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Performance Aesthetic

Peter Snow
septembre 2011


Notes de l'auteur

This essay has been adapted from a paper entitled “Performance Aesthetic” which was presented at the SocioAesthetics conference at the University of Copenhagen in August 2009.

Texte intégral   

1In 1990 I attended a highly intensive performer training workshop in Hakushu, a village in the mountains some sixty kilometres west of Tokyo, in Yamanashi prefecture. The workshop was led by the celebrated butoh dancer Mi Tanaka and other members of his company, then called Mai Juku, who lived and trained with him. When not touring and performing, the company worked on the farm in a mode of training that elided with their daily living12. Just before the workshop, a festival, hosted by Tanaka and the village, presented performances by Japanese and international artists. One evening I witnessed Tanaka and his company perform. Like most of the other performances it took place at night on an outside stage made of rammed earth. People sat on wooden benches carved from trees, or stood in the dark. It was a hot and close evening.

2Filling the night was a wall of sound, like giant insects. Butoh dancers typically move alongside or within a sonic environment. They do not dance to the music. Sound joins all the other environmental influences in holding, and in effect shaping, the movement images. Behind the stage a huge crane was carrying one of the lights. This was a paradoxical image in a traditional Japanese farming village, but characteristic of the intersection of the contemporary and the traditional in contemporary performing arts in Japan, especially in butoh. Out of the darkness, picked out by a single light, emerged a tall figure in robes, Min Tanaka – carrying a huge wooden pole – which was clearly extremely heavy. Tanaka is a very strong man, tall and very beautiful. One observer claimed he had the most beautiful body in Asia. Later, one of the younger Japanese volunteers at the festival whispered to me that “Min Tanaka is a god”.

3Other slow tempo images ensued. To the left hand side of the stage was a ramp, some four metres high, sloping sharply down to the ground. Suddenly a figure appeared at the top of the ramp and rolled down at lightning speed, hit the dirt in a cloud of dust, bounced up and started to flutter indescribably quickly, for what seemed like forever. The dust hovered around him. Amidst the world of weight and density, of slow temporality and duration, had appeared an image of lightness, of fragility, instantaneity and permeability. A youthful European butterfly, in contrast to the Japanese performers, clad in a loin cloth, appeared blown by his surrounds.

4Many years later, in 1999, I re-met the dancer, Frank van de Ven, in the Central Australian Desert near Alice Springs, in another performance environment called Triple Alice, and we began to work together3. We started by making a suite of improvised works for video in the desert, entitled 6 vertebrae, and initiated a series of improvised performances in many countries that we call Thought/ Action4. I first wrote some of the thoughts in this essay about performance aesthetic after that meeting in the desert. Partly I was trying to find a way of linking the complexities of performance, of bringing the many interweaving strands that are at play in performance into some sort of relation. But I was also reminded of being provoked by Van de Ven many years earlier, in Japan, when he claimed that the work of Mai Juku did not have an aesthetic. For them it was evidently a dirty word – and there were others – character, psychology, acting, even theatre. The context was not unimportant. It was the experimental performance world of the late eighties. But more significantly, the idea of a style, or indeed of a style that might encapsulate or even transfigure beauty, was repugnant.

5This was somewhat ironic, since the butoh company of which Van de Ven was a distinguished member – in fact the leading male dancer after Tanaka – espoused tenets derived from Tatsumi Hijikata who had cofounded and conceptualised butoh as a dance of darkness or dance of the dark soul5. An aesthetic of darkness for Hijikata had a clear and acknowledged artistic lineage including, among others, de Sade, Genet, and Mishima6. And the aesthetic dimensions of butoh are clear. Darkness is spelled out as perversion, grotesqueness, insanity and misshapenness. All this is in deliberate counterpoint to western dance, especially ballet, but also to traditional Japanese performing arts and their dominant aesthetic of restraint, miniatuarisation, and light7. If there is an aesthetic continuity through the two phases of Japanese art and performance, it resides in the propinquity of shadows and the predilection for spaces or intervals between temporal moments8.

6Nevertheless, I started to think through what an aesthetic might be as applied to performance. And then I rather folded it away, because my main interest at the time was in theorising embodiment and creativity. Until very recently, aesthetic has not been a large concern in the fields of theatre and performance studies, nor among theatre and performance artists with whom I work. Recently, though, that appears to be changing, especially with the publication of Fischer-Lichte’s Transformative Power of Performance : A New Aesthetics9. Performance for Fischer-Lichte is an autopoietic system, a self-generating, self reflecting, feed-back loop. One problem is that the creativity of artists appears to be left out.

