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PROOF
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Part I
Setting the Stage

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PROOF

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1
From Homo Performans to
Interspecies Collaboration
Expanding the Concept of Performance to
Include Animals
Laura Cull

As Martin Puchner has noted, ‘our understanding of the human
depends on our conceptions of [nonhuman] animals’ (2007, p. 21). But
more than this, humans have long since relied upon the animal in order
to produce ideas around the exceptionalism of their own species. In this
respect, Puchner draws on Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the ‘anthropological machine’ to address
the repeated, almost automatic act of drawing the distinction
between the human and the animal, an act through which the two
categories are produced. Some animals are separated out from all the
others and given a special name, ‘human’, which is then placed in
opposition to a second category, defined by the exclusion from the
human realm: ‘animal’. (2007, p. 23)
In this way, the history of Western thought is replete with what Frans
de Waal calls ‘anthropodenial’: ‘the a priori rejection of shared characteristics between humans and animals when in fact they may exist’
(2001, p. 69). Suffering from anthropodenial, philosophers and scientists have claimed and defended the exceptional status of the human
animal with reference to a variety of different and purportedly unique
characteristics. Most common perhaps, are the arguments that the fundamental ontological distinction between human and non-human rests
on, firstly, the possession of language, or secondly, on the capacity for
a special kind of thought: variously described as (self) consciousness,
reason or representational thought.
Focusing for now on the matter of language, Puchner affirms that
‘the strict denial that animals might possess a language or different
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20 Performing Animality

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languages has been a chief ingredient of philosophical humanism,
of the philosophical editions of the anthropological machine since
Aristotle’ (2007, p. 28). However, he also notes how easily the machine
might be halted, were we but to expand ‘the notion of language to
include embodied communication’ – which is clearly as important
(if not more important) a part of how humans as well as nonhumans
relate to one another as signifying language (2007, p. 28). In other
words, human exceptionalism is often based on the argument that animals do not have language, but such claims are based on a reductive
definition of language that not only excludes the animal in advance,
but also neglects to attend to other dimensions of human language.
In contrast, Puchner argues, an expanded concept of language ‘opens
up a domain somewhere between mimesis and gesture. Once we
admit such a domain, we can speak of different types of expressive
systems that do not rely on a binary logic that attributes the distinction between human and animal to a lack, in animals, of language as
such’ (2007, p. 28).
Given this argument about language, this essay is concerned with the
idea of a correlative expansion of the concept of performance. Could it be
that – as part of developing a more animal-oriented Performance Studies
(or, research at the intersection of Animal and Performance Studies) – we
also need to rethink dominant concepts of performance along similar
lines? The first part of the chapter deals with this question with respect
to performance scholarship; the second addresses it in relation to two
specific examples of contemporary performance practice.

Expansion in Scholarship: From Schechner to Animal
Performance Studies
From one perspective, it could be argued that many concepts of performance are already more potentially inclusive of the animal than
the reductive definition of language that Puchner cites above. After all,
as Una Chaudhuri has claimed, many of the core concerns and values
of Animal Studies are already shared by Performance Studies, such as
‘embodiment, presence, process, event [and] force’ (2009, p. 521). On
this basis, Chaudhuri designates a particular role for performance (as
research method and outcome) to generate important responses to ‘the
question of the animal’ alongside those of science, philosophy and so
forth, not least on account of performance’s commitment to exploring non-verbal modes of relation. As Chaudhuri puts it, ‘If language is
indeed a barrier [to understanding between the species], then the quest

