My PhD research engages with the premise that Western artistic dance can be seen as holding an interesting multi-layered position in relation to age(ing). On one hand, it most often focuses on youthful physicality and therefore takes part in an unquestioned marginalisation of ageing bodies, which, according to critical age studies (Woodward 1999, Gullette 2004, Lipscomb/ Marshall 2010), pervades Western culture as a whole. On the other hand, it is a potential site of experiencing and presenting human bodies in new and unexpected ways. Therefore dance may also enable ways of appreciating our bodily being beyond a narrow focus on athleticism and an attractiveness, which is commonly assured by youthfulness.
My research focuses on improvisation-based dance making. My main argument is, that improvisation-based dance forms and their specific working methods may offer ways of practicing and performing dance that have the potential to challenge previously unquestioned understandings of age(ing) in the field of dance and possibly beyond.
The research unfolds from the hypothesis that it needs an in-depth engagement with the practice of improvisation-based dance and the working conditions negotiated in the practice to reveal if and how such an age-critical potential might be realised. My research approach, therefore, uses artistic practice as the primary mode of enquiry, interacting with and framed by an analysis of other artists’ approaches and the theoretical insights of critical age studies, which challenge dominant representations of the ageing body, a stereotypical understanding of the life course, and a gendered bias in regard to the social impact and consequences of getting older.
So far my research, approached as an evolving embodied Practice as Research mode of enquiry in dance, is realised by actively intertwining three distinct but interdependent modes of research engagement.
1. Modes of Artistic Enquiry
I have developed ‘Solo Partnering’ as a long-term improvisational studio practice and ‘Performing Age(ing)’ as a specific choreographic process. Both practices grapple with the theme of age(ing) creatively whilst further offering propositions for re-thinking working methods/ structures for mid-life dance artists.
2. Modes of Documentation
Through a detailed written practice logbook and video documentation of my working processes and performances I have implemented documentation methods that trace the practice and allow me to reconstruct and reflect the steps taken in my practical enquiry of Solo Partnering and Performing Age(ing) in the written part of the thesis.
3. Modes of Contextual and Theoretical Reflection
The development of a critical, reflective position towards my research subject allows me to articulate the presumptions, creative strategies and age critical potential inherent in/ developed by my artistic practice. This critical position is gained through examining critical age studies, other artists’ approaches, relevant literature on dance, as well as through interviews with acclaimed older dance makers, participant observations and the on-going drafting of ideas and questions arising throughout the research process.