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Easier Said Than Done: Talking Identity in Late Twentieth-Century American Concert Dance


This dissertation examines how choreographers Bill T. Jones, Joe Goode, and Wallflower Order Dance Collective mobilize auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modes of communication to underscore the unstable relationship between talk, dance, and gesture. I argue that this very instability affords dance theater its power to perform alternative racialized and gendered subjectivities. The project departs from dance studies’ long-standing investment in the notion of choreography as bodily writing to examine theories and ideologies of dance’s status as a form of speech.

This dissertation is about how a generation of dance artists dealt with their anxiety around (modern, contemporary, postmodern, American, concert, art, stage) dance’s status as a language that could speak for them so that they could be heard—not only as individuals (hear my story) but as representatives, public figures of underrepresented groups, experiences, lifestyles. The works I have chosen best exemplify or perform a productive tension between talking, dancing, and gesturing that illuminates the historical terms and contexts, the very history itself, of western concert dance practice and its autonomizing discourses. These works show us how the tension between talking, dancing, and gesturing expose related tensions between “high” and “low,” art and street, art and social/popular dance practices; black and white; and between hearing and non-hearing cultural contexts.

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