7Whichever way performance is considered – as performance event, as discursive construct, as cultural category – relational accounts emerge. I suggest a useful tool to help deal with this complexity is “performance aesthetic”. This would include, broadly : the style of a performance work ; the methodologies by which that work is created ; and the cultural worlds in which the work is produced and disseminated. Style includes appearance, manner, shape and pattern. Methodologies include processes of training, making, rehearsing and performing. Cultural worlds include the material conditions of a performance, but also its social, historical and discursive contexts, which include hermeneutic, semiotic and aesthetic analyses. Clearly these modes are connected. To say that a performance “appears” a certain way, already implies we have made sense of it, at least partially. Evidently all these processes, from the cultural symbolic to the intra-corporeal, are inter-related, and any theorising of a performance aesthetic should take note of the numerous relations that obtain within and between them1011.

8It should be clear that I am taking performance event as paradigmatic of performance, as the ground from which the other notions, discursive construct and social/cultural category, derive. In other words, the embodied event, the co-presence of performers and spectators in an agreed place and at an agreed time, is the sine qua non of performance, without which the other notions simply do not make any sense. I choose to use the term “work” here instead of production, performance, or more generally “art object”, to point towards the event in which the work is presented. Of course “work” is sometimes meant as a plural ; for example, in referring to an artist’s or a company’s work as a set of works, or œuvre.

9Any analysis of the embodiment of a performance aesthetic, therefore, needs to take into account the following layers or strata, (though I am not implying an ontological hierarchy here). Firstly, such an analysis should include what the performance work is claimed by the artists to be for – sometimes called “the vision” of the work. Of course “vision” has many dimensions, ranging from the overarching beyond to the particular within, from the sacred to the sacrilegious. According to theologian Paul Tillich, the sacred is that which “ultimately concerns us”12.

10For the Russian actor, director and teacher, Konstantin Stanislavsky, the vision of theatre art is to uplift the human spirit. The emphasis is clear both in the title of Stanislavsky’s autobiography, My Life in Art, and in the name of his famous theatre, Moscow Art Theatre13. The stress on art and artist is not surprising, given the turmoil of turn of the century revolutions and the post-romantic notion of artist with the potential to transform the world in all its domains. By contrast, for the Polish director and teacher, Jerzy Grotowski, the vision of performance was to bring about a therapeutic wholeness14. This was perhaps to be expected in the infected aesthetic of post war communist Poland, where a materialist surface overlay a deeply catholic sensibility in a country escaping from the horrors of its recent anti-semitic past. Whereas for the German writer/ director Bertolt Brecht, the purpose of theatre art is to bring about social change ; the Marxist agenda to harness the social and economic forces on display in the theatre and on the stage as a prelude to change in the wider social arena is well-known15. Hijikata’s vision of butoh was to embody the world of the forgotten, the misshapen, and the grotesque in a radically new form of Japanese movement and dance16, while for Ushio Amagatsu, the leader of the butoh company, Sankai Juku, it is to embody the gestures hidden in the heart of the race17. The significance of social transformation is evident in all of these views of performance.

11Secondly, a discussion of performance aesthetic needs to encompass the performance mode(s) used by the artists to embody and promulgate the vision. This is often called “the style” of the work. It is the simplest notion of an aesthetic, of aesthetic as appearance, or heightened appearance, and points to how the work appears to artists and audiences. For example, Stanislavsky’s theatre productions were a species of heightened realism18. Grotowski’s works spanned several genres, from the early productions in the theatre laboratory in Wroclaw19, through paratheatrical experiments, to the late almost monastic training regimes without audiences20. Brecht’s singular legacy is epic theatre21. Hijikata created an erotic and often violent dance of darkness22. Sankai Juku’s productions are typically translucent and mesmerising23.

