This chapter discusses three issues concerned with the topic of dance representation. First, I argue against recent attempts by Noel Carroll and Nelson Good-man to show that all dance is representational in the broad sense that dance must refer. Second, I discuss the nature and scope of dance representation in those dances that do represent. And third, I discuss central connections between the concepts of representation and expression in dance.
Dances such as George Balanchine’s Agon, Merce Cunningham’s Summer-space, and Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A raise questions as to whether representation is necessary to dance, for these dances do not have a narrative structure and do not employ standard storytelling theatrical devices. Furthermore, they neither directly express emotion nor represent the expression of emotion. These dances seem to be patterns of movement and nothing more; they do not seem to refer to anything or be “about” anything. Nevertheless, two arguments have recently been employed to show that these dances, and dances in general, do refer, and in that sense are representational.
The first argument that dance is inherently referential, developed by Noel Carroll, is that a dance refers to the tradition of which it is a part. 1 Discussing Rainer’s Trio A, Carroll acknowledges that it does not represent an object or event and that one of Rainer’s goals is to simply present movement. But Carroll says that in attempting to simply present movement, Rainer also rejects or repudiates ballet’s representational structures. In deviating consciously from ballet tradition, Rainer in Trio A refers to the tradition she repudiates.
Now, Trio A was definitely a ground-breaking dance; one might say that it initiated the rejection of the representational and expressive strategies of ballet.