Moving Together Theorizing and Making Contemporary Dance by Rudi Laermans

 ·       An original combination of dance studies and sociology
·       Based on detailed analyses of dance works and in-depth conversations with contemporary dance artists
In Moving Together sociologist and dance critic Rudi Laermans clarifies the multiple stakes of contemporary dance through an original combination of dance studies and sociology. Whereas detailed analyses of seminal dance works directly inspire the main conceptual moves in the book, extensive dialogues with dance makers inform the insights on artistic collaboration and co-creation. The book’s structure reflects this dual attention to both individual dance works and their production. Following an introduction in which Laermans contextualizes ‘the Flemish dance wave’, two parts of equal importance focus on ‘theorizing’ and ‘making’ contemporary dance, respectively.

The first part opens with an attempt to circumscribe the specificity of contemporary dance in light of its plural and open-ended character. Through a meticulous examination of contemporary choreographies – with a special focus on the oeuvres of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Meg Stuart – Laermans discusses three main tendencies in contemporary dance: ‘pure’ dance, dance theatre, and reflexive dance. His interpretations of particular dance works frequently expand into more general reflections on, for instance, the self-referential character of movement, theatricality, ‘videography’ or ‘dance in general’. The conceptual subtext that thus unfolds combines insights from diverse theorists (such as Niklas Luhmann, Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze) with those of leading dance scholars, in an original way.

The second, ethnographically inspired part of the book focuses on the multi-faceted dynamics of co-creating dance, particularly within a semi-directive context. Based on personal observations and in-depth interviews with dance artists associated with the thriving Brussels dance scene, Laermans shows how artistic collaboration is in essence a micro-political experiment in ‘commonalism’ and democratizing democracy, characterized by a combination of individual desires, shared expectations and difficult to resolve paradoxes. He carefully unravels this knot and simultaneously frames it sociologically through insightful discussions of the precarity of expressive labour within the contemporary regime of flexible artistic accumulation.

Analysing individual dance works as well as the divergent social contexts preceding or enveloping a dance performance, Moving Together bridges the gap between aesthetics-centred and context-centred tendencies in the study of contemporary dance. It advocates a consistently symmetrical approach in studying art practices that focuses on both text and context, product and production, ‘the aesthetic’ and ‘the social’, by means of divergent conceptual frameworks.

‘Clearly written, meticulously researched and theoretically enriching, Rudi Laermans’ first-hand accounts of key performances by some of the most influential names that have defined contemporary choreography since the mid-1980s make us see how crucial the Flemish dance scene has been for the development of contemporary experimental dance — and therefore, how it has also been a strong influence in those discourses that inform the reception and perception of international dance today. Absolutely essential.’

André Lepecki, Associate Professor in Performance Studies, New York University

Rudi Laermans is Professor of Social Theory at the University of Leuven (BE). He is the author of several books and has published widely on social theory, (post)modernity, and the sociology of the arts. He also frequently writes about contemporary dance and other performing arts.