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contact & dons

Moving structure of the collective, fluid transindividuality :
            corporeity within Isabelle Choinière’s Phase 5 and
            its questionning of human-environment relationship

Leïla Cassar

Phase 5 is a transdiciplinary performance that mix dance, somatic, visual arts and new technologies. It was presented in Suyama Space about in 2016 by Isabelle Choinière and Fernanda d’Agostino in the context of « Generativity ». A combination of interlaced bodies is the center of a moving and breathing structure. The technologic interface developed by Isabelle Choinière broadcast, deforms and amplifies, by the use of hidden microphones placed on the head of the performers, the sound they are producing live. Visual artist Fernanda d’Agostino’s videos, also broadcast live, are framing this performance, overlaping the performer’s bodies to images of natural environment or of the inside of an organism. This human form where identities seem to blur sometimes appears to be an organ, a lungful or a heart. Functioning through the practice of contact-improvisation and of somes principles of somatic education, it reproduces natural structures of self-organization where the dynamism is impulsed through and betwen the diverse individuals that constitute it. My hypothesis will be that this performance, through a corporeity created by the technologic interface, somatic and contact-dance, reveals an esthetic and ethic vision on identity, collective and nature. It seems to me that this very peculiar form, in its modalities and its very structure, takes a stand againt anthropocentrism, as Lehmann defines it :

Under this heading one could assemble [...] a theater that integrates the human form mostly as an element in landscape-like spatial structure. They are aesthetic figurations that point utopically towards an alternative to the anthropocentric ideal of the subjection of nature. 1

Choinière’s research-creation work around this performance began in 2005 and has known several phases. « Phase 5 » is here entering into dialogue with Fernanda d’Agostino’s work. Together, they explored and developed an already present dimension in the performance : the self-organized and natural invisible structures. We could define self-organized structure as a structure where the actions of the actors are the product of the environment’s informations that are produced circurlarly. It’s the case, for instance, of the starlings’ flight or the snowflake’s composition (the final model of which is not pre-established but is constructed  by outside temperature, pressure and density). Some branches of somatic education applied to dance have reproduced these structures, and these are the ones Isabelle Choinière mobilized in her work, particularly the one concerning sensory self-organization, as described by Glenna Batson:

Sensory authority promotes movement autonomy (the capacity to self-organize movement internally), differing from common external references used in learning dance (e.g., teachers’ cues or mirrors) 2

The work of radicalization of the principles of contact dance reproduces this structure; If a sort of canvas exists in the performance imagined by Isabelle Choinière, the "choreographic" sequence is entirely dependent on the performers through a sensory self-organization which leads them to generate performative structures, gestures and behaviors that vary between each representation . Isabelle Choinière, speaking of her work, writes:

Performative forms that emerged were complex and unpredictable because they arose from interaction itself: from the five bodies exploring variations in pressure and pulse and from the creation of sound in real-time that acts on the rhythmic dimension of the performance and the choreographic structure and gesture which compose it. 3

Each dancer reacts to the gesture of the dancer with whom she is in contact by a multi-sensorial contact, through the intermingling of bodies, sound, light, etc., in a logic thus very similar to self-organization in nature. Enrico Pitozzi emphasizes the constant transformation of performance through his self-organization:

This leads to the abandonment of compositional processes that have already been experimented, and opens up the way to a kind of movement subjected to a continous transformation ; it produces, therefore, a scenic sonority enriched and redefined each time. Here, the sensorial aspect is reorganised, and the internal body behaves as a medium. 4

Romain Bigé, in an article analyzing the "micro-politics" of contact dance, writes:

In other words, the best way of accessing my sensations is the feedback loop offered by  the presence of my partner. I "connect" on the movements of my partner and he/she "connects" on mine : then, the putative effect is that what I feel is the other one feeling me. It is as if the partner is becoming an additional "sensory organ" to apprehend myself. 5

Here we find once again the idea of the feedback loop as well as the phenomenological approach that is essential in Isabelle Choinière’s work. In the self-organized structures, diverse entities are fuctionning thanks to the feedback loop ; for instance, hormones that are self-regulating. Hormones detect, around the hormones they are surrounded by, what they have to supply for or the excess they have to regulate, and act accordingly, just as in the choreographic structure of Phase 5 dancers respond to the actions of the bodies that surround them. We can thus analyze that, just like the different birds that are part of the group migration, or cells, the overall structure of the performance is drawn by a work of listening which is built between its members. The image of others as "sensory organ" is reinforced by the perception the dancers have of the structure in which they participate: I feel like we are a loud organism. 6

