Kinetic Challenges and Rhetorical Agency: Negotiations Between Costuming, Robotics, and Choreography in Ballet Rhetorics

Caroline Ainsley Jennings, Purdue University


The rhetoric of ballet is characterized by negotiation among the dancer, the choreographer, and the costume designer. The kinetic expression of rhetorical discourse can be complicated by the physical limitations of both the dancer’s body and costumes. Rhetorical studies provide a perspective to view the aesthetic traditions and costume practices of ballet to examine how the dancer’s physical body navigates theatrical spaces and artistic negotiations. As the dancer’s body moves through space, he or she decides on how to best represent bodily movements in keeping with bodily autonomy while respecting the choreography and costumes. This rhetorical negotiation is characterized by a recognition and eventual consensus of the dancer’s physical limitations, training, and individual psyche and the choreographer's preservation of dance tradition with the costume designer’s application of costume and prosthetics. Additionally, these negotiations are often viewed as obstacles to achieving a cohesive artistic vision. Instead, such negotiations should be reconceived as opportunities to explore the relational power dynamics both in the studio and on the stage and to consider a rhetorical discussion of ballet that questions and dissembles theories and practices of the ideal dancing body within specific dance traditions that prioritize choreographic expression over dancers’ somatic experiences.




Johnson-Sheehan, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Dance|Performing Arts|Rhetoric

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