‘In 40 years of doing this, I’ve never done it,’ says Deborah Hay in Becky Edmund’s 2014 film Turn Your Fucking Head. I watched it earlier this year at JW3 in London and the absurdity of this quote made me laugh out loud.  For the (relatively little) I know of her work and (comparatively large) respect I have for it, this quote sums up the indefinable nature of experimental contemporary dance.  In Hay’s case, a specific dance practice which has evolved over four decades, and has led her to consider the body and choreography very differently.

After seeing the film, I was both fascinated and perplexed by her work, especially by this idea of her confident not-knowing. This book, Using The Sky, develops her research – a quest which shows both an unfaltering belief in her pursuit, and an honesty and openness to uncertainty. It is also wickedly funny. (more…)

Ben Spatz’ examination of concepts of technique and practice in embodied knowledge is a richly rewarding read, both for its rigorous discussion and clarification of ideas which can often be confused and confusing, and for its thought-provoking analysis of a range of examples. He argues for embodied knowledge, such as found in the three areas of physical culture, performing arts and everyday life, as a major field of knowledge on a par with the humanities and sciences; and ultimately makes challenging practical suggestions as to how embodied knowledge might find a stronger place in academe through the development of appropriate modes of documentation and resulting possibilities for scholarly investigation and research. Reading from my perspective as a dance practitioner I have found much here that can help to articulate the underpinnings of dance practice and their consequences for pedagogy. Spatz’ examples drawn from a range of other fields resonate strongly with current debates and concerns in dance. (more…)

Over 30 years ago, Barbara Newman embarked on a series of interviews with dancers about dancing, and for this book she returned to those who were still alive to find out what they had to say about their subsequent choices and their opinions on dance today.  The oldest (Alicia Alonso) was born in 1920, the youngest (Nina Ananiashvili) in 1964;  they work all over the world, from London to New York and from Havana to Tbilisi, and yet their concerns are remarkably similar.

It is common, perhaps fashionable, to talk about the globalization of ballet, but it is clear from these interviews that it does not have to entail homogenization, that the differences between different schools and companies still matter, and that dance is not all about virtuosity.   Lynn Seymour complains about the vulgarity of dancers showing their knickers in Giselle, while Ananiashvili says:  “When I see new modern choreography I just see splits, splits, splits”.  Whether it is Alonso or David Wall, Merrill Ashley  or Donald MacLeary, there is a clear determination to draw out the distinctions between different works and to understand the choreographers’ choices.  (more…)