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for a deeper, richer mode of understanding the animality we share with
nonhumans might logically lead one to the embodied arts of performance’ (2009, p. 521).
However, there are still those commentators who define performance
in strictly human terms. ‘True’ performance is particularly associated
with notions of self-consciousness, reflexivity and intention such that
it is often assumed that ‘one must intend to perform in order to be considered a performer in the strictest sense’ (Scott, 2009, p. 49). For example, Richard Schechner’s collaborator, Victor Turner, famously defined
the human as homo performans, going on to clarify that performance is
essential to the nature of the human ‘not in the sense … that a circus
animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that man is a
self-performing animal … in performing he reveals himself to himself’
(1986, p. 81). Correlatively, John Simons argues that whereas ‘animals
do not perform being animals … It is performance that defines and enables us, to some extent and on some occasions, to escape the seemingly
overwhelming deterministic influences of history … A human, then, is
an animal that can perform’ (Simons, 2002, p. 9). In turn, to give one
final example, Shelley R. Scott proposes that ‘[a] distinction not up for
debate is that humans can pretend to be others while animals cannot.
A possum can play dead, but it cannot take on the character of a raccoon’ (2009, p. 49). In this way, I would suggest that the concept of art,
in general, and performance in particular, continue to be called upon
to shore up human exceptionalism in ways that an animal-oriented
Performance Studies – or perhaps what we might simply call ‘Animal
Performance Studies’ – may wish to contest.
One possible way for Animal Performance Studies scholars to
respond to this reductive account of performance, and hence the
exclusion of the animal from the category of performance proper, is to
note the extent to which animals in fact do possess the characteristics
that are said to be essential to performance: the capacity for self-conscious behaviour, reflexivity and intention. To give an early example,
we can see precisely this move at work in Schechner’s Performance
Theory (1977), which makes the then (and perhaps still) radical step of
including the activities of primates – specifically wild chimpanzees –
within his ‘broad spectrum’ account of performance. Consolidated
and reiterated in the subsequent editions of his introductory textbook,
Schechner’s argument – which forms the basis for the identity of
Performance Studies as a discipline – is that ‘performance must be construed as a “broad spectrum” or “continuum” of human actions ranging from ritual, play, sports, popular entertainments, the performing

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22 Performing Animality

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arts (theater, dance, music), and everyday life performances to the
enactment of social, professional, gender, race, and class roles, and on
to healing (from shamanism to surgery), the media, and the internet’.
In this way, Schechner conceives Performance Studies as a discipline
that expands on the narrow, Eurocentric concept of performance hitherto espoused by the dominant model of Theatre Studies, in favour of
studying ‘what people do in the activity of their doing it’ and on what
that doing does to those involved in it and in relation to its context
(Schechner, 2002, pp. 1–2).
And yet, in his earlier book Performance Theory, this focus on
‘people’ and ‘human actions’ is by no means determined; on the
contrary, Schechner gestures towards a radical inclusion of animal
actions in the broad spectrum, in a manner that might be understood
to pre-empt one potential direction for Animal Performance Studies
as it develops in the future. For instance, in the very opening of the
text, he announces that ‘performance is an inclusive term. Theater is
only one node on a continuum that reaches from the ritualizations
of animals (including humans) through performance in everyday
life’ (2003, p. xvii). Later in the book, Schechner also says that he
detects ‘no break between animal and human behaviour’ and, just
as he asserts a continuum model of performance, he also thinks in
terms of a ‘continuum of expanding consciousness’ (2003, p. 208).
In other words, there can be no discrete identity for the human
(which excludes all non-humans) based on the possession of consciousness; rather consciousness is possessed to varying extents by
all animals, making the difference between them a matter of degree
rather than kind.
In particular, Schechner insists that the great apes – chimpanzees,
gorillas and orang-utans – can be seen as engaging in performance
without falling into what he calls ‘the error of anthropomorphism’
(2003, p. 96). To establish these human-like tendencies within primate
behaviour, Schechner turns to an example of a wild ‘chimp performance’ described by the famous British primatologist, Jane Goodall.
The performance is created by a male chimpanzee living in Tanzania,
whom Goodall referred to as ‘Mike’. As Goodall describes (in great
detail, as one might do in a close reading of human theatre), Mike’s performance begins as he picks up two empty kerosene cans from outside
Goodall’s tent, in view of another group of male chimps. Significantly,
as Schechner notes, although Mike improvises using objects that were
only made available to him by the presence of humans, he was neither
a tamed nor trained animal:

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From Homo Performans to Interspecies Collaboration 23

