Flexible Performativity: the Invisible Visible Labor of Contemporary Dancers
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This thesis examines the performativity of dancers in contemporary performances and its correlation with the multifaceted and precarious modes of working associated with Post-Fordist capitalism. The theoretical framework departs from Marxist and feminist understandings of labor to examine how danced labor and virtuosity have been conceptualized in dance theory, particularly the “hired body” of Susan Leigh Foster, and later work on the production of subjectivity from Bojana Kunst, Bojana Cvejić, André Lepecki, and Italian Post-Operaist thinkers such as Paolo Virno. Jon McKenzie’s notion of performativity as a highly normative organizing principle of our times is then used to develop the understanding that performativity in a theatrical setting is greatly affected by the (off- stage) labor of dancers. The notion of “flexible performativity” is proposed to describe the versatile, fragmented, unfinished subjectivities proposed by contemporary dancers on stage. Its attendant characteristics (hyper-referentialism, hyper-subjectivation, auto-dramaturgy, and negotiating proximity) are examined for the labor they entail for dancers. These characteristics are further unfolded by drawing on the work of various contemporary dance theorists, and by connecting them to specific modes of working within the field. Developing flexible performativity as an analytical framework, two case studies of common contemporary dance formats, the “precarity solo” (How Do You Imagine the Devil? by Dani Brown (2012)) and the “dance exhibition” (This Variation by Tino Sehgal (2012)), highlight how dancers’ work contributes to the doing of these performances.