Tilting at Windmills

A case study investigating embodiment, performativity, and dramaturgy

To what extent can a state of embodiment in performance challenge and shift the limits of its performative status? To what extent can a performer engage non-performance behaviour in performance? In marking an aporetic instance of a transcendence (of performativity) that remains always already performative, this question served as a strategic platform from where some of the liminal areas of performer process could be explored in a practice-based investigation held by the research ensemble Icarus Performance Project.

This article examines the notion of a dramaturgically informed state of embodiment from the viewpoint of aesthetics. To this effect, the technical and dramaturgical processes of Icarus Project’s La Reina performance structure are adopted as a case study. Phillip Zarrilli’s phenomenological model of the actor’s embodied modes of experience frame the discussion on the resultant performative condition. Furthermore, the symbiotic relationship between actor embodiment and structure dramaturgy are proposed as a higher-level instance of what Zarrilli calls the bodymind. In drawing on Jean-François Lyotard’s account of the sublime sentiment, the article will also highlight the application of critical theory as an informing device for practitioners and as a methodological tool to better understand aspects of performer practice. Finally, the frame applied in this article is presented both as a model for University practice-based research and as an instrument for the analysis of contemporary performance realities, particularly those which rely on extensive vocal processes.