Rhetorical Performance: Performing the Rhetoric
This paper aims at investigating how the meaning of gestures or movement, because of their stylized nature, makes them understood because they are performed according to an understandable code. I will discuss classical writers on mimesis, rhetoric, oratory and gesture so as to trace ideas from classical theory on rhetoric to Carlo Blasis’ theories on dance. Rhetoric was actualized not just in the written speech, but in performance, in the way it was presented before an audience. Blasis, for his treatise The Code of Terpsichore (1830), drew upon rhetorical sources such as Quintilian (ca.35- ca.96), Aristotle (384-322 BC), Horace (65-8 BC), to name but a few. Understanding Blasis’ work helps inform readers the intersection of classical, neo-classical, and emerging Romantic notions of the role of physical gesture in performative communication. Blasis discussed pantomime in dancing more comprehensively than any of his predecessors such as Jean Georges Noverre (1727–1810). Although both Renaissance and eighteenth-century ideas also influenced Blasis, a major rhetorical text in my discussion is Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria which gives readers the basis of the code for understanding classical movements in dance. In Book XI of Institutio Oratoria (ca. 95), Quintilian deals with the use of gestures comprehensively as an aid to delivery. The rhetoric of Quintilian is generally a topic often treated but actio is not. The art of motion is subsumed in rhetoric by actio, which defines the meanings of movements, gestures, appearances, and the passions they are supposed to elicit. Through this research, I hope to contribute to a clearer connection and understanding between dance studies and rhetorical studies before the twentieth centurty.
Keywords: Classical Rhetoic, Dance, Actio, Carlo Blasis, Quintilian
Dr. Linda Pui-ling Wong
Associate Professor, Department of English Language & Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University