- Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement by Katherine Profeta
What does a dance dramaturg do? What is dance dramaturgy? The elusiveness of any concrete answer to these questions is an ongoing challenge, characteristic of the field of dance dramaturgy. Katherine Profeta takes the reader inside her experience as dance dramaturg for choreographer Ralph Lemon in her frank and detailed sharing of personal experiences, often told through the inclusion of verbatim conversations and e-mails that help to answer those questions. Profeta considers what she is doing inside and outside the rehearsal room. This unique approach comes from her experiential and scholarly knowledge, making for a substantial contribution to the small amount of scholarship in a field that has not yet put forward such an extensive perspective from a dance dramaturg “in motion.” [End Page 100]
Profeta begins with a succinct historical tracing of the development of dramaturgy, charting the emergence of dance dramaturgy in the late 1970s. She describes the momentum of dance dramaturgy in Europe beginning with Raimund Hoghe’s work with Pina Bausch, to Marianne Van Kerkhoven with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Heidi Gilpin with William Forsythe, and so on. This chronology is useful to understand both the lineage of the form and to contemplate the evolutions in contemporary dance that opened up a space for the role to emerge. Profeta places the essence of the task of the dance dramaturg as someone with a presence and activity in the rehearsal room.
Previously a member of the experimental theatre ensemble Elevator Repair Service, she brings her collective dramaturgy skills to projects with Lemon. Her background in dance, theatre, and devised work makes for an informed and intuitive approach to dance dramaturgy. One of the strongest contributions of the book is her ability to move seamlessly between theory and practice, making it particularly appealing to scholars in the field or those with a practical background, as well as others who practice performance as research.
The book is separated into five chapters, examining what Profeta calls the different “registers” of the dance dramaturg’s engagement with the artist and creative process. These chapters include: text and language, research, audience, movement, and interculturalism. In the final chapter on interculturalism—the most urgent of the volume—Profeta draws on the work of Walter Benjamin and Rustom Bharucha to explore the complex creative process involved in intercultural collaborations. For future choreographers and dance dramaturgs, she proposes an essential “Eight Points of Focus” to consider when engaging in intercultural collaborations, which she aptly calls an “ethical check-up.”
Dramaturgy in Motion is an important book that has numerous functions. Foremost, it is an exploration of Profeta’s experience as a dance dramaturg, including the vital study of the “culture of disagreement” that can become part of the dance dramaturg-choreographer relationship. In addition, the explanation of her trials and errors with Lemon helps to conceptualize dance dramaturgy. More broadly, she situates the field of dance dramaturgy and the collaborative process politically, thereby exploring the social and political dimensions of Lemon’s work. [End Page 101]
PHOEBE RUMSEY is a PhD candidate in theatre and performance at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include dance, musical theatre, and the performance of embodied nostalgia.