1st Edition

Choreographing Dirt Movement, Performance, and Ecology in the Anthropocene

By Angenette Spalink Copyright 2024
    116 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is an innovative study that places performance and dance studies in conversation with ecology by exploring the significance of dirt in performance.

    Focusing on a range of 20th- and 21st-century performances that include modern dance, dance-theatre, Butoh, and everyday life, this book demonstrates how the choreography of dirt makes biological, geographical, and cultural meaning, what the author terms "biogeocultography". Whether it’s the Foundling Father digging into the earth’s strata in Suzan-Lori Park’s The America Play (1994), peat hurling through the air in Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring (1975), dancers frantically shovelling out fistfuls of dirt in Eveoke Dance Theatre’s Las Mariposas (2010), or Butoh performers dancing with fungi in Iván-Daniel Espinosa’s Messengers Divinos (2018), each example shows how the incorporation of dirt can reveal micro-level interactions between species – like the interplay between microscopic skin bacteria and soil protozoa – and macro-level interactions – like the transformation of peat to a greenhouse gas. By demonstrating the stakes of moving dirt, this book posits that performance can operate as a space to grapple with the multifaceted ecological dilemmas of the Anthropocene.

    This book will be of broad interest to both practitioners and researchers in theatre, performance studies, dance, ecocriticism, and the environmental humanities.

    List of figures


    Introduction: Biogeocultography

    1. Performative Taphonomy: Excavating and Exhuming the Past in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The America Play

    2. Staging Extraction: Peat’s Vitality in Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring

    3. A Dirty Pas De Deux: Dirt, Skin, and “Trans-corporeality” in Eveoke Dance Theatre’s Las Mariposas

    4. Mycelium in Motion: Choreographing Care in Iván-Daniel Espinosa’s Messengers Divinos

    Conclusion: Moving with the Trouble



    Angenette Spalink is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University.

    "In Choregraphing Dirt, Angenette Spalink excavates and activates our intimate and interwoven dance with the material stuff of the earth – call it dirt, soil, detritus, mud, peat, humus, ash – it is the delicate and constant dance partner of our intractably embodied lives. In light of current myriad crises, Choregraphing Dirt analyzes how performance – dance, theatre and cultural enactment – can trace the impacts of extraction and trade, reveal displacement and destruction of human and more-than-human lives, unearth and lay bare racist and genocidal histories long buried in soil, or celebrate deeply rooted cultural reciprocities with the land around us. Choreographing Dirt is a lucid and compelling analysis of the essential work of the performing arts in the era of climate change: to illuminate and complicate human kinship with the more-than-human world. Spalink has made an elegant and incisive contribution to the intersectional fields of ecodramaturgy, performance studies, dance studies and environmental humanities."

    Theresa J. May, author of Earth Matters on Stage: Ecology, Environment and American Theatre

    "Spalink does the urgent work of bringing ecocriticism to dance studies, taking seriously how dirt is choreographed on the stage, as well as how dirt in turn choreographs the movement of others in and across biological, geographical, and cultural spaces. Her analyses of theater and dance pieces in which dirt takes center stage model how the movements of dirt itself offer new insights to intractable ecological problems."

    Rosemary Candelario, University of Texas at Austin

    "By attending to the ways in which the 'choreography of matter matters,' Choreographing Dirt represents a welcome and much-needed expansion of ecocriticism and ecodramaturgy into the fields of movement and dance. Focusing on well-chosen case studies, Spalink’s analysis astutely reveals how performance can illuminate connections between the displacement of resources and environmental injustices."

    Dr. Wendy Arons, Professor of Drama and Director of the Center for the Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon University