Patterns of Embodiment: A Visual/Cultural Studies Approach to Dance Notation

Victoria Watts

Major Professor: Ellen Wiley Todd, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Roger Lancaster

Johnson Center, Meeting Room C
April 11, 2012, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


The visual/conceptual frameworks of Western dance notation have changed radically since their first inception in the 15th century, often in response to new ideas about dance styles and expanding notions of the ways in which it is possible and/or permissible for the body to move.  Previously, scholarship on dance notation has attended to the connection between notation and technology, comparisons between systems in order to determine which is ‘best’, justifications for the use of notation, and to philosophical discourse about the requirements for notation in relation to dance.  In this dissertation, I approach the notation from the perspective of Visual/Cultural Studies and by doing so I uncover other kinds of understanding:  I bring to the fore an understanding of dance notation as a visual technology that discloses something about the ‘period eye’ and that reveals such a thing as a ‘period body.’ In treating these systems and their scores as an archive of visual-kinaesthetic cultural practices, I propose that dance scholars could be granted access to source material on changes in physical culture, as they are manifested in theatrical dance, that bridges the persistent intellectual chasm between critical approaches that center on representation and textuality and those that center on being-in-the-world and embodiment.  The project culminates in a case study using four scores of George Balanchine’s Serenade.