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QUORUM Postgraduate Drama Seminar: Arabella Stanger – Wednesday 15 November 2017
15th November 2017 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pmFree
Separate but Equal:
Merce Cunningham, Black Mountain College, and Choreographies of White Ideality.
Studies of choreographer Merce Cunningham have been consistent in attributing to his dance environments qualities of civic situations involving democracy, the individual, and freedom. This talk begins by asking how the complex of political metaphors that cloud Cunningham’s practice might be disaggregated in a way that is attentive to this work’s historical contingency and situatedness. By drawing from Henri Lefebvre’s (1974) theorization of spatial sociality and Saidiya Hartman’s (1997) critique of the racializing apparatus of U.S. liberalism, I propose a rethinking of the ‘politics’ of Cunningham’s work in relation to cultures of spatial inhabitation developed at Black Mountain College – Cunningham’s spring and summer residence over three years between 1948 and 1953 and the ground from which the liberal utopianism of his work was initially wrought. When considered in the light of the practices of utopia with which his early work shared a material context within the surrounds of a Jim Crow rural South, Cunningham’s choreographic modelling of a distributed and individuated relationality in space can be understood to produce a certain kind of social imaginary where communal harmony resides in the protection of individual liberty and spatial availability is figured as the guarantor of a white settler conception of the land of the free. By focussing here upon the choreographic arrangements of Black Mountain College’s dining rooms, I examine a set of spatial ideals concerning land, community, and racial dispossession in order to clarify the social particularity of Cunningham’s conjuring of ‘democracy’ through human bodies dancing on stage.
Arabella Stanger is Lecturer in Drama: Theatre and Performance at the University of Sussex. She was previously Lecturer in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton, was awarded her PhD in Theatre and Performance by Goldsmiths, University of London and before embarking on her academic studies trained in ballet and contemporary dance. Arabella’s research moves across dance, theatre, and performance studies and is concentrated in theoretical explorations of the choreographic. She has published recently on heterotopia, choreography, and the Middle Passage slave ship (Performance Research); on sabotage as a dramaturgical mode in theatrical and industrial protest (Valiz); and on the nature of epic timespace in choreographic and literary modernisms (OUP). She is currently preparing a monograph on the materialist theorisation of choreographic space.