Rachel Fensham, 11 December 2014

London Theatre Seminar
Thursday, 11 December 2014, 6.30-8.30pm
Room 349, Senate House (3rd floor)

Rachel Fensham (University of Melbourne), ‘T-shirts and shift-dresses: who wears what in postmodern dance?’

When Yvonne Rainer said “no to spectacle” and Sally Banes published “Terpsichore in Sneakers” a particular costume aesthetic was ushered into postmodern dance. Since then we’ve seen a lot of T-shirts and trackpants in both studios and on stage. in this paper, I’m interested in the historiography of these dance costumes, by placing them back into consideration as gestures, or moving and shaking prosthetics, in performance.  With a digression though Walter Benjamin’s writing on repetition, who reminds us that ‘habit enters life as a game’ (1999b: 120) I will consider several examples of postmodern choreography – by Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton (with Extemporary Dance Theatre, UK) and Lucy Guerin – as well as at other citations of this unmarked dress system in Iran. Through repetition, these costumes constitute unusual, perhaps forgotten, practices of desire, collaboration and bodily effort.  In the process of revisiting the iconicity of T-shirt and shift-dress, I would suggest we recall some remarkable things about postmodern classicism, and its denial of history, that now 50 years on, might be re-considered.


Rachel Fensham is a Professor of Theatre and Dance Studies, and Head of School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her research includes studies of costume in contemporary dance, tragedy and affect, and the figuration of corporeality in performance. Recent publications include essays on black modern dance; the ontology of the archive; the monograph, To Watch Theatre (Peter Lang: 2009); and Dancing Naturally (co-edited with Alexandra Carter, Palgrave 2011). She currently convenes a digital archives incubator and has managed large research projects including Digital Dance Archives www.dance-archives.ac.uk. With Peter M. Boenisch (Kent), she co-edits the Palgrave series, New World Choreographies.