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De Laet, Timmy. "Dancing Metamemories."

Performance Research, 17:3 (2012), p. 101-107


This article examines the current interest of contemporary European choreographers in re-staging past performance work. It first introduces the term ‘strategies of re-enactment’ in order to differentiate this overtly reiterative artistic activity from what is commonly known as ‘dance reconstruction’. In the work under consideration here, re-enactment assumes the function of artistic strategy since these performances do not merely reconstruct and imitate the historical original(s), but instead employ choreographic re-doing as a means to reflect on issues regarding the preservation, transmission and temporality of dance. More specifically, the article foregrounds re-enactment strategies as enabling creative and artistic explorations of the central but diversified role of memory in dance practices.

From the reflexivity and referentiality apparent in these performances follows the central proposal to consider strategies of re-enactment as constituting ‘metamemories’, a concept coined in analogy to the notion of ‘metapictures’ which media scholar W.J.T. Mitchell developed in his book Picture Theory (1995). Mitchell's ‘preliminary typology of metapictures’ also informs the analysis of three exemplary cases and helps to uncover the specific aesthetic procedures that account for their status as metamemories. A threefold characterization is thus elaborated by showing how the pieces in question address memory through formal self-reference (Vincent Dunoyer), generic comparison (Martin Nachbar) and dialectical shifting (Fabián Barba). It is further argued that in all cases, the use of re-enactment strategies subscribes to recent views on human memory as essentially dispersed between mind, body, and material culture. Re-enactment strategies accordingly foreground the dancing body as not only relying on bodily knowledge but rather as equally dependent on both externalized and interiorized resources.

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