Break | Fall | Resist: The Dancer’s Body in Motion

By Emma Wootton

Break | Fall | Resist began as an experimental project on the dancer’s body in motion. By exploring the grandeur of elevated jumps and turns that dancers are so famed for - as well as paying close attention to moves that are not executed with precision or perfect balance - Break | Fall | Resist captures both the existential and the illusory instants of dance. The finished result is a work in three parts, in which the combined poetics of space, text, and photography portray  - visually, physically, and linguistically - the inevitable act of ‘falling’.

Each of the three sequences that comprise the Break | Fall | Resist series are presented in individual, alternatively-bound books. This is due to the combination of the content (dance) and the medium (photographs). As dance is a fluid, continual process of movement, the presentation of the sequences needed to mirror this; this is why the photographs in parts I and II are displayed close together in sequential order.

Furthermore, the actual physical act of unfolding that must be done to ‘uncover’ the sequence allows the reader/viewer to physically experience the unfurling (and thus ‘falling’) motion of the dancer. Part III is different; it is double-bound in the ‘French Door’ format due to both the length of the sequence shown and the fact that the movement being photographed is not a ‘specific’dance move with required technique (like those in Parts I and II).

The three photos on the surface work as a mini-sequence themselves, displaying the beginning, middle and end, yet it is only when one ‘reads’ the book – that is, goes from the front to the back of the left-hand side, across to the centre, and then finally from the back to the front on the right-hand side – that the full sequence is revealed. Thus, though each still exists by itself, the gradual revelation of the progressive momentum of the movement builds a certain kind of anticipatory atmosphere for the viewer.  

The decision to present the photographs in ‘book’ format was done to ensure they were accessible and communicative. Also the alternative design allows for a continuation of movement from the dancer’s body in physical space to the literary space on a page. Finally, as ‘the book is a physical object’, as Keith Smith so rightly notes, ‘effort must be taken to view it’, meaning the reading of Break | Fall | Resist is far more interactive than the viewing of a photographic installation on a gallery wall.

However, Break | Fall | Resist is not only an image-based collection – each photo within the series is embedded with text. The photographs themselves are by no means ‘professional’, and this is deliberate. As Andreas Hapkemeyer observes, the artist is ‘not concerned with the solution of technical problems in photography but instead with exploring ways in which photos can be employed as fully valid signs in an aesthetic communication process’. Though photographs are capable of affecting emotions, they cannot necessarily ‘make reliable statements about possible meanings or implications’.

Consequently, the added text aims to re-establish a connection to the actions depicted. Each piece begins with a photographed definition of the actions shown. In parts I and II, this definition is of dance terminology and allows the viewers to familiarise themselves with the particular step. As part III is an example of improvised movement rather than a specific step, the broader definition of ‘fall’ is utilised. Each photo that follows features an abstract stream of text, which can – like the photos – be read in sequence, or taken individually. Though the text does not relate directly to what is seen in the photo, it harnesses the ability of language in order to evoke ideas and draw out the possibility of converting images to literary concepts.

As Karen Knorr suggests, the combination of text and image ‘creates a reflective space’ in which the viewer can ‘linger on the captions, stories, legends, histories, photographs and texts’ that are ‘both mutually independent and fully collaborative’. Overall, this combination frees Break | Fall | Resist from the confines of either literary or photographic portrayals, and transforms it into a multimedia, cross-genre project more equipped to explore the artistic, aesthetic, and psychological implications of ‘falling’ within dance.


Hapkemeyer, Andreas, Photo Text Text photo: the synthesis of photography and text in contemporary art, (Zurich: Edition Stemmle, 1996)

Smith, Keith, ‘The Book As Physical Object’, A Book of the Book: some works and projections about the book and writing, ed. J. Rothenberg and S. Clay, (New York: Granary Books, 2000)

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