Stamatia Portanova, Moving Without a Body – Digital Philosophy and ChoreographicThoughts, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2013.
Odette from Swan Lake is one of the most famous ballet roles in dance history and is paramount of this art. The unusual port de bras, the pondered gestures, the finitude of pointwork. Dance is about moving bodies, but what if dance and movement could be re-thought in their absence? What if movement took a life of its own and stepped away from the muscles and bones that usually create it? Odette could be captured by a camera and her movement remastered through digital technology. What would the result be? Her body parts could be altered, the pace of her solo transformed and the spatio-temporal sequence of her phrase changed.
Before the digital revolution, there have been attempts to conceive of movement in the absence of bodies. One fascinating example is the ballet Feu d’artfice (1917), set by Giacomo Balla, music by Igor Stravinsky, a ballet that consisted of geometric solids of different colours animated by forty-nine polychromous lights, which were being turned on and off as the music score proceeded. No dancers at all, the kinetic element being created by the interplay between lights and solids. As a Futurist artist, Balla was interested in exploring the relationship between artificial landscapes and speed, and this ballet was a particularly experimental example.
With the digital revolution, the idea of movement without a body has become a multifaceted and changing reality and Stamatia Portanova’s book is an example of how this question can be addressed from a philosophical point of view. It is a challenging and significant work at the same time. Challenging, because it destabilizes, at times even in the writing style, the reader accustomed to think of dance as an embodied art form, and significant, because sometimes we need to move and, in this case, re-move the given for granted aspects of dance to see what is there to be further discovered. Drawing from the theories of scholars like Gilles Deleuze and Alfred North Whitehead, as well as the choreographic work of William Forsythe and Merce Cunningham among others, Portanova asks its readers to think and envision movement according to different parameters such as numbers and the idea of the cut. In other words, “the aim is to give to conceptual reflection another capacity: not as an in-depth excavation of subjective, bodily, human experience, but as a superficial abstraction of concepts beyond subjects, humans, and even (human or technological) bodies”. (gehiago…)