resisting choreography


How, why, when and by whom is the human body choreographed?

This is one of dancer Yvonne Rainer’s most celebrated performances. Through bodily movement  Rainer experiments with notions of choreography. This piece, Trio A (1966), questions the aesthetic goals of postmodern dance and highly institutionalised, choreographed dance – like ballet. Each of Rainer’s movements, each bodily task, is performed with the same amount of energy as the movement before. The piece comprises a sequence of unpredictable movements that unfold in a continuous motion, deliberately opposing familiar dance patterns of development and climax. She’s attempting to strip her body down to movement, to task-orientated womanlike movement. She dances with emphasis on a neutral – un emotive – approach to movement execution and a lack of interaction with the audience.

She has her feet grounded on the floor, she lies on the floor, in opposition to ballet which seeks gravity defying vertical lines. She allows herself to lie down and collect her breath, exploring the motif of exhaustion. In allowing time in her performance to listen and respond to exhaustion: Rainer is using her own individual body as choreographer. Throughout this stage of her career she worked towards movement becoming something of an object, to be examined without any psychological, social or formal motives. Rainer wrote the “No Manifesto,” which was a strategy formulated to demystify dance and to break away from historical clichés:

NO to spectacle.
No to virtuosity.
No to transformations and magic and make-believe.
No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.
No to the heroic.
No to the anti-heroic.
No to trash imagery.
No to involvement of performer or spectator,
No to style.
No to camp.
No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.
No to eccentricity.
No to moving or being moved.

Dance is, for Rainer, littered with past performance clichés: bodily and body archetypes. Dance is manipulatable, it is highly commercialised. Dance can attempt to seduce the spectator: through use of ‘spectacle’, ‘glamour’, ‘trash imagery’, the use of ‘the heroic’. Our bodies can, in extension, be used to seduce the spectator. What the above ‘No Manifesto’ attempts to revert, is the possibility for the body to become saturated with signifiers, clichés, that function as a distraction from the individuals movement. Clichés that so often function for commerce.

Rainer is cool because 50 years after Trio A was performed these are still some of the most pressing motifs  within performance art discourse, but motifs that ripple across disciplines. Aaron spoke about the ‘uncertain’ state that seems to have been manifested in late capitalism – epitomised by the modern urban zeitgeist. There is radical academia being written about this ‘uncertain’ state – a state produced by and for capitalism. We can swap ‘uncertain’ for the Art History term ‘precarious’.

Precarity is difficult to define (or I’m shying away from it in this moment). But rather easy to feel: I feel precarious about my future, unsure how generation Y’s student debt will settle us kindly in to the tory austerity post-uni life. I feel precarious at the thought of graduating, disillusioned by grad scheme / office job / capitol generating / square visioned pathways. As a child I was certain I wanted to be an artist. But now, I feel certain there are too many of us aspiring for the same dream of artistic emancipation, and I feel certain this emancipation is in contra to the forces of hegemony, and their notion of progression. I am, therefore, in the precariat. Precarity feeds from the Occupy Wall Street movement – for the 99%. It purposes compassion and congruent solidarity through a consideration of how we are held in violent relationality by the group differentiations that are reproduced by capitalism.

(Aaron’s phd essay links here, the relationship between Dubai the city and the body – the city and identity)

I would argue precarity physically manifests itself as exhaustion. A stifling exhaustion, so systemic and hegemonic it is choreographed. A choreography epitomised in the ideal symbol of bodily control – the pirouette.

‘This is where the inescapable topography fantasy of modernity informs its choreopolitical formation: for modernity imagines its topography as already abstracted from its grounding on a land previously occupied by other human bodies, other life forms, filled with other dynamics, gestures, steps, and temporalities…’ Lepecki 14 

The pirouette, a vitruvian lens, is a choreopolitical metaphor for late modernity. We are taught to be in awe of the ballerina’s body, the olympian’s body, the celebrity’s body, any Body that is not our own. We pump our bodies with caffeine / sugar / smoke because advertising tells us to, while simultaneous advertising tells us these habits will rot / impotent / clog our body -adverts funded by competing caffeine / sugar / smoke companies. It’s a mess. Where’s the truth? Whats the point? Yvonne Rainer gets close to answering this in Trio A. The point is movement, honest uncommercial individual choreography…

More next time.

But to rise out of this dark depth, I offer Chaplin (1936). The genius Chaplin in this clip exemplifies the exhaustive Post-Fordist state. Chaplin uses his body to communicate / comment / laugh at the violence of the assembly line in battle: the body battling and engulfed by modernity.


Extra reading:

Andre Lepecki, “The Political Ontology of Movement,” in Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement,(New York: Routledge, 2006), 1-18. 


Women and performance: A journal of feminist theory. This online journal has various essays on precarity by the likes of Fred Moten, William Pope L, and Rizvana Bradley (UCL History of Art lecturer). 


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