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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.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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