The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sexual desire, but bodies and pleasures.
-Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Part 1
How can I intervene through illustrating the normalizing systems at work in the fitness industry?
How can I celebrate bare-life without trivializing the experiences of those truly cast out of political life?
How can I celebrate the body, dance and performance while circumventing commodification or sexualization? Taking up the charge put forth by Foucault in the above quote?
How can a dance performance be a protest?
A jumping off point for the work was Judith Butler’s work on the materiality of the body. Particularly how she explored Plato’s interpretation of the feminine as material, and the masculine as form. She states:
Awkwardly, it seems, Plato’s phantasmic economy virtually deprives the feminine of a morph, a shape, for as the receptacle, the feminine is a permanent and, hence, nonliving shapeless non-thing which cannot be named. And as a nurse, mother, womb, the feminine is synecdochally the lead collapsed into a set of figural functions (Butler 53).
Choreographically, I took this idea of formless female into the organizing structure of the dance. Allowing chaos to be it’s own sort of form. The dance fluctuates between chaos and order, improvisation and choreography. This also allowed the moments of unison, the music (heard by the performers but the audience) and the times of more formal organization to read as an outside influence. That outside influence manifested practically through the glass confinement of court, unison choreography, or what came to known as marionette-ing. Or being moved as if imagined or real forces are manipulating your body.
One of those imagined forces I was nodding to, through the gym location, was the ways in which power in-scripts on and through the body in a Foucauldian sense at the RPAC.
The previous slides and this one show the work of visual artist Rachel Harrison. During the rehearsal process we looked at her work as inspiration for the movement vocabulary. Her sculptures are large and takes up considerable space, and are visually loud with vibrant colors. The large scale, ostentatious, almost frivolous, but clearly intentional sculptures convey a sense of movement, as if the clay is not fully formed, but could continue spilling into the space. A sort of feminine formlessness. This is juxtaposed with instruments of cleaning, and dieting. These ready-mades point to the domestic sphere, but also of cleaning and condensing. Controlling the messier parts of life. Which brings us to Bio-Power and back to Foucault.
If Bio-Power is what Foucault theorizes as bringing the political into domestic sphere, what is the affect on the bodies, particularly non-heterosexual male bodies? I hypothesized through observation, that the gym is a highly gendered space. Separate locker-rooms but also, the women tending toward the aerobic equipment to tone down, and men to the weight machines to bulk up. These normative ideals, of petit female, and strong male, have political implications. In the academic work of Susan Bordo, she studies how aesthetic and behavioral ideals limit feminine power.
Women must develop an other oriented emotional economy. In this economy, the control of the female appetite for food is merely the concrete expression of the general rule governing the construction of femininity: the female hunger – for public power, for independence, for sexual gratification to be contained, and the public space that women be allowed to take up circumscribed, limited (Bordo 171).
Both the muumuus and this section of the dance, instead of choreographically illustrating the norm, intentionally oppose this containment of space. This section was built on an idea of moving big and lazy to work against embodying small and disciplined. Below of is a clip of the improvisation score during the rehearsal process. Fruitfully, the space during the performance, did the illustrating of confinement for me in an interesting way for me.
I was also interested in the ways in which the gym makes bodies prepared for labor in a Marxist sense. Barbara Jean Noble wrote about how the gym is gendered but also a disciplining function for capitalism.
Gyms and health clubs are strange sites of Marxist alienation and disembodiment even in the face of an apparent hyper-embodiedness. Fragmenting the bodies into “legs,” “abs,” “chest,” “shoulders,” and “arms” (and then systems like “cardio”), the class culture of working out before or after work (non employment/work as physically demanding) requires one to become, quite literally, subject to or step into a machine that has been designed to isolate a muscle or a set of muscles and work them with the goal of having them look like they do more than get worked on at the gym. The gym body is developed not necessarily from use but from an extreme form of docility, repetition, and discipline. Capitalism requires each of these when manufacturing laboring bodies (Noble, 251).
I combined the imagery of workout machinery with the sculptures of Rachel Harrison. Asking the dancers to both become the machine and use the machine they made. But with a Harrison-esque sensibility.
I’m interested in the ways in which performing the norm, adhering to the normalized ideal, allows one to pass and function in society, but through the process of normalization, become . . . normal and homogenized. As a choreographer I think of ballet’s corps de ballet, or the Rockettes. This dance was an anti-kick line dance. I want to put bodies on a more distinctive line. And yet, bodies outside the norm for any of the reasons people are culturally discriminated against, age, class, gender, race, size, disability, sex etc. are ignored. Part of the intended but not choreographed portion of the dance was the space between the audience and the performance. Just beyond the glass, the gym-goers passing by ignored or engaged with our muumuu dance. As the dance was performed, the audience and the dancers implicated the passers by. None of whom lingered to watch.
Within this dance piece, Bare-Life served as a metaphor for the realms and ways in which the feminine is kept out of the political sphere. Susan Bordo links hysteria, agoraphobia and anorexia as extreme manifestations on the body of power’s normalizing function. “In Agoraphobia and, even more dramatically, in anorexia, the disorder presents itself as a virtual, though tragic, parody of twentieth-century constructions of femininity.” In hysteria women fulfill the stereotype of uncontrollable, emotionally-crazed female. In agoraphobia, domesticity is taken to the extreme becoming afraid to leave the home. And in anorexia, women both over perform the feminine ideal of thinness, and over-contain their materiality. According to Bordo some feminists claim these pathologies as an unconscious form of protest, through taking these norms to abnormal extremes on their own bodies. At the same time as it is a protest it is also a retreat from the productive political world into the domestic world, or bare-life (175). I borrowed and tweaked an improvisation score from Susan Rethorst in order to build the section of advances and retreats, power and vulnerability poses. How can I similarly use the body to illustrate the the problems of patriarchal, heteronormative power structures, and privy the knowledge of body without retreating into it?
At the end of this course and this project, this is my new guiding question that will lead me into my next choreographic process.
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “sex”. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.
Noble, Billy Jean. “Our Bodies are not Ourselves: Tranny Guys and the Racialized Class Politics of Incoherence.” The Transgender Studies Reader 2. Ed. Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura. London: Routeldge, 2013. 248-257.