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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

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André Lepecki

Interview with André Lepecki (2002)

André Lepecki is Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University and is an independent curator and essayist. Selected curatorial work include: Chief Curator of the festival IN TRANSIT (2008 and 2009 editions) at HKW, Berlin; archive Dance and Visual Arts since 1960s for the exhibition MOVE: choreographing you, Hayward Gallery (2010). Curator of the series “Performance in the Museum,” “Off-Hinge / Off Center: alternative histories for performance” and “Points of Convergence” at MoMA-Warsaw (2013-15). He was also advisor of the Sydney Biennial 2016. Selected awards include: AICA Award for Best Performance for co-curating and directing the authorized re-doing of Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (commissioned by Haus der Kunst, 2006; presented at Performa 07). Selected lectures include: Museo Reina Sofia; MoMA; MAM, Rio; MACBA; MoMA-Warsaw; Para Site, Hong Kong; Princeton University; Freie Universität, Berlin; Brown University; UC-Berkeley; École Superieure des Hautes Études, Paris; UFRJ, Brazil. Lepecki is also editor of the series “Dance Composes Philosophy Composes Dance” for The Drama Review and is co-editor with Ric Alsopp of the issue "On Choreography" of the journal Performance Research (2008) and with Mark Franko of the special issue "Dance in the Museum" of Dance Research Journal (2014). He is editor of the anthologies Dance (The MIT Press 2012), Planes of Composition: Dance, Theory and the Global, with Jenn Joy (Seagull Books 2010), The Senses in Performance, with Sally Banes (Routledge 2007), and Of the Presence of the Body (Wesleyan University Press 2004). His single authored book Exhausting Dance: performance and the politics of movement (Routledge 2006) is currently translated in 10 languages. In the Spring of 2009 he was Resident Fellow at the Institute Interweaving Performance Cultures at Freie Universität, Berlin. In the fall of 2013, he was visiting professor at UFRJ thanks to a grant from CAPES. In 2014-5 he was guest Professor at Stockholm University of the Arts, helping to implement its PhD in artistic research. His book Singularites: Dance and Visual arts in the Age of Performance is forthcoming from Routledge (2016).X

Diana Taylor: Hello, today’s interview is with André Lepecki, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. André, I wanted to ask you what you understand by performance studies.

André Lepecki: Well, as I guess the viewers of these tapes will see, performance studies is a field in which many, many definitions can be applied for. Some people come through performativity and speech act theories; others would come with an interest in ritual and performance, the intersections between one and the other, performance of everyday life... I think that signifies, perhaps, that performance studies is actually a conceptual point of arrival in academia that enables a mode of being, theoretically and practically, within the field. Which means that, in a way, I see performance studies as a sort of open possibility to think through modes of analyzing artistic practice in particular, because that’s what I do mostly, in ways that actually are dialogical with these practices. So I see it mostly as a point of arrival, a point of convergence.

Diana: I know that your background is also in dance studies, and I wondered what you thought dance studies could bring to performance studies, and performance studies bring to dance studies.

André: Dance studies has traditionally been preoccupied with the notion of movement and how is it that one can capture and interpret movement in different choreographic techniques and compositional practices. Performance studies, I think, opens up the possibility for dance studies to think otherwise about dance. Is dance only about movement, or is dance about many other factors that may or may not be even on stage at the moment of the performance? Thinking in terms of identity politics, racial studies, critical theory, postcolonial conditions, are ways in which performance studies—or modes in which performance studies have been working for a while—that could actually help dance studies or inform dance studies to step a little bit outside this kind of scopic regime established basically by modernism that still, I feel, influences dance studies. The way dance studies actually can contribute to performance studies is, perhaps, by this emphasis on materiality and this understanding from within. Most of dance studies, at least in the United States, is pretty much informed by dancers and choreographers and knowing from the body, how is it that the body can actually inform theory[...] Hopefully we can find a middle ground.

Diana: I know that a lot of your work centers in Portugal and modern dance practice in Europe, and I wonder how you think performance studies work cross-culturally. How do some of the theories that we have developed here in the United States work to illuminate perhaps, or even perhaps to obscure or complicate, some of the practices that you’ve analyzed that have their origins some place else? 

“I see performance studies as a sort of open possibility to think through modes of analyzing artistic practice in particular... in ways that actually are dialogical with these practices. So I see it mostly as a point of arrival, a point of convergence.”

André: That’s a really interesting question, because I think it sort of... To answer that question I have to narrate a sort of biography of how is it that I found performance studies. I found performance studies by chance at a conference in Portugal, where I met Dwight Conquergood from the Northwestern University program. And it was a conference on dance in Europe, contemporary dance, pretty much about dance theater. And Dwight Conquergood and Cynthia Novak were both there, in the beginning of the 90s, and I had absolutely no idea performance studies was actually a field. I was working in anthropology as a junior scholar in a center for sociological research at the University of Lisbon, but I was hanging out with dancers and choreographers a lot, mostly because those dancers and choreographers in particular were interested in certain theories that they did not have the time or full knowledge to engage in. And they had this certain curiosity of thinking about how is it that theory can actually inform performance practices.

So I was hanging out with them, and I went to this conference, and Dwight informed me of this field. I found it an interesting moment because it is not only transnational, but immediately interdisciplinary in the most radical way, which is the moment in which artists actually require from academia to perform for them in order to create something new. So in a sense, I feel that a lot of what’s going on, in Europe—which is where I come from, sort of, becuase I was born in Brazil—a lot of what’s going on has a lot to do with this mode of performance studies, this dialogical conversation between artistic practices, political intervention, and theoretical curiosity.

One of the practices could be seen in the work of Pina Bausch, for instance, that I feel somehow replicates this model of the seminar, which is very much an academic model that we have here in the Department. So I see my pedagogy and my understanding of performance studies very much influenced by the thinking of certain choreographers. So that answers the transdisciplinary aspect of it. Internationally, I feel that the discussion and the scholarship that is being generated in performance studies is very much informing a new generation of choreographers and artists in Europe. I can think of[...] Rebecca Schneider’s book The Explicit Body in Performance
Schneider, Rebecca. 2002. The Explicit Body in Performance. London: Routledge.X
I remember talking with certain visual artists in Europe who are reading the books in order to think about their art, so that’s a very interesting moment, in which you have these kinds of affiliations and complicities.
Diana: Is there anything you’d like to add? Tell us a little bit about the courses you teach? Just briefly.

: I’m trying to teach courses in dance studies that are mostly informed by a very literal reading of what could be considered the foundations of dance in the 20th century, which have to do with gravity, movement, the discovery of the unconscious, stillness, and several other very, very literal images that choreographers have been working with, and then try to explore those as a sort of intertextuality between movement and cultural theory and philosophy, basically. So that’s what I do.

Diana: Thanks, great. Thanks very much, André.

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