How can dance—a performing art often expressing emotions through virtuosic bodies—portray its antipode: absence, the imperceptible, and death? Beginning with Martha Graham’s 1930 solo choreography Lamentation, this essay will consider how a dancer’s partnership with an elastic fabric can awaken spectators to a corporeal, kinetic sense of grief. Perceiving the life of the dancer within the fabric and this dynamic duet between the animate and inanimate, Lamentation argues that the division between living and dead is porous and that grief is not a purely mental affair. Both contentions are further developed in choreographer Sasha Waltz’s noBody (2002), where dancers perform duets with apparent corpses and fabric animated by invisible dancers. Both Lamentation and noBody are complementary, supplementary, and antagonistic to dominant psychological approaches to dealing with the dead. The choreographies exemplify practices of grief marginalized or pathologized by Freud and contemporary thanatologists, such as a continuing sense of the departed’s physical presence and/or attempts to communicate. The partnership between the living and the supposedly inanimate presented in Lamentation and noBody strengthens Merleau-Ponty’s analogy between phantom limbs and grief, while the phenomenological articulation of the ambiguous existence possessed by phantoms aids in accounting for the multiplicity that coalesces in these dances of grief. Finally, the blurring between the living and dead within Lamentation and noBody provides choreographic commentary on Merleau-Ponty’s late chiasmic philosophy, which challenges a sharp distinction between the animate and the inanimate.


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pp. 21-42
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