Dancing Together. An analysis of entrainment and subjectivity in William Forsythe’s choreography Duo

Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Christina Thurner
Doktorandin: MA Elizabeth Waterhouse


1. Summary of The Research  Plan

At the Institute for Theater  studies at the University of Bern, the proposed research project takes as ist Subject the oeuvre of choreographer William Forsythe (b. 1949 in New York), arguably one of the most Important and controversial choreographers in European contemporary dance. The focus is upon the activity of Dancers in the event of dancing  together. This recognizes that Forsythe`s dancers are ideal and untapped subject Matter for understanding the embodiment of corporeal coordination. The challenge to articulate what has been unspoken, invisible and disregarded in dancing together brings together Prof. Dr. Christina Thurner, University of Bern, Prof. Dr. Priska Gisler, University of the Arts Bern, with dancer Elizabeth Waterhouse, a former member of The Forsythe Company (2004-2013) and current Doctoral student at the Graduate School of the Arts in Bern.

The aim of this project is  to understand what is at-stake in the event of dancing  together. It seeks to Determine whether it is possible to use the  concept of entrainment to understand the construction of dancer subjectivities in William Forsythe`s choreographic work. Entrainment is a scientific concept that can be provisionally understood as coordinated rhythmical movement. Human entrainment has been studied in music and communication, but only to a limited extent in dance. The concept is still new in the humanities. This project aims to discursively contextualize entrainment in the humanities and to ascertain how a case study based research of virtuosic entrainment, such as dancing together in The Forsy the Company, may be fruitful both for the advancement of entrainment and dance studies. The expectation is that the interaction between dancers and the experience of the performer(s) has largely been disregarded in choreographic analysis, and that both are essential to understanding what choreography is and how subjects are constituted through it.

The research design works inductively, considering the example of W. Forsythe`s choreography Duo. This duet of synchronous and asynchronous movements is ideal for entrainment research (i.e. because of the Movement precision, breath usage, male  and female pairs and the absence of an external musical pulse). The gathered sources include unprecedentedly rich and previously unconsidered material—including 6 live performances and  rehearsalsof Duo (2015), over 50 archival videos of Duo performances performed by different pairs (1996-2015), 10 archival videos of rehearsals, including the rehearsals where Duo was choreographed (1996, 2014), and interviews made during the project with the performers, musicians and the choreographer. To analyze these sources, phases of different methodology will be applied: qualitative methodology from Tanzwissenschaft (performance analysis, movement annotation and discursive analysis), methods of participant Interview and fieldwork observation, newly developed methods of comparative video analysis using Piecemaker and Isadore software, pulse-based analysis of movement from entrainment science, and cross-referencing the scientific discourse of entrainment in examples of music and communication.

The strength of the research project lies not only in this exceptional source material and innovative approach to methodology, but also in the opportunity to analyze that material in conjunction with an artist-scholar, herself from the lineage of The Forsythe Company. The primary product of this research will be the dissertation of Doctoral student Elizabeth Waterhouse, titled “Life in Progress: a mixed-methods analysis of entrainment in dancing Duo from 1991-2015”.The research team provides international scholarly exchange (FU Berlin, Goldsmiths University in London, and University of Marseille) in the fields of Tanzwissenschaft, Cognitive Science, and Social Anthropology respectively. Duo performers provide data consultation and a collaborative Partner (Jill Johnson, Harvard University). Further public outcomes will include a Workshop, a public  installation of the audio-video source material, sharing of the new tools for video analysis and a website.