What Remains? Dancing in the Archaeological Museum

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This research project is an investigation into the various negotiations of temporality that occur when dance enters the museum space. Above all, it aims to probe shifting experiences of temporality when choreography performs as museum exhibit, most specifically when these performances take place within the museum of ancient art and archaeology. Research questions include how we might consider the dance (or the dancer)in the archaeological museum as a counter-archive or, to use performance theorist Rebecca Schneider’s (2001, 2011) reworking of French philosopher Michel Foucault’s term, as a site of ‘counter-memory.’ If and when dance in the museum does become a site of counter-memory, might it then allow new visibility for those bodies -specifically those female bodies -previously misrepresented or rendered partially invisible by history?

My thesis argues that live dance performance in the museum possesses the potential to articulate the gaps, the intervallic spaces, between temporalities. My thinking here conflates and expands two recent ideas –Rebecca Schneider’s theorizing on performance as ‘perhaps another word for the intervallic’ (Schneider 2016) and Georgina Guy’s idea of the ‘lacuna’ between the performed and displayed which may be ‘encountered anew and imagined through acts of theatre, exhibition and curation’ (Guy 2015: 184) in the museum. By offering a space to allow for gaps or lacunae to appear, the dancing body in the museum opens up a space for other stories, other histories, to surface. As Tony Bennett (1995) reminds us, the museum is a training-ground to think about temporality, to think about time, differently: dance in the archaeological museum may then be considered a means to think about history differently.

This project situates itself firmly in the context of UK and continental European dance and performance studies yet, being naturally interdisciplinary, it also mines the fields of museum studies, ancient history, archaeology, and classical studies. Shifting between the positions of academic, choreographer and dancer, and between critical discourse and the poetic voices of practice, I adopt a collective methodology of a critical analysis review, based on an integration of i) hermeneutic phenomenology after French philosopher Paul Ricœur’s explorations of time and narrative (1983, 1984, 1985, 2004) and ii) feminist inquiry, building on a re-interrogation of a vast body of scholarship in classics and in dance / performance studies in relation to the gaze; as well as a practice-as-research approach.

Dance practice is at the heart of this thesis, in the creation and performance of the solo durational choreographic work Likely Terpsichore? (Fragments)for the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford. Through the practice, I ask how choreography, like archaeology, allows us to excavate the body and the past. Is this a practice about remembering -or dismembering -an ancient form? What happens when this re-/dismembering is put on display and exhibited in the museum? Through examining processes of dismembering and remembering, I claim dance performance in the museum as the ‘fragmentary monumental, ’an action that might be able to resituate women on the inside of power but on their own terms, and, eventually, to enable an alternative means of viewing history.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorSarah Whatley (Supervisor) & Natalie Garrett Brown (Supervisor)

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