A Softer Sense of Self Symposium

Mediating Virtuosity In and Through Artistic Practice

Virtuosity is a complicated term. On the one hand, it refers to a mastery of skill that has been honed over years of dedicated study; while on the other, to the conditional norms and values that may preclude or prohibit alternative ways of practice. It is precisely this tension—of representation and its provocations—that makes virtuosity such a divisive subject in dance today.

Issues of value and care with regard to work/effort are not only relevant to the fields of dance and performance, they are concerns in most fields. In this one-day mini- symposium, virtuosity will be troubled in and through the lens of various artistic practices. Together, we will look at the movements that constitute us, aiming to re- conceive our understanding of virtuosity, (re)imagining if, and how, we as artistic researchers, can perform a new understanding of the term, wherein value lay in process rather than in the result or surplus that can be derived from it.

PhDArts Symposium 2023. Photo by Irena Kukric.


29 September
Edmund Hustinxzaal, Theater aan het Vrijthof, Maastricht (NL)

11.30 – 12.00 Introduction

12.00 – 13.30 Workshop Katja Heitmann: Everyday Virtuosities
Choreographer Katja Heitmann will introduce her human archive project Motus Mori. Together with a dancer and movement donor, Heitmann will share how virtuosity is both challenged and redefined in her practice, offering a glimpse of how the term is being performed by both dancer and audience.

Admission to this event is free. Registration is required via Nederlandse Dansdagen.

13.30 – 14.30 Lunch

14.30 – 16.00 Workshop Troubling Virtuosity
Troubling Virtuosity is a keyword workshop guided by visual artist Jort van der Laan, media artist and scenographer, Irena Kukric, and choreographer Stephen Shropshire. In this workshop, the term virtuosity will be troubled through a series of provocations contributed by a group of international guest artists and researchers. These provocations, offered in the form of a statement, question, or gesture, will serve as the jumping-off point towards re-formulating a collaborative new understanding of the term.

A Softer Sense of Self: Mediating Virtuosity In and Through Artistic Practice is co-organized by PhDArts candidates Stephen Shropshire, Irena Kukric, and Jort van der Laan.

The symposium is a collaboration between PhDArts, Leiden University’s Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA), the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK), and the Dutch Dance Festival.

For more information please email

With contributions by:

Ariel Osterweis is a scholar-practitioner of dance and performance. She has a Ph.D. in performance studies from UC Berkeley and is on faculty at Cal Arts. Osterweis writes about embodied performance, theorizing at the intersection of race, sexuality, gender, labor, and movement. She has three book projects underway: Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity (Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Dance Theory Series, forthcoming), Prophylactic Aesthetics: Latex, Spandex, and Sexual Anxieties Performed (University of Michigan Press, Theater: Theory/Text/Performance Series), and Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration: Dance and Performance Interviews (Routledge).

Annie-B Parson is the co-founder of the New York based contemporary dance company Big Dance Theater. Her choreographic works range from pure dance to adaptations of found text, plays, and literature. She has been a guest lector at Yale and Princeton Universities and, since 1993, on the faculty of New York University’s Experimental Theater Wing. She has written three books on dance and choreography including Dance by Letter (2016) Drawing on the Surface of Dance (2019) and most recently, The Choreography of Everyday Life (2022). In addition, her performance lecture entitled The Virtuosity of Structure, tours regularly at universities.

Ixchel Mendoza Hernández is a Mexican choreographer, performer, and dancer based in Berlin. In her choreographic works, Ixchel investigates a phenomenon she calls “Visual Ghost”, a phenomenon that correlates directly with perception. Through choreographic means she attempts to interweave the personal and the public, the individual and the social, reflecting upon how we can (re)construct and (re)shape perceptual realities through each other.

Judith Hamera is professor of dance at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, with a faculty appointment in the Effron Center for the Study of America and affiliations with the programs in gender and sexuality studies and urban studies. Her most recent book, Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, and the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization (/about/bookshelf/unfinished-business) (Oxford University Press, 2017), received the 2018 Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the 2017-2018 Biennial Sally Banes Publication Prize from the American Society for Theatre Research, and the 2020 Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research awarded to the best dance studies book of the past three years by the Dance Studies Association. Hamera received her Ph.D. in interpretation and performance studies from Northwestern University.

Katja Heitmann is a choreographic sculptor. Her minimalist work is rich with minutely designed imagery and contrasts extreme aesthetics with human fallibility. In the multi-year project Motus Mori, Heitmann has collected and preserved the movement of more than 1500 people. This embodied human archive, which Heitmann began in 2019, is the ever-growing foundation from which she creates new artworks. In 2016 Heitmann was awarded the Prize of the Dutch Dance Festival and in 2020, she was honored with the prestigious Gieskes Strijbis Podium-award.

Staci Bu Shea is a curator, writer, and death companion based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Broadly, Bu Shea focuses on aesthetic and poetic practices of social reproduction and care work, as well as its manifestations in interpersonal relationships and daily life, community organizing, and institutional practice. Their long-term, transdisciplinary project Dying Livingly looks at the architecture and communal life of hospice and highlights emergent cultures of end of life care. Bu Shea was curator at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons (Utrecht, 2017-2022). With Carmel Curtis, they co-curated Barbara Hammer: Evidentiary Bodies at Leslie Lohman Museum of Art (New York City, 2017).

Panagiotis Panagiotakopoulos aka Taka Taka trained as a professional make-up artist, he studied Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, followed up by the MA ArtEZ programme at the Dutch Art Institute. Taka Taka identifies as a professional dragtivist and art educator who produces performances as director for the House of Hopelezz, Club Church, Amsterdam. Taka Taka is a sister to others, a mother of the drag king house of Løstbois, and a proud daughter of Jennifer Hopelezz. Taka Taka sees life through the lens of Dragtivism by practicing para-educational strategies for the margins of the marginal LGBTQIA ++ community. Taka Taka works yearly with institutes and collectives such as AIDS Fonds, Global Aids Village, Drag Olympic Games, Begging Babes, and Superball the Battle of European Drag Houses. In 2017 he started sharing his knowledge and methodologies for gender artistic practices in Dutch art academies.

Iva Brdar completed studies of Dramaturgy at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade and a Master in Theater Studies at Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III. She is the author of the plays Rule of Thumb, Geraniums Can Survive Anything, Tomorrow Is (For Now) Always Here, And If I Don’t Behave Then What... She received the Brücke Berlin Award, and Sterija Award and won Heartefact’s Competition for the Best Contemporary Full Feature Drama Text. Her plays were staged at Schauspiel Stuttgart, Kosmos Theater Wien, Cherry Arts Ithaca, read at New York Public Library, Théâtre du Nord, Deutsches Theater, and shortlisted for Theatertreffen Stückemarkt. In Germany, her plays are represented by Rowohlt Verlag.

Performance, installation, and movement artist and educator Joy Mariama Smith’s work focuses on issues related to visibility, projected identities, and self-representation in different contexts, and investigates the interplay between the body and its cultural, social, and physical environment. In their* dance, performances, and installations, they create spaces in which the distinction between spectator and participant becomes blurred and visitors are encouraged to reflect on how they deal with space. They teach at SNDO-School for New Dance Development, Academy of Theatre and Dance, Amsterdam. Their work has been performed internationally, including at Freedom of Movement, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2018; If I Can’t Dance Edition VI – Event and Duration, Amsterdam, 2016; SoLow Festival, Philadelphia, 2015; and Ponderosa, Stolzenhagen, 2013. Smith lives and works in The Hague.