A Dance that is Now: 'Old' and New Technologies for Preserving and Re-Creating Ballet and Movement

Susanna Weygandt's picture
Call for Papers
March 17, 2016 to March 20, 2016
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Dance and History of Dance, Film and Film History, Russian or Soviet History / Studies, Theatre & Performance History / Studies

A Dance that is Now: ‘Old’ and New Technologies for the Preservation and Re-creation of Ballet and Movement 
            This seminar focuses on the use of science to empirically record ballet, dance, and pantomime. Choreography supports the dynamics between dance steps, music, narrative space, the audience’s perspective, and the imagination of the dancer and choreographer. What happens when the subjective experience of creating a dance is turned into an objective account for the purpose of preservation? The goal of this seminar is to bring together scholars from various disciplines to explore how interactions between technology and movement art have served to define and defy boundaries between empirical investigation and expressive creativity.

As a launching pad for our discussion, we will address the Dictionary of Terminology, produced by the artists and scientists of the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences (RAKhN) in 1922-‘25 in their attempt to use photography to standardize dance steps. Their photography exhibition translated dancers' feelings into a language of gesture that could be read; that is, the photo exhibition rendered a systemization to earlier idiosyncratic movements. The Dictionary listed terms such as “arabesque” and “empathy” and matched them to corresponding photos.  Since RAKhN, videos of famous ballets in different countries have been used in Film and Dance Studies for preservation and historical analysis, among other critiques. We will move from this important base of cultural history to universal communication, exploring how film, photography, and new technology (camera lenses that move with the speed and rhythms of the dancers, for instance) record gestures for the sake of clarity and enduring impact. This seminar thus invites the use of technologies and methodologies for recording and interpreting the semiotics of gesture.

The quest for empirical, “objective” knowledge has long been a part of the legitimating apparatus of laboratory science. It has moved into academic discourse with the release of the book Objectivity by Peter Galison and Lorraine Daston. The book describes three methods of “seeing” without judgment in the contexts of imaging  biological taxonomies. We will add to the objective study of “still” phenomena our own terminology for empiricizing the complicated topic of movement, which the book omits.  We will address the debate about subjective experience on the stage and then consider to what extent this environment can be a site of empirical analysis, hypothesizing the rehearsal and performance space as re-enactment of a “laboratory” experiment.    

From here, we will discuss when an episteme of gesture derived from mechanical reproduction (photos and film) is superior to dance notation, and when the latter is optimum for re-creating dances.

Finally, we will explore prostheses and dance shoes scientifically designed to control human motion for a desirable encoding of the body in time and space.


Dear Colleagues,
I am collecting paper abstracts for a seminar that I’m proposing to ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association), which will be held at Harvard U. March 17 – 20, 2016 (spring break for some campuses). The seminar proposes to focus on methods of recording and preserving dances and gestures in live performance – a topic that is important to re-examine with the rise of new technologies. I'd be grateful if you could please send notification about this proposal to your students and colleagues. I encourage those of you with research related to any part of the seminar to consider participating.  The examples I include in the abstract below are points of departure for exploring ideas in an interdisciplinary community (with presenters hopefully from a range of departments including Slavic, Dance, Film, History of Science, History, Media Studies, and Comp. Lit). It would be very interesting, for instance, to have papers on dance and technology; the subjectivity of the dancer on stage; objectivity/subjectivity divide; historical films of dances; new methods of video recording ballets; the discovery of a choreographer's dance notation, etc. Ideally there will be presentations from different time periods and national contexts. The link to the application is below, and one can apply by Sept. 23. 
Thanks very much in advance.
Cordially, Susanna

Susanna Weygandt, Ph.D.
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Princeton University
Contact Info: 

Susanna Weygandt    weygandt@princeton.edu

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