Dance interpretation and the cultural institution : exploring the condition(s) of British and French contemporary dance in the 1990s
This study examines what is intended and understood as the meaning of contemporary dance in its sociocultural context, in which the role of the state is a significant factor. It investigates the extent to which the structures and practices of public arts funding influence the production and reception of contemporary dance, focusing on British and French dance in the 1990s. By focusing on specific works in critically reflexive terms, it seeks to offer a basis for future ethnographic study of dance practices and dance audiences. The thesis employs a critical hermeneutic method, offering a philosophical reflection on dance as well as exploring the mutual implication of artistic practice, aesthetic response and their socio-political and economic contexts. The philosophical grounding of the investigation is explored in detail, in order to support a reflexive engagement of methodological issues of broader relevance to the discipline of dance studies. The relation between verbal language and dance is critically examined: drawing from Saussure and Wittgenstein, the argument is made for the contextual determination of meaning in both these "forms of life". A discussion of aesthetic and anthropological theories which recognise the mutual implication of artwork and context is followed by a reflection on the methods of dance analysis that most effectively explore the extent and character of that implication. Phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches are discussed, including methods derived and adapted from the study of literature which focus analytic attention on the reception rather than production of texts. An emphasis on spectatorship and dance interpretation seeks to redress what is argued as an imbalance in dance studies, namely the privileging of the perspectives of choreographing and performing subjects in dance analysis. The empirical investigation explores the structure and development, since 1945, of what is termed the "cultural institution", namely the set of conventions and practices which both enable and constrain the production and reception of contemporary dance art. It is argued that the state, through intervention via policy formulation and subsidy distribution, has played a key role in setting parameters within the "danceworld", a subsidiary of the broader cultural institution and the environment which contexts contemporary dance performance. An overview of the politico-economic conditions of dance in the 1990s is presented, and four case studies then extend this discussion by exploring how those conditions are actualised on individual sites of dance productionand reception. Four works are examined in detail (Kim Brandstrup's Crime Fictions, Russell Maliphant's Unspoken, Daniel Larrieu's Mobile and Herve Robbe's ld. ), in terms of their institutional context and the viewing experiences to which they give rise, arguing for a connection between the types of aesthetic response articulated and the institutional conditions in which the works are performed and received. The thesis argues against a determinist relation between the politico-economic context and the aesthetics of dance, proposing instead that these two dimensions of contemporary dance practice need to be examined conjointly. It seeks to demonstrate that this is crucial, if the current condition of contemporary dance in Britain and France is to be both understood and critically appraised.