» Philosophy and the work of conceptual dance

Philosophy and the work of conceptual dance

February 18, 2015 all-day

Philosophy and the work of conceptual dance

With Anna Pakes & Nicola Conibere

TB6 / Teaching Block, Stag Hill Campus, Department of Theatre & Dance, University of Surrey

2-4.30pm, 18 February 2015


“Conceptual dance” is a generic term used to designate a type of contemporary dance practice, emerging in the 1990s, that critiques theatrical representation, eschews conventional virtuosity and choreographic structure and, through various performance means, offers a reflexive, sometimes ironic, commentary on the conventions of dance practice. The term is contested, but, despite some choreographers’ and theorists’ resistance to it, continues in circulation. Several of the practitioners associated with “conceptual dance” (such as Xavier Le Roy, Jérôme Bel, Tino Sehgal and Boris Charmatz) question the nature and centrality of choreography as product: they resist the objectification and commodification of their and others’ labour, emphasise the evolving inquiry of choreography rather than the finished ‘piece’ or cast doubt on the work’s status as a multiply performable entity with a stable identity that could function as the focus of artistic appreciation.

Drawing on work completed towards my forthcoming monograph on the ontology of the dances and choreographic works, I will investigate the nature and extent of the challenge ‘conceptual dance’ poses to the notion of the dance work. I will argue that this challenge is not as radical as it might at first appear, and that there is an ontology of dance which can accommodate this contemporary work alongside other forms of dance practice. Based on this ontology, I will also explore alternative ways of construing the “work” of conceptual dance, in terms of its process and achievements. This in turn encourages reflection on the relation between choreography and philosophy, and the nature and role of philosophical enquiry into dance practice.


Anna Pakes is Reader in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton. Her teaching and research is focused on philosophy of dance, and she has published on the epistemology of artistic research, the mind-body problem and phenomenology of dance. Her forthcoming monograph explores, historically and from an analytic philosophical perspective, the nature of dances and choreographic works: what kinds of things they are, and what can be and have been done with (and to) them.

Nicola Conibere

Title: Attention and Vulnerability in the Choreographic Work Assembly


In her attempt to articulate a relationship between contemporary choreography and practical philosophy that leaves both irreducible, Petra Sabisch proposes choreography’s capacities in terms of contamination – the transformations that occur through a body’s existence within an environment and relations that compose it – and articulation – an act of differentiation and composition that articulates mutually informing content and expression. In this paper I will use Sabisch’s proposal as a starting point to discuss my choreographic work Assembly.

Assembly is a gallery-based piece of choreography that blends viewing conventions from theatre and visual arts, creating a hybrid aesthetics to explore questions of what an assembly of bodies can do other than serve established ideas of publicness or community. I will suggest that choreography is experienced as emergent from within the work’s theatricality, via a flow of qualitative transformations of bodies in movement. The piece is characterised by an ambivalence towards its spectators and performers that resists politics of representation but invites expansive and shifting experiences of attention between people, encouraging reflection on how we experience knowledge of our relations with others. Ultimately Assembly creates an opportunity to attend to attention, and to consider the impulse to gather as an impulse towards vulnerability.


Nicola Conibere is a choreographer and Senior Lecturer in Dance at Coventry University. She also teaches on the MA: Body in Performance at Trinity Laban where she recently completed her practice-based PhD. Her doctoral research explored relationships between spectatorship, choreographic practice and notions of public appearing, social choreography and public value. Nicola makes choreographic work for theatres and art galleries. She recently co-curated Volumes Project, a group of dance artists showing as part of the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition mirrorcity (until 4 Jan 2015). Her work Assembly was shown in the ANTI Festival of Contemporary Art in Finland earlier this year, and she has shown work throughout the UK. Current research includes discussions on disability and dance in collaboration with CandoCo Dance Company, and the performance of process within recent choreographic practice.

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