The caged and the free: the working body in the modernist avant-garde

Warden, Claire (2012) The caged and the free: the working body in the modernist avant-garde. In: Performance Studies international #18, 27 June - 1 July, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

The historical theatrical avant-garde is populated by working figures. He (and it mostly is ‘he’) takes many forms, from the stoker in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape to the strikingly anthropomorphic robots of Karel Capek’s R.U.R. to the highly trained ‘factory worker’ of Meyerhold’s theatre. These figures occupy a difficult position: at times proud creators of industry, at others subjugated emblems of capitalist expansion, oftentimes powerful as bodies but disenfranchised as individuals. Sometimes work is a joyful occupation engendering a profound sense of community and enabling real achievements to be realised; and yet there are also clear examples of disconnected bodies, pitted against one another in an economic competition.
This paper aims to negotiate some of these difficult themes. It examines the body firstly as an object of repression but also as a potential site of protest. Moving from here it presents a number of theatrical examples of the body as both a caged victim of economic demands and as a potential source of freedom. It concludes by pointing to the way that historical avant-garde movement techniques and dance sequences posed a challenge for the hegemonic systems and an escape route for the subjugated body. This section will particularly examine the work of Meyerhold and Laban as two practitioners who set about understanding this complex relationship between industry and the body, between the physically powerful worker and the repressive economic structures. Both are influenced by the working body of the industrial landscapes they inhabit, though these influences are explored in profoundly different ways. If read through the work of these two imminent figures the factory becomes a playground, the Manchester mills become potential spaces of artistic learning. The final section will reappraise the way the modernist avant-garde use the industrialised body in the theatre space.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information:The historical theatrical avant-garde is populated by working figures. He (and it mostly is ‘he’) takes many forms, from the stoker in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape to the strikingly anthropomorphic robots of Karel Capek’s R.U.R. to the highly trained ‘factory worker’ of Meyerhold’s theatre. These figures occupy a difficult position: at times proud creators of industry, at others subjugated emblems of capitalist expansion, oftentimes powerful as bodies but disenfranchised as individuals. Sometimes work is a joyful occupation engendering a profound sense of community and enabling real achievements to be realised; and yet there are also clear examples of disconnected bodies, pitted against one another in an economic competition. This paper aims to negotiate some of these difficult themes. It examines the body firstly as an object of repression but also as a potential site of protest. Moving from here it presents a number of theatrical examples of the body as both a caged victim of economic demands and as a potential source of freedom. It concludes by pointing to the way that historical avant-garde movement techniques and dance sequences posed a challenge for the hegemonic systems and an escape route for the subjugated body. This section will particularly examine the work of Meyerhold and Laban as two practitioners who set about understanding this complex relationship between industry and the body, between the physically powerful worker and the repressive economic structures. Both are influenced by the working body of the industrial landscapes they inhabit, though these influences are explored in profoundly different ways. If read through the work of these two imminent figures the factory becomes a playground, the Manchester mills become potential spaces of artistic learning. The final section will reappraise the way the modernist avant-garde use the industrialised body in the theatre space.
Keywords:modernism, Theatre
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W440 Theatre studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Performing Arts
ID Code:6109
Deposited By: Claire Warden
Deposited On:06 Sep 2012 21:44
Last Modified:06 Sep 2012 21:44

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