12Thirdly, an analysis of performance aesthetic must take account of the rehearsal methodologies used by artists to create the performances which make manifest the style. This aspect could be called the “making of the work”. For example, Stanislavsky is known for a multifaceted acting methodology of great sophistication and beauty, in which the notion of developing a line of actions for each character is a cornerstone24. On the first visit of Grotowksi’s company to Paris, their work was greeted as an incarnation of Artaud’s desire for a visceral theatre, though Grotowski disavowed the connection. The methodologies he used to make the early performances reside in a view of actors as holy creatures who are able to reveal themselves in performance only by means of a rigorous, almost ascetic, training of their physical, vocal and psychic dimensions25. Brecht is justly famous for the theatrical processes of embodying the dialectic in, amongst other epic devices, a discontinuous narrative26. Hijikata created startlingly raw images : and striking images of haunting beauty have become a staple for butoh artists27.

13Fourthly, an account of the embodiment of performance aesthetic must involve the inter- and intra-corporeal ground(s) out of which the performative material emerges. These are the practical means that artists use to identify, locate and dwell in the somatic and imaginative realms for the purposes of generating performance material. This “layer” is, I propose, a region available only to the scrutiny of artists themselves. It is obvious that performance material emerges into the observable realm of social performance, and equally obvious that it gives rise to a noticeable disposition of theatre and performance artists in their work. But in order to encounter such a realm to the point of writing about it, one must in my view be an artist working in performance.

14Discrete layers of analysis are always problematic. There are border cases and problem cases and so on. It may be tricky to tease out, for theatre and performance artists, the differences between what I have called the third and fourth layers. There is a fluid border between the methodologies used by artists to generate performance material and the methodologies they utilise to assemble this material into performances. However in my view the two processes depict processes that are distinguishable for artists, so for the purposes of this analysis I have tried to keep them separate. It is noticeable that what I have called fourth layer, the performative ground, is typically captured by artists in an array of arresting metaphors.

15For Stanislavsky, the performative ground consisted in what he called a psycho-physical realm which could be accessed through detailed and concrete imaginative processes, and which could give rise to a score of physical actions28. The early Grotowski, by contrast, proposed a via negativa, a stripping away of any potential psychic and physical blocks that performers might possess29. The religious connotations to the meditative exercises of St John of the Cross are evident. Grotowski also uses the metaphor of a surgeon using a knife for a psychic and physical penetration. And he speaks of a burning away of anything that might stand in the way of revealing to the spectator the innermost secrets of the artists30.ForBrecht, the relevant ground was patently the realm of the social31. Hijikata is more enigmatic and elusive, but it is evident that, for him, artists must inhabit internal worlds of darkness32. The artists of Sankai Juku claim that the body is ninety-eight percent water, and use many training exercises that work with the fluidity and grace of the body as water33.

16These performative grounds, or realms, are intimately tied up with training. One way to conceive performance training is as a socialisation into what is acceptable for the group. But at base any training is a process of learning what to attend to in the work as it unfolds and how to do so. Elsewhere I have called this triple process of attending, “sight / site / cite”34. By sight, performers learn what to perceive. They find out what to notice, what to filter, and what to ignore. By means of site, they learn how to place this material ; that is how to embody it precisely and in detail in their bodies. Through citing, they learn how to reflect on what is being created within their bodies, on what is transpiring between their bodies, and on what is flowing between themselves and the group. And they learn how to carry out this reflection both immediately and later. In training, the embodied processes of perception operate continuously35.

17Fifthly, any notion of performance aesthetic needs to include the cultural significance(s) ascribed by artists and analysts to the work. Clearly, such intellectual and artistic significances relate to, impinge upon, and constrain, not only what I have referred to above as the vision but also all the other aesthetic aspects of the performance works under consideration.

18I would now like to go on and discuss, from the perspective of an artist who makes performances, a number of features of performance that I take to be emblematic and therefore pertinent to a discussion of performance aesthetic. But before I embark on that discussion, let me outline the conceptual framework for the thinking about performance aesthetic in this essay. In brief, the ground of culture is performance. The ground of performance is embodied being, in particular the experiences of embodied being. And the ground of embodied being is relationality. I will now consider the following qualities of theatre performance : change, transformation, creativity, materiality, permeability, and relationality. I will conclude with a brief discussion of how ethical concerns permeate all these aspects of performance.

19Performances enshrine change. They exemplify continuous and continual change of anything and everything. They are always in flux. Change as flux is a feature of the universe, both of being and of the world. In this sense, performances do neither more nor less than embody this principle. The ubiquity of change is at least as old as Heraclitus’ wry observation that one could not step in the same water of a river twice. However, the point is not only that things are always changing. But rather that performances instantiate change, and what is more they seek to intensify change and to heighten it. In effect they deal in change. Flux is the stuff of performance, from mutating social relations to the miniscule particulars of performers’ bodies and the transformability of their being.

