I’m Sofie, a fourth year PhD student at Royal Holloway, and I had the privilege of presenting some of my research at the last Landscape Surgery session of term. I talked about my work on the production of contemporary dance in Quito, Ecuador, and my interest in how the particular histories and geographies of the city get articulated and negotiated through dancing bodies. After returning from an extended period of ethnographic fieldwork in the summer, I’m currently working through a number of ideas as I try to get my material into shape, so the session was really helpful in thinking through a few of these!
To draw out some of the relationships between geography and dance, I began the session by discussing a draft Geography Compass paper I wrote earlier this year. Within the confines of the article, I wanted to try to take dance beyond its common use as a vehicle for the non-representation/more-than-representation debate to instead explore the complex coming together of the material, historical, and political in dance practice through a focus on its production at three intersections: the body; dance-spaces; and institutions and their networks. Here I wanted to think about the relationships of individual, creative, idiosyncratic dancing bodies to: their corporeal histories of training and performance; particular imaginaries of and relationships to space in practice; and the processes of creation, regulation, moderation, and innovation at work in institutionalised spaces and networks of production and exchange. In drawing out a few of these connections in the paper, I suggest that the geographies of dance involve both dancing bodies and the various spaces, sites, and networks that dance with and through them.
The intersection of bodies, dance-spaces and institutions is also important in my approach to the production of contemporary dance in Quito. During fieldwork my experiences as both an observer of and participant in the contemporary dance scene led me to explore the dynamics at work between diverse actors including independent artists and collectives, national dance companies, state and municipal government, theatres and cultural institutions, training schools, funding organisations and, of course, audiences, in the production of dance practice and their particular articulation in relation to the social and cultural context of the city.
A key part of this research has been thinking about the emergence of practice through dancing bodies. In the session I talked a bit about a chapter I’m working on at the moment, which focuses specifically on the material, bodily aspects of practice. Here I’m interested in the syncretic and negotiated construction of dancing bodies and how particular geographies of the national and international dance worlds might be implicated in this process in Quito. In the chapter I think about various threads of practice that run through contemporary dance in the city as ‘bodies’ that variously overlap and pull apart in different artists’ practice. In the session I illustrated three of these: the narrating body, the festive body, and the sensing body.
In the narrating body I consider the practice of dance-theatre in Quito and explore how certain artists work to shed their everyday bodies in order to inhabit others that narrate particular histories or social realities of the city. In the talk I looked particularly at Colectivo Zeta, an independent group whose works have explored themes of sexuality, gender, and domestic violence among others. I also talked about artists’ engagement with traditional practice in the exploration and experimentation of character and movement in ideas of the festive body, such as in Wilson Pico’s series of works Fervorosos Pasos, which explores characters from popular festivals. Lastly I considered ideas of the sensing body. Here I was interested in the ways practice emerges through intimate and spontaneous dialogue with the body’s own inner rhythms and those of surrounding bodies and spaces. This body has been explored in the work Cultivo de Babosas (Slug’s Garden), by Esteban Donoso and Fabian Barba, and in the work of the collective Movimiento Centrífuga, which focuses on the production of movement in conversation with urban textures of concrete, metal, wood and stone.
As I write, a number of questions are coming to the fore, including how to relate the nuances of practice and the diverse reality of the dance scene in Quito to the analytical imperatives that come with academic writing. Sharing my work with the group was a great help in thinking through some of these questions, so thank you to everyone who contributed with their very interesting ideas and comments!
Part of my work in Quito involved research into the production of traditional Afro-Ecuadorian dance, a range of practices that articulate very different geographies in the city to those of contemporary dance. I’m going to be posting another entry in the coming weeks that looks at an exchange between these two practices in Carapungo, a northern neighbourhood of Quito, that I organised in collaboration with the dancers Luzmila Bolaños, Tamia Guayasamin, and Tatiana Valencia as part of my fieldwork, so I look forward to talking some more about dancing bodies very soon!