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Audio-Visual Stress: Cognitive Approaches to the Perceptual Performativity of William Forsythe and Ensemble

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The dissertation investigates visuo-sonority in the works and choreographic practices of William Forsythe, focusing on specific categories of sound in Forsythe's soundscores and choreographic practices involving both sound and movement production by performers. The study advances a twofold argument for amplified attention to the role of sound in the performativity of dance and for an approach informed by cognitive studies, understood as a broad plurality of theoretical paradigms and research practices.

Specifically, the study explores works and improvisational methods across Forsythe's 35-year oeuvre, analyzing choreography, staging, and audience perception and reception of six recurrent sonic event types: sudden shifts of sound volume or hush, profound extended silences, overwhelming cacophony, lulling minimalist musical structures, breath scores consisting of vocal and corporeally generated sounds, and vocal choreography in which the performers contrapuntally translate between vocalizations and dance movements.

Drawing from a variety of subdisciplines and theoretical paradigms within cognitive psychology as well as cognitive studies in several humanities disciplines, the dissertation aims to illuminate the sensory basis of performativity of dance in general and contemporary dance in particular. To this end, the study develops and applies the concept of perceptual performativity to capture ways in which staging and choreographic practices construct the subject as perceiver, tapping the limits and proclivities of perception in order to activate awareness of the performance of perception itself. The increased role of perception in contemporary dance renders this analytic approach particularly applicable to this genre. The multi- and intermodal approach taken specifically highlights dance as a visuo-sonic phenomenon and choreographic practice as engagement with the senses in concert.

The study offers findings on both Forsythe's work and the interdisciplinary methodology applied. Forsythe's works and choreographic practices are revealed as underpinned by a performativity that is perceptual in nature and which involves both visual and sonic compositional strategies. By bridging a range of disciplines including dance and performance studies, cognitive psychology, auditory culture studies, and gesture studies, the study demonstrates the productivity and dialogic, metacritical potentials of investigating performativity through a cognitive and audio-visual approach. As such, the dissertation contributes a novel interdisciplinary paradigm to the study of dance.

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This item is under embargo until September 30, 2026.