AESTHETIC KNOWLEDGE > DANCE
In appealing to and providing for these diverse characters, a cultural program could be an interesting opportunity for creating novel relationships and interactions between various users and user groups. Art, but more specifically the physical movement art of dance, can offer subjects fresh engagement with physical space.
Dance is necessarily spatial and temporal, and as such necessarily place-bound and present. Its physicality is a function of the body’s contact with space and its relationship with other bodies; the dancer’s experience of the space, specifically the interaction of the body and materiality, is the essence of dancing. For viewers as well as dancers, the human body is the only spatialization of dance itself; just as politics are not possible without the confrontation of persons, the dance is not possible without the dancer. Due to this fundamental corporeality, the dance is a spectacle, mediated by visibility, that is constructed not around modes of social interaction but “around ways in which bodies can be visibly meaningful.”1
From primitive times, dance has been a fundamental part of human interaction. The term “dance” can describe any movement that is not always directly functional but rather ritual, a mental as well as physical and emotional behavior. Movement is predominant in all forms of human intellective activity, and skilled movement can be considered a form of thinking as well as an expression of inner feeling.2 Dance is then a way of thinking, as a mode of communication, utilizing a repertoire of signs that are understood by a specific species or culture to signal emotion or drive.3 Dance, like image, can encode and decode myth and rituals; dance rituals become integrative events that provide identity markers and establish boundaries and that “help develop or reinforce bonds among kin and community members.”4 Rituals and ceremonies thus empower individuals to understand their own roles within the community, and they can facilitate personal and community transformations. In this sense, one can enter into a society through his or her embodiment in such rituals, through physical engagement with a particular social group. Furthermore, because important roles in the community are represented in such rituals, there is a direct correlation between ritual or cultural expression and understanding the values of society.
Dance, as a form of body intelligence, is thus simultaneously a form of aesthetic education. In contemporary discussions, aesthetic education in movement arts has been argued to strengthen the spontaneous faculties of expression and foster artistic expression in the young. By fostering an awareness of the body with regard to space and rhythm as well as the ability to communicate more effectively with peers, dance does more than simply encourage creativity in that it heightens one’s potential for awareness within society.
This awareness is heightened in dance because dance is a synthesis of corporeality and theatricality, of physical movement and visual reception. As a formal enterprise, these translate to the fundamental design concepts of technique and expression (form), both repeatedly cited as the two main elements in choreography. Choreography is the process by which these come together, the process of describing a volume that dance makes physically manifest—the context for the dance.
Choreography, therefore, is a difficult concept to capture representationally. Typically, dance can be permanently recorded by video, which shows the visual aspects but not perhaps what is essential in a dance, or it can be notated, conveying descriptive properties but not how movement is organized or the symbolic system of feelings, ideas, and other movements contained in dance. In this way dance shares the architecture’s problem of describing/inscribing subjective relationships to its experience. Just as the physical traces of global networks mediate understandings of the larger networks themselves, richer dimensions of understanding, meaning, and significance are mediated in and through the particular features of a given work. And like one’s subjective experience of the built environment, the full preservation of dances generally relies upon human interaction and memory.
Theatrically, dance is comprised of performers and audience, occupying separate spaces but interacting in a shared space—that in which the audience visually accesses the performance. Vision is a powerful sense; only the eye can focus, shape space, and create social and psychic organization. Our other senses are integral and unconsciously weave experience into “an organic totality”—there are no “voids” in sensation—but the eye can “isolate,” intensify one element among many, and establish hierarchy.5 Our understood reception of the environment will always be primarily visual, and architecture, without losing its capacity as a spatial entity to integrate body knowledge, should continue to learn from art the myriad ways by which visual expressiveness impacts the subject.
The movement of dancers is visually inscribed on an audience as a dance; it is through this movement that space changes from a two-dimensional static image to become visible in three dimensions. Thus dance is experienced dimensionally, as an exercise constantly restructuring space. At another level, participating in or watching dance also entails an understanding of interrelated aspects of experience that are vectorially ordered.6 Experiences are attained through mediation of the components to conceive of the whole, while understanding and interpretation come from a return to a fresh analysis of the parts, which is then followed by a reassessment of the whole, and so on in a continuous cycle in which the particular features mediate overall significance and vice versa.
When the zone of mediation is removed—as in the market-driven spaces that present us with a pre-mediated image to consume—the subject is denied this important process of understanding. One can conceive of the parts and of the whole, but they are disconnected rather than understood through individual cognition. Formal dance productions often mask the backstage workings, highlighting only the re-production in a singular, but repeated, event. This has allowed much of dance, especially the kind performed in Las Vegas resorts, to become “at a deep level standardized and packaged.”7 However, a performance always has a backstage, where the shared experience of those involved in creating the production occurs, from the loading docks and parking garages to rehearsal and dressing rooms. Expanding one’s understanding of who is involved in dance reveals that formal dance structurally offers multiple facets of involvement.
