Choreography, Visual Art and Experimental Composition 1950s–1970s  book cover
1st Edition

Choreography, Visual Art and Experimental Composition 1950s–1970s

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ISBN 9781032182407
March 21, 2022 Forthcoming by Routledge
296 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book traces the history of engagements between dance and the visual arts in the mid-twentieth century, and provides a backdrop for the emerging field of contemporary, intermedial art practice. Exploring the disciplinary identity of dance in dialogue with the visual arts, this book unpacks how compositional methods that were dance-based informed visual art contexts. The book provokes fresh consideration of the entangled relationship between, and historiographic significance of, visual arts and dance by exploring movements in history that dance has been traditionally mapped to (Neo-Avant Garde, Neo-Dada, Conceptual art, Postmodernism and Performance Art) and the specific practices and innovations from key people in the field (like John Cage, Anna Halprin and Robert Rauschenberg). This book also employs a series of historical and critical case studies which show how compositional approaches from dance – breath, weight, tone, energy – informed the emergence of the intermedial. Ultimately this book shows how dance and choreography have played an important role in shaping visual arts culture, and enables the re-imagination of current art practices through the use of choreographic tools. This unique and timely offering is important reading for those studying and researching in visual and fine arts, performance history and theory, dance practice and dance studies, as well as those working within the fields of dance and visual art.

Table of Contents

1. Between Dance and the Visual Arts 2. John Cage, Anna Halprin, and Dance as Contemporary Art Interlude I: Minimalism, Experience and Experiment 3. Dance and Minimalism  4. Dance and the Neo-Avant-Garde: 3 Case Studies Interlude II: Choreographers and Artists  5. Robert Rauschenberg: Choreographic Tools for the Visual Arts  Interlude 3: Exhibitions and Exclusions  Conclusion

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Erin Brannigan is a dance and performance academic currently working at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia of Irish political exile, convict, and settler descent. Her research explores the condition of dance and choreography within the broader field of the contemporary arts.


Context is everything. Brannigan’s new book finds the point at which the recent history of contemporary choreography in the context of the broader cultural practices occupied by the visual arts turned and shifted. This reviewing of historical practice allows us to reconsider perspectives and genealogies. Through the lens of choreography conceived, made, and performed outside of the theatre, we can see how we might attend differently to many artists’ work.

Shelley Lasica, Artist

Erin Brannigan's original and timely analysis argues for the ways in which the unique characteristics of dance as re-imagined by a number of pioneering women artists, and the potentials of choreography as a structuring of movement and time, inform, interrupt and significantly re-invent visual art since the 1960s. Her book makes an invaluable contribution to understanding how we are moving from a 'cross-disciplinary' to a post-disciplinary space of art in the 21st century.

Catherine Wood, Senior Curator, International Art (Performance) at Tate Modern

Erin Brannigan breaks with the canonical division of choreography and the visual arts to tell a little-known story of the explosive encounters between dance and minimalism that transformed the face of both arts. Challenging established discourse, the book addresses problems of authorship and gender from an egalitarian perspective, thus contributing to a much needed political renewal of dance studies.

Barbara Formis, Senior Lecturer in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, Pantheon-Sorbonne University, Paris


This book's scholarly contribution is in airing and resolving a prescient problem: the inaccuracy of the historical record on the American avant garde in the 1950s and 1960s where ... the choreographic, movement and dance practices and practitioners have been left as a footnote in the history of art, when dance and dance practitioners were central to the process and production of the contemporary ‘revolution’ at the time. It also places the radical democratisation of practices in this period at the feet of the shifting experimental, feminist, communitarian, female practitioners of the time ... the righting of historical records will be as good for art history as it will be for dance scholarship. 

Amanda Card, Senior Lecturer, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Sydney, Australia

Brannigan's core argument that dance and choreography have played a role in shaping visual arts culture, enabling artists to reimagine their work practices through choreographic tools, is compelling ... In situating dance as contemporary art media rather than dance and visual art, [she] provokes fresh consideration of the entangled relations and historiographic significance of a key moment ... [the] aesthetic exchanges in the period 1950-1970 ... In countering the blind spots of art history, the writing attends to specific practices and innovations of Cage, Halprin, Rauschenberg, Brown, Forti, Rainer and documents how their relationships and entangled narratives shaped the grammar of avant-garde art and performance ... Brannigan traces a genealogical pathway for this development that is original and with its emphasis on female progenitors of radical practice highlights the gendered and sexuate context previously under-explored in more malestream accounts of this particular historical period.  

Carol Brown, Professor in Dance, Victorian College of the Arts, Australia