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RE-INVENTING THE PAST. Re-enactment in Contemporary Dance and Performance Art

Research project

Fellow: De Laet Timmy

Supervisor: Vanhoutte Kurt

Duration: 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2013

This research focuses on artistic re-enactment as practiced in contemporary dance and performance art and explores its impact on the historiography, institutionalization and ontology of these artistic disciplines. The research departs from the observation that, from the 1990s onwards, an increasing number of artists have shown a particular interest in restaging choreographies and performances of the past. In light of the historical development of contemporary dance and performance art, the emergence of re-enactment seems to mark a turning point, since the formerly iconoclastic desire to undo conventional codes of (theatrical) representation and the continuous search for innovative modes of creation coincide more and more with a distinct concern for the transmission and reanimation of the artistic legacy.


Re-enactment might be identified as a hybrid phenomenon variously appearing in a wide range of disciplines, such as video art, photography, media art, installation art, and so on. This research, however, puts particular focus on re-enactment in contemporary dance and performance art since their status as live performing arts (and the implicated living body of both performer and spectator) adds a supplementary dimension to the re-use of preexisting works. In short, re-enactment calls into question the so-called ephemeral nature of dance and performance, urging for a reconsideration of the ways in which these art forms are historicized, institutionalized and ontologized.  These specific characteristics also inform my particular understanding of the notion ‘re-enactment’ which I take as a generic term for an autonomous aesthetic practice in which various performative strategies are being used to explore and reflect on issues regarding the preservation, transmission and temporality of dance and performance art.


In line with the threefold focus of the research, an interdisciplinary methodology is developed through an inquiry into ongoing theoretical debates (on concepts such as the archive, memory, canon, repertoire, presence/absence, etcetera), ranging from philosophy, aesthetic theory, and performance studies. The development of the conceptual framework simultaneously informs the medium-specific and close analysis of the corpus, whereby the thematic clustering of cases enables a comparative approach through which the particular dramaturgical and performative strategies are articulated. Feedback from the case studies into the theoretical debates allows probing how artistic re-enactment practice may provide corrective conceptualizations of the mentioned central notions.

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