chapter
Dance and AIDS
Pages 2

These are the opening moments of the duet from Lar Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two (1986), a six-minute piece-set to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto-that has become synonymous with AIDS in its U.S. performances. Why has this particular choreographic statement taken on such a heavy mantle? Medical sociologist Paula Treichler offers an explanation, arguing that AIDS is both an epidemic disease and an “epidemic of signification.” (Signification here refers to the science of semiotics founded by Charles Sanders Peirce in the late 1800s as a way of conceptualizing the manner in which meaning is communicated via linguistic or visual “signs.”) As Treichler explains, the meanings of AIDS far supersede its etiology as a biological disease, encompassing notions that are socially, not scientifically, con-structed-such as the idea that AIDS afflicts only gay men, or that it is a punishment meted out by an angry God. Nowhere is Treichler’s theory of the social construction of AIDS more vividly demonstrated than in theatrical dance, where the very body of the dancer is capable of spewing an enormous number of seemingly disconnected signs.