This weekend Sandra, Eileen and I attended the ISCS York/Ryerson ComCult conference in Toronto to present our panel, “The New Authentic: Performing the Real in Culture and Media.” Attendees were jazzed to talk with us about Sad Girl theory, Real Dolls, ectoporn, disappeared bodies and colonial erasure via #liveauthentic and a rowdy discussion ensued. Eileen’s most recent weeknotes post offers an excellent overview of some of the themes and threads that connected many of the panels and presentations at the conference.

The notes below are from a panel I attended on Saturday morning, titled “Reconsidering Materiality: Tech, Images and Dance:”

In her talk “Haunted by Choreographies: Tracing Quotation as a Figure of Re-Turn in Dance,” Katharina Schmidt (PhD, Freie Universität, Berlin) questioned whether the archive is the only place for dance in academia.

Whereas art forms like film, literature and music “quote” other pieces and forms in intentionally recognizable ways (think Kubrick’s use of “Singin’ in the Rain” in A Clockwork Orange or Stoppard’s revivification of Hamlet’s Rosencrantz and Gildenstern), when dance “quotes,” it does so in a way that’s usually only recognizable to other dancers, and even then, only vaguely.

Take Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A,” for example, which has been sampled by numerous other works of dance without attribution. Schmidt talked about a piece she had seen, called “Built to Last” by Meg Stuart (Damaged Goods, Vienna) that sampled the move seen below in “Trio A,” in which Rainer, in demi-plié, swings her arms and lets them wrap around her torso as she turns her head the opposite way.


(Unfortunately I couldn’t find the clip that Schmidt used to show Stuart’s dancers sampling Rainer, but it was clear from her slide that the move was identical).

In her talk, Schmidt explored the relation of the sayable and the perceptible in dance, as well as the relation of performance and text. Quoting Matthew Reason, she explained, “different media produce different ways of seeing.” Whereas in academia we nurture a paralyzing fear of plagiarism, in dance the rules are a bit more fluid, and “moves” are either borrowed knowingly from other choreographers and works or absorbed subconsciously through training and exposure (the way a new reader of Cormac McCarthy, for example, might suddenly become fond of lengthy, conjunction-heavy sentences).

I asked Schmidt if there was a distinction to be made, in her Meg Stuart / Yvonne Rainer comparison, between homage and habitus.

I was thinking of Bordieu’s concept of habitus, which results neither from free will or structural determination independently, but is created by a kind of interplay between the two over time, resulting in a subject disposition that is both shaped by past events and structures and also shapes current practices and structures (Bourdieu 1984: 170). In this sense habitus is created and reproduced unconsciously, “without any deliberate pursuit of coherence… without any conscious concentration” (ibid: 170).

The performing body (Rainer’s, Stuart’s) iterates habitus in a more explicit way that Bordieu (who focuses on habitus as imparted by institutional and parental influences) might have intended, but institutions make artists too. (Side note: When I was in my third year of dance school I remember thinking everyone’s choreography started to look the same – we were all trained in Limón and Graham technique – and I was beyond excited when visiting choreographers would challenge us to move our bodies in new and alien ways.)

With little ability to archive dance aside from film, these issues of homage/habitus/quotation become more pressing and have made me think about the ways in which the dance form is actually undervalued in academic discourse. On the flip side, Schmidt spoke about her “déjà vu” moment, upon seeing Rainer’s movement embedded within Stuart’s work, as a kind of haunting trace that both enlivened Stuart’s piece and re-inscribed Rainer’s work as iconic.


The full ISCS program from last weekend can be seen here.

Works Cited:

Bourdieu, Pierre (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.

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About Hilary Bergen

Hilary Bergen is a PhD student in Humanities at Concordia University. She has an MA in English Literature (Concordia) and a BA in Modern Dance (U of Winnipeg). Her ongoing collaborations with choreographer Ming Hon incorporate improvised dance with live video feed and projections to explore screen culture, surveillance and the limits of the body. Her SSHRC-funded MA thesis was on the confluence of nostalgia, capitalism and the neo-pastoral in contemporary literature. Her work has been featured in Artciencia Journal, Matrix, Whether Magazine and Briarpatch.


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