Feature: Falling Away - Disappearance, resistance & remembering in contemporary dance

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Dan Canham's 'Ours Was the Fen Country' Photo Camilla Greenwell

Definite Article is Dance Umbrella’s series of long form, in-depth articles on the subject of dance and movement in the widest sense. The year’s Guest Editor, dramaturg Ruth Little, is curating a series with the collective title: The Institute of Controlled Falling. Contributors so far have included Liz Lerman and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. Ruth introduces her own latest article: Falling Away – Disappearance, resistance & remembering in contemporary dance.

“Falling is relational – if there is nothing to fall toward, you may not even be aware that you’re falling…Whole societies around you may be falling just as you are….” (Hito Steyerl, In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective)

Traditional dance is in decline. Around the world, folk dance, social dance and forms of indigenous dance are under threat or face extinction, and their loss diminishes our knowledge and understanding of ourselves: ‘With every dance that dies, another source of data about the nature of human communities dies with it.’ But the dwindling of traditional dance is just one aspect of a far greater contraction of cultural diversity produced by globalisation’s encroachment on what anthropologist Wade Davis calls the ‘ethnosphere’ – the cultural and spiritual web of life.

Injustice and inequality everywhere are key drivers of cultural diminishment – the sudden or incremental loss of a people’s physical and imaginative resources and life patterns. Culture lives and evolves through iteration, adaptation and transmission, as the Scottish Gaels say, ‘bho ghlùin gu glùin’ -from knee to knee. Cultural acts – including rituals, traditions, social practices, language and art-making – are embodied acts. Cultural memory is muscle memory.

I want to know whether contemporary dance has a role to play in recognising and resisting – through movement – the widespread and accelerating loss of cultural diversity. Can contemporary dance, rather than reproducing specific and formalised ancient movement patterns as traditional dance does, tell meaningful stories about the ethnosphere? Can it, through movement, draw attention to – articulate – forms of cultural diminishment in such a way that they might be witnessed, acknowledged, even halted? Can movement, as choreographer Jill Sigman has asked, ‘make people think?’

Through discussion of work by Dan Canham, Gregory Maqoma, Rosemary Lee, Jerôme Bel and Claire Cunningham, along with observations on the acts of remembering in hip-hop, this is a piece on falling away, and remembering… Read it in full here and browse the series:

Ruth Little is a theatre and dance dramaturg, a teacher and writer.

Photo: Dan Canham’s Ours Was the Fen Country by Camilla Greenwell

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