“Revolution: challenging the automaton: repetitive labour and dance in the industrial workspace”,

Caroline Radcliffe, Sarah Angliss

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter examines a performance devised and developed collaboratively by the authors between 2007 -11 which uses a repetitious, machine-inspired nineteenth-century dance to control a digital arts piece, exploring the performative interface between human machine workers and technology. The performance was awarded a Quake contemporary dance festival award in 2008.

The dance, the The Machinery, traceable to the1820s, is striking as possibly the earliest example of the creative expression of alienation and dehumanization in the industrial workspace. Nineteenth-century cotton mill workers surrendered to the pace of the machine through necessity; in The Machinery, workers find a means of expression by coalescing with the machine, rather than escaping it, reflecting De Certeau's theories of ‘the everyday’. A means of addressing boredom and repetition, the predominantly female workers responded performatively to the otherwise potentially overpowering and isolating noises and actions of ‘the uniform and unceasing motion of the automaton’ (Marx). The dance can be viewed as a way of maintaining the body's control, interaction and creativity, rather than allowing the body to become solely an extension of the capitalist means of production.

Paralleling the working conditions of the nineteenth-century textile workers with those of today's computer operators, Radcliffe and Angliss created a mixed media performance piece inspired by women's interaction with technology. Taking the steps of the early nineteenth-century clog dance, they re-contextualised its history, using it to control a machine of the twenty-first century, the digital computer. Thus, the performers - dancer and computer operator - work together to create an intermedial space where the real world, occupied by the human worker, and virtual world of the machine are coupled to each other and acting in equal partnership. The extreme, machine-like control, virtuosity and physical endurance of the dance reflect the stamina required to survive repetitive labour in both the industrial and the post-industrial workplace.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


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