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Armed with his two cans, Mike continued to stare toward the other
males. After a few minutes he began to rock from side to side. At
first the movement was almost imperceptible, but Hugo and I were
watching him closely. Gradually he rocked more vigorously, his hair
slowly began to stand erect, and then softly at first, he started a series
of pant-hoots. (Goodall cited in Schechner, 2003, p. 237)
According to Goodall, the chimp then began ‘hitting the two cans’
together and hooting increasingly loudly as he started to charge
towards the audience of other males, who fled to relocate elsewhere.
This action is repeated by Mike a number of times, before culminating
in an approach to the then alpha male of the group (‘Goliath’), whom
Mike would go on to replace not long after (2003, p. 237).
As Schechner acknowledges, this event could easily be interpreted
as nothing more than an instinctual challenge to the chimps’ social
hierarchy, an action ultimately motivated by evolutionary impulses to
achieve the alpha male status and the privileges, sexual and otherwise,
assigned to it. However, Schechner argues that what is significant about
Mike’s performance (and he is unequivocal in naming it as such), is
that his challenge to another chimp’s rank ‘came not as a direct attack
or life-and-death fight but wrapped in ritual, played out as a theatrical
event. Just as “making fun” can be an indirect attack on the authorities
[in human performance], so Mike’s charge, driving the kerosene cans
ahead of him, was a rehearsed, yet still indirect attack on Goliath’s
dominant rank’ (2003, p. 238). Schechner suggests that Mike’s charges
at the lower-ranking males could be analysed as rehearsal: ‘Both “fun”
and “rehearsal” seem to be part of the performance sequences of the
great apes … The apes may not rehearse [in a conventional human
sense], but they do practice and improve their performances through
repetition’ (2003, p. 237). But then crucially, just as he acknowledges
that chimps are not pre-human, Schechner also insists that:
Chimp performance is not a prototype of human performance, but
a parallel. As such it is even more interesting than as a prototype.
A prototype tells us nothing more than that human performance has
antecedents; a parallel means that another species, developing its
own track, is engaged in deliberate, conscious, chosen activity that
can best be described as “performing” (2003, pp. 97–8).
So if chimps can perform, Schechner concludes that ‘so-called “aesthetics” is not the monopoly of humans’ (2003, p. 98).

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PROOF
24 Performing Animality

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On one level, Animal Performance Studies scholars might retrospectively see such work as a step in the right direction, a step that relates
to ongoing debates surrounding the extension of human rights to
primates, which has been supported by some animal rights activists
like Peter Singer (Singer, 1999, n.p.). But on another level, we might
question whether such a gesture goes far enough – in the first instance,
simply, because it fails to include other animals, reintroducing a kind
of exceptionalism albeit with a slightly expanded population, reactivating the anthropological machine but drawing a line now between primates and non-primates. For instance, Schechner ultimately concludes
that ‘Performance probably belongs only to a few primates, including
humans … Humans do consciously, by choice, what lower animals do
automatically; the displaying peacock is not “self-conscious” in the way
an adolescent male human is on Saturday night’ (2003, p. 98).
But secondly, I would argue that going down the line of trying to
prove that animals do in fact share specific cognitive capabilities with
humans is limited because it fails to prompt a rethinking of the category
of performance to the same degree as Puchner outlines with respect
to language. It leaves a human-centred definition of performance – as
‘deliberate, conscious, chosen activity’ – intact and applies that concept
only to those animals that are perceived to be most like ‘us’.
So what is the alternative? How can research at the intersection of
Animal Studies and Performance Studies take more radically inclusive
steps in this regard? Firstly, I would suggest that we abandon those
more reductive definitions of performance in favour of those that
affirm a more expanded view of what counts as ‘conscious behaviour’,
‘pretence’, ‘intention’ and so forth. With regard to the first of these,
this could involve exploring the idea that there are different levels of
consciousness exhibited by different animals including humans. But
it could also go further by acknowledging the possibility that animals
might be differently conscious from each other (and indeed, from themselves) in a qualitative sense (without feeling the need to structure such
differences into a hierarchy). Correlatively, it could be that what is
required is to abandon altogether our need to approach animals with a
predetermined definition of performance already in hand, in favour of
allowing performance to remain open to perpetual mutation and reconceptualization in the face of our encounters with animals.
Secondly, I would like to propose that this radical inclusivity might
also demand that we genuinely follow through on an expanded definition of performance in terms of both the types of behaviour, activities
and events that we study in the field of Animal Performance Studies

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From Homo Performans to Interspecies Collaboration 25

