Julian Barnett

Julian Barnett
Cohort 5 : 2010-2012
Website: julianbarnett.com

Choreographic projects:

  • ‘Brief Body of Noise’
  • ‘Monument’
  • ‘Bridge (The Union Piece)’


‘The Body within the Voice’: Singing as an Agency for Choreography

My thesis is an examination of the ‘singing body’ through its cultivation and experimentation with language and meaning.

Driven by my own artistic evolutions and further piqued into curiosity from the lack of discourse in what revealed itself to be a somewhat niche area of performance history, I was delighted to find an essay by Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice, whose distilled view on the singing voice became a central facet of my research. Trying to locate the historical placement of singing within performative and theatrical contexts often lead to discussions involving forms independent of dance (or forms in which dance was not a primary agent), such as the opera or musical. I used Hans-Thies Lehmannʼs seminal book Postdramatic Theater to delineate detailed evolutions within performance history that illuminated a certain understanding for how these historical progressions naturally developed from the preceding or lateral contexts. However, as with many aspects of modernization, evolutions seem to have accelerated the pace of change by constantly presenting new forms, of which there is often little supportive literature.

Singing as an integral agent for choreography seemed to me, one of these new terrains and in the quest to distill this line of interest even further, Roland Barthes’ notion of the grain of the voice offered me a lexicon in which to discuss and understand the voice in direct correspondence with (my) choreography. Barthes’ own terminology describes the voice as a ‘grain’ or the very precise space of meeting between language and the voice, where ethos can be broken down, and thus the adjective relieved. Distilled even further, he explains the grain as “the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs.” This theoretical frame allowed me to approach the voice in a way that identifies key relationships to the body, that also directly relate to the notion of communication, such as breathing, diaphragmatic movement, thought patterns, and gesture. Ultimately how can the voice be a catalyst within choreography and connect the listener and performer in new and unexpected ways?

I chose to reflect this realm of discussion upon three international choreographers, who specifically work with singing and vocalization to see if any connecting threads could be drawn and where differences could propel further insights. Jeanine Durning, Alma Söderberg and Daniel Linehan all offered vastly different perspectives that were still very much in discovery and individually defined, yet at the fulcrum of each lay a desire to communicate not despite or beyond the body, but because of it and somehow intrinsically deepened by it. With these discussions, I aim to provide a sampling of how the interaction between the voice and the body is currently being explored within performative contexts today. And ultimately, Iʼd like to unfold the layers of how singing and vocalization can serve as an active element within choreographic practice today and in moving forward.



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