20Performances embrace possibilities for transformation. Like flux, transformability is an ancient notion. Witness Ovid’s magisterial interweaving of metamorphosing gods, humans, plants, animals and the natural world36. I refer here not only to the metaphysical position of Heraclitus, and later Schopenhauer, which is that everything can change and does change, which points to the ephemerality of existence, but to the stronger thesis of the Metamorphoses which is that things change continuously into things of a different kind in a ceaseless process of intercorporeal and interspecies mutability. The possibility and ubiquity of transformation in performance events is a defining feature of performance37. But it derives from the principle of continuous and continual change outlined above. There is much to be said here and too little space. But let me refer to one key mode of intensified and transformative change, the ineluctable process of living and dying.

21In performances, everything is living and dying, every moment. Living as liveness has been frequently recognised and discussed38. And there has been a continuing concern over issues such as presence39. Dying not so. Yet consider the ubiquity in the theatre profession of phrases such as “it was dead tonight” or “it was a dead audience”. It is true that many of the phrases used in theatre talk would reply careful attention. What does it really mean, for example, when theatre people say in rehearsal that something “doesn’t work”. In effect it hints at a criterion of death. It points to the fact that that moment or image is about to hit the cutting-room floor.

22But let us return to death and dying. We are dying every moment. We know this. It is an inescapable feature of our being, of the being of the universe and everything in it. Becoming is its inverse. Performance, in its transience and ephemerality, instantiates this truth and puts it up in lights.

23Performance is emblematic of culture. The continual living and dying of performance recognises and instantiates what we know about ourselves, our being, our society and our culture. Namely, that they too are eternally living and dying all the time. It is in this sense that performance creates culture ; it brings us and our cultures into being.

24Performances emerge from creative processes. Artworks are created by artists. Conversely, one could say that artists are those who create artworks. Both artists and artworks are constituted by continual and creative processes of becoming. Creativity is an oscillation between many modes of being. Underpinning or grounding this process in performance is what I have called an imaging of the in-between40. Imaging is a dual process of imagining and enacting. Imagining and enacting are a flick-flack, they are perpetual shadows of one another. For artists making performances, imagining what is possible is already corporeal. While enacting is already a process of re-imagining. Imaging, as imagining and enacting, is the corporeal mechanism for generating performative material. To image the in-between is precisely to generate performance material by means of this dual process. In this way, image intensities come into being and are superseded by one another in a continual process of embodied creativity. Now, I propose that this process of imaging the inbetween is also the process by which spectators attend to and make sense of performances. In other words, underpinning a semiotic is a visceral co-presence, co-attending, and co-creativity.

25Performances are always material, though the status of that materiality is very intriguing. I do not wish to say much about this here, other than to indicate that the co-presence of actors and spectators in an agreed place at an agreed time, which is constitutive at one level of a performance event, is a manifest example of materiality in performance. But so is the visceral co-attending that is at the heart of the process of imaging that I have just described. Any aesthetics of performance has to deal with this. A key mode of materiality in theatre performance is the presence of living beings, of bodies. Embodiment is emblematic of performance. Performances are embodied events. This much is self-evident, so any account of performance and of an aesthetics of performance has to deal with embodiment. As proposed above, the ground of existence is being in relation.Being is embodied in theatre performances as action, as a series of enacted images.For me embodiment is intercorporeality. That is, it is constituted by networks of intercorporeal relations41.

26A key embodied methodological process, both for doing performance work and for writing about performance work, is “attending”. In a performance training workshop, for example, we adopt the intensified mode of attending to our many varying relations. Attending here refers to waiting, waiting on, waiting for, taking care of, and being attentive to42. Many of these resonances attend the French word “attendre”. Beckett’s En Attendant Godot draws on all these reverberations in its depiction of an eternal waiting for an ever receding redemption. The pertinent questions for this discussion though, on the embodiment of a performance aesthetic, are, which relations do we attend to, and how do we carry out this process of attending. For example, what kind of filtering takes place ? And what process of selecting operates ?

