Competence, Counterpoint and Harmony: A triad of semiotic concepts for the scholarly study of dance

Signata. Annales des Sémiotiques/Annals of Semiotics 11 (2020)
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Abstract

This work presents to dance and music scholarship the concept of competence, developed and deployed by Greimas, together with the semiotic concepts of counterpoint and harmony. I emphasize competence as a temporal process that requires sanction by an external entity and which corresponds to the level of surface narrative syntax within Greimas’s method of ‘generative trajectory’. To exemplify the application of the generative trajectory to dance, I present the case of the contrapunto de zapateo from Peru. In this step dance, two or more dancers take turns and perform for an audience who claps and cheers for them and upon whom depends the appreciation of their competence. To better account for the complex relations between all actors of the contrapunto, I resort to the concept of semiotic counterpoint, which is first explained by means of input–output boxes, inspired by black box modeling in engineering. Counterpoint is also represented using equations, especially to address memory/retention and prediction/protention, with a subsequent discussion of its relevance and articulation to Greimas’s semiotics. Finally, I complement counterpoint with Leibniz’s definition of harmony and Spinoza’s principle of maximization of action, in order to account for different kinds of fluent interactions between dancers, arguing for its application not only to the contrapunto de zapateo, but also to dances such as Capoeira, breakdancing, and contact improvisation.

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