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Mobilizing the Score: Generative Choreographic Structures, 1960-Present


Since the late 16th century, choreographers have documented their work using notated scores, many of which rely on standardized codification to facilitate accurate choreographic reproduction. This dissertation focuses on scores developed in the last fifty years, which, by contrast, indicate notation’s generative potential by deploying indeterminacy, engaged spectatorship, and nonreproductive documentation. Not only do such scores reconfigure roles for choreographers, performers, spectators and readers, but they also elucidate how schematization lends choreographic material increased mobility. That is, while the scores addressed in this analysis might record and represent choreographic material, they also render that material responsive to change by welcoming unpredictable forms of application and reception.

With respect to generative scoring, New York City's experimental arts community between 1960-61 represents an important touchstone, giving rise to a wealth of unconventional scores by choreographers, composers, writers, directors, and visual artists. This investigation examines scores from that period (Simone Forti's writings in An Anthology and Jackson Mac Low's The Pronouns), as well as later works that draw on key concepts and strategies of the time. Recent examples include: Deborah Hay's Solo Commissioning Project, William Forsythe's Synchronous Objects, Ralph Lemon’s Geography Trilogy, and dances by Yvonne Meier, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Julie Tolentino. Such examples illustrate the enduring influence of early 1960s innovation while suggesting the ways in which contemporary choreographers continue to push the score in new directions.

In each case, I emphasize the rootedness of a score within the parameters of a clearly defined choreographic practice. I also use concrete examples to reflect upon broader theoretical questions that come to the fore in light of the shift toward generativity: specifically, a constellation of issues concerning textuality, participation and the archive. By focusing on the score as a clear manifestation of choreographic thinking rather than its residue, I approach the representation of dance as a creative act that dovetails with physical practice in distinct, and sometimes surprising, ways. My goal is to supplant theoretical generalizations about the relationship between dance and textual representation by attending to the many ways in which contemporary choreographic practices revel in their intertwining.

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