The academic literature on dance, such as the quotation contained in the prompt, communicates the ubiquitous human nature of dance, namely, dance being part of “our very being.” This historical and traditional omnipresence of dance, however, at the same time does not mean that dance is not continuously revolutionary and challenging. In this regard, modern dance is often engaged with precisely this issue: challenging our preconceptions of what dance is. The four pieces analyzed in the following arguably all contribute to this re-evaluation of norms concerning the nature of dance.
Hence, the piece “Human Sex”, by La La La Human Steps, encounters such preconceptions by linking the clear bodily element of dance with the equally clear bodily element of sex. In other words, to the extent that both sex and human dance are inseperable from concepts of the human body, the link between dance and sex in the performance makes us re-think the limits of the body. Dance is about movements that are not quotidian, not everyday: this is the context that initially allows us to think that something is dance. But with this performance, La La La Human Steps further broadens our horizons: non-standard human bodily movements are not restricted to dance, we can find them in the most basic and primordial functions of the human body. This piece generates an intuitive link between the »artistic« element of dance and the most fundamental aspects of human embodiment: the piece accordingly poses the question, is there really such a radical difference between what we consider to be »artistic« and »non-artistic usages« of the human body?
Cirque de Soleil’s »Nouvelle Experience« arguably carries this same motif of challening what is dance; however, with the key difference that the aim is to break down boundaries within art itself. Namely, how can we so neatly distinguish between dance, for example, as a form of high art, and »lower-brow« forms of art, such as the circus? What are the preconceptions and stereotypes that inform such categorizations? This is the »new experience« of this piece: looking at dance from the perspective of other art forms, such as the circus, and understanding that the presence of »high art« may also be detected in traditionally marginalized fields of human activity. Such a piece is dance because it commits to a creative re-expression and re-definition of what dance itself is.
From this perspective, a piece such as Codex’s »Points in Space« almost seems traditional in comparison. This is a piece that appears to develop in an explicitly »dance as art« context, the work of renowned choreographer Marce Cunningham. Yet what makes this piece nonetheless challenging is it re-invention of what the human body should do when dancing: the kinetic imagery in the piece is above all defined by its slow tempo and withdrawn movements. Taken together with the title of the piece, it is almost as though Cunningham were asking: is a point in space, apparently fixed and without movement, also ultimately a dancing, kinetic entity? Although movement is clearly crucial to the piece, Cunningham challenges the kinetics of dance, and thereby once again re-defines preconceptions.
Michael Moschen’s »In Motion« further breaks down these barriers with its pure minimalism: Moschen’s minimal interactions with the idea of motion itself emphasize some of the key motifs that also appear to be present in Cunningham’s work. The intuitive reaction here brings one to the bare minimum of the movement of the body, its interaction with the surrounding space and its objects: the thesis of the work is perhaps the sense in which it draws our attention to dance as the most minimal, as opposed to the most extravagant of movements. Accordingly, it would have the function of introducing aesthetics into every dimension of our embodied lives.