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Spectacle, world, environment, void: understanding nature through rural site-specific dance

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

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Abstract

This essay makes a contribution to environmental dance in general by not only reflecting on examples from the field of rural site-specific dance but also by mapping four epistemologies by which we can understand that field in the first place. The essay appears as a chapter in a publication that was the first to address the area of site-specific dance in general. Given the critical apparatus it uses to scope and reflect upon this area, it is twice as long as any other chapter in the book.

I set out four different ways, or epistemes, in which we can understand how rural site-specific dance produces knowledge of nature. They are “spectacle”, “world”, “environment”, and “void”. In effect, these epistemes exist on a continuum between, at one extreme, aesthetic theories and dance practices that understand “nature” as merely a human construction to, at the other extreme, theories and practices that confront nature’s sheer alterity and unmasterable magnitudes.

I define and exemplify each episteme in relation to the natural sciences, the aesthetics and ethics of nature, and the function of language in articulating nature. I also give examples of rural site-specific dance, putting, as I move along the continuum, more emphasis on methods of work than finished site-specific works. For the sake of comparison, I refer to works and practices concerned with birds, beaches and grasslands. Finally, at the behest of the editor I review the four epistemes and demonstrate the ways in which they can overlap through a discussion of two co-productions by Sap Dance and Louise Ann Wilson Company: the walking performance Jack Scout (2010), which is discussed by other contributors to the book, and the film Jack Scout Redux (2013).