Gender and Creation in the History of Performing Arts

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December 12-14, 2013, Paris.

With the aim of generating dialogue between historians studying performing arts (theater, dance, music) from the Middle Ages through the contemporary period, and researchers practicing women’s history, gender studies and performance studies, this international conference will examine a number of questions associated with the creative act, its historical reception, and its inscription through time.  By exploring representations associated with the practice of the performing arts, as well as diverse strategies of resistance to the social constraints and cultural norms they evoke, we will explore: the role played by the gendered body in the act of creation and interpretation; the complexity of how ephemeral performed events are remembered and recorded; the historical difficulties of naming certain creative functions as feminine, a process that reveals sexual divisions of labor concerning the act of creation.  We will examine the ways in which history ‘forgets’ or has invisibilized certain elements of performance practice, leading to lacunae in the historiography of performance.  This gendered forgetting has affected the formation of academic disciplines concerning the performing arts, particularly in France, as these disciplines are themselves forged upon historical gender stereotypes.

The debate will be organized according to three themes over three days: day one, “Gesture and Interpretation” will investigate the moment of action, the incarnation of performance; day two, “Making Art and Constructing the Self” will explore how performance has been documented, normalized, translated into discourse, linked to the construction of a creator’s identity; day three “Transmission and Heritage” will look at how performances leave gendered traces and how performance ‘makes history’.

Organizing committee: Elizabeth Claire (CRH, EHESS/CNRS), Catherine Deutsch (Univ. Paris-Sorbonne), Raphaëlle Doyon (Labex CAP, CRAL-HICSA)

Scientific Committee: Alessandro Arcangeli (Università di Verona, Italy) • Esteban Buch (CRAL, EHESS/CNRS, France) • Susan Manning (Northwestern University, USA) • Hélène Marquié (Université Paris 8, France) • Roxane Martin (Université de Nice – Sophia Antipolis, France) • Felicia McCarren (Tulane University, USA) • Raphaëlle Legrand (Université Paris-Sorbonne, France) • Stefano Lorenzetti (Conservatorio di Vicenza, Italy) • Annelis Kuhlmann (Aarhus Universitet, Denmark) • Henry Phillips (Univ. of Manchester, UK)

Conference Registration (free) :

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Download the program here:


(Day 1) Gesture and Interpretation investigates creative practice, the moment of embodying performance;

(Day 2) Creating Art and Constructing the Self looks at the normalization of the creative act, the reception of a performance and its inscription in discourse, finally, the relationship between performer and performed;

(Day 3) Transmission and Heritage seeks to understand how the creative act is embodied and inscribed over time, passed on from one generation to the next, given a place in the historiography of performance.

1. Gesture and Interpretation  (Thursday, December 12, 2013)

We aim to look at theatrical, musical and danced gestures in relation to the gendered body. The notion of interpretation here refers to the performance of a tradition, a text, score, or choreography, as well as the way in which the performing act is perceived and received by an audience. We wish to examine the mechanisms that have lead to a hierarchical distinction between performer and creator, particularly in cases where this distinction has underpinned the marginalization of certain performance practices considered “feminine,” private or amateur and thus traditionally not identified as art.

2. Creating Art and Constructing the Self  (Friday, December 13, 2013)

Here the focus will be on discursive, iconographic and other representations of performance practices that might reveal a gendered logic in the perception of creativity and the reception and normalisation of the creative act. We will explore the way in which the creators of performances are positioned by, or position themselves in relation to, the act of creation as well as its inscription in discourse. We invite terminological studies that discern, for each of the arts in question, how these creative practices were perceived and represented. We also seek studies that expose gendered strategies of resistance to these normative constraints, as they were employed in creative practice and interpretation.

3. Transmission and Heritage (Saturday, December 14, 2013)

We propose to investigate how the creative act gets remembered, including the voluntary amnesias and mechanisms of forgetting that have led to a gendering of the historical discourse about creativity in the performing arts. To investigate the history of these silences, these absences, we seek proposals that discuss and identify the gendered nature of this process of invisibilization in the historiography of these arts. We also hope to articulate how accepted artistic practices might contribute to a gendering of the very cultural heritage they perpetuate and invent.  How does the transmission of creativity, a gendered cultural phenomenon, participate in the construction of knowledge itself? And how has the historicisation of cultural praxes been influenced by this gendered inheritance?

Call for Papers (closed)

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 We would like to thank the following institutions for their financial and logistical support, without which this international conference could not have taken place : la Columbia University in Paris, Reid Hall ; l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art ; le Centre national de la recherche scientifique ; l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales ; le Centre de recherches historiques ; l’Institut du genre ; l’Institut Émilie du Châtelet ; le LabEx Création, arts, patrimoines ; la Fédération de recherche sur le genre RING ; le Centre de recherches sur les arts et le langage ; Patrimoine et langages musicaux ; le Cercle de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les musiciennes ; l’Université Paris-Sorbonne ; la Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France du Ministère de la culture et de la communication.