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Blog for dancers, choreographers, critics, pedagogues

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28.3.2019, 1:09:07   |   Category: Dramaturgy, Space & context, Interdisciplinarity, Process of making

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A Few Notes on Expanded Choreography

Key words:
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Marisa Hayes a Franco-American scholar and artist who had published books and articles about dance for a variety of print and electronic media for Dance Magazine, The Society of Dance History Scholars, and The International Journal of Screendance will be one of this year moderator during Choreography forum on Czech dance platform 2019. She was happy to share her article and thoughts about her current research exploring the theme of Expanded Choreography.

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The growing prominence of the term “expanded choreography” has led me to question the utility of this adjective to describe choreographic works, its implications for the art form, and how it impacts the reception of dance, among other considerations. Like any discussion of art, this may lead to further questions in lieu of solid answers, but begins with a reflection that is simultaneously linguistic, aesthetic, social, and historic.

Expanded Cinema

In 1970, Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema explored new forms of artistic production within the audiovisual field, establishing video as well as other media arts as filmic practices. This publication became an indispensable tool during a period that lacked formal recognition and analysis of how new technologies were creating a paradigm shift in the creation, distribution, and reception of hybrid works of art. Youngblood’s research inspired, among others, the term “media art”, which generated numerous theories and opportunities to discuss interdisciplinary artistic practices. Today, nearly six decades later, the term “expanded” is used with far less regularity in moving image circles, which we might assume, indicates that Youngblood’s argument that “the definition of cinema must expand” in order to include video, computer art, and other formats was eventually successful. Since the initial Expanded Cinema movement, there is a growing tendency in universities and art schools to group all forms of moving image practices together, including video and digital art, under the auspices of film or visual studies.

In the Choreographic Milieu

While this has been established at many international institutions, rendering the label “expanded” in cinema less urgent that it perhaps once was, choreographers have only recently begun to associate their work with the word “expanded”. A growing number of choreographic artists employ this adjective to describe diverse compositional practices that are linked to structures and strategies that stem from dance studies, but may transpire in unexpected contexts and forms, shifting and challenging our perception of corporeal representation as we know it. At a moment in time when the Expanded Cinema movement was at its peak in the United States during the 1970s, Amy Greenfield, for example, spoke of how the kinesthetic possibilities of dance were present in her moving images without resembling choreography that would be recognized as stage dance. Choreography might refer to movement compositions found within the editing and camera work, a concept that remains at the root of contemporary screendance practices. To provide another recent example, William Forsythe’s exhibition of “choreographic objects” are movement compositions in and of themselves, but also inspire a choreographic interaction on the part of the viewer. Expectations of where and how the choreography is formulated are called into question. Choreographer Nora Chipaumire recently informed me during an interview that for her, members of the audience are the performers and that she is the creator of the situations in which they find themselves performing. Xavier Le Roy’s recent series of touring exhibitions for museum spaces, including Retrospectiveand Untitledpresent live moving bodies in gallery spaces, but question temporal, situational, and social structures, borrowing concepts from other art forms and contexts.

WhenRetrospective was presented in Barcelona in 2012, an international conference on expanded choreography was held at MACBA to mark the occasion. Entitled “Expanded Choreography: Situations, Movements, Objects…”, the museum stated:

In the last few years the term choreography has been used in an ever-expanding sense, becoming synonymous with specific structures and strategies disconnected from subjectivist bodily expression, style and representation. Accordingly, the meaning of choreography has transformed from referring to a set of protocols or tools used in order to produce something predetermined, i.e. a dance, to an open cluster of tools that can be used in a generic capacity for both analysis and production.


What exactly do we mean by the word “expanded”? Its linguistic roots are found in botany to reference an organism that is wider, transversally, at its base than at its height. Definitions of the word are regularly described in liberating terms, rendering something “wider” or “larger”. Examples include “expanding the imagination, sensitivity, areas of knowledge, one’s horizon, one’s views, a debate”, underscoring Youngblood’s research not simply on expanding visual techniques and materials, but their capacity for expanding sensory perception and experience. The above descriptions fit perfectly with approaches found in expanded choreography that seek to distance themselves from rigid expectations of the dancing anatomical body. Gilles Deleuze proposed the term a “body without organs”, first used to describe the work of Antonin Artaud, who equated a body without organs to freedom. Similar to Michel Bernard’s use of “corporeality” to frame the body as a network of the senses, expanded choreography is not simply composed of an anatomically structured body or bodies, but of the senses and the possibilities of interfacing with an infinite number of stimuli, including environmental, temporal, and situational.

For some, these discussions require a distinction between the definitions of dance and choreography, and according to this camp, choreography does not necessarily result in dance. The subject is far vaster than the space that this short article will allow, but as a counterargument, one might consider Paul Valéry’s definition of dance, in fact, a series of definitions, one of which includes the argument that when a member of the public is placed in a situation that allows for a new corporeal state to transpire in response to organized movement of any sort, a dance has occurred.


But is the use of the word “expanded” necessary to describe a choreographic practice that does not resemble an existing form of dance? Is it a pseudo-radical label in the sense that it gives the impression of innovation, without taking into consideration a crossover of historic avant-garde practices across creative disciplines, including discussions held over 40 years ago regarding post-modern dance or performance art? Heated debates on these forms of creation read so similar to discussions of expanded choreography today that it is not a leap to suggest their ongoing lineage informs or have even triggered expanded choreography practices. Is not the distinction of “expanded” simply the continuation of art history and its constant evolution? Has not the term choreography itself expanded considerably and with regularity since it was first committed to paper centuries ago? Or, conversely, is the word “expanded” still necessary to underline the evolutionary nature of the arts and the birth of new practices? In applying the label “expanded”, are choreographers making an apology of sorts for engaging with less conservative approaches or techniques in response to public or institutional expectations that might not consider their choreography to align with established notions of the art form? Finally, for whom is the word expanded important? For the public? Curators? The artists themselves? As many questions as there are answers…


Marisa C. Hayesis a Franco-American scholar and artist. She has published books and articles about dance for a variety of print and electronic media for Dance Magazine, The Society of Dance History Scholars, and The International Journal of Screendance, among others. Currently editor in chief of the French dance journal Repères, cahier de dansepublished by the National Choreographic Development Center of Val-de-Marne near Paris, Marisa also co-curates the International Video Dance Festival of Burgundy and teaches the Erasmus+ university summer dance program in Paris. Initially trained in classical ballet and contemporary dance techniques in the United States, Marisa also studied butoh in Japan with Kazuo Ohno. She holds degrees in interdisciplinary arts, dance history, and visual studies from Goddard College (Vermont) and the Sorbonne in Paris.

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