Dance in the Age of Forgetfulness

Wednesday 18 – Friday 20 April 2018, 09:30-17:00
Royal Holloway, Egham Hill, Egham, TW20 0EX

What does dance bring to the current historical moment, rife with all its crises? Current political crises are characterised by a move to the right and include the resurgence of nationalism and fascism. War and conflict are causing humanitarian crises, including the mass displacement of people, which is met with a degree of indifference and inadequate response in the West. Crises also continue to exist on an environmental and economic level, with the two seemingly at odds with one another.

How does or might dance dismantle the notions underpinning these crises by engaging with memory, history and community in an embodied way?

Why might dance be one of the best ways to visualise the importance of history?

What do dancing bodies bring to the re-mapping of history?

What is the relationship between dance and the notion of the historical present, which necessitates movements backwards and forwards as a kind of vibration?

How does dance intersect with the opportunities and potential of the current historical moment (e.g. the digital revolution and semiotic democracy; alternative, autonomous communities; decoloniality and the refashioning of hybrid identities; postmodern transculturalism; queer futures; a plurality of artistic forms and aesthetics, fuelled by interdisciplinarity, etc.)

Keynote speakers:
Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha
Dr. Efrosini Protopapa
Dr. John Perpener

Dance in the Age of Forgetfulness aims to explore the following topics:

  • History / Historiography: How do we continue to practice dance history in an ahistorical moment? What might the strategies be to make history present and palpable in a time when the dance economy seems intent on innovation and spectacle at the expense of historical understanding?
  • Arts Pedagogy: How do educators enable students to navigate the vast digital archive of knowledge and images? How do educators negotiate the need to learn the canon? How can dance help to question canon building? How can arts educators engender arts advocacy, civic engagement and political activism in students?
  • Practice / Choreography: In a time when much conceptual dance disavows tradition and aesthetic histories of dance, what can temporality and engagement with history offer?
  • Cultural memory: How might the notions of forgetting and amnesia influence conceptions of cultural memory? What is the importance of remembering and forgetting through dance and other physical acts and rituals in dealing with collective trauma?
  • Digital context: How does dance provide ways in which to navigate the ever-present now, which is always there but at the same time inaccessible?
  • Globality / Communities: How do dance and the wider arts address globality, the movement of bodies and the shifting of histories as a way to build and shape communities? How does dance help to mobilise the potential of collective agency? What role do corporeality and performance play in the gathering of people in protests?

We envisage these discussions and contributions to be embedded in scholarly and artistic frameworks concerning power, politics and economies.

Ticket information:
1-day and full 3-day conference tickets are available, with discounts for SDR members and students/unwaged. Price: £40 – £140
Bookings are via Eventbrite

Campus accommodation can be booked here.

Ticket sales will close on Wednesday 4th April 2018.

About keynote speakers:


Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha

Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha is Senior Lecturer in Dance at Royal Holloway University of London. Her monograph Indian Modern Dance, Feminism and Transnationalism was published in the Palgrave Macmillan New World Choreographies series in 2014 and subsequently won the 2015 de la Torre Bueno Prize from the Society of Dance History Scholars, and the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award from the Congress on Research in Dance. Her research has been published in Performance Research, Dance Research Journal, Asian Theatre Journal, Studies in South Asian Film and Media, CLIO: Women, Gender, History and South Asia Research. She is currently working on the British Academy/Leverhulme funded research project ‘Decolonisng the Body: Dance and Visual Arts in Modern India’.

In her keynote, Dr. Purkayastha will address the topic of ‘Dance in Colonial Human Exhibits: A History of Conscious Forgetting’. In November 1885, a group of ‘natives’ were shipped to London from India by the luxury departmental store Liberty’s to be installed as human exhibits in a ‘living Indian village’ in Battersea Park. It was the coldest winter in Britain in thirty years. The Indians were given European winter-wear to fight off the cold, much to the disappointment of English spectators who considered them inauthentic. Among the ‘natives’ were two women, a mother-daughter duo, a pair of nautch dancers, described as ‘“bewitching” objects of sexual curiosity’ (Mathur, 2000: 503), and subjected to unsolicited physical touching by visitors to the living display. Around ninety-eight percent of Dr. Purkayastha’s undergraduate students came to University this year without having learnt about the British Empire at school. How is a British nationalist crafting of cultural memory achieved through a deliberate and conscious forgetting of British colonial history in the United Kingdom? What can dance and dance history, and the forgotten bodies of human exhibits, offer us in such ahistorical times of selective amnesia?

Dr. John Perpener

A dance historian and independent scholar currently living in Washington, D.C., Dr. John Perpener received a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University and a MFA in Dance from Southern Methodist University. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2012-2013) for his project on African-American concert dancers and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  And, from September 2014 through February 2015, he was a Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York.  His most recent essays on African-American dance are accessible online at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s archival site:

Dr. Perpener will be speaking about “African-American Concert Dance: Dancing and Remembering” from a historiographical perspective, placing key African-American dancer/choreographers within a historical continuum of social and political engagement through the arts. He will be discussing a select group of white artist/activists of the 1920s and 1930, who used their work to confront racial oppression, the abuse of workers, and the rise of Fascism in Europe; and end with the recent efforts of black artists to address sociopolitical issues through dance performance.

Dr. Efrosini Protopapa

Senior Lecturer in Dance and Choreography at University of Roehampton, Dr. Efrosini Protopapa will present ‘A horizontal navigation: between remembering and forgetting, between knowledge and life’. This is a performance lecture that takes its cue from Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote on the positive dimension of forgetfulness. It attempts to engage choreographically with the philosopher’s concepts of the historical, the ahistorical and the superhistorical.

‘that we know how to forget at the right time just as well as we remember at the right time,
that we feel with powerful instinct the time when we must perceive historically
and when unhistorically’ (Nietzsche, 1874)

Efrosini Protopapa is a London-based choreographer and scholar. Her research interests lie in experimental and conceptual practices across dance, theatre and performance and her recent work focuses on notions of thinking, negotiation, disagreement, friendship, value and labour in performance. She has presented choreographic work across the UK, The Netherlands, Germany and Greece, and recently toured a commissioned work by Siobhan Davies Dance that premiered at the Barbican Curve. Lately, Efrosini has been working on a choreographic research project entitled ‘the friend at work’, and co-edited ‘The Practice of Dramaturgy: Working on Actions in Performance’ (Valiz, 2017). She is a Senior Lecturer in Dance at the University of Roehampton where she convenes the MRes Choreography and Performance programme. She also teaches internationally and has published in journals, arts publications and catalogues for performance festivals.

Photo of Efrosini Protopapa by Foteini Christofilopoulou


Schedule Dance in the Age of Forgetfulness by Lise Uytterhoeven on Scribd

Image: 1001 Lights, a multi-channel video projection installation, co-directed by Marlene Millar and Philip Szporer (Mouvement Perpétuel). Photo: Anthony McLean. Performer: Carol Prieur.

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