Communicating in Silence: (Re)balancing Human/Animal Dynamics through Performance

Sider, Kimber
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University of Guelph

Animals have come to find themselves in a subordinate position in their encounters with humans in dominant culture. Their perspectives are rarely recognized, and when they are acknowledged it is often only in a limited sense, a sense that only allows the given animal certain elements of self and perspective (and often only the elements that most directly benefit the human). Animals are expected to serve humans in a variety of manners, even when those animals are considered our partners and family. We (humans) have placed animals in these positions by forgetting (or never knowing) how to hear their stories and recognize their agency. A significant step towards redressing these relationships is to learn to “hear” and engage with the nonverbal speaking of animals, and to recognize their perspectives and work to understand them. For this to occur, humans need to be able to understand the ways that meaning is made without words through relationship, to recognize how the expressive action of performance “speaks” in interspecies contexts. For the purposes of this study I am focusing my discussion on the exchange and potential of human/equine relationships, and on how meaning is co-created between species in this culturally specific context. The first chapter sets up the historical, theoretical, and scholarly contexts in which this work, on human/equine engagement and the performance of communication, is being positioned. The second chapter explores the ways that interspecies communication is predominantly discussed and understood in the equestrian community through looking at the methodologies of Natural Horsemanship and Equine-Facilitated Learning. The third chapter focuses on performance analysis to gain insights into the work of France’s Théâtre Zingaro and Canada’s Cavalia, drawing together all of the previous chapters’ discussions of language, performance, communication and agency, to explore how horses are made to mean on stage. The fourth chapter delves into the potential of improvisational performance for collaborating across difference in interspecies contexts. This chapter focuses on the practice-based research project Playing in Silence, which invites musicians to improvise with horses in an open and unstructured space.

interspecies performance, human-animal studies, performance, practice-based research, performance-based research, human-animal relationships, human-equine relationships, communication, nonverbal communication, interspecies communication, posthumanism, theatre zingaro, equine-facilitated learning, cavalia, natural horsemanship