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and how we study them. That is, to expand the concept of performance to include animals need not just, or not only, mean analysing
animal behaviour, activities and events (in the wild or elsewhere,
with or without interactions with humans) ‘as’ performance. Rather,
or additionally, the particular value of performance might lie in its
capacity to produce new research methods to those already established
in Animal Studies. The emphasis here would be on performance as
a lived, embodied process of coming into contact with the ways in
which animals are differently conscious from themselves and one
another, regardless of whether or not it culminates in the production
of ‘performances’ for a human audience. This is ‘animal performance
as research’, then, where practitioners’ insights into the animals they
work with or alongside might produce a counter-knowledge to the
dominant scientific accounts of animal life (recalling Chaudhuri’s suggestion above). Or better, perhaps, such uses of performance may not
be geared towards the production of knowledge about animals at all,
so much as an embodied proximity to animals’ own ways of thinking
and performing that remains resistant to any attempted paraphrase
into discourse. ‘It is when we don’t understand and have to leave
behind our certainties that we can gain the greatest insights’ (Bowie,
2007, p. 11). As we shall see, such a move need not be seen as a mere
retreat to notions of ineffability and mystery so much as a rethinking
of performance as a felt ‘knowledge of “unknowing”’ (Mullarkey, 2009,
p. 211) in relation to animal life as that which perpetually resists conceptualizations of it.

Expansion in Practice: Interspecies Collaboration in
Contemporary Improvisational Performance
In the second part of this chapter, I would like to try to expand on this
articulation of performance’s value within Animal Studies by looking
at two particular instances of contemporary practice, both of which
could be described as forms of collaborative and improvisational performance involving animals (one with wild animals, the other with
domesticated ones). In turn, although neither practitioner frames their
work in these specific terms, I will also suggest that both could be seen
as instances of what Lisa Jevbratt calls ‘interspecies collaboration’:
‘aesthetically driven projects’ created in collaboration with ‘individuals of other species’ (2009, p. 1). The first of these practices is the work
of David Rothenberg, a professor of philosophy and music at the New
Jersey Institute of Technology, but also a practising jazz clarinetist with

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26 Performing Animality

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an interest in the production of ‘interspecies music’. In this respect, his
work follows on from the pioneering practices of other animal-oriented
musicians such as Jim Nollman, who released the album Playing Music
with Animals back in 1982 and founded the non-profit organization
interspecies.com (Rothenberg, 2009, p. 13). For his part, Rothenberg
has been playing music with non-humans since around 2000 when he
was invited to play with the birds at the National Aviary in Pittsburg.
Remembering this initial encounter – which led to many more such
music-making experiments with birds as well as the book Why Birds Sing
(2005) – Rothenberg says:
As I played, one bird – a white-crested laughing thrush – really
responded to what I was doing. Could this bird really be interacting
with me, I wondered … That’s not within the conventional wisdom
of what birds can do. I’d always been told they had their set song and
they just sang it. But with him, I played some notes and he’d join in.
If my note changed, his did, too. (Rothenberg in Dreifus, 2005, n.p.)
Rothenberg’s work focuses on the shared capacity for ‘vocal learning’ –
the ability to learn to make new sounds, to ‘learn with sound’ – common
to humans, whales, dolphins and songbirds. Challenging dominant
scientific explanations for why birds sing, Rothenberg also argues that
the sheer range and diversity of bird songs cannot be explained with
recourse to functionality, whether in terms of sexual selection or defence
of territory. For instance, such Darwinian accounts fail to account for
why male Albert’s lyrebirds, who are known for their incredibly complex
songs (incorporating imitations of the songs of all the other birds who
occupy the same territory) continue to sing even when there are no
females around to hear them (Rothenberg, 2005, p. 31). But his more
recent interest has been in the musical capabilities of humpback whales,
the analysis of whose songs have shown them to
consist of repeating patterns, hierarchically organized at the level of
unit (or motif), phrase, theme and song. Each complete song consists
of five to seven themes. Some of the phrases end with the same contrasting sound, so they can be said to rhyme, in a way analogous to
human poems. A series of these songs can be repeated extensively, up
to 23 hours in a single session. (Rothenberg, 2008, p. 47)
According to Rothenberg, what is also remarkable about humpback
whales is that they ‘constantly change their song’, with whales taking

