Author Archive


I hope everyone is surviving (and thriving) in this hot summer city. Meanwhile, I have saved perhaps the most difficult book for last.


The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, edited by Theodore R. Schatzki, Karen Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny (Routledge, 2001) is a collection of essays on practice from the perspective of social theory. This means that, although many of its examples are drawn from embodied practice — some even from the performing arts — it is most of all concerned with practice in the broadest sense: “fighting together, hunting together, sailing together, singing together, even, in the present-day world, doing science together” (25).

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Given the recent focus on embodied knowledge in dance and dance studies, I would like to draw attention to the field of physical education. Both dance and “physical education” are founded on the notion of education through and of the body. It is also true that in many schools and colleges one can get “phys. ed.” credit for taking dance classes. Yet the world of professional and experimental dance still feels very divorced from the world of physical education.

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James Thompson’s Performance Affects: Applied Theatre and the End of Affect (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) opens with the story of a massacre in a Sri Lankan “rehabilitation centre” for former child soldiers. Most chillingly of all, Thompson suspects that a program of applied theatre that ran in the camp several months before the massacre may have been part of what led up to the killings. Not in a direct way, of course. But Thompson wonders if this program, which he was in charge of, was part of the Sri Lankan government’s overall political strategy. In other words, he wonders if his theatre work was in this instance unwittingly complicit with the machinations of the Sri Lankan government — part of its own effort to perform respectable statehood on the stage of international politics.

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Finally, I arrive at a book that is explicitly about dance: Judith Hamera’s Dancing Communities: Performance, Difference and Connection in the Global City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Although this book does not have quite the coherent structure or unified argument of the previous two, it does accomplish something that I called for in my previous post: It places ballet and Pilates training (among other examples) side by side and examines them each as embodied practices, rather than segregating them on account of dance’s public role as one of the “performing arts” and the status of Pilates as a personal rather than public practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Scholar’s Corner: YOGA BODY


Today’s book is Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton (Oxford University Press, 2010). This is one of the first scholarly works on yoga in its modern “postural” form, as distinct from studies of Hindu religions and yoga more broadly conceived. In coining the phrase “modern postural yoga,” Singleton points to the current focus on asanas that dominates discussions of yoga in the United States. He traces the development of this focus to the early twentieth century and shows how the what is now called “yoga” may owe as much to modern European physical culture as it does to ancient Indian religious practice.

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Scholar’s Corner: POLITICS OF PIETY

As a doctoral student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, I am currently preparing to take the long-awaited “Second Examination” in August. This consists of a rigorous set of written and oral exams on three scholarly fields that I myself have defined. In this way it is unlike the much broader “First Examination,” which covered all of theatre history and theory in the widest possible scope.

My three fields are as follows:

1) “Approaches to Embodied Practice” (30 books)

2) “Actor Training in the U.S. since 1930” (25 books)

3) “Affect, Politics, and Performance” (25 books)

With the idea that these topics could be of interest to the Movement Research community, I will be posting brief discussions of some of my favorite books here throughout the month of July. Each of the books I will address was published in the past ten years, and each is excellent overall. They are all scholarly works, although some are more accessible in tone and language than others. I hope that these blog entries will point theory-minded practitioners towards some new ideas in emerging scholarship — and perhaps tempt some scholars to the website of Movement Research.

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Masculinity and Embodied Practice

Video with interview and clips from the symposium.

Thanks to Ivo for making this video!

Ben Spatz
Artistic Director
Urban Research Theater
MR-AIR 2010-2012

Polemic: “vocabulary”

The idea that performance work is based on a “vocabulary” of movements or gestures may be useful in some contexts but is also problematic and fundamentally misleading.

Technique is not language. Technique shares some similarities with language, but using language as a metaphor for embodied technique (as many people do) leaves out a huge aspect of technique and collapses the essential differences between performance and writing.

I am not blind to the advantages of Read the rest of this entry »

masculinity as a lineage of technique

Tomorrow is the symposium on Masculinity and Embodied Practice. Apart from a problem with the digital projector, everything is going smoothly, and I am looking forward to an extremely interesting set of paper, presentations, and performances.

In my academic work, I am trying to re-theorize “technique” as something much deeper and more complicated than is usually assumed. Given how fundamental technique is in the performing arts, it is surprising how little it has been theorized. As far as I know, Foucault is the only major theorist to have written extensively on bodily techniques, and that from a perspective of domination and social networks of power rather than on the craft developed by practitioners of embodied forms.

A word, then, about masculinity as technique.

Let us compare masculinity with ballet. There are many iconic images of ballet, but ballet is not fundamentally an image. Nor is it fundamentally a language, even though some aspects of ballet seem to work like semiotics. Once upon a time, in Euro culture, ballet was dance and dance was ballet. Ballet, then, is the name for what people used to do when they danced. It also names a complex legacy of teachers and students, performers and choreographers, painters and royalty.

What if masculinity is not a single role or image, not a biological category, and not a universal signifier… but rather, like ballet, a powerful historical and formerly hegemonic lineage of embodied technique?

Ben Spatz
Artistic Director
Urban Research Theater
MR-AIR 2010-2012

intensity & transparency

that the body on stage is a different body. that rhythm on stage is a different rhythm. basic principle of performance: that it must be of interest, it must entertain. always something more, something different. not real life. not the mundane. not boring.

that the body on stage is the performer’s body. that rhythm on stage is the rhythm of that individual in that moment. the performance is life. it may be of interest, it may entertain, it may be mundane, it may be boring. honesty. truth. performance as an embodied practice. done simply in order to do.

This is a question we are working on now in Play/War. Is there a baseline of energetic intensity or hyper-presence below which the performer onstage must not fall? Or are there moments within a virtuosic performance structure when the actual mundane body of the performer can be allowed to appear?

In the past few days we have been exploring a kind of middle zone: Avoiding both the hyper-contrast of “show mode” (almost cinematic in its cuts and edits and discontinuities) and the hypo-kinetics of “plain old Ben and Max” (not cinema, not even theater, just a kind of blink, stop, and we-are-just-a-group-of-people-in-a-room, and then, simply, “the artists are present“).

In this middle zone, a new level of genuine contact suddenly seems possible between the two of us in the act of performing. I wonder if, as time goes by, this contact may extend further into the extremes of intensity and transparency, risking boredom and overstimulation, but perhaps making possible an even more full event to be seen…

Ben Spatz
Artistic Director
Urban Research Theater
MR-AIR 2010-2012

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