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Moving in Medias Res: Towards a Phenomenological Hermeneutics of Dance Improvisation

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This essay considers how dance improvisation involves processes of interpretation which are fundamental to human experience. Particular attention is given to psychosomatic practices, that is, approaches to performance that depend on a relation between a ‘score’ of external actions and an ‘underscore’ of internal images. The essay first refers to several historically significant psychosomatic methods that promise a plenitude of self-presence, but then questions those methods through Paul Ricoeur’s critique of idealist phenomenology. However, the essay also argues that improvised dance in general, and the work of Marie-Gabriella Rotie and Jennifer Monson in particular, can offer an alternative psychosomatic approach which exemplifies the phenomenological hermeneutics of Ricoeur and Hans Georg Gadamer. Through exploration of concepts such as distanciation, appropriation, conversation, and occasion, the essay grasps dance improvisation as a unfinished practice in which the moving body unfolds the world—in particular the natural world—of which it is already a part by relating to it through a subtext that it interprets kinaesthetically.