Broadening one’s thinking about dance further, the many forms of dance can appeal to all characters of people, and more informal opportunities for involvement can make it widely accessible. As an individual or a collective activity, dance has the spontaneous potential to happen anywhere with anyone. As a fundamentally spatial act, dance is a claiming and even an appropriation of space. It occurs in dedicated social spaces like bars and party-venues as well as in basic public spaces like parking lots. Entire cultures of bodily appropriation of space have emerged in the last decades, known worldwide as parkour, free running, and freestyle walking. Even yoga can be an appropriation of space akin to dance in its presence and performance. In these types of “dance” action, presentation is not the end-purpose or context for the practice, but rather self-awareness and empowerment. Social dance is in this sense contiguous with artistic dance; as an activity it is something everyone can do, and so it becomes not an expression of our individuated share in humanity but a part of our individuality itself, our individual animality. In this mode, the primitive nature of dance again becomes relevant, as dance is a bodily assertion of one’s place in the world without concern for one’s constitution in social relationships.
Similarly, in one’s reception of dance, contemplation is not a public manifestation but can be an individual act of free thinking. Formally or informally practiced, dance is today a public act, a “loose package” open to a wide variety of responses and interpretations. The identity of dance has thus evolved, as the question of what makes a movement a dance movement is one of character and context, the attitude of performer or spectator rather than formal guidelines—one of the subject and subjectivity.
1 Sparshott (1993), 233.
2 Seitz (2002), 37.
3 Hanna (1983), 42.
4 Kealiinohomoku (1997), 70.
5 Marshall McLuhan referenced in Sanford Kwinter, Far from Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture (Barcelona: Actar, 2006).
6 Jerry H. Gill, “On Knowing the Dancer from the Dance,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter 1975), 128.
7 Sparshott (1993), 231.
CULTURAL INVESTMENT > LIBERATED URBAN ZONE
In establishing civic space, architecture must engender this shift to the in-between, foregrounding the possibilities for new confrontations in urban environments by grounding the fluidity of global networks in spatialized projects. One such project then becomes that of liberating Las Vegans from the domination of the “Fabulous” image, a project in which civic space might highlight cultural processes and formations rather than the luxury product of the city’s entertainment culture. Specifically, if the city is indeed to become “one of the foremost metropolises in the world,” it must begin to make a greater investment in the future of its communities at an infrastructural level though cultural education and opportunity.1
Dance has a history of conflict between freedom and control, “the ideal of a body moving in freely expressive health and nakedness” against an idea of perfectly trained bodies “submitted to a refined and codified choreographic discipline.”2 Thus dance found itself struggling to identify an in-between of its own, a territory in which it might symbolize something greater, the total liberation of spiritual energies. Dance and the variations previously described are all centered upon the idea of attaining the ultimate physical freedom, mastering one’s environment so that nothing impedes the body as it moves through space. As with other physical art forms, in its freest and most informal sense, dance becomes a mode of democratization because it is a liberated claiming of shared territory, and as such enables public transformations.
In contrast to this ideal of freedom, dance has become another example of bracketing, a packaged art to be received in a very specific way by the Las Vegas audience. Culture itself has become defined by territorial lines of global capital, rather than political boundaries of the nation or region. Cultures have been hijacked to transport commercial messages and commerce hijacked to transport culture. Although architecture once could have been considered the storehouse for culture, we now accept that something else has become that storehouse, and so architecture can instead be repositioned as an agent of cultural intensification and expansion. Given that the role of government in establishing cultural programs from a nationwide infrastructural level is likely to grow in the near future, architecture can further help to spatialize these projects as another type of global network.
Moreover, at a time when the city has been badly hit by economic crisis and foreclosures, Las Vegas needs to invest in existing members of the community for the future enhancement of the city’s life. By taking into account the hybrid city as a whole and providing residents and tourists alike tectonic engagement with physical space, the built environment can engage a new public awareness and expand the experiences of the many different characters in the city. Even in the city’s most popular escape spaces, a more thoughtful tourism might be introduced to lure visitors into a more multifaceted experience of the city.
Yet dance could be understood in other ways, embracing the dialogue between body instinct and visual understandings that Gill describes. Rethinking the space and interactions related to dance could impact not only participants and observers but the discipline as well. Choreographers have stated that they could create different kinds of dances if different kinds of spaces were offered; dancers, choreographers, and companies cherish non-traditional spaces.
As the world shrinks into global villages and cultural identities blur, there is a growing awareness in even the formal dance community of dance traditions outside the mainstreams of ballet and modern, recognizing these “others” as artistic realities. These others could range from rough street dance to even the darkly appealing exotic dance that for which Las Vegas is so well-known. In terms of art in the city, dance could be the ultimate conflation of high and low, of “nobrow.”3 If it is made accessible and desirable to the many characters of the city, a community-oriented dance center could assure consistent and diverse use through intelligently designed spatial and temporal divisions and overlaps as various programs are productively interlaced.
A new civic-minded urban “center” could thus be loci of physical activity with a fully-loaded roster of overlapped uses. Productive confrontation could occur not only within such an institution but in its varied relationships to the city and other programs as well, taking advantage of urban border conditions to create extremely active zones of interface. The “image” of a new development, of a hybrid community dance center, then becomes one of revealing process and sharing territory, encouraging new formations for collectives as well as new individual experiences as formerly dissociated networks of flows and persons hit the ground and become architecturally manifest.
1 Mayor Oscar Goodman, Union Park website.
2 Sparshott (1993), 228.
3 Term used by Klingmann (2007), 125.