Dancing the Time of Place: Fieldwork, Phenomenology and Nature's Choreography

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In May 2000 I danced alone for three days in a field of barley. I undertook this fieldwork as part of my research for Be/longings, a full-length trio that was toured later that year and in 2001 by the contemporary dance company Figure Ground. The fieldwork involved a noteworthy way of witnessing the wind-whipped barley, the notation of my movement in response to what I witnessed, and the orchestration of what I notated according to a method derived from the descriptive phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the hermeneutic ontology of Martin Heidegger. By and large, this accumulative method adapts the seven ‘steps’ for evaluating phenomena proposed by Herbert Spiegelberg in the final part of his book The Phenomenological Movement (1994: 675–719).

Phenomenology rests on three suppositions: firstly, that I have a faculty of intuition through which I can sympathetically engage with the natural or other-than-human world; secondly, that the object of nature of which I am conscious will always already and only ever be the object as it appears to me through my subjective faculty of intuition; thirdly, that the object as a thing-in-itself can, paradoxically, be appreciated through a rigorous self-examination of the structures of my own consciousness and subjective apprehension of that object (Stewart 1998: 42). In this chapter I explore dancing as a mode of knowing nature. I indicate how my particular phenomenological method constituted my choreographic process, and show how that process, taken as a kind of applied phenomenology, was integral to a phenomenological description of nature. I also ask questions concerning the aforesaid suppositions of phenomenology that are especially relevant to this volume. Specifically, I question the possibility that it is not just we who dance nature but that nature presents itself to us through dancing, and I question the relationship between space and time in the way in which nature is disclosed. As a result, I reflect on how the dancing body temporalises the temporality of nature and worlds the world of a place.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0375-9_19

Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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