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The Mysterious Moment: early Dada performance as ritual

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With a focus on the soirées that took place at the Cabaret Voltaire between February and April 1916, this essay investigates the Dadaists' early performances as flawed and ferocious events illuminating, paradoxically, the possibility of a viable avant-garde practice. In engaging theories of performance and of ritual, the ritualistic patterning of the Dadaists' "services" is outlined, comprising the use of text, noise, violence, and transgression. The performances discussed here also constitute a series of conspicuously artificial, multilayered enactments of socio-cultural contestation at a moment of acute social crisis. Conscious of the fragility of their attempts to find a place for modern art at the edges of discourse and "life", the Dada performers laid claim to a moment of genuine, communal experience.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 15, 2006

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