How do you define Contemporary Performance


Here at the blog and network we have defined it as

"The term Contemporary Performance is used to describe hybrid performance works and artists that travel between the fields of Experimental Theatre & Dance, Video Art, Visual Art, Music Composition and Performance Art without adhering to one specific field’s practice."


We found another definition at the Lost Notebook blog.

“Contemporary performance is hybrid work that integrates text, dance, objects, music, costumes, lighting, image, sound, sets, and vocal expression into complex interactive systems. Contemporary performance names a body of work that builds on an aesthetic history beginning in the 1880s with Alfred Jarry and early Dada experiments and unfolds through into the American avant-garde and Performance Art of the 1980s. Contemporary performance collages are often non-narrative, technically rigorous, and carefully orchestrated anarchic chaos. They unsettle perception, demand critical engagement from audiences, address conceptual debates within aesthetics, draw on a diverse range of cultural interests, and bring pleasure to populations across the globe.” - Morgan v. P. Pecelli at


Do you know of other definitions. How would you define the field?

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With respect, Caden, attempting a definition is pointless. The virtue of the sort of art that I think both you and I (and, I would guess, most people in this network) are interested in is precisely its resistance to definition. Part of its attraction, so far as I am concerned, is that I don't know what it is until I encounter it. And I don't always know even then.
Thanks for your input Robert. How do other's feel? Is "Institutional Critique" interesting or helpful? Is engaging with the frame through which other artists, audiences, scholars, and critics view your work productive? How does your Contemporary Performance practice resist definition?

Something I have often wondered about. Sometimes I “stage” works without the need to have an audience, yet something about the word ‘performance’ suggests that to perform is to have an audience.

My tutor once said to me that there is a huge difference between theatre and performance art, and although he has been greatly influential to my studies, I sometimes wonder why he bothered to say that. If you are
restricted by rules and lines between “genres” of art, you cannot be freely
creative. In this sense, I can agree with what Robert is saying. Contemporary performance is what it is, when it wants to be what it is.

For the record, I prefer the network’s definition.

- I like definitions, generally. Life is disorganised. It's nice to define... Define it, then outdo it.

i have to say, i was honestly surprised by the »pretty strict« definition of p.a. by Grace Exhibition Space in their call for artists posted earlier today. a feeling of unease about that strictness got me to thinking whether a necessity to narrow down the field is being experienced (openness as threat??), as G.E.S. indicates by pointing out that there are already many (enough?) venues committed to dance, etc.

i sympathize with roberts comment. and i esp. like emma's addition »when it wants to be what it is«, or maybe even »what it wants to be«?

my initial impulse was to reply with practices and non-practices that unsettle boundaries which, in a way, unsettles the sheer attempt to define itself, if you think about it, in an exquisite way. very open, of course, maybe too open and not useful at all, but then again, »being useful« and »closed« might turn out to reveal yet another two boundaries contemporary performance is questioning.

we could, however, look at the act of definition as an open, ongoing, ever failing process, rendering every supposed, claimed final definition a failure of failure. 


Thank you Alexander, Robert and Emma,
Performance Art, as we see it, is a particular genre within performance. I love all of the fields within performance, but we want to focus on a particular thing. Limiting ourselves to Performance Art is still a wide open door.
When I go to an event described as Performance Art and it is a theater monologue, I am confused, as they are different things.
I can re-word our call for proposals, and perhaps you have a better way of wording it . . .? We get many proposals for butoh, stand-up comedy and theater, and I am trying to specify what we are presenting,
- Jill, Grace Exhibition Space
By the way, we/I did not mean to suggest that there are more than enough venues committed to dance, theater, etc, we can always have/need more, and I hope that we will not compete against one another - as I see it we are doing somewhat different things. If someone proposes us a dance piece, I refer them to Chez Bushwick, if their proposal is Butoh, I refer them to the Cave Gallery and theater I refer Starr space (all within our area)

i agree, that we always need/can have more venues! 

maybe there is an underlying, diverging understanding of performance art and performing arts?

just a thought.. 

For me, with a point of view of Art history, peformance, beyond any asethetic, was an

attempt to approach real life to art, a strong critic to arts institutions, society and to

the traditional concept of representation. 

Today, i feel,  i see the "aesthetic" of performance, but the content and background is different.    

Performance, to me,  is closer to life and politics, than to the realm of arts institutions.




I'm in the "defies definition" camp. Of the two above, the CP definition sits most comfortably for me, as it's all true as far as it goes, but then performance, in practice, takes it farther.

I whole heartily agree that defining Contemporary Performance is difficult task. Can the label of Contemporary Performance only be tacked onto certain work that fits the precepts of integrating text, dance, objects, music, costumes, lighting, image, sound, sets, and vocal expression into complex interactive systems? This definition seems to define many performance disciplines. Then too, what is the proper integration to obtain the categorization of Contemporary Performance? Does the work of Pina Bausch and Tanztheater Wuppertal fit into the label of Contemporary Performance or is it dance? What about a Lenny Bruce performance at the end of his life where he is reading from his court transcripts? Is it Contemporary Performance or stand-up comedy?


I understand the need to define, especially as a teacher/educator. Not everything can be a certain entity. A dog is not a cat, even if I want my dog to be a cat; it gets confusing. However, I also understand that defining has a way of constricting, closing off. My experience early on with my group, the Goat Island Performance Group, was that because we did movement we must be dance, yet there were people that hated the notion of us being labeled dance. They adamantly opposed us being labeled what they perceive they were. There is book out there by men with lofty degrees that imparts Goat Island with the label of “physical theatre”, even though they do not quit understand the work, and write so in the book. Moreover, there are people that hate the notion that Goat Island is define as theatre, regardless of who we may have been trained by in our early training, and what techniques we may have used to create a performance, some going back thousands of years.




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