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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Set in Motion: Dance Criticism and the Choreographic Apparatus

  • Author(s): Mattingly, Kate
  • Advisor(s): Jackson, Shannon
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the multiple functions of dance criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States. I foreground institutional interdependencies that shape critics’ practices, as well as criticism’s role in approaches to dance-making, and the necessary and fraught relations between dance criticism and higher education. To challenge the pervasive image of the critic as evaluator and of criticism as definitive, Set in Motion focuses on conditions that produce and endorse certain forms of criticism, and in turn how this writing has gained traction. I employ the concept of a choreographic apparatus to show shifting relations amongst writers, artists, publications, readers, institutions, and audiences. Their interactions generate frameworks that influence dance’s history, canon, and disciplinary formations. I propose a way of situating criticism as a form of writing that intersects with, informs, and influences both history and theory.

Set in Motion expands discourse on writing by examining the continuities and discontinuities in practices over the course of a century. Chapter 1 focuses on articles by John Martin in the New York Times the late 1920s and early 1930s. Chapter 2 analyzes how artists in the 1960s, in particular Yvonne Rainer, took hold of the choreographic apparatus to redirect discourse about their projects. In Chapter 3, I expand my analysis from methodologies to the study of educational institutions. Chapter 4 turns to the question, “where is criticism today?” and investigates how digital technologies in the 21st century inform and inflect our engagements with criticism. Set in Motion contributes to dance studies discourses, disciplinary formation, and histories of professionalization by noticing ways in which criticism and theory function less often as opposing forces and primarily as reciprocal and interconnected partners. By recognizing the ways criticism has functioned as a fulcrum to legitimate and leverage particular approaches to dance, this project highlights artists’ and critics’ modes of production that generate and redesign our definitions of dance writing.

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