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  • Phenomenology and Dance:Husserlian Meditations
  • Anna Pakes (bio)

The dimming of the house lights focuses attention on the still darkened stage, although awareness of the others in the auditorium and its quieted bustle does not entirely fade. From the stage, the sound of several people taking five or six measured footsteps in unison, then stopping, momentarily precedes the lights (stage and house) fading quickly up to reveal nine performers. They stand, facing out, dressed in ordinary clothes (shirt and jacket, jumper and skirt, different colors), steady gaze directed at the audience. They stand in the gaps between a series of reflective slabs, each of the same regular dimensions, slightly wider and taller than the performers themselves. Behind the performers is a further line of panels cut from the same material. After a brief pause, the space darkens.

When the stage lights come up again, the world has changed: a strong wind now blows across the stage, and a roar of noise fills the theater. The performers emerge in twos, threes, or fours to walk slowly in an arc before disappearing once more behind the reflective panels, which are now bending and distorting in the stage wind. The walking forms a seamless flow, with one pair or group emerging and relaying another as it vanishes. Each time they appear, the performers sport a new item of clothing (a dressing gown, a feathered headdress, a white doctor's coat) or carry a different object (a torch, a sandwich, a crown, a doll), and perform a different action (shining light on the floor, eating, carrying a pot plant, shaking the baby). Sometimes, the action involves another performer rather than an inanimate object (a fist fight, a passionate kiss). Some actions are ordinary (reading a newspaper, donning sunglasses, putting on a coat), some extreme (shooting a gun, dragging a dead pheasant along the ground with one's teeth, kicking the baby across the floor). There is no apparent connection between actions in terms of their sense, though objects and items of clothing periodically reappear forging a formal link between the instances of their use. Some are thrown away, to form a gradually mounting pile of debris downstage. But the reiteration of certain objects, as well as the pacing and relayed groupings of the movement also create a sense of structure, and a formal coherence, if not narrative or thematic cohesion.

After a time, attention wanders and alights on a cable stretched across the front of the stage, between two spools, one at each side of the space. The cable is (automatically) being gradually unwound from one spool on to the other, in the process dragging across strategically placed strings. This is the source of the roar of noise, which both dominates and forms a constant backdrop to the stage action. When the whole cable has unwound, the noise (perhaps also the action and the [End Page 33] howling wind) will stop. In the meantime, it continues, uninterrupted though punctuated by the occasional drama (a violent slap, a flash of nudity, a contemptuous discarding of one of the objects) amid the unfolding sequence of everyday images.

This description of Maguy Marin's (2004) Umwelt identifies salient features from the stream of experiences and activities that comprise its performance. As any detailed account of a dance might reasonably be expected to do, it highlights the presence and actions of performers, the stage props, elements of scenography, the accompanying sound, and the source of that sound, picking them out as objects of conscious attention. In the process, the things that give the dance and its experience their distinctiveness are brought to reflective awareness. But the description also shows, perhaps, how the experienced elements, the performance, even the dance work itself, are constituted in the process of being seen, noted, reflected upon, and described. It is a creative account in forming one image of the dance out of the available range of perceptual materials, sense data, and linguistic resources at the writer's disposal. The dance appears as something that the process of engaging with it partly creates. In other words, an active engagement produces the experienced phenomenon. It is not a case of the already given objects...


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pp. 33-49
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