27Learning to attend in a certain way is plainly a guided process. Part of any pedagogy is finding out what to attend to, what is deemed relevant, and what should be screened. We cannot attend to everything. Sensory overload is an everpresent danger. So in performance, and in making performances, artists aim to intensify the specifics of what they attend to. Training regimes specify just what is to be attended to, and how, and participants attempt to increase their capacities for doing just that. By contrast, when artists are making work, they choose to put themselves in a specific set of relations. They choose to attend to themselves, to one another, to the proposals, and to the environments in which they are working – in other words, to the work in all its modes. So attending carries with it notions not only of noticing, and of reflecting, but also of being with others, and of being open to all the relevant influences.

28Performances manifest permeability. They embody the possibility of transfer and transmission between beings and worlds at all levels. Permeability relates to relations, if I may use such an awkward phrase. Although performances are material, they are forever changing and unstable. Furthermore they are always partly open, and in that sense they are permeable, or at least semi-permeable. As Merleau-Ponty observes, as beings we are open to the world, the world is the ground of our experiencing, and bodies are the medium for experience43. I first thought about permeability in relation to bodies in performance while undergoing performance training. It was clear that permeability obtained at the social level, and facilitated the experiences of a group body forming. It was inter-corporeal. Put simply, working together has the capacity to create a group. Through working together, an ensemble emerges. But it was also clear that permeability was intra-corporeal. Consider breathing exercises, which are part of every performance training ever devised and many other trainings besides. We lie on the ground. We breathe into the ground, we breathe into the air, we breathe into one another. We allow breath to enter us and to seep through all the parts of our bodies. We experience breathing together. Inspiration and expiration mirror a living and a dying.

29I had encountered semi-permeable membranes as a critical property of cells while a medical student. The cells of different tissues are semi-permeable to different chemicals. I suppose selective permeability as a process of continual and mutual exchange stuck with me. But permeability also pertains to bodies in intimate relation to one another. One of the reasons why sexual contact, kissing for example, is so tricky to get right on stage is precisely because such relations are grounded in permeability. The propensity of personas and psyches, let alone bodies, to leak into one another is dangerous. Another reason why it is difficult is that in these intimate actions the actor/ character relation and, therefore fictionality, seems to collapse. What is more, time is rendered utterly in the here and now. Such intimacies are inescapably in the present. At such a moment of transfer between performers, their bodies and psyches are threatened with the intensity of becoming “we”. Of becoming more than individual. Such experiences of permeability sometimes lead to an invocation of intersubjectivity. But it is clear that intersubjectivity is grounded in intercorporeality, not the reverse. Interconnections of selves, however constitutive they are of being, are grounded in embodied networks of intercorporeal relations.

30Now we come to the heart of the matter. To what is most important for me in an account of performance, and therefore of performance aesthetic, and that is relationality. In my view, we are always and everywhere constituted by our relations. These relations include our actual physical relations, our imagined and imaginary relations, and our discursive relations to ideas, and to texts. They involve our relations to one another, to our past and future selves, to other possibilities, projected or remembered or intimated, our relations to our work, to our dreams, to the many worlds we inhabit. They comprise the multitudes of relations between various parts of our bodies, and other parts of our being, and between parts and wholes. They take in our relations to the divine, to the diabolic, in short to everything that matters to us, and that may influence us.

31Our relations are a complex set of webs, of ways of interconnecting, and they are themselves always in flux, provisional and mutable, though clearly some appear more stable and seem to last longer than others. Therefore “we” and “our” are clearly more fundamental than “I” and “my”. Though I note the irony of writing “I” in this sentence, let alone “for me” and “in my view” above. To the extent that we are webs of relations, we notice, recognise and attend to the multitudinous filaments of the relations with which we are in flux. We negotiate that terrain daily, the terrain of those relations. In life and in performance we traverse the interwoven strands that make up the complexity of our existences. Our actual and fictional worlds are riddled with relations.

32We are also constituted by our many relations to place, and to time. All of which we carry within us. Our experiences of places and of times are as relational as our experiences of embodiment. All of these spatial and temporal relations are made manifest in some way in our bodies44. As we work, all of them seep, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, into performance. We are saturated, we might say, with one another and with the world45. How we as theatre artists manifest relations, and how we attend to those multitudinous relations, is not simply a performance issue, not simply a feature of how we make performances. It is pre-eminently an ethical matter.

