Anarchic Dance is a book on the work of Liz Aggiss and myself with referenced DVD, seed funded by Arts Council England and published by Routledge. (ISBN 978-0415365178).
Initial seed funding (Award ACE £31,668) to produce a series of essays on the twenty five years of Aggiss' and my live, screen, dance work was provided by an ACE lottery fund. The publishers Routledge (USA Taylor and Francis) on becoming aware of the project undertook a series of confidential peer reviews of the work in progress and decided to commission the book under the eventual title of Anarchic Dance.
The work consists of a series of fifteen essays, each exploring a different aspect of this body of work and is edited by myself and Aggiss with the assistance of Ian Bramley. The book’s editorial structure breaks ground in two ways. Firstly the widely differing styles and backgrounds of the writers (academics, novelist, critics, practitioners) -the writers were asked by the editors to maintain their own individual styles ranging from the highly academic (Briginshaw, Brown) through the more poetic (Levy, Fraleigh) through to more workmanlike (my and Aggiss’s own eight chapters). Rather than being ring fenced the essays’ subject matters were allowed to overlap giving a deliberately multifaceted and often contradictory viewpoint of many aspects of the work.
Secondly it was decided to include with the book a three hour DVD of examples of the live and film work. This DVD is meticulously structured to allow the reader to instantly reference many on the writers’ points with the exact movement sequence they are discussing. The DVD which I authored takes the possibilities of the medium to its limits in terms of indexing and cross referencing and was a new unprecedented challenge for the publishers.
I have since presented lectures based on the book and DVD exploring these research questions at University of Brighton; Shoot Festival, Stockholm and British Council, St Petersburg. The book is quickly becoming a standard academic dance text and is already held by over 180 USA state and university libraries.
"Liz Aggiss (performer, choreographer, filmmaker) and Billy Cowie (composer, choreographer, filmmaker) dedicate Anarchic Dance to themselves, in celebration of their long-term collaboration and friendship. And good on them: their moment has come, and Aggiss and Cowie are a formidable team. Their deserved reputation rests on many strands of activity over the years; as artistic directors of the seminal Divas Dance Theatre; awarded-winning filmmakers for their dance-on-screen work; conveners of the ground-breaking Visual and Performing Arts degree at the University of Brighton. Their extraordinary range of work – from cabaret solos like Grotesque Dancer to such large –scale ensemble pieces as No Man’s Land (which featured a host of women of all ages) to the stunning 3-D installation Men in the Wall – can be viewed on the DVD, and is reflected upon in this book (with contributions from Aggiss and Cowie themselves together with such luminaries as Deborah Levy and Sherrill Dodds). Although primarily a monograph dedicated to Divas, an added bonus is the inclusion of a chapter, by Aggiss and Claudia Kappenberg, on the works of Hilde Holger, the German expressionist dancer who was both teacher and inspiration to Aggiss."
(Review from Total Theatre Vol. 18/1 Spring 2006)
"The exhibition is accompanied by a book and dvd, 'Anarchic Dance', with critical essays by a range of leading dance artists and theorists including Sondra Fraleigh, Sherril Dodds, Carol Brown and Aggiss and Cowie themselves, available at www.routledge.com. With honesty and directness, the artists explain how they work, and the influences upon it, while others provide insightful analysis and context. Academic perceptions are seriously and accessibly brought to bear on the output of Aggiss and Cowie's more than 20 year collaboration - deconstructing and discussing it in terms of feminism, hybridity, Expressionism, the "grotesque", abstraction and narrative, linguistic play and addressing the multiple and playful textures that define it: sound, space, shape, language."
(Review by Lizzy Le Quesne from 'Ballett-Tanz International')
"Have you heard of Divas Dance Theatre? Have you ever seen any of their shows? Whether your answer to either of these questions is a 'yes' or 'no', run out and buy this book as you're bound to learn something from it that isn't found in other books about dance. Why? Well, Divas is not your average dance company and Anarchic Dance is not your average academic text book.
"For starters, this book comes with an accompanying DVD so the reader can see the piece they are reading about and form their own opinion about it. Secondly, it is a series of essays about different aspects of Divas' work edited by Liz Aggiss and Billy Cowie (of Divas fame) with Ian Bramley. Articles come from Aggiss, Cowie, Carol Brown, Deborah Levy, Marion Kant, Valerie A. Briginshaw, Claudia Kappenberg, Ian Bramley, Sondra Fraleigh and Sherril Dodds.
"One of the aspects I liked most about this book (aside from the accompanying DVD) was the varying authors' styles of writing. Although they all differed, they were similar in that I felt all their styles were accessible and not overly academic. The other plus point for me was that the essays don't follow on from one another, so the reader can read the chapters out of sequence and not be lost.
"Being a fan of Divas, I enjoyed gaining new insights into their work through what I read. I especially got a lot out of Aggiss' essay Outsider performance: A raw vision: Dance and learning difficulties. This chapter focused on preconceptions about 'Outsider Performers', as Aggiss eloquently redefines people with learning difficulties in performance, and how society and the media like to label people. For example, instead of seeing an Outsider Performer as just another performer in a piece, it was suggested by the broadcaster that 'a warning preceded the television screening of Beethoven in Love to clarify that one of the performers had special needs' - a suggestion firmly vetoed by Aggiss/Cowie. Interestingly enough, when my husband and I watched Beethoven in Love on the accompanying DVD, I asked him what he noticed about the person who portrayed Beethoven. My husband replied 'he gave a good performance'. He didn' t pick up that Tommy Bayley was an Outsider Performer and why should he when that performance was just as good, if not better, than the others in the piece?
"Sparking debate is what Divas' work has always done and Anarchic Dance will no doubt continue this legacy. If you are a dancer, student of dance, dance enthusiast or someone who is interested in artists who continually seek to push boundaries, I recommend reading this book. It gives a fresh perspective on many aspects of dance and the dance world and that alone is well worth the read.
(Reviewed by Lisa Haight for londondance.com)"