A duo performance that explores consent and the politics of touch

Jeffrey S. Stratton

In her second performance piece in a trilogy, artist and choreographer Emilie Gregersen lets us in on the process and development of her newest work, Caresses. The piece expands upon her research of “touch” to explore concepts like consent, companionship, and ways of experiencing and navigating in this world.

Even if you could not experience Gregersen’s previous work Touch, back in 2019, her continued exploration of our underappreciated senses should still provide you with some new perspective.

Practice-based choreography and Hyper-performativity

Over the past number of years, much of Gregersen’s artistic development has focused on what she refers to as an intersection between “practice-based choreography and hyper-performativity.” Practice-based choreography, or more sometimes referred to as practice-as-research, is “an umbrella term for academic research which incorporates artistic practice as a research methodology.”

However, Hyper-performativity is a much more abstruse term. Gregersen describes it as such:

“In the context of my work, I slide between two modes of both performing and staging choreography. The word “hyper” is to me referring to something amplified or heightened and the practice is allowing me to insist and continuously unfold something that can’t be shown in a still picture, but needs time.”

Through this intersection between practice-as-research and hyper-performativity, Gregersen has developed methodologies that allow her to create safe workspaces for exploring sensitive subjects, such as consent, eroticism, and power.

Methodologies for exploring consent

The development of Gregersen’s work, both with Touch and with the forthcoming Caresses, were influenced by her engagement with feminist theory and intersectionality. An assemblage of note-worthy written works has fueled her artistic development.

Erin Manning’s work The Politics of Touch—which “explores concepts of violence, gender, sexuality, security, democracy, and identity by tracing how touch informs the body. Laura U. Marks’ Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media provided Gregersen with some interesting insights on the notion of haptics. And Audrey Lorde’s The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power help define how there are “many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise.”

With a lexicon formed from various research on the notion of “touch,” the entire team behind the development of Caresses—dancer Paolo De Venecia Gile, sound artist Karis Zidore, dramaturge Naya Moll, and visual artist Elin Stampe—often practiced the giving of consent to, as she states, “go off-road” and explore the boundaries of “touch” as a medium.

Photo: Veronika Vidø

Caresses and the phenomenon of touch

The phenomenology of touch is sitting at more of a surface level of the work, rather than the more esoteric references shared between Gregersen and her colleagues. In other words, the more personal and conscious experiences of the world through our tactile senses.

During our interview, Gregersen expressed her interest in “working with how a body experiences being in the world.” And while train dancers, such as Gregersen, have often become more attuned to “the body’s” sensory experience, we want to know how she used the specific phenomenology of touch in both her previous and current work.

“This trilogy is a prism of works arising from my interest in the phenomenon of touch. Caresses is dealing with the experience of touch too, though through different layers such as companionship, consent, tactility, and materiality. This piece is for me a series of performative suggestions where “caresses,” as a concept, infiltrate ways of engaging with what already is; my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my skin, this floor, these walls… and how that attentiveness and staged amplification is becoming a performative reflection for you as an audience to experience.”

Our thoughts

In the end, the experience of touch between beings—unlike sight or sound—requires many different levels of governance and diplomacy. For example, one doesn’t need consent to look at someone, but one does not consent to touch them.

Emilie Gregersen’s Caresses is a performance piece where you can vicariously experience the exploration of those personal, political and societal thresholds that govern our tactile sense.