A Choreopolitics of Topography: Feeling for Lower Ground in Karen Jamieson’s The River

Alana Gerecke

Abstract


In this article, I consider the possibilities and limitations of decolonizing dance studies by thinking through the dynamics of land-body reciprocity and privilege at work in site-based dance. I ground this study in my retracing and analysis of settler choreographer Karen Jamieson’s processional, site-based dance, The River (1998). The River allows me to fold together an ecological reading in the context of a recent history of urban redevelopment, while attending to the uptake of Indigenous approaches to land by settler bodies. I pair The River’s thematic and physiological emphasis on the living history of the Brewery Creek corridor with my own relationship to the piece as a buried moment in Vancouver’s dance and urban history. Situating my inquiry in the midst of one of Vancouver’s oldest settler neighbourhoods, I ask what performance’s “leak[y]” relationship to time (Schneider 2011, 10) can offer to somatic considerations of place in a settler-colonial urban environment. The River’s kinaesthetic tracing of the contours of topography exposes its site, a material transect of an ancient place in a 130-year-old settler city, as unfixed and in a constant flux that is both human-driven and, crucially, otherwise. I ask: What does it mean to understand the body topographically, and to understand topography choreographically? And what does it mean to dance land as unsettled in the context of a settler form?

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