So the performance is not positioned in opposition to nature, in a traditional dichotomy, but seeks to reproduce its structures. It seems therefore that the gaze on environment is not an overlooking or distanced gaze but, as to say, a gaze 'from the inside': the dancers are seen as a part of nature (internal perspective). Without overreading it, we could connect this perspective to eco-feminist perspective, that postulates that there is a gap between women's relationship to environment and male identity faced to environment. Wheras Western man has positioned himself as 'master and possessor of the nature', women, because of their specific position within hetero-patriarchal society, rather located them-selves on the side of this same nature, as metaphorical associations, such as the idea of "raping Earth" or still using insults both sexist and specistes ('fat cow' 'pig' etc) tend to show it. Thus: Men, rational, active subjects, are entitled to make women and nature the passive objects of their domination.  7

We could so simply note that the work of two women artists featuring five nearly naked female bodies contains - intentionally or not - a gender signification, or at least it can be received as such by spectators. As one of the dancers expressed it after a rehearsal:  I’m naked, my legs wide open, people are looking. I feel vulnerable not only as a dansor but also as a woman. 8




Photo from Phase 5, Seattle, novembre 2016 (Leïla Cassar)


It should be noted that the perspective adopted here by Choinière seeks to renew this anthropo-centric gaze historically related to male identity, and to reformulate the identity both in nature and in a given group.

It is important to note that it is the use of a technology developed by Isabelle Choinière which amplifies and transforms the sound produced live by the interpreters:  

The speakers help having more perception. The sound makes me feel like one totality with the others, while the individuality is felt through the skin. I feel a inner body and a more global body ;  the sound help see the external parameters, help feel the form. 9

Is by the mean of amplified sound that the dancers see themselves as a large collective form. It therefore creates a corporeity for interpreters, and builds, in the words of Isabelle Choinière, a dilation of the body towards a larger, wider body. I use the term 'corporeality' in the Merleau-Ponty definition. For Merleau-Ponty [...] the body is therefore neither a thing nor a sum of organs, but a network of links, open to the world and others 10.

The corporeality is somehow what is beyond the physical body as one can usually conceive it. The use of the terme 'network' lets us know that it is in this contact with the world that surrounds the individual, that the body is constituted. It is in constant exchange with the outside. Thus, the corporeity:

Radically subverts traditional body category  and offers a new vision that is as the same time plural, dynamic and random;  the network of an unstable chiasmatic game of intensive forces or heterogeneous vectors, to designate the formal and energetic malleability of such reseau  11

Isn’t this dynamism, this randomness, not well represented by the practice of contact improvisation, where each body reacts to others to build a wide, fluid and ever-changing body?

Isabelle Choinière conceives the scene in a de-hierarchisation. As she points out, it is a perceptual strategy where, for example, parts of the body are used outside the role that is traditionally attributed to them (the legs for the arms). This dehierarchisation is very inspired by the work of Hans Bellmer:




Hans Bellmer, Book Cover, 1960




Phase 5, Isabelle Choinière, picture from a trial at Portland (USA), Leïla Cassar


It is also a dehierarchisation of the senses, seeking to escape the power of gaze. Let’s now take a moment to describe the setting of the performance in order to explain what I mean. At the center of the room, nearly naked performers entwined with each other form a vast mass of breathing flesh in the dark. Video projections of Fernanda D'Agostino are reflected on the bare bodies. The microphones they wear in a camouflage on their head retransmit live the sounds they emit - whimper, breathing, grunts, etc. The interface of sound by river effect and spatialization effects changes the sound source to give it more scale or to introduce oddness. The perception that performers need to access includes the perceived sound and is mediated by the interface and the touch (they keep their eyes closed during the performance) while the spectator, encompassed by a sound dome notices lights, sound and image in a tangle, without human presence taking advantage over others, assimilating all the sensations in a multimodal and multisensory way. Isabelle Choinière is trying to put us in front of a ‘entity of a complex form, that has became sound 12’. She  was particularly inspired by Steve Paxton and his conceptualization of the tactile body where the exchange of weight between partners constantly moves the point of gravity, acting as a "tactile vision" and denying the primacy of gaze. It is interesting to note that the technology here serves as a mediation in the perception of a global body, testifying here also a willingness to undo the dichotomies that constitute Western thought; the technology is not there in opposition to organicity, but is seen as an extension of it, a tool (one can think of the analysis of Leroi-Gourhan 13, a pioneer in experiential link to technology. It is part of the organic world and does not domesticate or destroy it.