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on new sounds from one another and absorbing them into their repertoire in a cultural fashion. As such, he saw no reason why the whales
might not also be interested in drawing from human sounds as part of
this creative compositional practice.
In the winter of 2007, Rothenberg went to Maui, Hawaii to try and
‘interact musically with humpback whales’ based on the reasoning that
because music can ‘communicate across cultures in a way language cannot’, there should be no reason why music cannot be used ‘to cross species lines’ (2008, p. 48). Practically speaking, this attempt at interaction
involved ‘broadcasting a clarinet underwater next to a singing humpback whale’ (2008, p. 49), recording the duet on hydrophones and
analysing the results through the use of sonograms (Figure 1.1). That is,
the project begins with a performance for a whale, rather than a human
audience (there was also a human crew on the boat but as far as I can
tell from the documentation, they were only able to hear Rothenberg’s
side of the duet). In this respect, Rothenberg’s practice relates to but is
also distinct from a wide range of other instances of what we might call
‘performance for animals’: events in which non-humans have been the
primary audience. For instance, it recalls the 1798 orchestral concert
staged in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris by musicians from one of the
city’s conservatoires for ‘two Indian elephants, Hanz and Marguerite
… in hopes of observing their reactions to a range of musical stimuli’
(Putnam, 2007, p. 154). But it also resonates with contemporaneous
practices such as the work of the experimental composer Shinji Kanki,
whose piece Music for Dolphins (2001) is inaudible to humans because of
the sonic spectrum it occupies, but designed to be ‘performed for dolphins’ using ‘underwater ultrasonic loudspeakers’ (Kanki, 2013, n.p.).

Clarinet
Microphone
Amplifier

Humpback whale

Headphones
Recorder

Underwater speaker

Hydrophone

Figure 1.1 How to play clarinet along with a singing humpback whale. Diagram
by David Rothenberg, 2008.

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Rothenberg admits that most of his ‘attempts at engaging a humpback
whale with my human music did not seem to get anywhere. We each
were lost in our own tunes’ (2008, p. 49). However, in one isolated experience, Rothenberg is confident of a genuine interaction or duet having
taken place: ‘The clearest sign of communication comes when I stop;
he [the whale] resumes with a direct sense of response, in some cases
continuing the very same note I just finished. In other cases he tries to
join in and overlap me with a complementary sound … Throughout
this duet are several clear examples where the whale seems to match the
clarinet’ as well as Rothenberg experimenting with his own sounds in
response to the whale (2008, p. 49). For Rothenberg, the experiment –
which one can listen to online1 – provides ‘some suggestive evidence
that humans and humpback whales are able to musically communicate’
(2008, p. 50). In this context, the key feature of Rothenberg’s work is
that his music changes in contact with the whale’s and vice versa. On
listening to the results, the sounds of the two begin to become indiscernible, in what we might call – after Deleuze and Guattari – a reciprocal ‘becoming-whale’ of the clarinet and a ‘becoming-clarinet’ of the
whale. In turn, whilst the project begins with a performance for a whale
audience, it also produces a recording intended to challenge a human
audience’s preconceptions of what counts as ‘music’.
In terms of the process of its production, Rothenberg’s music brings us
back to the idea of an expanded concept of language that I introduced
via Puchner at the start of the chapter, insofar as it calls for an extension of our concept of communication beyond the notion of signifying
language, specifically to include both human and non-human music.
As Andrew Bowie has discussed, there are longstanding and ongoing
debates among philosophers of music as to what extent ‘music can be
said to possess “meaning” in the way verbal language does’: debates
which, he argues, often assume that there is already an established and
agreed account of verbal meaning and communication, namely, a representational one to which music can then be compared (2007, p. 3). In
contrast, Bowie argues that ‘Music’s “meaning” – might lie precisely
in the fact that we cannot say in words what it means – why does music
exist at all if what it “says” could be said just as well in other ways? The
important issue is, therefore, the differing ways in which something can
be construed as “meaning” something’ (2007, p. 3).
For Bowie, then, it seems that some of music’s philosophical value
lies in its capacity to expose the idea that meaning per se ‘has to do
with pre-conceptual engagements with things, with embodied “being
in a world”, where one acts, feels’, and so forth, rather than with

