Set in the context of contemporary dance this thesis investigates how improvisation practice and performance making participate in a critical rethinking of age(ing). Advancing the notion of an age critical dance practice, the research draws on the theoretical frameworks of age studies – a multidisciplinary field of critical inquiry informed by, largely speaking, feminist and poststructuralist theories. The age critical dance practice developed in this thesis, in turn, enters into conversation with the discourses established in age studies and dance studies as a way to incorporate age critique into dance.
The thesis is a Practice as Research project consisting of a written thesis, two solo performances (The Fountain of Youth, premiered 2013, and The Fountain of Age, premiered 2015), and employs immersive dance based research methods such as the development of a Solo Partnering practice (as documented on DVD). The research also remodels the method of qualitative interviewing into a performative method that allows the participating expert practitioners to tap into their unique improvisation and performance expertise when addressing their particular understanding of age(ing).
Through the development and analysis of improvised practice and performance making, alongside in-depth performative interviews, the findings of this research point to ways in which improvisation and performance embody age critical potential. The long-term, open-ended and agentic artistic processes that improvisation experts develop all share a range of characteristics that serve to challenge the established youth-orientation in dance and constitute an implicitly critical position to dominant understandings of age(ing) in dance. Consequently, the thesis argues that improvisation practices ‘do’ age(ing) in ways less prone to dualistic stereotyping and reiterations of (self-) discriminatory age(ing)-as-decline narratives that dominate our culture as a whole. The research also suggests strategies in performance making that enable representations of age(ing) in ways that collide with, resist, or complicate normative expectations on age(ing). The dance works presented in this thesis allow the dancer to articulate shifting perspectives and experiences, creating ambiguous meanings and disjunctive narratives of age(ing), and thereby making explicit a critical position towards the grand narratives of age(ing).
In conclusion, this research argues that specific approaches to a long-term, open-ended dance practice, alongside critical images and new imaginations of age(ing) in performance, allow dance to evolve as an age critical arts practice.