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The Difference of Performance as Research


This article considers the proposition that performance as research is a series of embodied repetitions in time, on both micro (bodies, movements, sounds, improvisations, moments) and macro (events, productions, projects, installations) levels, in search of a series of differences. It investigates the proposition in terms of Bergson's notion of ‘creative evolution’ and Deleuze's engagement with it, and is concerned with questions such as: what nature of differences does performance as research give rise to? Where do the differences lie, in the repetitions or in the spaces in between? And is there a point at which the unleashing of differences is exhausted, a point at which, perhaps, the evolution becomes an involution, either a shrinkage of difference, an inverted return to the same, or, in the Deleuzian sense, a new production no longer dependent on differentiation but on transversal modes of becoming?

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1 Practice as Research in Performance (PARIP) was a five-year project headed by Baz Kershaw and the Department of Drama at the University of Bristol and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Its objectives were ‘to investigate creative-academic issues raised by practice as research, where performance is defined . . . as performance media: theatre, dance, film, video and television’ (

2 Kershaw, Baz, ‘Practice as Research through Performance’, in Smith, Hazel and Dean, Roger T., eds., Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice in the Creative Arts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), pp. 104–25, here p. 105.

3 There are a number of terms used to describe the type of research activity we are dealing with here, including practice/performance as research, practice/performance-based research and practice/performance-led research, creative research, artistic research etc. While the use of practice rather than performance opens up the concept to a broader range of disciplines and applications within disciplines, for the remainder of this article I will use the term performance as research and/or its abbreviation, PaR, for its greater specificity in relation to my own work and because this is the currently agreed terminology within IFTR's Performance as Research Working Group.

4 Recent publications include Barrett, Estelle and Bolt, Barbara, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007); Allegue, Ludivine et al. , Practice-as-Research: In Performance and Screen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Riley, Shannon Rose and Hunter, Lynette, Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Smith and Dean, Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice.

5 Painter, Colin, ‘Editorial’, POINT: Art & Design Research Journal, 3 (1996), n.p.

6 The ideas that follow have their origin in a presentation made in an open panel at the 2010 IFTR conference in Munich entitled Exhausting Modernity – Repetition, Time and Generative Processes, with reference to the ideas of Teresa Brennan on modernity as exhausted or exhausting. This panel formed part of the Performance as Research Working Group's broader investigations of repetition, time and generative processes. In general, the Working Group has focused less on the sharing of individual projects and more on grappling with the workings, the nuances and the complexities of PaR, usually by means of performance itself. In other words, the Working Group has set out to contribute to developing the meta-discourse of the practice.

7 Baz Kershaw, ‘Practice as Research through Performance’, p. 105.

8 Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1962), p. 10, cited in Simon Jones, ‘The Courage of Complementarity: Practice-as-Research as a Paradigm Shift in Performance Studies’, in Allegue et al., Practice-as-Research, pp. 18–32, here p. 19.

10 Ingold, Tim, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 11.

11 Conquergood, Dwight, ‘Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research’, TDR: The Drama Review, 46, 2 (Summer 2002), pp. 145–56, here p. 147.

12 de Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) cited in ibid., p. 147.

13 Jones, ‘The Courage of Complementarity’, p. 24.

15 Pearson, Keith Ansell, Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 4.

16 Ibid., p. 2.

17 I acknowledge that using philosophy in such a selective and reduced fashion in support of a practice for which it was never intended is a risky business and might render the philosophy itself unrecognizable. However, given that philosophers have few qualms about using theatre and theatricality in similarly selective and reduced ways in support of their arguments, I am prepared to take the risk here.

18 Bergson, Henri, Duration and Simultaneity (with Reference to Einstein's Theory), trans. Jacobson, Leon (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 49.

19 Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, trans. Mitchell, Arthur (New York: Random House, 1944), p. 7.

20 Bergson, Creative Evolution, p. 270.

21 Pearson, Germinal Life, p. 44.

22 Linstead, Stephen and Mullarkey, John, ‘Time, Creativity and Culture: Introducing Bergson’, Culture and Organization, 9, 1 (March 2003), pp. 313, here p. 4.

23 Bergson, Creative Evolution, p. 278.

24 Pearson, Germinal Life, p. 44. The reference to Bergson in the quotation is to the 1962 French edition: L’évolution créatrice (Paris: PUF).

25 Bergson, Creative Evolution, p. 374.

26 Ibid, p. 325.

27 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Massumi, Brian (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 238.

28 Pearson, Germinal Life, p. 162.

29 Ibid, p. 159.

30 Ibid. For a more detailed exposition of the ‘plane of immanence’ see Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Tomlinson, Hugh and Burchell, Graham (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 3560.

31 Pearson, Germinal Life, pp. 151 and 159. In this regard, Deleuze and Guattari are heavily influenced by the work of François Jacob, biologist and Nobel Prize-winner.

32 Bateson, Gregory, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology (Northvale and London: Jason Aronson Inc., 1987), p. 231.

33 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, pp. 185–6.

34 Ibid., p. 190.

35 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 293.

37 Deleuze, Gilles, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, ed. Boundas, Constantin V. (London: Continuum, 2004), pp. 359–62.

38 Cited in Pearson, Germinal Life, p. 116.

39 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 281.

40 Seremetakis, Nadia, The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 12.

41 Lepecki, André, Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 62.

42 Bergson, Creative Evolution, p. 327.

43 Ibid. p. 325.

45 Ibid., p. 368.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
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