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signification alone (2007, p. 378). Music allows Bowie to make his argument that ‘any form of articulation that can disclose the world in ways
which affect the conduct and understanding of life can be regarded
as possessing meaning’ (2007, p. 6). Both verbal language and music
have this performative dimension, as ways of ‘revealing new aspects
of being, rather than just means of re-presenting what is supposedly
already there’ (2007, p. 4). Nothing about this definition would seem
to preclude non-humans, such as humpback whales, from using music to
produce and communicate meaning, not only to one another, but
across species boundaries.
But I would also like to suggest that Rothenberg’s practice can be read
in the context of the concept of ‘interspecies collaboration’ – a useful,
though little used term, either in the arts or in scholarship. However, one
of its leading proponents, Lisa Jevbratt, has been using the term since at
least 2006, in the first instance as a title for an art class she continues to
run at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the class, students
are asked to ‘collaborate on art projects (loosely defined as aesthetically
driven projects) with individuals of other species’ and ‘to set up systems
allowing them to experience and examine the world together with
animals’ ( Jevbratt, 2009, p. 1). They are advised ‘not to look at or make
studies of animals’, nor to use the animals as material ‘to communicate
an issue, however noble that issue is’. Interspecies collaboration should
also be distinguished from the longstanding tradition of humans supporting ‘art by animals’ – such as paintings by Koko the gorilla – which
tend to involve training animals to produce aesthetic forms (paintings,
drawings etc.) that humans will recognize as corresponding with their
existing concepts of art. Instead, collaborations with other species have
the potential to produce events and objects unimaginable without their
non-human co-creators. For instance, Jevbratt suggests that the human
participant can strive to adopt a non-human animal perspective and
indeed to rethink the concept of art from that point of view: ‘We need
to put ourselves in the animal’s position (zoomorphism) and imagine
other senses and the creative realms of those senses. For example, what
“sculptures” would one make if one used sound to understand one’s
spatial surroundings, like dolphins and bats?’ (2009, p. 17).
No doubt there will be those who would argue that humans cannot
genuinely collaborate with animals, in the ‘true sense of the word’ (that
is, as it is defined on the basis of dominant ideas about how humans
tend to work together). After all, ‘how do we conduct scientific or artistic research in collaboration with someone whose experiences, sensations, and knowledge is difficult or impossible to understand? Can one

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collaborate with someone whose intention and agenda is not known?
And how do we define success if we cannot communicate (at least in
a traditional way) with our collaborator?’ (2009, p. 3). In this way,
such arguments are likely to be made, again, on the basis of language:
namely, that without signifying language our non-human collaborator cannot make his or her interests known, and indeed, we cannot be
sure that s/he has assented to the collaboration in the first place. There
can be no consent without language, let alone the exchange of ideas,
mutual understanding and negotiation – those supposed fundamentals
of any collaborative enterprise. According to this view, interspecies collaboration would inevitably fall into anthropomorphic projection in
its attempts to understand the interests of its animal partners. Indeed,
a particularly ungenerous view might be that so-called ‘interspecies
collaboration’ is simply another example of humans using animals for
their own ends under the guise of a more mutually rewarding project.
However, if we remind ourselves of Puchner’s expanded definition of
language, it could be argued – in response to the sceptics – that animals
are perfectly capable (as are infant humans) of expressing their interests to us by other means (although this may also depend upon the
adult humans involved learning how to ‘hear’ those expressions). But
clearly it is also that human–human collaboration also occurs through
non-linguistic means of communication, understanding and consent.
Indeed, jazz improvisation could be seen as particularly likely to involve
such non-verbal modes insofar as invitations to others to co-create
can be offered and accepted (or refused) in and as the performance of
music itself. Leaders and followers can emerge, the theme of a call can
generate a variety of responses, rhythms and speeds can collectively
alter, without anyone saying a word. In this way, just as interspecies
collaboration should ideally demand an opening out of our notions of
what counts as art and performance, it also requires a rethinking of the
term collaboration itself.
Such an expanded concept of collaboration also pertains to our second example of contemporary practice – that of Sami Sälpäkivi, who has
been working with horses in Finland since 1999, and specifically on contact improvisation with horses since 2001–2002, as well as forming the
first horse theatre in Finland. Prior to this work, Sälpäkivi studied dance
in the Netherlands, developing a particular interest in improvisation. In
terms of human dance, contact improvisation is broadly understood as
a dance form that emerged out of the experiments by Steve Paxton from
around 1972, expanding into a ‘worldwide practice’ investigating ‘various means of moving in one-on-one or small group encounters: giving

