Happy Christmas readers! Today we have a question from Ask a PhD Dancer. I’m always happy to get questions about dance and what I do, and if you’ve got something for me, just follow the link at the top of the screen.
Hi, my name is Leila and I just started a blog on dance not too long ago. I’m still a student and a dance major. I’ve been doing a lot of research into dance history along with cultural and social aspects of the dance world (especially how feminism and politics cross with dance) that aren’t heavily covered in dance research. (I’m at a research university so I basically just live on the free database in my free time.)
I was wondering how research is done for the period immediately after post-modern dance. I hear references to post, post modernism (which seems silly) but I don’t quite understand how periods are separated within the modern dance realm. I just recently saw this blog and loved it. My professor comes from a Laban background and he’s always yelling at me for the “head-tail connection.” The title is well chosen for the blog.
Hi Leila, and thank you for writing!
Separating dance into periods can be really useful, especially when you’re trying to draw links between dance and other genres of art/literature/history, although dance tends not to line up very well, and like you said, we get a bit stuck for names once postmodernism finishes.
A note on hyphens: some people use post-modern to mean “in reaction to modern,” and postmodern to mean “with artistic tendencies of integration and bricolage that go beyond structuralist values.” Other people use both terms interchangeably, and most professors have a preference for one or the other. Putting a definition around modernism and postmodernism is a whole different blog post. Or a book. Or several books. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s formal, dance-heavy, and draws on archetypes, it’s more modern, and if it’s about personal exploration, or the layering of many different ideas/abstractions, it’s more postmodern.
Now let’s actually answer you question: how is research done for postmodern dance? It’s a great question, especially because it means I get to recommend lots of books! … Did I mention that I love books?
In roughly the 1980s the academic world took a “cultural turn,” and started looking at how cultural and social factors affected how we perceive and understand the world. Dance took that turn really really hard, focussing particularly on the performance of race and gender. It sounds from your letter like you’re already happily going down that road too.
Now we’re going through a period that I’ve heard called “the performative turn” which asks how things on stage acquire meaning, and how works of art, and documents of works of art can have different kinds of meanings. If you want an example of how that works ask yourself:
- What sort of things am I learning in the rehearsal studio, and how can I talk about them?
- Does a performance always require living bodies, or can video/virtual reality allow for “live” performance?
- How can we understand what audiences saw in the past, and what experience they have now?
Depending on your particular interests, one of these questions is probably more exciting to you than the others. If you liked the first question, then I highly recommend Robin Nelson’s Practice as Research in the Arts, and Vida Midgelow and Sarah Bacon’s article on the Creative Articulations Process. If the second question is more your style, try Entangled by Chris Salter or – if you have the cash kicking around – one of the best books I’ve read recently is Perform, Record, Repeat by Amelia Jones. Susan Foster’s Choreographing History would be a good start towards the third question, as would any of the books on intertextuality; if you wanted to look at audiences in particular periods and how culture affected them, try Kate Elswit’s Watching Weimar Dance or Susan Manning’s Modern Dance, Negro Dance.
I’m sure that you’ve heard of some of these books already, and I hope that helps point you towards what you’re interested in. Thanks very much for writing!