between, unable to move across when
necessary, when appropriate.

Scott deLahunta and Susan Rethorst
Writing Research Associates, NL
Sarphatipark 26-3, 1072 PB Amsterdam, NL
tel: +31 (0)20 662 1736
fax: +31 (0)20 470 1558