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and taking weight, lifting carrying, leading, following, wrestling and
partnering in myriad ways’ (Banes, 2003, p. 78). What is interesting,
of course, is that from the outset, Paxton associated contact improvisation with animals, commenting, ‘Where this comes from is just human
play, human exchange – and animal play. It’s like horseplay or kitten
play or child’s play, as well’ (Banes, 2003, p. 78). In terms of extending
such movement investigation to his work with horses, Sälpäkivi reports
that he began without having any particular goal in mind at the outset
(without making a conscious choice, we might say): ‘I just started to roll
on her [the horse’s] back, having an idea of getting her used to having
weight on different parts of her body than usual, thus building a trust
and a different bond between us’ (Sälpäkivi, 2013, n.p.).2 From these
small beginnings, Sälpäkivi went on to incorporate extended passages of
contact improvisation into the shows at the horse theatre, moving away
from the more rigidly rehearsed spectacles of most forms of equestrian
performance (see Figure 1.2).
Horses’ suitability for this and indeed their own form of contact improvisation is already evident in the powers of non-verbal

Figure 1.2 Sami Sälpäkivi and Bobi Girl in the first ever horse theatre in Finland,
Hiano Mailma, which he created with his wife Anne in 2002.

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communication they demonstrate in wild behaviours such as synchronous movement. For instance, Scott argues that much of what
has been written on improvisation by its best-known theorists (Viola
Spolin, Keith Johnstone etc.) ‘is also applicable to animals’, particularly
when it comes to a sense of co-presence and an alertness to specific
environmental or contextual conditions. Likewise, there is ‘evidence
of attunement to others, a form of empathetic intelligence apparently
more pronounced in horses than in humans’ (Jevbratt, 2009, p. 58).
Another term for this is ‘limbic resonance’, defined as ‘a symphony
of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals
become attuned to each other’s inner states’ (Lewis cited in Jevbratt,
2009, p. 10). What comes more naturally to horses, then, can also –
through training – become a means to sense non-human consciousness
for humans too; a way of becoming like horses in movement, developing horse-like qualities of attunement, according to the notion of zoomorphism cited above. In this way, then, as in Deleuze and Guattari,
becoming-horse ‘is not a question of imitating a horse, “playing horse”,
identifying with one, or even experiencing feelings of sympathy or pity’
(Deleuze and Guattari, 1988, p. 258). Nor is it simply a matter of training the horses to appear as performers according to a reductive human
account of what performance means. Rather, Sälpäkivi stages a mutation of human performance as a matter of learning to speak a horse’s
language of attunement.
Crucially though, Sälpäkivi’s work also operates as a form of unlearning for the horses involved, insofar as the giving and taking of
weight exercises he performs with them go against both their seemingly innate responses and traditional horse training (to which most of
the horses he works with have already been subjected). While training
began with simple food-based incentives, Sälpäkivi soon observed – by
listening to embodied expressions of consent – that the horses enjoyed
playing with their new movement skills and were capable of improvised combinations of ‘normal horse vocabulary (bucking, running fast,
standing on hind legs)’ and the new contact improvisation vocabulary.
Sälpäkivi states that, ‘in my opinion, there’s no communication or
respect in traditional horse acrobatics’. In contrast, he concludes that
‘horses can dance. And definitely the horse was sometimes leading the
dance, because I let her do that and then I responded to her moving’
(Sälpäkivi, 2013, n.p.). In this respect, Sälpäkivi’s attitude resonates with
that of Bartabas and the better known equestrian shows of his company,
Zingaro. For instance, Bartabas also remarks: ‘In competition dressage,
you have to have the horse completely under control. You have to go

