Sites of justice: Face-to-face encounters through dance-making in Meeting Places
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)
Dr Renee Newman
Dr Frances Barbe
Field of Research Code
The Australian performing arts collective, Remnant Dance, has a partnership with the charity organisation, MyKids Incorporated, which supports a community of orphaned and abandoned youth at the Andrew Youth Development Centre (AYDC) in Yangon, Myanmar. During 2013-2014, young people from the AYDC were invited to make a contemporary dance film together with Remnant Dance artists. The film, called Meeting Places, evolved as part of a developing body of visual and performance art works that sought to explore collaboration in a dance collective. The dance film was set at the AYDC and in the disused Nagar Glass Factory in Yangon, using glass as a metaphor for a surface that invites reflection as well as open transparency between participants. My initial research question, ‘where is my front?’ was situated in the dance of interconnectivity, and referred to the primary site of communication with others. I wanted to investigate how this ‘front’ shifts, and alters in response to others and in particular how the frontline separates performers from their audience.
The contemporary dance film, Meeting Places, became the centrepiece in a body of interdisciplinary art work that was devised through cross-cultural collaborations. My research into dance as a dialogue of interconnectedness led me to expand the idea of frontlines, asking how examination of dance-making can be a site for social justice arts praxis. Driven by a reflexive practice-led research methodology, this research delves into dance-making as a mechanism for social engagement, whilst illuminating the problem of how to articulate dance research as an intuitive inquiry. The spaces between the bodies of the participants, both the children and professional dancers, allowed unique connectivity and exchanges of corporeal knowledge across cultural boundaries, inviting conversations that, I suggest, overcame linguistic differences.
The language of dance ruptured dualistic notions of knowledge production, creating a hybrid space through tacit, non-linguistic experiences of movement. The research began with an exploration of connectivity through practice in the dance studio, as well as an analysis of collaboration and the effectiveness of the collective practice. The dance film, Meeting Places, emerged as an invitation to engage with dance as a form that argues for the body as a site of agency, unpacking Emmanuel Lévinas’ concepts of the ‘face’ as a critical encounter with being. The idea of the ‘front’ thus became invested with new meaning, and with this shift, the reflective capacity for examining what I refer to as moments of consensus and dissensus within the collective was enhanced. The process of making the contemporary dance film has been examined through a philosophical frame informed by the work of theorists such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Elizabeth Grosz, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Slavoj Zizek and particularly, Emmanuel Lévinas, along with contemporary thinkers on social justice in the arts.
The cultural exchange between Remnant Dance artists and youth at the AYDC in Myanmar revealed that the social justice imperative, rather than being merely a by-product of artistic engagement, was actually the heart of the dance-making. The significance of arts research in this context includes knowledge creation in the body, with others, and that a space of agency is created for ethical engagement, specifically through the language of dance. The creation of new dance through cross-cultural, multi-arts forms and interdisciplinary contexts enabled space for narratives of justice to emerge along the frontline of dance’s particular mode of communication.
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Coleman, L. (2017). Sites of justice: Face-to-face encounters through dance-making in Meeting Places. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1964