Reverse-Engineering the Sylph: Reclaiming Female Ballet Bodies in Florentina Holzinger’s TANZAnna Leon
Florentina Holzinger’s 2019 TANZ critically relates to ballet history’s disciplinary treatment of female bodies. Based on the case study of TANZ, this article identifies choreographic and performative strategies through which contemporary dance work reclaims the agency of female dancing bodies; and contributes to a practice-based macro-history of ballet, in which contemporary works become springboards for re-writing historical narratives. The article approaches dance in a methodological framework influenced by gender studies, cultural studies and critical theory. It uses macro-historiographic concepts to analyze interviews with cast members, observations of rehearsals and the resulting performance. It argues that Holzinger’s work reclaims female ballet bodies through five interconnected strategies: the diversification of the homogeneous ballet body; the de-essentialization of romantic femininity; the reversal of the male gaze by an all-female group of performers; the development of trans-human, techno-ecological alliances; and the détournement (subversive repurposing) of bourgeois-driven romantic spectacle. It further argues that through such strategies TANZ points to under-acknowledged aspects of a ballet history that subverts its very own norms. It thus presents contemporary feminist dancemaking in a common framework with the under-acknowledged struggles of historical female dancers.