- Democracy's Body, Neoliberalism's Body:The Ambivalent Search for Egalitarianism Within the Contemporary Post/Modern Dance Tradition
In this article, I am interested in the ways in which dance as labor and artist as a specific subjectivity relate to the material conditions of their production within contexts shaped by neoliberal notions of freedom, ideologies of liberal democracy, and the logic of global capitalism. I attend specifically to the tension between an egalitarian ethos, a desire to foster relations that cultivate equality, and the centrality of the individual (self, choice, freedom, advancement).1 Some of the questions I discuss below have developed over time from conversations with diverse people in the field, my own experiences as a dancer in many collaborations, and my experience as a choreographer who has used the seemingly egalitarian but somewhat problematic crediting practice that relies on the words "and" and "with" to acknowledge dancers' creative labor in the production of performance works.
As an artist-scholar, body-subject enmeshed in a web of sociopolitical, economic, and cultural forces, I realize that neoliberal ideology and capitalist economic logic is naturalized not only by the operations of government institutions and private corporations but also by the quotidian bodily actions and interactions that ordinary people, including dance artists from different traditions, engage as they go about their life and work.2 To some extent, when we rely on a digital platform to use services like hiring a ride company who employs drivers as subcontractors, we reproduce similar contractual logics that organize labor arrangements under which many dancers are hired as performers in project-by-project collaborations. Also, when dancers engage in their dance practices any variation of the formula the least amount of physical energy for the greatest amount of movement efficiency, they reproduce embodiments of the capitalist foundational principle of the least amount of investment for the greatest amount of profitability. Through the repetition of many quotidian bodily activities as we engage in life and art making, we participate in the normalization of the ideological, social, cultural, and economic forces that inform who we become, or not, as citizens and artists.
In the last few decades, scholars interested in dance have addressed some of these questions by drawing critical attention toward the different relationships artistic labor has to politics and [End Page 47] economic systems (e.g., Cvejić 2011; Franko 2002; Klein 2012; Kolb 2013; Kunst 2015; Martin 2017). Alexandra Kolb notes that insufficient attention has been given to postmodern rhetoric and modern market economic trends. She has written about parallels between participatory performance and a new "experience economy" that reframes the relationship of customers to commodities by staging rather than delivering (as in a service economy) products not to be passively consumed but to be experienced by the customer's senses (2013, 37). In dance, the spectator-consumer becomes a type of active guest who experiences an event—by engaging in verbal and/or physical exchanges with performers, by having freedom in navigating the space and interacting with it in various ways during the performance, etc.—rather than passively witnessing a spectacle (Kolb 2013).
By discussing some works by Yvonne Rainer, Xavier Le Roy, and Tino Sehgal, I seek to build on what Kolb calls the econo-political implications of dance work that claims to be, and to some extent is, egalitarian in its intent, as choreographers try to design more inclusive and less hierarchical dance making methods and viewing strategies. This paper examines these democratizing practices in relation to notions of ownership as well as the production of financial, cultural, and symbolic forms of capital.3 My analysis of these dance practices that seek to implement more collaborative modes of production also attends to claims and efforts made to give performers more individual agency in how they interpret improvisational scores or instructions for completing game-like tasks or other organizational prompts. These methods also include how dancers tap into their own personal experiences and movement backgrounds by engaging with "somatic practices" intended to facilitate more egalitarian creative and teaching approaches (Burnidge 2012, 37) "purported to resist outdated gender ideals and authoritarian training" (Gilbert 2014, iii).4 In combination with other strategies...