The projections by Fernanda d'Agostino that surrounded the performance of the exhibition presented at the Suyama Space used the technique of superimposition or layer to superimpose recordings of the performance and moving images of the cells inside a human body, or waves. This last image is particularly interesting to me as it recalls of the novel The Waves by Virginia Woolf which explores themes of individuality within a group; each character has an identity that is sometimes bluring into other people’s identity and sometimes is differentiating from it and sometimes is firming and fixing itself. At a rehearsal in Portland in October 2016, a dancer tried to define her "I" within the choreographic structure of Phase 5:

I can’t define the self. There are different « me » :
The thinking soul
The feeling soul
The soul looking upon
Sometimes one is louder and one si quiet.
Sometimes I come back.
The structure is moving ; I need to be stable
. 14

It seems to me that these are themes that are being explored in Phase 5; those of a fluid identity within a group. In physics, "fluid" is used to designate bodies whose molecules are not very adherent to each other, they move easily on each other, like water, air. "Continuous and deformable medium"  15, fluidity is designating a flux, a moving body that offers no resistance to shape changing. In Phase 5 the bodies of dancers are so intimately intertwined that it’s sometimes becoming difficult to distinguish one leg from one arm or one body from another body. In addition, an experience of improvisation and contemporary dance was mandatory for them to be a part of the project.

Isabelle Choinière was inspired in particular by the work of the surrealist Hans Bellmer who worked through his dolls on the disarticulated body, where transfers, analogies, metamorphoses or permutations are building a new body that no longer meets the standards of the intelligible. One could also think of the work of Carolee Schneemann. In Meat Joy (1964), she brings together naked bodies and pieces of meat, displacing the usual locations of desire and sometimes making it impossible to distinguish the individuality of a body or its coherence.




Meat Joy, 1964, photography by Carole Schneemann


To clarify this complex relationship between singular identity and fusion within a collective, we could think of the notion that Simondon develops of the "transindividual". While an individual or an element of the living modifies the global structure in which it is integrated and the other individuals surrounding it, the individual is structured and fixed. There is therefore no opposition between stability and instability, movement and fixity. The energy is constantly transformed at the same time as it is fixed; Interestingly, Simondon describes this movement within the living as a "theater of individuation”:

 In short, the living organism modifies itself by altering its relation to the environment: it is an "individuating system" and "a system individuating itself". 16

Without ceasing to be "out of phase with itself, overflowing itself from both sides of its center" 17 this subject is ultimately defined only in a relational way, in its relation to the other, to the group and to the world which surrounds her/him.

But precisely this psychic being can only solve its own problematic [...] by inserting it in the collective individuation which constitutes, in a certain way, the exteriority of the one  internally conquered by the subject. These two reciprocal individualizations thus define a category of "transindividual" in which the living experiences itself in the movement and the precariousness of the adaptive relations of the individual to the medium. 18

Does this fluid identity at the center of a moving body extend to the viewer? By placing the viewer at a very close distance to the bodies of the dancers, Isabelle Choinière seeks to bring them out of a distanced and analytical gaze and to encompass them in this elastic and sonorous body. Surrounded in a perceptual dome, some spectators have after the performances given to the Suyama Space (Seattle) noted that they had surprised themselves to breathe on the same rhythm as the dancers. As one dancer said: We are a moving organisation in relation to the moving sound. It kind of dances back and fourth.19

This dance that goes "back and fourth" is also a dance between a common body and an individual body, both within the group of dancers, and perhaps between the perception that the viewer has of his own body and his perception of a global body that would encompass it. Here the technology involved in the performance appears, not as a solution, but as a bridge, as a cross-road to the problematic of the "common", which raises questions about both dance and the performing arts in general. Marie Bardet, in an article entitled « Inquiétudes et paradoxes du commun. Danser ensemble, danser comme, danser avec ? » (« Concerns and paradoxes of the common. Dancing together, dancing like, dancing with? ") considers this option:

Does this mean that we must seek a living, immediate and harmonious experience of a dance with others which, by blurring the distinctions between dancers and non-dancers, dancers and spectators, would solve the problem of the common that a dance "like" could not claim to solve by a great representation of the community 20 ?

The hynotic and encompassing effect of the performance certainly creates a possibility for the viewer to join the common, dynamic and fluid body he guesses. However, it is not always the case. As Andréa Davidson writes:

Proximity to whispering, moaning bodies that are almost entirely naked, reinforced by the hall's darkness and an aural environment in 360° emitting both sound and vibrations, has the cumulative effect of piercing spectators' intimate physical and psychological space and favouring a more direct contact and connection with action unfolding before them. Hypnotized and « touched » in the flesh, they can either respond by letting themselves be lulled by this invasive sensory « bath » or attempt to resist its effect. 21

It seems to me that "Phase 5" therefore attempts to reformulate both a relation to the world and to anti-anthropocentrist corporeality, revealing a fluid and transindividual identity - in the terms of Simondon - which is both fixed and moving, constructing itself while constantly modifying its environment. The human being then appears an active element within a living structure and not its center or its sole motor. This reformulation is drawn by a somatic practice and a radicalization of the principles of contact dance; It is also implemented by technology, from a perspective which, again, does not place itself in opposition or hierarchy but in an interpenetration, a constant intermodification.

