Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Slip

Locating dance within Foucault's framework of docility is both difficult and provocative. In attempting to pin dance to this trellis it becomes apparent that dance is slippery and cannot be easily categorized. It is clear however that discipline and dance are deeply entangled. Natasha spots this in the body of the soldier.
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.
Foucault opens his section on docile bodies with a reading of Montgommery's 1636 military manual La Milice francaise. It's description of the dancerly pikeman, who 'will have have to march in step in order to have as much grace and gravity as possible' resonates with Thoinot Arbeau's dance manual Orchesographie. Written less than 50 years earlier, it had illustrated the strong linkages between choreography in the court and on the battlefield.

Thinking that making a dancer is just another instance of creating a docile subject (be it a soldier, factory worker, school child, or mental patient) can be uncomfortable to say the least. Janet points out how subtle power mechanisms can operate to form the subject.
For example the idea of coercion - that the power structure is being so fully and well imposed because of the fact that it's being slipped in the back door, so to speak. "Small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion, subtle arrangements, apparently innocent, but profoundly suspicious," (p. 139). It's not being beaten into people, it's "proper" execution is being rewarded. It is being made convenient. I think that these ideas have a very great relationship to the more "open" versions of modern and contemporary dance technique. Even when we are not working from highly stylized and codified techniques, we are still being instructed by a teacher, being ordered into levels, being auditioned for placement and so on. Therefore if we are properly disciplined in WHATEVER is the "proper" kind of "technique" (even if that is merely a general body awareness?), we are being subject to a certain power structure based on WHO decided what is "proper".
We are inside a discipline machine with all of the spatial and temporal markers Foucault describes. This class demonstrates that. A component of the dance {1,2}/3 or graduate study in the department of dance at Sarah Lawrence College. The class is physically located in a distinct place within a time table. The time and space within the class is also divided and in doing so controls the physical activities of the participant bodies. Some stand, some sit, some on the floor, some on chairs, some speak, some erase, some write and some read. We move inside the computer for a spell. Then there is time and space designated for dancing. Our bodies and activities are seem well placed within space, time and the structure of the academy.

But, Sarah Rosner pushes back with a contrarian maneuver.
I think the thing that hit me most about the idea of discipline via the control of movements is how much i DIDN'T feel like it applied to my experience of dance.
And Sarah Richison voices related discontent, but finds in it a contradiction.
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.
For those of you who were looking for straight answers I fear that we have none. Instead we are left with a set of contradictions and a general understanding that dance is slippery, at times obedient and located, at other times disobedient and dislocated.

Here are one, two, three, four dances, two made inside the institution and two made outside. Dissect them with regards to this contradiction between dance's discipline and disruption.

1 comment:

Tony said...

Here is a great post on the prison dance.