Dance Ecology as a Live Research Practice

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This chapter looks at some of the shifting territories that have marked the Irish contemporary dance landscape, from the early nineties to the present day, citing notable developments that have effected a marked change in perceptions and attitudes surrounding choreographic practices and processes both within and beyond Ireland. Spanning over twenty years of dance culture in Ireland, the writing reflects on notable developments within formal training provision, artistic collectives, company structures and performance platforms that have altered the terrain of Irish contemporary dance. The writing considers how transdisciplinary research practices in dance have significantly shifted moving bodies beyond aesthetic-bound stage production to continue to expand and challenge definitions of art, politics and place through Irish contemporary dance culture.

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'Tracking entities' is a cartographic essay that takes the idea of topographic exchange between place and body, exploring the relationship between sense, perception and corporeal memory. Underlying an enquiry into developing movement vocabulary in response to a particular terrain, the terms 'proprioception', 'perception' and 'perspective' are examined here in relation to the site-based performance activities of ROCKface, directed by dancer/choreographers Rachel Sweeney and Marnie Orr. Using anatomy maps, poetic writings, cartographic documents and somatic descriptions, this visual essay serves to distinguish ROCKface's choreographic approach in developing a physical approach to land driven by the interaction between dancer and environment where the focus remains on an application of physical and perceptual consciousness within site-based movement practice. The role of sense perception in site-based performance practice is located here through a modern-day palimpsest where initial dance movements acquired in the immediate vicinity of working on site might subsequently be recreated through their inscription, or refinement, to be developed towards distinct choreographic materials. Central to an enquiry into sense perception in contemporary performance practice is the ability of the dancer working in outdoor rural environments to interrelate different senses – in particular, the relation between visual and touch sensation – through a process of physical synaesthesia. Brian Massumi’s term the ‘visceral gaze’ will be adopted to describe the deliberate anatomical re-mapping of proprioceptive faculties regarding kinaesthetic vision in seeking to distinguish a topography of the eye that proposes an inversion of phenomenological processes operating between the seen and the felt within movement processes.
Reflecting on pre-existing models of site-based contemporary performance practice, this article will introduce dance ecologist Rachel Sweeney’s recent experiences participating in the Vertical Nature Base dance and rock-climbing collaborative project together with Steve Batts and Dan Shipsides in coastal northern Donegal. Here the author’s on-hand experiences of negotiating vertical and horizontal site-based movement strategies will challenge the notion of gravity as informing dance’s interrogation of site, illustrating how emergent responses to moving from the horizontal to the vertical might present their own critique of map-making, performance writing and ephemera, in moving between different kinesthetic states as defined by proximity to land. Underlying the writing here, the terms topophobia and topophilia point to the body’s own physiological response that can shift register considerably between these polarized sensations as the body seeks to re-establish its own parameters for movement both on and off the ground.
Reshaping the Landscape: A Pathway to Professional Dance Training of International Standing in Ireland. The Arts Council Dance and Education Report
  • Jenny Roche
Transcribing Dance as Utterance
  • Rachel Sweeney
Dancing on the Edge: Irish Choreographers in Conversation. Cork: Institute for Choreography and Dance
  • Diana Theodores
Material Traces: Reflecting on Dance Performance and the Archive. Dance Notes 2. Dance Research Forum Ireland, 8-10
  • Jenny Roche