Rhetorical Moves: an interview with Cynthia

What is Rhetorical Moves about?

Rhetorical Moves  details my research into understanding what is actually happening when the dancer is onstage, something that no studies to my knowledge have addressed. Dance performance until now has been looked at from the audience’s perspective or addressed in a dancer’s auto/biography. But in Rhetorical Moves I address dancer performance from the perspective of the one who is creating the movement as you watch it- the dancer! You know dancers don’t tell you what is really happening onstage when they are moving. Mainly, you’ll hear that dancers are simply expressing themselves onstage. But Rhetorical Moves tells a far different story.

What do you mean?

Well, my study was to look at the embodied perception of three dancers over the course of a performance run. I wanted to know what the dancers were perceiving in the moment of movement.  Did the dancers think about corrections? Were the dancers aware of the audience? What was actually going on in the dancers’ heads as they were performing- that was what I wanted to know.

And what did you find out?

I found out that dancers are highly intelligent problem-solvers who are experts in dealing with and controlling bodily change. There is so much more going on than simply self-expression. For example, dancers are making in the moment adjustments that affect the rest of the performance. Some dancers make these adjustments easier than others who cannot follow through with what is happening to them, the experience of the performance changes. But no one dancer is the same throughout the performances or even the same during the performance. What I’m talking about is constant change as the norm for the dancer onstage. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this study because it’s time society realized how much the knowledge of the dancer can assist in all sorts of understandings about change, chaos, and control.

What other reasons did you have for doing the study?

To dispel the notion that only the choreographer is important and that the dancer is merely executing the choreographer’s wishes onstage. It’s true that the dancer brings the choreographer’s work to life, but the dancer is also co-choreographing because of the in-the moment of the movement decisions the dancer makes, which I believe makes the dancer a rhetor.

What’s a rhetor?

A rhetor is an orator, a speaker. For the purposes of my study the rhetor has agency or power to make choices that affect not only the way the work comes to life, but also how the audience interprets the movement. Appreciating a dancer that way is far different from considering the dancer as just a robot that is mechanically regurgitating the material someone made up for her.

I know your theory of embodiment is included in Rhetorical Moves, what exactly does that mean?

Embodiment in a nutshell invites understanding of the body from the perspective of the person who is undergoing the experience. I am interested in what is going on for the dancer as it is going on. So many dancers write memoirs and talk about being onstage years after the curtain has come down. To understand the chaos of the moment data needs to be collected as soon as the dancer walks off the stage and that’s what I did. Also I used to be a dance critic/writer for the Sarasota Herald Tribune and one thing audience members used to ask me is why do should they see the same dance over and over. My answer was always it’s never the same and my research into the experience of the dancer proves that. Each dancer had a different experience each night. That’s one of the exciting things about dance; it is never the same!

But what is your new theory of embodiment?

Well, what I do is combine two concepts- metis and a logic of articulation to explain the constant change and the different levels of awareness that become necessary to negotiate through that change. By combining these two ideas I lay out the different components that go into a each level of awareness. You’ll just have to get the book and find out the rest!

You can purchase Rhetorical Moves here.

Photo credit: Graham Thema