2010 – Two Sisters’ Separate Paths: Early Dance and Early Music in the Age of Postmodernism

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Music and dance were regarded as ‘two sisters’ in ancient Greek philosophy. These two arts were closely associated in Western dance until the twentieth century, when their conceptual separation occurred. While classical music distanced itself from the general public in its modernist pursuit of theoretical and mechanical techniques, contemporary theatre dance has continuously attracted a wide audience with its variety of styles. In this climate, the paths of Early Music and Early Dance, both rooted in the heritage movements which started in the nineteenth century, could not have been more different.

The Early Music movement entailed the debate on issues of authenticity, a subject on which numerous writings have been published since the 1980s. In this debate, the issues concerning the performance of ‘old’ music have been discussed by musicians, musicologists and philosophers, who agreed that musical performance that is conscious of original sounds and styles is characteristically a ‘modern’ phenomenon, and aims to achieve contemporary musicianship for a contemporary audience. In other words, it is a genre of ‘contemporary’ music to stand side by side with newly composed music, not ‘historical’ music. Supported by huge commercial success, so-called ‘historically informed performance’ has become one of the standard practices of professional musicians, and consequently has brought an end to Early Music as an ideological movement. Conversely, Early Dance remains in the semi-professional/amateur domain (with certain exceptions), often related to the heritage industry. In fact, Early Dance has never been categorised as a professional performance style in mainstream dance scholarship, within the latter’s poststructuralist paradigm. Dance scholars argue that theatre dance is always a ‘present’ creation (or re-creation, construction/reconstruction, revival, etc; the term varies depending on the scholar and the context) regardless of the chronological distance from its original performance. In other words, the performance of dances conceived in the past is ahistorical, with the past and the present entwined within it.

Under these circumstances, the position of Early Dance is dubious: while researches of ‘historical dance’ enjoy the academic community’s recognition, the performance of theatre dances in the eighteenth century and before is largely confined to the heritage movement, and remains neglected by major choreographers and mainstream dancers. Is there no possibility that Early Dance may be treated as a form of performing art? This paper will take an overview of the philosophical backgrounds of contemporary music and dance, and consider the potential for Early Dance to contribute to mainstream stage productions in the context of the twenty-first century.

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Kimiko Okamoto