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Choreographing Urbanisms: Site, Spatiality and Experimental Dance in Philadelphia

  • Author(s): Vriend, Laura Duncan;
  • Advisor(s): Kraut, Anthea;
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the relationship between choreographic uses of space and social theories of space and urbanism in three site-specific choreographies in Philadelphia. Through in depth analysis of Headlong Dance Theater's Explanatorium, Nichole Canuso's Wandering Alice, and Kate Watson-Wallace's Car, I seek to understand how spaces and sites shape experimental dance in Philadelphia. By looking at how extant urban spatialities in Philadelphia shape choreography and how choreographies articulate spatiality, I develop a strategy for more thoroughly accounting for how space makes meaning in site-based choreography. The choreographies discussed actively choreograph the audience's movement through the sites in which they take place, drastically reworking the spatiality of spectatorship. By focusing on my kinesthetic experience as audience member participating or traveling through these works, I attend to how space is produced choreographically. In generating a close reading of each work, I demonstrate ways in which choreography theorizes (through) space and intersects with both social theories of space and with critical theory more broadly. Following urban studies scholars, I understand spatiality as the social organization and production of space, and urbanism as both ideology and practice. Space as a formal element uniting both practices of architecture and choreography, emerges as the specific material basis for envisioning, choreographing and enacting urbanism(s). Building on what I see as a foundational element of dance studies theory- that the dancing body and choreography are both objects of theoretical analysis and generative of epistemological and theoretical modes of analysis - I demonstrate that the site-specific choreographies I examine are themselves constitutive of a performative discourse that also presents proposals for urban life. I place contemporary choreography in dialogue with critical theory in order to articulate the ways in which choreography in itself engaged in theorizing. My particular focus on spatiality - of looking at choreographies that are actively site-engaged and locating the production of space through choreography as itself a mode of theorizing - makes visible ways in which these works engage with performance theory, memory studies, race and film theory: interventions that if not for a focus on space, we might not otherwise see.

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