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precisely from this step to this step. In my technique, I like the horse to
be able to do the movement in his way. It’s a very subtle thing, to do
with his energy’ (cited in Orozco, 2013, p. 33).
In the cases of both Sälpäkivi and Rothenberg, what seems of particular value – and unusual in relation to many performance practices
involving animals – is the practitioners’ concern for the creative experience of the animal they work with. In contrast, it could be argued
that many practices, despite seeking to undo any firm distinction
between human and non-human, do still remain firmly centred on
what happens to the human in the encounter. For example, one might
think of the 2011 work by the French artists Marion Laval-Jeantet and
Benoît Mangin entitled Que le cheval vive en moi (May the Horse Live
in Me). As Louis Hilton describes: ‘In the piece, which took several
months to complete, Laval-Jeantet received a series of transfusions of
blood plasma drawn from the body of a horse’ (Hilton, 2013, p. 487).
In interviews, Laval-Jeantet has given a fascinating account of her
sense of the transformations that took place in her perceptual capacities following the transfusion: ‘it was practically impossible for me to
sleep for a week and I had extreme and slightly aggressive reactions to
stimuli; a slammed door, a tap on the shoulder. … I was experiencing
the hyper-reactivity of the horse in my flesh’ (cited in Hilton, 2013,
p. 488). However, while such work may well go some way ‘to counteract the “anthropological machine” that ceaselessly separates the
human from nonhuman animals’ (2013, p. 488) as Hilton contends,
it does seem woefully unconcerned with the horse’s side of the experience. Indeed, I would argue that this is also a feature of Deleuze and
Guattari’s concept of ‘becoming-animal’ to which this work might
be seen as a somewhat literal response. For example, in A Thousand
Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the invention of the stirrup constitutes a becoming-horse – a new ‘symbiosis of bodies’ – both
in its nomadic and feudal contexts (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988, p.
399). In turn, when the authors do note that the stirrup is a source of
controversy amongst its theorists, it is not with respect to its impact
on horses, but only insofar as historians debate the question of who
is its rightful inventor (1988, p. 447). In contrast, I would suggest
that the stirrup example, and indeed the vast majority of Deleuze and
Guattari’s examples of becoming-animal, fails to present a convincing
case for why such an encounter constitutes a becoming for the animal
as well as for the human it involves. All the more reason, then, to
value the collaborative and communicative dimensions of Sälpäkivi
and Rothenberg’s projects, both of which specifically facilitate the

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becoming-other of the animals involved, an increase rather than a
restriction of their powers to act creatively, as much as of themselves
as human practitioners.

Conclusions
I began this chapter with a question about whether or not research at
the intersection of Animal and Performance Studies should task itself
with expanding dominant concepts of performance – whether through
scholarship or practice – along the lines of the expansion of the category of language outlined by Puchner, with a view to becoming more
inclusive of animals. As this chapter ends, I hope I have gone some
way to convince the reader that it should – and indeed that this will
constitute an important contribution to Animal Studies as a whole. For
Cary Wolfe, the influential Animal Studies scholar, the animal should
not just be a theme for the field of Animal Studies; it needs to change
how we approach and understand the notion of studying itself. ‘To put
it bluntly,’ Wolfe states, ‘just because we study nonhuman animals does
not mean that we are not continuing to be humanist—and therefore, by
definition, anthropocentric’ (2009, p. 568). In particular, Wolfe suggests
that Animal Studies needs to question ‘the humanist schema of the
knowing subject’: ‘the picture of the human as constituted … by critical
introspection and self-reflection that is, after all, a hallmark of humanism’ (2009, pp. 569–70). In this discussion, I hope to have indicated that
performance might be one such means for Animal Studies to approach
the study of animal life anew, to reconceive the role and nature of
the human researcher not as one who represents the animal from a
distinct and superior position outside of it, but who uses performance
as a lived, embodied process of coming into contact with the ways in
which animals communicate and perform beyond reductive, anthropocentric definitions of those terms, in ways that expose the instability
of any claims to human exceptionalism. Likewise, I have argued that
future research in Animal Performance Studies need not approach
encounters with animals with readymade concepts of ‘performance’ –
for instance as ‘deliberate, conscious, chosen activity’ (Schechner, 2003,
p. 98) – in hand. Nor need it be understood as a form of ‘practice as
research’ that produces new knowledge about the animal through
performance. Rather, my proposition is that work at the intersection
of Animal and Performance Studies is best conceived as departing from
a felt ‘knowledge of “unknowing”’ (Mullarkey, 2009, p. 211) in which a
wide range of concepts – of the human, of language, of communication

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and collaboration – are expanded both to embrace the non-human
dimensions of our own behaviour, and to avoid treating the difference
of non-humans as lack.

Notes
1 See http://terrain.org/columns/21/Rothenberg_Clarinet_Humpback.mp3
(accessed 23 September 2013).
2 These remarks are based on an unpublished email interview conducted with
Sälpäkivi by the author in 2013.

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