In Nutcracker’s waltzing flowers, Loïe Fuller’s shape-shifting calyxes, and Fokine’s haunting Rose danced by Nijinsky, choreography created plant roles that – like romantic botany – projected humans into plants, but also nuanced social or biological norms. Culturally central, wordless, and often featuring women, choreography inspired by the green world has historically created roles for dancers close to flora. Yet beyond their choreographic animation or coded signification, plants have also offered choreography ways to think through evolution and ecology.
Plant narratives, for example, in the 1866 ballet La Source, reinvented at the Paris Opera in 2011, explore questions of diversity, hybridity, and adaptation. The original ballet was attended by people thinking about ethnic and exotic others at the same time—and in the same ways—as they were thinking about plants. This historical commentary on nature and bodies onstage was also, in its time, a theoretical inquiry about nature and bodies across cultural institutions and knowledge disciplines. The recent plant turn in the humanities has focused on the politics and theories of plant-based human life, but it is also a re-turn to historical plant-thinking. What are lessons still to be learned from plants, or more broadly, from current ecologies? What importance do an “ecology of practices” (Isabelle Stengers) or the “landscaping of time” (Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent) have for dancers and choreography?
Professor of French at Tulane University in New Orleans, is currently a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford. She is the author of four books, most recently One Dead at the Paris Opera Ballet; La Source 1866-2014 (Oxford University Press, 2020). She has been a resident Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Paris and the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. She has been awarded the Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair for her project, Natural History and Cultural History Onstage: Race, Gender and Knowledge in French Choreography. She will be teaching at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in Spring 2023.