Accommodating the threat of the machine: the act of repetition in live performance

Peyton Jones, Jeremy. 2011. 'Accommodating the threat of the machine: the act of repetition in live performance'. In: Third Colloquiuum of the Society for Minimalist Music. University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. [Conference or Workshop Item]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

Many theatre, dance and performance creators from the 60s and 70s onwards used repetition as a significant structural and aesthetic device and several of these, such as the choreographer/dancers Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown all of whom were closely connected with Judson Dance Theatre and the New York School in the early part of their careers, can easily be described as having minimalist tendencies themselves. They used, or were directly influenced by, the minimalist aesthetic and minimalist music. However there were other (notably European) artists and companies who also used repetition in their work to whom the term minimalism is less appropriately applied. These include Pina Bausch with her Tanztheater Wuppertal, the Flemish so-called Eurokids (Jan Fabre, Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jan Lauwers, Wim Wanderkeybus) and some British companies such as Impact Theatre and Forced Entertainment. Due to their use of repetition there was an acknowledged link between their work and the repetitive structures of minimalism but their work, being far more visceral and overtly theatrical and dramatic than the New York School moves well beyond the implications of the term.

Ciane Fernandes discusses in depth the meaning and effect of repetition in Bausch’s work (Fernandes 2005). Her contention is that through repetition Bausch’s works “explore and expose the gap between dance and theatre in aesthetic, psychological and social levels……Repetition breaks the popular image of dancers as ‘spontaneous beings’, revealing their dissatisfactions and desires within a chain of repetitive movements and words”. Other commentators speak of the use of mechanistic repetition as an “accommodation with the threat of the machine” (Gale 2010). While there may be significant differences in the reasons and effects of the incorporation of repetition by the various European theatre makers and choreographers, one common aspect is the intention to move beyond the artificial to the real, to enable the audience to witness the real, palpable experience of the performers on stage as a means of connecting with real life – a conscious attempt to move from ‘acting’ to ‘performing’.

In music, such repetition might not entail the same levels of physical exertion or lead to such extreme exhaustion in performance but there is something about the relentlessness, not to mention stamina, required for the performance of much minimalist music, involving repetition over long periods of time, which in a similar way generates an effect on both the performer and the audience.

This essay explores the connections and analyses the differences in the effects of experiencing repetition (for both performers and audience) in selected works of live performance and music. It begins by discussing repetition in live action performance but then focuses on the specific physical aspects of musical performance to see what, if any, similar conclusions can be drawn.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Contemporary Music Research Unit


10 April 2011["eprint_fieldopt_dates_date_type_shown" not defined]

Event Location:

University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Jun 2011 12:07

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 10:02


Edit Record Edit Record (login required)