Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Writing Wrongheaded: Narratives from a Dance Piece and Community Project Exploring Women's Bodily Autonomy in Ireland

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Writing Wrongheaded: Narratives from a Dance Piece and Community Project Exploring Women's Bodily Autonomy in Ireland

Article excerpt

This article discusses a dance project - Wrongheaded - developed by choreographer Liz Roche, artistic director of Liz Roche Company, Ireland. Wrongheaded was first performed in 2016 and subsequently restaged for the Dublin Dance Festival in 2018 in the week leading up to the Referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which addressed the right for women to access abortion in Ireland. Wrongheaded explores Irish women's relationship to bodily autonomy more generally but draws heavily on the themes surrounding this particular social issue. A key focus of this article is the exploration of a community engagement initiative entitled Active Audience which was developed in conjunction with the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Co. Dublin, and involved the recruitment of volunteers to view Wrongheaded and create a response to the piece. These responses were collated as an installation which was presented alongside further performances of the work in the Civic Theatre in October 2018. Supported by interviews with some of the creative team, this paper presents the perspectives of the Active Audience members to map how the performances of Wrongheaded and the Active Audience project intersected with the issues they encountered surrounding this momentous referendum. This is framed in light of the alignment of the work with this key societal shift in the position of women's bodily autonomy in Ireland, the particular capacity of contemporary dance as a means to communicate with audiences directly through the body and writings on narrative practice. Before discussing the details of the work, I will outline the context of its emergence as a dance piece addressing female bodily autonomy in Ireland through placing it in relation to broader discussions on dance as activism.

Dance writer, Eric Mullis (2015: 72-3) explores the potential for activism in dance through choreographic approaches that are either formalist or contextual in nature. Drawing from Langer (1953) he outlines that from a formalist perspective, while 'dance movement manifests virtual powers that can be read as semblances of physical, psychological, or social forces', political themes are considered to be more successfully represented by other media which can impart more specific details regarding a particular social issue. For example, French-based Israeli choreographer, Emanuel Gat (2011), describes how, while he does not overtly address social issues within his work, the inner logic of his choreographic structures should be robust enough to allow audiences to reflect on important social themes and human power relationships through the physical interactions of the dancers. On the other hand, Mullis (2015: 72) explains that 'the contextualist generally views the body of the dancer as indicative of a person who has a particular embodied history within a culture that inevitably codes bodies in terms of broader social values'. Therefore, through representing 'alternative embodied subjectivities and social relationships that embody more egalitarian social values', dance can comment on a range of social issues, particularly in relation to the issue of embodiment itself (Mullis 2015: 73).

Roche would more usually present work from a formalist approach, without a particular signalling of social issues within the context of the work. However, her work is situated within an approach to contemporary dance which privileges somatic rather than virtuosic movement vocabularies, democratic processes of devising choreography and egalitarian relationships between genders on stage. Therefore, there are certain values relating to embodiment embedded within the choreography that stem from radical developments in the 1960s, through the New York based Judson Church movement and subsequent New Dance developments throughout the rest of the world1, which challenged earlier more hierarchical approaches to dancemaking. Furthermore, a compelling case has been made for the radical potential of somatic practices to undermine hegemonic relationships to bodily experience and promote individual autonomy through releasing subjects from habitual, mindless or oppressive movement patterns (Kampe 2014; Fortin et al. …

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