The Body: an apology

Body PartsImage:

The following will be read to a group of students at Royal Holloway, University of London, in a seminar I am leading. I have been invited to lead this, the second of two seminars I have designed on ‘Performance and The Body’, by those great guys at Forest Fringe.

Dear students,

I have had a lovely time with you (probably).

I wanted to read this to you so that some things are clear. In essence, it’s an apology.

The first clarification is that I am not sure I am qualified to tell anyone anything about ‘The Body’. I mean this in two ways. First, and as I hope I have made visible through the sessions, ‘The Body’ does not mean much to me. I mean to say that calling something ‘The Body’, capitalised as it often is, suggests that it’s something alien, an object of study or something, more than what we are (or, as Spångberg would have it, and I hope you have read, because it was on the reading list, what we are doing). I am suspicious of all situations, academic, artistic and otherwise, that point at The Body as something peculiar or strange or fascinating, more than anything is peculiar or strange or fascinating, usually by making it mute or testing its limits or making it especially good at things. This ‘it’ is what we are, as I see it, so even this description starts to get me in knots.

The other way in which I question my qualification for being here is that I’m not totally convinced that my work – my developing artistic practice and my embryonic academic practice – particularly concerns itself with the-body-with-capital-letters. On the other hand, I know that with my educational and professional history it cannot not, and it shows in my work and my writing and the rest.

Really, I’m worrying that I’ve sold you short. And in doing so I’ve sold my field, that of performance in its widest sense, very very short. Though we’ve touched – so, unbearably lightly, as lightly as feathers fluttering against a breeze – on BIG THINGS like identity, representation, kinaesthetic empathy, virtuosity, objects, choreography and so on, it’s never enough.

Most of all I fear I’ve only given you such a tiny glimpse into my perspective of this world of performance – the The Body kind – that I’ve missed loads of good and interesting and important stuff out. I’ve mainly shown you what some people used to call ‘conceptual’ dance, though hardly anyone does any more and nobody did with any level of sincerity and honesty before. I wonder to what extent I chose this because when I was an undergraduate I really loved it; it seemed to ask to be thought about through essays. Or maybe I loved it because lots of people did write essays about these works so my experiences of them were rich with words, nice easy words.

Anyway, I haven’t shown you all the ways in which The Body is figured totally differently in performance. We haven’t looked at those guys who tie The Body with emotionality or self-expression; we haven’t tried out anything really to do with the limits of theatrical virtuosity or extreme athleticism; we haven’t discussed masses of bodies; we haven’t attended to spectators’ bodies; we haven’t been involved through and with touch; we didn’t enter that rich world where bodies spew forth bits of themselves; we didn’t seek out bodies in cyberspace; we didn’t think about bodies working well and not well, and what the criteria are for determining that.


Any questions?

Gillie x