The modern struggle can only be prolonged by the surpassing of the struggles it has bequeathed to us: in our post-industrial societies it is no longer the emancipation of individuals that is the most urgent but the inter-human communication, the emancipation of the relational dimension of existence. 22



1. Lehmann, Hans-Thies. (2002). Le théâtre postdramatique. Paris: L'Arche. p.127

2. Glenna Batson, Somatic Studies and Dance, International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. (2009) Traduction (Cristina Braud) : Les promoteurs de la méthode sensorielle insistent sur le principe d’autonomie du mouvement14 (la capacité à auto-organiser le mouvement de manière interne) en opposition avec les méthodes habituellement utilisées dans l’apprentissage de la danse et qui sont autant de sources externes d’information telles que: les indications des enseignants ou les miroirs

3. Isabelle Choinière, (auteure principale), Enrico Pitozzi et Andrea Davidson, Le prisme des sens : médiation et nouvelles ‘’réalités’’ du corps dans les arts performatifs. Technologies, cognition et méthodologies émergentes de recherche-création A paraitre aux : Éditions Presses de l’Université du Québec, Collection Esthétique, Prévu en 2018.

4. PITOZZI, Enrico (2014) ‘The Perception is a Prism: body, presence and technologies’, In: Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies, vol.4, no. 2, May/Aug. 2014, Porto Alegre, Brazil, pp.174-204.

5. Romain Bigé, « Sentir et se mouvoir ensemble. Micro-politiques du contact improvisation », Recherches en danse [En ligne], 4 | 2015, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2015, consulté le 30 septembre 2016. DOI : 10.4000/danse.1135

6. Issu de la retranscription de discussions post-répétitions, Portland (Oregon), Novembre 2016, Leïla Cassar

7. Catherine Larrère, « L’écoféminisme : féminisme écologique ou écologie féministe », Tracés. Revue de Sciences humaines [En ligne], 22 | 2012, mis en ligne le 21 mai 2014, consulté le 05 décembre 2016. DOI : 10.4000/traces.5454

8. Issu de la retranscription de discussions post-répétitions, Portland (Oregon), Novembre 2016, Leïla Cassar

9. Issu de la retranscription de discussions post-répétitions, Portland (Oregon), Novembre 2016, Leïla Cassar

10. Gül Cevahir Sahin Granade, La phénoménologie du corps et de l’intersubjectivité incarnée chez Gabriel Marcel et Merleau-Ponty, position de thèse, Université Paris Sorbonne, 2007

11. Bernard Michel, « De la corporéité fictionnaire », Revue internationale de philosophie, 4/2002 (n° 222), p. 523-534.

12. Isabelle Choinière, « Pour une méthodologie de la transformation. Au croisement de la somatique et de la technologie: pour devenir autre… », Archee, revue d’art en ligne : arts médiatiques et cyberculture

13. André Leroi-Gourhan, Milieu et techniques v. 2, Paris A. Michel 1973

14. Issu de la retranscription de discussions post-répétitions, Portland (Oregon), Novembre 2016, Leïla Cassar

15. Le Petit Larousse, « Fluide », p. 471, 2006, 1855p.

16. Georges Simondon, cité in Romain Bigé, « Sentir et se mouvoir ensemble. Micro-politiques du contact improvisation », Recherches en danse [En ligne], 4 | 2015, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2015, consulté le 30 septembre 2016. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/danse.1135

17. Idem

18. Idem

19. Issu de la retranscription de discussions post-répétitions, Portland (Oregon), Novembre 2016, Leïla Cassar

20. Andréa Davidson, Mediated bodies and Intercorporeality, Isabelle Choinière's Flesh Waves, Archee, revue d’art en ligne, 2016.

21. Marie Bardet, « Inquiétudes et paradoxes du commun. Danser ensemble, danser comme, danser avec ? », Repères, cahier de danse 2010/1 (n° 25), p. 3-6. DOI 10.3917/reper.025.0003

22. Nicolas Bourriaud, Esthétique relationnelle, Les presses du réel – domaine Critique, théorie & documents– Hors série , paru en 1998, p.62



After a pluridisciplinary formation within the classes préparatoires littéraires (Lycée Gabriel Guis’thau, Nantes) and a bachelor in literature (University Rennes 2), Leïla Cassar is now a researcher and student in performing arts in Université Lyon 2 (Master 2 Arts de la Scène), in exchange year in ’Université du Québec à Montréal. Her major themes of research are fluidity of identity, gender in literature and theater, and feminist and queer perspectives.




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Cette publication a été rendu possible grâce au soutien financier d'Hexagram, du groupe de recherche des arts médiatiques (GRAM), de la Faculté des arts de l'UQAM, ainsi qu'à une subvention, pour une quatorzième année consécutive, du Conseil des arts du Canada (CAC).