33To the extent that embodiment is constituted by relations, and that performance is grounded in experiences of embodied being in relation, then an ethics of performance will be bound up with relationality. We are always with and for others in performance46. And we are always in worlds. In short, we are amidst one another and the world. Again it is important to emphasise the significance of “we” as the minimal unit. Whether we are thinking about embodiment, creativity, or ethical matters to do with performance, “we” is more fundamental than “I”. This proposal concerning ethics is more than “for the other”, more than “for thou”, and also more than “with another”. It is rather to be “for and with others”. On this view, to be and to act ethically is to be cognisant of, and to act in accordance with, our being amidst others and the world47.

34At a practical level, ethical questions are partly about what we do, and also about why we do what we do. But, for me, they are also always about how we go about what we do. How we dispose ourselves, to our work, to ourselves, to each other, and to the world, is pre-eminently an ethical matter. For those of us who make performances, this becomes a question of how we dispose ourselves to one another, to the work, and to the world(s) in which the making and the sharing of the performances takes place.

35If that is the case, then the absolutely key ethical question for artists working in performance is, how do we attend to those relations that are at play in performance at all levels ? In other words, how are we attending to what is going on, while training, rehearsing, performing and reflecting ; in fact, while we are in any of the modes of creating and producing performance that have been elucidated.

36One way of attending is to put ourselves in the position of another. Or in the position of the group. Or indeed in the position of the world. Or perhaps in the position of one or more of these relations. Each of these prospective changes in position is an embodied move, not simply an imaginary one. It can be felt, in other words. In terms of the analysis of creativity above, it is an imaging, an embodied process that is imagined and enacted concurrently. Importantly though, as well as being an embodied move it is also an ethical move, necessitating an awareness and a working disposition towards who and what we are amidst. In performance, and perhaps in all spheres, embodied moves are ethical, and ethical moves are embodied.

37Ethical considerations apply at all levels of performance aesthetic discussed above. How we organise our training, how we create our performances, how we produce and share our performances with spectators, how we stand by the work we have created. These are all ethical matters, not only aesthetic ones. We might say that in performance we are amidst all the dimensions. Ethical considerations also pertain to all the qualities of performance discussed above. How we respond to continual change, how we work with the transformability of ourselves and our worlds, how we deal with our materiality and with our permeability to one another and the world, how we invoke our creativity. In sum, how we dispose ourselves amidst the many relations that we are. These are all creative, aesthetic and ethical concerns.


1  Tanaka’s company is now called Tokason.

2  Alissa Cardone, “Killing the Body-Ego: dance research with Min Tanaka at Body Weather Farm Japan”, Contact Quarterly, Winter/Spring, 2002, pp. 15-22.

3  Peter Snow, “p4: Performance Making in Alice” in About Performance 5: Body Weather in Central Australia, 2003, pp. 49-63.

4  Peter Snow, “Performing All Over the Place”, in Gay McAuley(ed.), Unstable Ground: Performance and the Politics of Place, Bruxelles & Oxford, P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2006.

5  Sondra Fraleigh & Tamah Nakamura, Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo, New York & Abingdon, Routledge, 2006.

6  Susan Blakeley Klein, 1988, Ankoku Buto: The Premodern and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness, Ithaca, N.Y., East Asia Program, Cornell University.

7  Sondra Horton Fraleigh, Dancing into Darkness: Butoh, Zen, and Japan, Pittsburgh, Pa, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999.

8  Vicki Sanders, “The Aesthetics of Buto”, Asian Theatre Journal, 5(2), 1988, pp. 148-163.

9  Erika Fischer-Lichte, TheTransformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics, translated by Saskya Jain, London & New York, Routledge, 2008.

10  I note the relational aesthetics of Bourriaud in the domain of visual art. This proposes a view of visual art that takes account of the multiple relations of work and context (Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Dijon, Les presses du réel, 2002). My views on performance aesthetic depending on a metaphysics of relationality began to be developed in 1991 and were first articulated in 2006.

11  See further remarks on relationality below.

12  Cited in Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance, New York, PAJ Publications, 1988, p. 10.

13  Konstantin Stanislavski, My Life in Art, translated by J.J. Robbins, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967.

14  Jerzy Grotowski, “Tu es le fils de quelqu’un”, The Drama Review, 31, no.3 (T115), 1987, pp. 30-41; Jerzy Grotowski, “From the Theatre Company to Art as a Vehicle”, in by Thomas Richards (ed.), At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, London & New York, Routledge, 1995.

15  Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett, London: Methuen, 1990.

