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James McGinn’s ‘Ing an Die’ – An Open Source Encyclopedia of Movement

Written by: Sean Erwin
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Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera “Ing and Die.” Wesent him the questions and then he answered in an audio interview. During the interview he mulled the factors influencing the “shape shifting love story” of “Ing an Die,”coming to the Arsht center Friday and Saturday. With these performances, McGinn debuts this piece -- workshopped in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands -- for American audiences for the first time.

Could you give us a sense for what motivates you as a dancer and choreographer?

I am very interested in dance work that gets away from standardized systems of what dance is and what it’s supposed to look like, and I’m critical of its relationship to entertainment. By studying in Europe and the U.S., my influences are broad and varied.

Why this title, ‘Ing an Die,’ and to what does it refer?

I love this title so much becauseof its semiotic ambiguity. It doesn’t refer to anything directly or at least not to anything perceivable externally.

When I arrived in Belgium they asked me if I had a work to show, and so I worked up a version of this piece with my close friend and collaborator, Inga Huld Hákonardóttir. During rehearsals, I kept referring to it as “Inga and I.” At one point the title just naturally turned into “Ing an Die.”

So is the title just a play on sounds?

No, the title also has this double meaning of Ing as you find at the end of a verb like walk-ing, runn-ing, danc-ing. Let’s call it action-ingin general.

Putting that first allowed me to pose in the work the question – “Why am I putting all this effort into making dances, these things that are so ephemeral and require so much effort? Why spend a year working on a piece, do two shows and then never do it again?” This seemed crazy. And so that’s where the Die of the title seemed appropriate, because there is a kind of death connected to dance work that is specific to this specific activity. Action-ing and the death specific to dance activity is a big part of “Ing an Die.”

Also, it helped that the words looked German and seemed operatic.

You describe this as your operatic debut….

In fact “Ing an Die”is subverted opera.

How do you mean this?


Think about how opera is credited now – on the billing you see first the conductor and the director, then the singers and then maybe you have the names of some dancers. The hierarchy in contemporary opera is quite clear. Dance is pushed to the end and generally gets the shaft.

So, I posed myself the question – what would it mean for me to be working with opera where we flip the current hierarchy on its back? What would it mean to have an opera where dance and its mediums are carrying the work and all the other elements of the performance take that for their point of departure?

I felt the piece allowed me to critique the very operatic idea of the authentic genius maker and single author. In a sense the piece self-assembled and it wasn’t all about me and my personal questions.

One movement is set to music from the movie Inception and comes from the song, titled “Time.”Could you talk about the part this music in particular plays?

“Ing an Die” builds outwards from itself. I think Inception is a great movie and I needed something that was pretty cinematic. I use this music in Act III but I remixed it and looped it so the piece, which originally ran for three minutes,stretches out to 20 minutes.

Did you intend [to emphasize] the reference to time?

Yes. I was looking for something for Act III that creates a sense of a world moment and here the idea of time becomes prominent.

In “Ing an Die”Act I is entitled Form, Act II is entitled Fiction,and Act III is entitled, Fate.Form critiques a kind of hyper-elitist sense of high art. Fiction deals with the fictions of life, social constructions, performative gender and mainstream commercial systems. Act III deals with time and asks the question: do we have to have these power systems? Why are we still arguing over all this when we are faced by such exponential conflict in the world, whether violence from global warming or events like mass shootings.

However, don’t be mistaken – “Ing an Die” is not a platform for critiquing the current political situation, specific political parties nor does it forward some new ideology.

Act III deals with time because, let’s face it, I don’t think we have so much time and that’s really important to me.

James McGinn’s “Ing an Die” runs Friday and Saturdayat 7:30 pm in the Carnival Studio Theater, Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami 33132).Tickets are $40; 305-949-6722 or online at


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About The writer

Sean Erwin is a writer and assistant professor of Philosophy at Barry University, with a focus on aesthetics and contemporary french philosophy.
Sean Erwin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Barry University and received his Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy from Vanderbilt. He has presented and published on topics in political philosophy, Italian and French philosophy, and technology and performance studies. He currently serves as the senior editor of the Humanities and Technology Review.

Erwin is also a performance critic for Artburst, with performance previews and reviews appearing regularly there and in other South Florida publications. Artburst gives him the platform to critique the aesthetic principles he writes on as a professional philosopher through analysis of the concrete movements embodied by performers.

He is also an accomplished dancer and teacher in the Argentine Tango community. In 2000 he founded and served as editor of the Chicago webzine, Tango Noticias, a specialty dance periodical dedicated to examining Argentine Tango as a set of social practices rooted to the Southern cone’s history, politics, and culture.

Since his move to South Florida, he has both taught philosophy and served as a principal tango instructor for the Miami-based, Shimmy Club, a non-profit program that teaches Argentine Tango to vision-impaired teens. Through his involvement with the program, Erwin has been featured in articles and several news outlets including Univision, Telemundo, NBC News, KPFK Los Angeles, and the Miami Herald. For more information, see


About the Writer

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