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Abstract Constanze Schellow

BIld-Schellow_300x332 MaRking Difference: On the Productivity of Concepts of Negation, Negativity, and Absence in Contemporary Dance Discourse (working title)

In Dance and Theater Studies, conceptions of “movement” or “presence” on the stage are, with increasing frequency, undergoing reformulation via negative concepts such as “absence” or “stasis”. Focusing on recent writings in Dance Studies, this project investigates the range, related discourses, and effectiveness of these terminologies.

Influential publications have taken distance from presence as the key category for a determination of the specific performativity of dance. Instead, concepts of absence and negativity are used, by means of the analysis of pieces by Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy and Meg Stuart, among others, in order to formulate a redefinition of an “ontology” of choreography which is accompanied by theoretical gestures of dissociation from positions in Theatre Studies, Culture Studies and Performance Studies. The project investigates the extent to which such concepts in Dance Studies and in analyzed excerpts of choreographic practice are characterized by a double interaction with concepts of “absence” and “negativity” in philosophy. This perspectivation enables a consideration of both fields, Dance Studies and philosophy, in relation to one another and simultaneously allows the spectrum of concepts ranging from absence to negativity to be understood as a discourse that evolves between them.

The current discourse on absence and negativity in dance shall serve as an exemplary object of research in order to examine the significance and the specific manner of interaction among theoretical and aesthetic praxis in a double process of formulating a so called “self-reflective” and “critical” potential both in choreography and in its reflection in Dance Studies. Methodologically, the examination is accompanied by practical research in which choreographers artistically reflect upon the scientific terminology in and around these absences and negativities.

The interdisciplinarily conceived study strives to contribute to an illumination of a thinking of present-day Dance Studies in its autonomy as well as its correlation with other disciplines, above all with philosophy and Theater Studies, thus taking into account the growing awareness of that which is always considered and called “dance” not only as being founded on artistic production, but also as something that emerges just as much through speaking and writing about dance. Taking a stance against the presumption of an “essence” of dance, the project approaches dance through discourse’s mirroring of it. At stake is an expanded consciousness of the fact that the writing of dance history is not merely post hoc; in actuality, an understanding of current scientific concept formation also encompasses its conditions and references.

Observing the way we speak about choreography, you come to realize how words perform quasi-choreographic actions in (re)designing the space of performance as a space of other discourses. These words constantly rename and restructure the bodies of work they are talking about. In fact any analytical speaking about, understood as a speaking from at the same time not only deals with its object, it states it, produces it. Dealing with choreography I develop analytical, mostly verbal, tools and categories. Yet while sharpening, testing and redefining a terminology on art I can’t help operating by means of the very same inherent terminology. Like:

abnegation, absence, absenteeism, abyss, blind spot, break, death , decomposition, deficiency, defiguration, destabilisation, difference, disappearance, disappropriation, discontinuity, displacement, dissolution, distance, elusiveness, emptiness, eruption, fracture, gap, hollow, in-between, interruption, interspace, invisibility, loss, mark, negation, negative, negativity, non-decidability, nonlocation, nothingness, null, omission, phantom limb pains, procrastination, question mark, revocation, sliding from, split, unavailability, uncomprehensability, undermining, unmarked, unreadability, vacuum, vanitas, void, withdrawal, wound, zero

to abnegate, to cross out, to decentralise, to deconstruct, to deprive, to detach, to disembody, to dismantle, to fade out, to fold, to hiccup, to intermit, to interrupt, to irritate, to leave off, to leave out, to make impossible, to minimize, to miss, to obscure, to perforate, to rattle, to refuse, to take back, to stutter, to suspend, to undermine (1)

from research cooperation with choreographer Sara Manente (Antwerp)

(1) Quoted (partly translated from German) from: “Ob?scene. Zur Praesenz der Absenz im zeitgenoessischen Tanz, Theater und Film“ (Ob?scene. On the Presence of Absence in Contemporary Dance, Theatre and Film) Krassimira Kruschkova (ed.), Vienna, 2005; “It takes place when it doesn’t” Martina Hochmuth, Krassimira Kruschkova und Georg Schoellhammer (eds), Vienna, 2006; Andre Lepecki: “Exhausting Dance. Performance and the Politics of Movement”, New York/London, 2006; Gerald Siegmund: “Abwesenheit. Eine performative Aesthetik des Tanzes” (Absence. A Performative Aesthetic of Dance) Bielefeld, 2006.


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