Dying Swans and dragged up dames: a photographic exploration of the ageing dancer

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


    Dying Swans interrogates cultural images of the agile and able performer. It concerns the photographic parody of famous dance images: images are recreated in homage to the originals, but subjects – usually female, young and able - are replaced by an obese, gay, drag performer. This project is an hybrid of two independent projects driven by themes which intersect, but is an independent investigation in its own right into documentation and media images of dance and the disruption between expectation - driven by age, gender and hetero-normativity – and image. By examining cultural representations of the tragedy inherent in dance (that dancers are either too old or too injured), it questions cultural obsessions with youth, photoshop and the erasure of age from performance. Mark Edward’s project is to explore the ageing body by writing from the perspective of the third age. His project reflects on ageing, as both a gay man and performance artist, positioned in an hegemony of youth driven performance and media agendas. His work questions the cultural expectation of 'dancing your age', and what this might be, through examination of popular representations of the dancing body, and by so doing he examines the cultural meanings aligned with what it is to be ageing and a performer in contemporary media. His thesis is that social and cultural influences, including the contemporary media, seem to be moving contemporary society to a body normative which involves the removal of the (hi)stories and creases age naturally brings in an attempt to have currency, or make faces marketable. He explores Schwaiger’s concept of the ageing body as an ‘inflexible mask’ (Schwaiger, 2006: 14-5). Dr Helen Newall’s project is a photographic exploration of the seams and disruptions between performance photo-documentation and the performance itself. Sontag, Barthes. Sontag states that performance simultaneously exists and annihilates itself. Newall proposes that the photograph edits and resituates performance by distilling the ephemeral flow into a series of split second moments which the innocent viewer (ie someone who has not seen the performance but sees the images) then expands out into a performance which did not exist: the photographs become a metonym not only for moments absent in performance documentation, but for moments which never existed. The expansion that the viewer makes is thus a disruption from what existed and which is now lost and that which is supposed. There is myth making in this disruption, which creates a sort of scar tissue that re-skins performance into something that it never was. The photograph often does not capture physical exertion, but effortless poise held in perpetuity. It idealizes the heroic dance legend even as the performance itself is past its dance by date. In Dying Swans, Newall and Edward position the ageing drag performer and dancer, as being similar in their fates. The archetype of the physically and/or mentally injured dancer – Black Swan, The Red Shoes, Benjamin Button – is a potent tragedy of beauty cut short. Dance (and youth) is thus situated as a fragile and ephemeral thing, rather than as the hard physical slog which gets harder with age and which is usually what pushes the swans out of the lake. This is when most dancers are put out of their misery. But if not, when we watch an ageing dancer, what do we see? Are we watching the given performance, or are we watching a metonym for the performer they once were? How do we watch the ageing performer without seeking the myth of who they once were and what they could once do? It examines in Drag Culture the on-the-body ‘photoshopping’ of the male physique into a female physique and how ageing is equally unacceptable here. And asks whether the comedy inherent in an ageing drag artist situated as a dying swan or a fire bird (or even a fired bird!) is really our defense mechanism against the truths of ageing that such images expose? The poster is a discourse of word and image. The Dying Swans project will culminate in the autumn of 2013 in an exhibition of words and images.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
    EventDance Congress 2013 - Düsseldorf, Germany
    Duration: 6 Jun 20139 Jun 2013


    ConferenceDance Congress 2013


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