Western Improvised Dance: Practices, Pedagogies, and Language

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Copyright: Wait, Nalina
Improvisation as a mode of performance has gained momentum in twenty-first century Western theatre dance. It offers dance-artists and choreographers methodologies for exploring idiosyncratic movement that accentuates the unique gestural qualities of individual dancers, and ways of composing ensemble pieces as self-organising systems. Improvisational practices have become highly sophisticated, but associated improvisation theory is challenged not only by the ephemerality of the subject, but also by the fact that the corporeal knowledges of improvisation resist language, codification, and the hierarchical nature of traditional dance pedagogy. In contrast to imitative processes, through which dancers learn to replicate codified techniques, improvisers access different states of embodied consciousness (Foster) in order to tune (Nelson) their body-mind instrument so that they might extend their creative engagement with movement tasks. This process creates space for the dancer’s somatic intelligence (Goodall) to direct decisions as to how the dance will unfold in real time. Improvisers also seek to diversify the range of movement qualities, tones, and textures through practices such as somatics, which the associated theory suggests is often at odds with the goal-oriented focus of traditional training within the institution. This thesis seeks to elucidate specific aspects of a dance practice that resist formalisation in order to consider the epistemology of improvisational expertise and accompanying compositional practices. I argue that the theorisation of improvised composition must reframe the idea of composition from one based on formal logic to one based on the fluctuating intensities of affects (Spinoza). This research uses somatic theory (Todd, Dempster, Godard), theories of embodied cognition (Noë, Stapleton), and affect theory (Spinoza, Massumi, Deleuze, Blackman) to unpack the major discoveries that have informed innovations in improvised compositional practice. In doing so, it elucidates the experience-experiments of improvisers using specific case studies: Eva Karczag (somatic-based dancer), Riley Watts and Nicole Peisl (former The Forsythe Company dancers), and my own practice (somatically informed) to articulate modes of practice that are elusive and multidimensional. Key terms Embodied consciousness, body-mind, improvisation, somatic practices, corporeal knowledges, ideokinesis, embodied cognition, body-schema, kinaesthesia, affect, prohibitive and emancipative self-surveillance, immanent evaluation, somatic intelligence, thinking-through-the-body, the body’s mind, Dewey, Spinoza
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Wait, Nalina
Brannigan, Erin
Murphie, Andrew
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PhD Doctorate
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