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Dance and research Editorial

Thinking movement

Timmy De Laet
Universiteit Antwerpen

Is a dancing body also a thinking body? Choreography is commonly considered to be either a matter of internalized technique or the expression of intuitive impulses. In both cases, a surplus of consciousness or reflection would be obstructive – if not noxious – for dance. In recent years, however, this prevalent assumption is increasingly challenged by the idea that also dance embodies and provokes knowledge. The expanding field of dance studies and the rise of artistic research in practice-oriented dance education have both played a vital role in these new perspectives on dance. They have specifically fostered the insight that dance not only thinks by doing but also makes one think.

This autumn issue of FORUM+ marks the launch of a brand-new dossier on ‘Dance and Research’, with three contributions that each in their own way exemplify how dance incites various kinds of research. Choreographer Martin Nachbar focuses on dance as artistic research practice by unfolding his intentions behind The Walk, a participative performance that takes spectators on a walk through the city. Walking as a choreographic movement can disrupt the rhythm of city life, Nachbar claims, and this embodied experience gains particular meaning against the background of other collective walking practices, such as political marches and processions. Natalie Gordon and Caroline D’Haese, both dance teachers at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp who also have their own artistic practice, propose an alternative approach to dance education. Going beyond the traditional emphasis on learning steps as the core of dance classes, they argue for arts education stimulating the exploratory research capacities of students as well as their ability to critically voice their learning experiences. Jonas Rutgeerts and his co-authors offer a critical view on the expanding scholarly domain of dance studies. They note how the notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ became – as in so many other fields – the new mantra in dance studies. Oddly enough, different views on this alleged interdisciplinarity find hardly any connections with each other. Under the label of what they call ‘ID²’ or ‘interdisciplinarity to the second degree’, they propose to pursue more comprehensive crossovers between practice-oriented research and theoretical contextualizations.

With this dossier, FORUM+ aims to contribute actively to the burgeoning discourse on dance as a valid and illuminating form of reflective inquiry that takes up a distinct place within research in and on the arts. In this respect, this editorial also serves as an open and ongoing call for new contributions (in English or Dutch) that shed light on the ways that dance and knowledge, the body and reflection, movement and discourse relate to each other – or rather, how they mobilise each other. It is our hope that this dossier will grow into a sustained and, above all, a moved and moving dialogue between artists and/or researchers and/or spectators and/or teachers and/or curators and/or all other roles from which dance and/or research can be considered.

Next to the focus on ‘Dance and Research’, this issue has a lot more to offer. At least one striking common thread is the way in which various authors are seeking out contradictions: sculpture becomes malleable ( Baeyens); nature gets to speak to us ( Roels); silence becomes music ( Moore). The notion of contradiction is of course a preeminent dramatic dynamic – think of Aristotle’s foundational scheme of protagonist and antagonist in tragedy – and it often also serves as a structural impetus in many other art forms beyond theatre. Yet what the mentioned articles seem to emphasize is that contradictions – in whatever form – do not necessarily lead to conflict or tensions; they can also furnish a breeding ground for creation, commonality or composition.

Is this interest indicative of a certain utopian impulse in current art practices and artistic research? Are our times so out of joint that there is a need for unity within division? Such questions may seem like platitudes, were it not that our contemporaneity leaves little room for cynical thinking. Especially in a politically charged climate in which restrictive borders tend to outweigh the very ability of people to move around, the arts in general and choreography in particular have a lot to say about the world in which we live.