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The Political Kinesthetics of Contemporary Dance: Taiwan in Transnational Perspective


This dissertation considers dance practices emerging out of post-1980s conditions in Taiwan to theorize how contemporary dance negotiates temporality as a political kinesthetic performance. The dissertation attends to the ways dance kinesthetically responds to and mediates the flows of time, cultural identity, and social and political forces in its transnational movement. Dances negotiate disjunctures in the temporality of modernization as locally experienced and their global geotemporal mapping. The movement of performers and works pushes this simultaneous negotiation to the surface, as the aesthetics of the performances registers the complexity of the forces they are grappling with and their strategies of response.

By calling these strategies "political kinesthetic" performance, I wish to highlight how politics, aesthetics, and kinesthetics converge in dance, and to show how political and affective economies operate with and through fully sensate, efforted, laboring bodies. I begin my discussion with the Cursive series performed by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, whose intersection of dance and cursive-style Chinese calligraphy initiates consideration of the temporal implication of "contemporary" as "contemporaneity" that underlies the simultaneous negotiation of local and transnational concerns. Extending from the Cursive series, I depart momentarily from the milieu of Taiwan to engage with two contemporaneous transnational Chinese choreographers, Shen Wei and Yin Mei, whose works blend dance and Chinese calligraphy differently as a way to problematize further the performance of "Chineseness" and the economy of forces and power at work in the transnational. The dissertation then takes up another prime case of temporal reconfiguration, examining the Legend Lin Dance Theatre of Taiwan and its artistic director Lin Lee-Chen's early works whose kinesthetic shifting and continuity form a prism through which dance mediates, complicates, and alters Taiwan's developmentalist ethos, in a way that complicates readings of (self-)Orientalisms. Finally, the dissertation engages with the Yellow Butterfly Flying to the South Butoh Troupe led by Japanese butoh dancer Hata-Kanoko, who lived and worked in Taiwan for nearly a decade and whose works draw attention to the legacy of Japanese colonial modernity in Taiwan and East Asia. The troupe's leftist and self-marginalizing politics in the legacy of Japanese postwar avant-garde performance produce alternative inter-Asian engagements.

Enacting different ways of negotiating temporalities of modernity across space, these performances are counterpoints to one another on various levels. They also articulate ways of thinking, performing, and "moving" Taiwan transnationally: transnational Chineseness, self-conscious formations of "Asian" culture in opposition to an idea of the "West," and inter-Asian relationships. Parsing out the complexity within the colossal designation of "transnationalism," this project also proposes a concept of "contemporary dance" that moves beyond simple periodization or labeling of dance genres and styles and instead unpacks the temporal negotiations of moving bodies implicated in transnational relationships from differing and sometimes contradictory perspectives. Although seeking to transcend the periodization paradigm, my historicized case studies addressing the post-1980s conditions of Taiwan and globalized Chinese culture also index shifts from the end of the Cold War to globalization that affect cultural forms and their conditions of production and circulation.

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