ABSTRACT

The keyword and the topic of this section reveal a double paradox, which has an impact on methodological issues valid for dance studies in general. The first regards the topic: eighteenth-century dance. How are we to write the history of dancing bodies that have long since passed away and belong to a time so distant from the researcher’s own body? Posing this question helps one to think that studying dance always means making history out of bodies that are phenomenologically lost, even if technology captures the movement, written and oral sources capture the testimonies, photography captures the forms and volumes, and so on. The presence of the living source is nothing more than an epistemological illusion or a methodological shortcut that is sometimes able to bridge the gap that separates it from the scholar. How can we compensate for this void: through the retrieval and rigorous analyses of new sources, through sensibility, imagination, and the invention of narrative strategies? Far from minimizing the pre-eminence of archival research and fieldwork, the scholar’s subjectivity and the way in which he or she is intellectually and politically implicated in constructing a discourse or fascinated by the research topic are constitutive aspects of the dance historian’s work. The process of reconstructing a work from documents presupposes the researcher’s sensitive and political involvement as the choreographer of the historical text.1 This holds true regardless of the chronological gap that separates the researcher from the object of investigation.