Touching light

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Dempster, Elizabeth (2003) Touching light. Performance research, 8 (4). pp. 46-51. ISSN 1352-8165


My subject in this essay is kine-aesthetics, the perception of movement, and its role in dance speetatorship. I am revisiting territory closely associated with dance critic and theorist John Martin, along with his somewhat discredited notion of kinaesthetic empathy. I will suggest that the questions Martin posed concerning the nature of dance communication are still pertinent, as is his intention, however imperfectly realized, to develop a dance poetics that is sensitive to a bodily, sensory logic. 'How is it that I am moved when a dancer moves?' Martin asked. To respond to this question today requires, amongst other things, a re-examination of the perceptual processes underpinning dance production and reception. Writing in 1939, in the midst of modernist experimentation, "Martin reasoned that if dance was to be an autonomous, or absolute art, its modes of representation and expression must be unique to it. Comparable to the isolation of optical experience in modernist painting, :Ylartin identified kinaesthesis, the perception of movement, as the essential ground of absolute dance. But kinaesthetic perception is a complex business. Despite "Martin's efforts to align his theory of dance reception with modernist precepts, the perception of (dance) movement is not reducible to a singular sensory modality. Kinaesthesis, the 'pick up' of movement, cannot be isolated to a specific group of receptors, but cuts across functional perceptual systems. The visual, the articular and the haptic/ tactile systems may all be involved in movement perception. In this essay I will suggest that dance speetatorship entails a complex mode of visual kinaesthesis, that is, a way of looking which is intricately interwoven with the sense of touch. I will describe thekinaesthesia of the dancing body in textural terms, as given to both vision and touch. A key resource for the paper is the work of cognitive psychologist James Gibson. Gibson's insights concerning the nature and function of the sensory-perceptual systems have had an important impact upon American experimental dance. In particular, his understanding of the interplay between visual and haptic systems provided theoretical support and experimental data for dancers' creative exploration of the relationship between movement, perception and bodily change. Gibson's work has also been important in developing alternative approaches to dance and movement training. It has informed the philosophy and methods of Contact Improvisation, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's Body-Mind Centering and Todd alignment/ideokinesis.

Item type Article
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 320000 Medical and Health Sciences
Historical > FOR Classification > 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise & Sport Science (CARES)
Keywords kine-aesthetics, dance, dancing, movement, visual kinaesthesis,
Citations in Scopus 2 - View on Scopus
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