Academic journal article About Performance

Performing between Intention and Unconscious Daily Gesture. How Might Disabled Dancers Offer Us a New Aesthetic Sensibility?

Academic journal article About Performance

Performing between Intention and Unconscious Daily Gesture. How Might Disabled Dancers Offer Us a New Aesthetic Sensibility?

Article excerpt


In her key essay "Strategic Abilities: Negotiating the Disabled Body in Dance," Ann Cooper Albright critiques the production and appeal of the "supercrip" (Albright 2001, 60): the dancer who does not let physical limitations stop him/her from being a dancer, creating "representational frames of traditional proscenium performances, emphasizing the elements of virtuosity and technical expertise to reaffirm a classical body in spite of its limitations" (61). In the paradigm of the supercrip, the desire to be the same rather than other clearly positions the technically trained and nondisabled dancer's body as the ideal of aesthetic beauty. In opposition to this, Albright proposes that we must "consciously construct new images and ways of imaging the disabled body" (ibid.). My argument in this paper runs parallel to this. I want to propose that it is exactly the disability and its marks of symptom-its signs of pathology-that produces a new and radical aesthetic. An able-bodied virtuoso cannot produce this aesthetic and the site of resistance to interpellation that is found in this kind of performance. Here I will argue that in Brighton Beach, by Welsh company Cyrff Ystwyth, the performer Edward Wadsworth positions himself and appropriates space as an individual; by this I mean that he appears before his audience as a coherent subject and agent. In reversing the order of discourse between able and disabled bodies, the non-disabled performer finds himself/herself at a disadvantage, but the political implications of this reversal are not my direct concern in this paper. Rather I am interested in the aesthetic affects generated by such a performance, and more specifically what happens in the encounter in the room-in how the performer produces such affects in his choreography, and how his action produces emotional resonance and intensity within me as facilitator and witness. What new territory lies here in-between standard notions of virtuosity and disability? What new implications for aesthetic readings of the body in performance emerge from in-between this performer's specific corporeal characteristics and the ideology of the classical body that privileges, as Albright states, "ability within dance" (84).

In her analysis of a performance by the disabled dancer Emery Blackwell in a duet with Alito Alessi, "a dancer who has had various experiences with physical disability" (88), Albright highlights the power of Blackwell's refusal of the supercrip convention.

Earlier I argued that, precisely because the disabled body is culturally coded as "grotesque", many integrated dance groups emphasize the classical dimensions of the disabled dancers body's movements-the grace of a wheelchair's gliding, the strength and agility of people's upper bodies, etc. What intrigues me about Blackwell's dancing in this duet is the fact that his movement at once evokes images of the grotesque and then leads our eyes through the spectacle of his body into the experience of his particular physicality. (64)

Blackwell's performance gave rise to an alternative form of watching for Albright, rooted in an awareness of the grotesque specificity of his body. In other words, the spectators were encouraged to see Blackwell's body as it is and not as some triumphant example of self-overcoming or a denial of self.

Like Blackwell, Edward Wadsworth invites the audience's scrutiny of his body and his physical engagement with the world through cerebral palsy (CP). As I will argue here, it is his intention towards each moment and his use of Eugenio Barba's notion of the extra-daily body that both reveal the ineluctable fact of his daily limitations and offer us a revelation of embodied communication that refuses to be othered. By channelling the energy of intention, dilation, and extra-daily performative practice, Wadsworth manages to avoid, if not consciously refuse, what Albright termed "a static representation of disability, pulling the audience in as witness to the ongoing negotiations of that physical experience" (65). …

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