a few words about Ryan

I am Associate Professor of Performance Studies in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Colorado College. I studied at Amherst College (Theatre/Dance and French Studies)  and Cornell University (Theatre), where I focused on 20th-century and contemporary performance in the context of French and German literature and theory.  My writing has appeared in PAJ, Theatre Journal, and Dance Research Journal.

My recent research explores the status of technology in performance. More precisely, I have been trying to challenge the instrumental understanding of technology that frequently informs its use in theatre, dance, and interdisciplinary art. If understood as a non-human instrument or object, technology represents either a vast new sphere of possibilities for theatre (technophilia) or a potential threat to the integrity of the human body in live performance (technophobia). Both attitudes reflect a common assumption that the human body and technology are fundamentally opposed and thereby reinforce conflict between these and related categories. This conflict is a kind of violence— like Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment, perhaps— that has dominated late modernist aesthetics, especially as perpetuated in the artistic legacy of the avant-garde. Much could be said about the avant-garde, but ultimately I want to critically advocate an alternative aesthetics, one which stills the dramatic conflict resulting from systems of difference based on categorical oppositions, such as the opposition between technology and the body in live performance.

 

In search of potential models of for this alternative aesthetics of performance, I have found myself drawn to artists’ whose work is withdrawn, distant, and diffused. This diffusion results from the absence of clear categorical differences and produces confusion, what Rey Chow might call in her work on transmediality, “entanglements.” As suggested by Chow’s shared interest in transmediality and transnationality, this confusion often occurs at border crossings, both literal and metaphorical, which I trace in artistic uses of translation by Chantal Akerman, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Yoko Tawada, and William Forsythe. Accordingly, I am also interested in artistic practices that cross disciplinary boundaries and combine performance and media, both new and old. Rather than celebrating the transcendent potential of such hybrid combinations, I examine works that manifest the materiality of media by impeding the visual and temporal immediacy typically associated with live performance. For that matter, I am not much interested in “liveness”: to my mind, there is little question that the concept of live performance— and life more generally— is undergoing a rapid process of transformation, one which is occurring as a result of historical necessity and thus yielding violent results, as recent events and discourses in biopolitics have shown. As such, my work also examines how discourses related to biopolitics effect contemporary artistic practices, especially those bringing together the body and technology in innovative— i.e., non-instrumental— ways.
I am pleased that the first significant articulation of this body of work, “The Ambulatory Aesthetics of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A” has been published in the April 2014 issue of Dance Research Journal. Taking Rainer’s seminal dance Trio A as its subject, it develops a theory that proposes walking as a process of mediation in performance— hence, not walking, but “ambulatory” motion. In doing so, it reconsiders the concept of “pedestrian movement” in dance in the context of recent critical approaches to everyday life, especially as pioneered by theorists working in the field of affect studies, such as Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart. Ultimately, it introduces the ambulatory as an autonomous concept that can help to articulate temporal and affective registers of performance whose repertoire of detours, diversions, and hesitations suspends the forward flow of narrative form and thereby relays experiences otherwise lost in symbolic representation, without resorting to conflict or violence.

I am also embarking on a new leg of this project that explores sound and “sonic performance” as an alternative to visual representation in performance, which includes a new course on sound art to be taught with Jonathan Lee, from Colorado College’s Department of Philosophy.

Research interests: Theatre History, Dance Studies, Performance Theory, Media Art and Theory, Sound, Gender Studies, Poetry and Performance, Translation

cirriculum vitae

My homepage at Colorado College

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