16  Sondra Fraleigh & Tamah Nakamura, op. cit.; Tatsumi Hijikata, “Man once dead, crawl back” in Jean Viala & Nourit Masson-Sekine, Butoh, Shades of Darkness, Tokyo, Shufunotomo, 1988.

17  Jean Viala & Nourit Masson-Sekine, Butoh:Shades of Darkness, Tokyo, Shufunotomo, 1988.

18  Vasily Toporkov, Stanislavski in Rehearsal: The Final Years, translated by Christine Edwards, New York, Theatre Arts Books, 1979.

19  Jerzy Grotowski, Towards A Poor Theatre, edited by Eugenio Barba, London, Methuen, 1969.

20  Jerzy Grotowski, “From the Theatre Company to Art as a Vehicle”, op. cit.; Thomas Richards, At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, London & New York, Routledge, 1995.

21  John Fuegi, Bertolt Brecht: Chaos, according to Plan, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987.

22  Tatsumi Hijikata, Body on the Edge of Crisis: Photographs of Butoh Dance Performed and Staged by Tatsumi Hijikata, edited by Asbestos Kan, Tokyo, Parco, 1987.

23  Jean Viala & Nourit Masson-Sekine, op. cit.

24  Jean Benedetti, Stanislavski and the Actor: the Method of Physical Action, London & New York, Routledge, 1998.

25  Jerzy Grotowski, Towards A Poor Theatre, op. cit.

26  Bertolt Brecht, op. cit.

27  Tatsumi Hijikata, Body on the Edge of Crisis: Photographs of Butoh Dance Performed and Staged by Tatsumi Hijikata, op. cit.; Jean Viala & Nourit Masson-Sekine, op. cit.

28  Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work: A student’s diary, (a contemporary translation of An Actor Prepares and Building a Character by Jean Benedetti), Abingdon & New York, Routledge, 2008; Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work on a Role, (a contemporary translation of Creating a Role by Jean Benedetti), Abingdon & New York, Routledge, 2010.

29  Jerzy Grotowski, Towards A Poor Theatre, op. cit.

30 Idem.

31  Bertolt Brecht, op. cit.

32  Sondra Fraleigh & Tamah Nakamura, op. cit.

33  I state this from personal experience of a performance workshop with members of Sankai Juku in Sydney in 1991.

34  Peter Snow, “Performing All Over the Place”, op. cit.

35  See further remarks on attending below.

36  Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by David Raeburn, London, Penguin, 2004.

37  Erika Fischer-Lichte, op. cit.

38  E.g. see Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, London & New York, Routledge, 1999.

39  E.g. see Jane Goodall, Stage Presence, New York, Routledge, 2008.

40  Peter Snow, “Performing All Over the Place”, op. cit.

41 Idem.

42  See also Thomas Csordas, “Somatic Modes of Attention”, Cultural Anthropology, vol 8, Issue 2, 1993, pp. 135-156.

43  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, translated by Colin Smith, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1989 (1945).

44  Peter Snow, “Performing All Over the Place”, op. cit.

45  Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology, edited by David Ray Griffin & Donald W. Sherburne, New York, Free Press, 1978 (1929).

46  Peter Snow, “Performing All Over the Place”, op. cit.

47  This conceptualising of an ethics in performance has clearly been influenced by Levinas’ “call from another” (Emmanuel Levinas, Entre Nous: Thinking of the Other, translated by Michael B. Smith and Barbara Hershav, New York, Columbia University Press, 1998), Buber’s “I and Thou” (Martin Buber, I and Thou, edited and translated by Arnold Kaufman, New York, Scribner, 1970 (1923)), and Heidegger’s “mitsein” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Oxford, Blackwell, 1992 (1927)). Helena Grehan (Performance, Ethics and Spectatorship in a Global Age, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) elaborates a contemporary ethics of performance based on the dispositions of spectators.


Peter Snow, «Performance Aesthetic», Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Numéros de la revue, La responsabilité de l'artiste, La responsabilité de l'artiste, mis à  jour le : 25/10/2012, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=536.


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Peter Snow est professeur de performance théâtrale auprès de l’Université Monash (Melbourne) et comédien professionnel. Sa recherche concerne la philosophie et la méthodologie de la performance. Parmi ses publications, travaux et productions en Europe, Asie et Australie, on compte Guilt Frame (Sydney Theatre Company 08), Thought/ Action Suites (Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, Gent, Leeds 02-05) et une version des Métamorphoses d’Ovide (Dresden 02, 03).