Tag Archives: dance

The Body in Performance

Birkbeck Arts Week, 19 May 2014, Cinema 43 Gordon Square

This post was contributed by Lewis Wheeler, who completed a Foundation Degree Contemporary Dance Performance at Birkbeck in April 2014. Follow Lewis’ personal blog and Twitter

It comes as a surprise to many people I talk to that Birkbeck has a dance course at all, let alone a really exciting and unique course headed by a prestigious faculty, but thankfully it does. As Maria Koripas (Director of Dance at Birkbeck) explained in the opening session of The Body in Performance event, the pedagogical approach underpinning the course starts from the understanding that “the body is where we live, who we are and how we enter [and encounter] art” and therefore it is necessary to train “with a 360 degree perspective, the whole person, not just the technical body”. Whereas in some dance schools the ultimate aim is to get the leg higher in the air, at Birkbeck there is the training to get the leg up there but just as importantly to understand why it’s in the air at all, what is the meaning of this and why would we want to do it in the context of a performance?

Maria explained that it is an exciting time for the course as, although a dance course in various forms has existed at the college for 17 years, October 2014 sees the launch of the BA(hons) Contemporary Dance as Creative Practice degree, which will be the first part-time, evening-taught, BA(hons) degree in Contemporary Dance in the UK and having completed the Foundation Degree in Contemporary Dance (the precursor to the new BA) I can personally vouch for the intellectual, artistic and technical challenges and opportunities the course offers its diverse student cohort.

In the second session of the evening Nobuko Anan (Lecturer in Performance & Contemporary Japanese Theatre at Birkbeck) presented an insightful overview of the history of Butoh dance (which started in Japan although proponents of which are now found worldwide). I was surprised that Butoh is a relatively young art form (history isn’t my strong point), it emerged through the ‘50s and ‘60s and early practitioners were heavily influenced by German Expressionism. In the past I have found it challenging to watch Butoh performances as they can seem relatively slow and ‘patience demanding’ in comparison to the dance theatre I’m familiar with in the UK. However, Nobuko’s explanation of how a central tenet of Butoh is to access the “social psyche” and reveal aspects of humanity that are/have been suppressed within society interested me. Frequent themes that arise from this approach include revealing people’s violent urges, erotic/homoerotic desire (at this point my interest piqued) and due to the dancers generally being nearly naked, painted white and moving in a distorted, highly controlled and “grotesque” (Noboku’s word) manner Butoh is widely known as “the dance of death”; certainly sounds better than watching so-called ‘reality’ television to me.

Scene from 'Athletes' by Riccardo Buscarini

Scene from ‘Athletes’ by Riccardo Buscarini

The final session of the evening was led by Riccardo Buscarini (Choreography and Performance Lecturer at Birkbeck and Place Prize winner 2013) who led a very engaging session sharing elements of his creative process as a choreographer and also screened a film of his Place Prize winning choreography Athletes, an exquisite Hitchcock-esque exploration of the contrasts between destroying something to build something new. Riccardo led the second year choreography module during my Foundation Degree and has had a very strong influence on my own ideas and burgeoning practice. One of the main ways he conceptualises an artwork (be that a dance or film etc) is that it is a “personal perspective put in the world by the artist” and that his way of approaching choreography (or indeed any creative practice) is that “the artist is putting forward a thesis which they will analyse and question through the creative process”.

This approach, in-fact, underpins the whole of the dance course at Birkbeck in that dance is engaged with critically through the body. One of the first modules is called ‘Embodied Critical Thinking’, which means that the body is the site where learning occurs, ideas are imagined and thought-through or ‘criticised’ and also subsequently communicated.

The Body in Performance was a highly stimulating evening that reflected the quality, insightfulness and diversity of the engaging programmes of study in performance that Birkbeck has to offer.