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Pantomime from 1800 till present: Genre – Aesthetics – Development

25/06/2020 - 26/06/2020
Date limite: 
The intermedial and hybrid genre of the pantomime can be situated at the crossroads of textuality, performance, corporeality and visuality. At the beginning of the 20th century, renowned authors in Germany and Austria, such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler or Frank Wedekind, experimented with the pantomime as the nonverbal genre and artform par excellence. According to the Austrian critic and author Hermann Bahr, the genre of the pantomime can fundamentally be understood as a (literary) ‘drama without words’. Pantomimes “have all the dramatic means. They just lack language. In this regard, they are poorer. Nevertheless, they have a greater effect.” (Bahr 1894: 107). Bahr’s assessment of the pantomime as a new and effective genre focused amongst others on the modern(ist) skepticism towards language. However, the pantomime also contains complex narrative structures, relies on expressive gestures and body language and points to the anthropological/ritual background and character of theatre. Modern conceptions of the pantomime furthermore interact with older artforms and genres of non-verbal communication. As such, the genre is often situated within an intermedial network. It can be connected to different older as well as new(er) media (silent film, dance, ballet d’action, painting and tableau vivant …), which transcend the national boundaries and can be situated in a pan-European and transnational context.
This two-day workshop organized at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is dedicated to the historical diversity of the pantomime tradition. It seeks to analyze from a transnational perspective the development of pantomime aesthetics, from the 1800s through its new conceptualization in the 19th and 20thcentury and the present day. This development will specifically be situated within the larger, European context. Contributions can address the following thematic and methodological topics and research questions:

Historicity and Tradition: How did the pantomime develop from 1800 till the present day, in Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, …? Can the pantomime be considered a genre or a ‘mode’? How does contemporary theatre position itself towards this non-verbal genre and its aesthetics? How did the genre evolve historically within the European context?


Textuality: How are pantomimic texts constructed structurally and rhetorically? How do pantomimic texts relate to their performance on stage? Do they contain aspects of ‘text-theatricality’ (Poschmann)? How do ‘literary’ pantomimes differ from other variants of the genre?


Performance: How did the historical performance practice of the genre develop since 1800? On which (theatrical) conventions does the pantomime rely on stage? Which methodological issues arise when historical pantomimic performances are studied?


Gesture, Kinesthetics and body language: How are gestures, movement and body language staged in pantomimes? How does pantomimic gesturality relate to (spoken) language? How does the pantomime differ from other genres of (gestic) movement?


Aesthetics: How does the pantomime conceptualize and textualize an aesthetics of speechlessness? In what sense are pantomimes performative? Which thematic and motivic focal points can be found in pantomimic plots? How does the genre of the pantomime relate to the historical reforms of theatre and the theory of acting? How is the figure of the (panto)mime historically, philosophically and aesthetically conceptualized?


Narrativity: Which narrative features can be found in pantomimes and pantomimic texts? Can the hermeneutical framework of narratology (perspective, focalization, space, …) be applied to the study of pantomimic plays?


Intermediality: How does the pantomime relate to other genres of corporeality and visuality (dance, film, painting, …)? Can the dialogue with traditions such as the tableau vivant or the silent film be considered as ‘remediation’? How does the medium specificity of the genre develop since 1800?

Interested researchers and PhD students are asked to send an abstract (ca. 300 words) and a short bio (ca. 100 words) to Dr. Mathias Meert,mathias.meert@vub.be by 29/02/2020. The two-day workshop can accommodate up to 15 participants. Participants can give a presentation and/or organize a plenary discussion on (pantomimic, scientific, methodological, …) texts related to the genre of the pantomime and the above mentioned topics. These texts will be sent to all participants approximately 4 weeks before the start of the workshop. The conference languages are English and German.