Body Opera: In Search of the Operatic in the Performance of the Body
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AbstractThis interdisciplinary practice-based thesis interrogates the term ‘operatic’ with particular reference to movement. It thereby aims to extract operatic movement from the practice of opera singers and investigate ways to transfer ‘operaticness’ into the bodies of non-singing performers. The research uses Butoh as a model for a non-foundational movement practice (termed herein ‘Body Opera’) and embodiment techniques derived from Butoh, to achieve this transfer of kinaesthetic information. The research was undertaken in part through interviews with opera singers and close observation of opera singers in rehearsal and performance. This process also included the making of sketches of singers in movement, which are included in the thesis and which are regarded as kinaesthetic responses to what was observed. Combining the sketches with embodiment techniques that unlock the movement they contain, the gap between the spectatorial position and the performance maker position is bridged and movement-based practice is created and presented as a component of the thesis, in dialogue with the written component. Furthermore, the spectatorial and researcher positionality are recognised as that of an ‘opera queen’ and this position participates in facilitating the transfer of operaticness from singers to non-singing performers. Operatic movement is identified as that which occurs as a result of the physical restrictions of singing operatically and through the negotiation of those restrictions with the need to convey plot and character, giving rise to non-naturalistic or artificial way of moving. This emphasis on artificiality is theorised as an operatic sensibility akin to queerness. The thesis examines opera through the lens of postmodernism and in particular through a queer theoretical framework. The research analogously applies Butler’s poststructuralist theories concerning performative gender construction to opera and in doing so suggests a reading of opera as potentially queer, gender fluid, subversive and non-normative. This position challenges notions of opera as elitist and pro-establishment. The thesis posits that the operatic is an emergent property that occurs at the intersection of creative practices in opera and which is embodied by singers in performance. The thesis also posits that kinaesthetic empathy provides an explanation for how the operatic is communicated between singers and further suggests that the opera queen is similarly subject to a form of kinaesthetic empathy when listening to opera. The thesis makes a contribution to knowledge through revealing ways in which spectatorial and performance maker positions may be bridged, as well as through suggesting practical ways in which non-singing performers might approach the task of moving operatically. The research therefore contributes to movement practice, but also to opera studies by interrogating the subject of opera from a kinaesthetic perspective that centralises the body and experience of singers in order to understand the art form.
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY