Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Docility and Dancenicity

So here are some of my thoughts on the first part of the assignment: Relating dance to Foucault's "Docile Bodies". I was intending it to be short, but somehow I predict that shall not actually happen!
I initially did not think it would be easy to compare an article on discipline and punishment with dance... how would the writing give me material to work with in regards to an ART form? However, as I started reading phrases and words began to jump (jete?) out at me: "grace", "power over the active body", "art over the human body", "details", "distribution in space". These are just a few of the many I actually underlined. If you were reading those words out of the context of the article, what subject matter would automatically come to your mind?
I found the section regarding the making of the soldier's body to be very applicable to how we work with our bodies as dancers. These men of the 17th-late 18th centuries were molded into figures with upright postures, programmed steps and structured attitudes; compare to ballet, especially, where all of these are instructed from an early age. Even the goals are similar - achieving honour and respect (of movement), grace, alertness, agility and strength. The quote on pg. 136: "A body that is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved", is applicable to any dance class or performance, even improvisational. We are constantly subjecting our bodies to our aspirations and limitations, using the body and our knowledge to further its abilities for the task at hand, transforming it (whether in attitude or structure) to execute movements and improving it for the short-term goals and the long-term benefits.
Foucoult discusses discipline as domination. Although I cannot make any perfectly tangible connections here, I did think that his notes regarding obtaining effects of utility through the elegance of discipline (pg. 137) inspired a similarity to be reached between this and the use of discipline to attain the aesthetic rewards that dance has to offer. Dancers and choreographers
can work themselves to the bone to discover the most fleetingly beautiful line, moment of contact or significant gesture, but that feeling of having utilised our body and accomplished this makes every second of frustration and pain worth having lived through.
To move into choreography for a bit, the development of discipline reminded me of the development of modern dance. They both originated in scattered locations, were prone to imitation (e.g. Ruth St. Denis imitating dances of various exotic cultures), were distinguished from each other by their applications (Anna Pavlova creating ballet's accessibility throughout the world, the disparity between Martha Graham's use of breath versus Doris Humphrey's), and both adopted their own methodologies (Cunningham/Limon/Balanchine technique). Dance, also, was "adopted in response to particular needs" (pg. 138) - Isadora Duncan's need to create simple dance as expression; Graham's need to develop a representation of modern/current America through dance, while using it to deal with the advent of world wars.
Towards the end of the article, Foucoult describes how activity was controlled. In ''The temporal elaboration of the act'', there is a description of requisite steps for marching troops of the mid-eighteenth century. The detail of the measurements, time and movements involved is astounding. It is comparable to any advanced ballet class or staging of a work such as Humphrey's ''The Shakers''. It can even be applied outside the art of dance - for example, to playing one of Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos. It is that level of exactitude, required to provide the quality and expression desired.
It is possible to draw comparisons to dance through mentions of distribution in space and/or relation to other objects in space (pgs. 141 & 164), especially as far as creating and observing choreography is concerned. An aspect of rhythm can be inferred from the discussion - "the place [the body] occupies, the interval it covers, the regularity, the good order according to which it operates its movements". Instead of reading that the body can become part of a machine, we can think of it as part of an impressive piece of group choreography, whether in unison or not (this especially resonates for me after watching 'Water Study' & 'Chronicles' today in Dance History class!)
Discipline, in no matter what context, provides humanity with a framework... a structure, if you will. It institutes foundations and principles which can be utilised to gain knowledge. This can be applied to any aspect of life, whether as one that exhibits these qualities or does not. It was especially poignant to read this on a level where dance could be discovered within the words. I just find that I am refreshed to think that fortunately, dance today has many aspects which use discipline in a less invasive fashion. Modern techniques exist that are based on natural states of breath and emotion. Ballet companies finally are learning to prioritise the health of their dancers. Therefore, while discipline of the techniques can still be retained, the discipline of the humanity and art involved is constantly being redefined.
In a coda of a conclusion, one last little thought from pg. 141 that made me chuckle: "Napolean did not discover the world; but we know that he set out to organise it". And what better prominent dance figure does that portrait of a major historical disciplinary figure bring to mind, than the man who decided to codify and organise dance... Rudolf Laban!

-- Natasha:)

2 comments:

sfr said...

damn.
i just posted my comment to the earlier post. and i've been put to shame.

but just for discussion's sake, i'd like to ask about natasha's next to last paragraph:

"I just find that I am refreshed to think that fortunately, dance today has many aspects which use discipline in a less invasive fashion. Modern techniques exist that are based on natural states of breath and emotion. Ballet companies finally are learning to prioritise the health of their dancers. Therefore, while discipline of the techniques can still be retained, the discipline of the humanity and art involved is constantly being redefined."

is there a way out of the discipline machine? can you get outside of discipline, be it the prison, the technique, the humanity? what is beyond the walls of the panopticon?

what am i getting at? not sure, really.

can you dance, can you be a "dancer", outside of The Dance? what can you be besides docile? and if you are that something-else, are you then moving toward disciplinarian?

say you revolt. are no longer docile. escape from prison. you find some way to do some other dance. so you move off and do your own thing and someone follows you. someone wants to do your dance. are you then the new discipline? yes. you have manipulated their body, right. your controls have invaded their body. perhaps you have not literally whipped them to get them to do this. perhaps you intentionally exerted no force, but the coersion of example drew them to follow you, putting you, like it or not, in a position of power over them.

this idea of discipline seems inescapable to me.

Janet said...

sarah, i agree with you. and it's frustrating. i see myself, even, wavering between the docile pupil and the disciplinarian, and wanting so badly to be aware of other options! but i don't see them.

also, natasha: i loved your laban reference! i thought the same thing!

ps: what exactly IS the panopticon?!!!