Dance and Theater, can’t keep their hands off each other

Dance and theater. Theater and dance. That ever-flirtatious duo. It seems that the two are being seen together quite often these days when it comes to contemporary performance. Which is why the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) decided to join forces with the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) for their annual conference, specifically focusing on the special relationship between the 2 forms. This week in Seattle, both organizations are coming together for plenary sessions and paper presentations to thoroughly discuss the dynamic duo. And I’ve come out to join in the fun (fun that only nerdy dance people can really appreciate).

In tandem with the conference, I am taking part in a small research group, which is exploring the theme of the conference specifically through the lenses of creator, performer, and audience member. We’ve been discussing online over the last few months and we will be meeting this week to put together a final report of our conclusions. Though I will speak more about the results of our meeting (and the conference as a whole) in future posts, I’d like to share first some of the questions we have been exploring.

From the creative perspective, what are the benefits of using various forms in a work? And what can go wrong when a dancer speaks or an actor moves? How does a creator ensure that all components are used carefully and effectively? How does one overcome difficulties of training actors or dancers to engage in an unfamiliar discipline? Though each work may be different, is there a certain formula that works best for creating hybrid works – one creator or a team of creators? Performers from one discipline or a mix of training backgrounds?

On the performing side of the coin, is it possible to successfully direct dancers to act and choreograph actors to move? Is there a need for special training programs that prepare “double-threat” performers, equally competent in both disciplines? Can performers from different backgrounds settle on a common rehearsal process? What would an effective rehearsal process be for multidisciplinary works that involve collaboration?

Lastly, focusing on the audience, could hybrid works actually garner a separate audience/following? How could people be convinced to open up to something new and experience multidisciplinary works? How do we market them? Could they ever become mainstream and rise above the “experimental” connotation? How do we deal with infrastructure difficulties, such as limited events listings and segregated performing spaces?

A few weeks ago, when I attended The Bessies, I noted that most of the pieces that received awards were not pure dance works, but actually highly diverse works that included text, acting, or other theatrical elements along with the movement. It seems that this trend of marrying theater and dance on the same stage has been happening for a while and will continue on, as more and more choreographers and directors desire to push the boundaries of singular forms. But as the form progresses, it’s important to take time to think about these questions (and more) in order to really grasp what’s going on and help the unique form to reach its full potential. Stay tuned for how my research group decided to answer some of these questions, as well as notes from the rest of the conference.

UPDATE: For my follow-up post on the conference, click here.

Leave a comment


  1. Nice blog. I haven’t been to a CORD conference for years and will be looking forward to your review.

  2. Ashley Sleeth

     /  May 27, 2011

    I would be interested to hear what was discussed/suggested!

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