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Researching Bodies
A research about the implicit and explicit ideas, assumptions and presuppositions of the body in contemporary choreographic research.

Diane Elshout

Synopsis

In my masters thesis, I analyze the work and ideas of Giulia Mureddu and Kenzo Kusuda, two choreographers working within Danslab in The Hague. Danslab is an independent research centre that provides choreographers with an environment within which risks can be taken and new choreographic ideas explored. In my research, I analyze Mureddu’s and Kusuda’s choreographic research in order to identify and analyze how their modes of creating and thinking imply cultural and historically specific ideas, assumptions and presuppositions with regards to body-mind relationships. I demonstrate how these ideas influence their choreographic research. Furthermore, I demonstrate how their ideas and choreographic practices may be contextualized historically within the various conceptualizations of the body-mind relationships that have influenced western European thought.

Recent decades have witnessed a growing interest in the body and the resulting questions concerning embodiment. According to Thomas, this is due to ‘the influences of feminism, postmodernism, the concern with health, the environment and consumerism in late modernity’. Old assumptions were challenged as both theorists and artists explored new modes of representing and understanding the body. They in turn began to search ‘for openings in existing schools of thought and prevailing concepts by trying out new lines of approach through unexpected collisions.’ My thesis focuses upon the relationships between the modes of perceiving the body in theory and philosophy and the actual choreographic practice of creating dance.

Choreographic choices are made within a cultural, political and social context assimilated by the individual choreographer.

Exposure to a common environment plus the customary processes of education and social attrition will generally lead to a sharing of concepts and the eventual acquisition of a standard repertoire of concepts and ideas held in common by virtually all members of a given cultural or linguistic group.

The choreographer is a product of these cultural and historical circumstances and is thus marked by them. In my thesis, I demonstrate the connection between Mureddu’s and Kusuda’s ideas and practices and the cultural and historical circumstances from which they emerge.
My focus is the connection between their implicit and explicit ideas about body-mind relationships (re. choreographic practice), correlating this with several prominent theoretical conceptualizations regarding body-mind relationships.
For my theoretical framework, I utilize Elisabeth Grosz’s book Volatile Bodies in which she maps the influential theories of body-mind relationships. Grosz discusses various seminal thinkers ranging from Nietzsche and Freud to Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari. Particularly significant to my analysis is Grosz’s postulation that the mind and the body are not two separate substances or entities. She proposes the Möbius strip as a model that provides ‘a way of problematizing and rethinking the relations between the inside and the outside of the subject, its psychical interior and its corporal exterior.’
The Möbius Strip is a non hierarchical, non dualistic scientific model, named after a nineteenth-century German mathematician and astronomer. It is a topological puzzle, a flat ribbon, twisted once and then attached end to end, to form a circular twisted surface. One can trace the surface -for example- by imagining an ant walking along it. At the beginning of the circular journey, the ant is clearly on the outside; but as it traverses the twisted ribbon -without losing contact with the surface- it ends up on the inside plane. In Grosz’s application of the model, the body, the brain, our muscles, our sex organs and hormones cover the inside of the Möbius strip; culture and experience constitute its outside surface; although both are part of the same twisted circle. The Möbius strip provokes a re-categorization of the various theoretical approaches of body-mind relationships creating a distinction between the concepts of the ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Outside In’.
The ‘Inside Out’ approach includes psychoanalytic and phenomenological theories concerned with the psychical inscription and coding of the body including pleasure, sensation and experiential phenomena. The body is seen as ‘a manifestation or externalization of what is private, psychological and deep in the individual.’
This mode of psychical tracing/retracing or writing, marks the inside of the Möbius surface The ‘Outside In’ approach includes philosophical positions that focus on the body as a ‘social object, as a text to be marked, traced and written upon by various regimes of institutional power’, in order ‘to carve out a social subject capable of labour, of production and manipulation; a subject capable of acting as a subject and at the same time, capable of being deciphered, interpreted, understood.’

Grosz’s categorization proves to be effective in exposing connections between a specific understanding of the body-mind relationship and various aspects of choreographic practice in the context of culturally specific modes. How do bodies relate to one another and to space? How do they communicate with the audience? What corporeal habits are investigated? What is perceived as being the source of movement? How are choreographic choices made?
Grosz also proved to be beneficial in exposing our so called ‘blind spots’ and/or general cultural notions and assumptions about the body that Meyer considers a part of our common ‘repertoire’. Those common ideas -which are so deeply engraved in our thinking- which can eventually make us do the same thing over and over again even if we don’t want to, due to the fact that they are a part of our sense of normality and thus pass by (almost) unnoticed.
The capacity to recognize which cultural-historical ideas, assumptions and presuppositions might be implied by specific (choreographic) situations, opens up a dialogue and makes way for new questions regarding the body and what it can do. This in turn may inspire discussion and provide choreographic and dramaturgical tools which can advance artistic exploration.

My research now completed, I have seen its insights applied to several performances. Furthermore they have become a key feature of my work as a dramaturge and have been the subject of both Academic and Free Lance Choreographer master-classes given both at home and abroad.

Notes:

1. Thomas, H. (2003) p.11.The Body, Dance and Cultural Theory. New York: Palgrave McMillan.
2. Van Den Dries, L. et al. (2002) p.3. Bodycheck: Relocating the Body in Contemporary Performing Art. Amsterdam: Rodopi Press.
3. Meyer, P. (1982) p.4. Concepts in Political Science, Scandinavian Political Studies. Vol. 5.
4. Grosz E. (1994), Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
5. Ibid. 1:12
6. Ibid. 5:115
7,
Ibid. 5:116
8.
Ibid. 5:117
9.
Meyer, P. (1982) p.4. Concepts in Political Science, Scandinavian Political Studies. Vol. 5.

Edited by Micha Kroes