A summary of the 2016-17 Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies appears in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ annual newsletter. It can be viewed online here. The text appears below.
The Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies 2016–2017
“Dance on the Move: Migration, Border Zones, and Citizenship”
By Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh
Now in its third year, the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies is a yearlong series of lectures and performances that brings together scholars, practitioners, and community members to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to dance practice and research. As the 2016–2018 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities, I have had the distinct pleasure to build on the Colloquium programming that the previous fellows Joanna Dee Das (2014–2015) and Rachel Carrico (2015–2016) had developed under the guidance of Professor Janice Ross. For the 2016–2017 Colloquium, I have curated events around the theme “Dance on the Move: Migration, Border Zones, and Citizenship.” This year’s Colloquium has featured interdisciplinary scholars and scholar-practitioners whose work engages with dance performance and practice as sites for examining the mobilities/immobilities that shape/are shaped by transnational migration and citizenship. The performances, lectures, and discussions have examined how (im)migrant bodies—as subjects constructed through political-economic power relations of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and religion—negotiate, contest, and affirm experiences of belonging/unbelonging in daily life and artistic practice across diverse geographical sites.
The framing questions that have guided our discussions include: How can dance—as theory, method, performance, practice, and an object of analysis—generate critical insight into experiences of in/voluntary migration and the subjectivities that emerge from them? What conditions of migration, borders, and citizenship produce certain dance forms and certain dancing bodies, historically and today? How do border technologies regulate the movement of bodies and how do dancing bodies intervene in the constructions of borders? What are the affective and material economies within which migrant dancing bodies circulate? How does the study of migration help us think about embodiment, spatiality, temporality, and visuality differently?
In November 2016, Dr. Adanna K. Jones (Visiting Faculty in Dance at Stanford Fall 2016) delivered a lecture entitled “Finding Intimacy at the Borders of Fatalism: When Winin’ Becomes a Crime Scene.” Through an examination of the dance form winin’, Dr. Jones explored how contested forms of pleasure and violence were performed at the 2016 pre-Carnival J’Ouvert festivities in Brooklyn, NY. Specifically, she examined how winin’ techniques of rolling one’s hips and backside assert claims on (diasporic) space as laboring dancing bodies navigate politics of pleasure, gun-violence, anti-blackness, and U.S. state policing. Dr. Jones argued that winers’ bodily enactments of pleasure and intimacy in the face of violence at the 2016 J’Ouvert disrupt constructions of blackness as fatalistic and enact performances of (trans)nationhood and belonging.
Dancer-scholar Cynthia Ling Lee (Assistant Professor of Dance at University of California, Santa Cruz) presented a lecture-performance in December 2016 of her newest solo show, blood run. Lee’s presentation interwove live and recorded spoken theorization, audience participation, video projections, and performed excerpts of her dance work. Through her multimodal piece, Lee investigated the political and personal histories of her Han Chinese colonizer and Taiwanese plains indigenous heritage. Her dancing, theorizing, and speaking body at once queried the erasures of embodied histories while drawing attention to what cannot be fully reclaimed, ultimately asking: “What is the difference between an immigrant and a colonizer? How do the colonizer and colonized live inside the same body? When does survival require disappearance?”
In February 2017, the Colloquium welcomed Dr. Jade Power Sotomayor (Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts, University of Washington, Bothell), who presented a performance ethnography-lecture entitled “The Fandango Fronterizo: Moving Borders and Son Jarocho’s Speaking and Space-Making Bodies.” The Fandango Fronterizo is an annual bi-national son jarocho music and dance event that takes place on both sides of the San Ysidro/Tijuana U.S.-Mexico border. Through a rigorous engagement with indigenous scholarship on embodied sovereignty, Dr. Power Sotomayor theorized the dancing that occurs at the Fandango Fronterizo as political gestures of embodied music-making that intervene in the colonial construction of borders. She argued that the cross-border convivencia (coexistence) that is materialized through song and the embodied music making of dancing enacts “de-colonizing performatics.” Dr. Power Sotomayor closed her lecture with critical questions about how diasporic fandangueros construct mexicanidad or chicanidad through simultaneous incorporation and erasure of blackness, which she argues constructs identity borders even while intervening in national borders.
In March 2017, the Colloquium featured a collaborative performance by Drs. Priya Srinivasan, Natalie Zervou, and Hannah Schwadron entitled What’s Left – Stories of Movement and Migration. Dr. Priya Srinivasan is an Australian-based dance scholar, performer, and author of Sweating Saris: Indian Dance as Transnational Labor (2012). Dr. Natalie Zervou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and will become an Assistant Professor of Dance there in January 2018. Dr. Hannah Schwadron is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Florida State University and author of the forthcoming book, The Case of the Sexy Jewess: Dance, Gender and Jewish Joke-work in US Pop Culture. As an international, multimedia collaboration, these three dancer-scholars developed What’s Left over Skype, phone, and I-phone FaceTime leading up to their live performance at our Colloquium event. Their modes of performance and engagement involved structured improvisation, playback dance, postmodern storytelling, and audience interaction. Drawing attention to the crisis of moving bodies across borders, What’s Left employed the framing questions: “Which bodies get to move and when? Whose stories are told and how? What gets left behind?” While physically and narratively playing with different temporal registers (mythological time, historical time, the present, and the future), Drs. Srinivasan, Zervou, and Schwadron investigated personal and collective stories of movement and in/voluntary migration, ultimately mining the hauntings and pleasures embedded within their own embodied memories.
In April 2017, the Colloquium welcomed Dr. Anusha Kedhar (Assistant Professor of Dance, Colorado College), who presented a performative lecture entitled “Dancing the Global Intimate: Transnational Indian Dancers and the Mobility and Immobility of Flexible Labor.” Based on Dr. Kedhar’s ethnographic fieldwork with South Asian dancers in London and Bangalore, the lecture highlighted the frictions between neoliberal economic ideologies (which privilege the flow of capital and laboring bodies) and British citizenship (which, with increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and the tightening of visa laws, halts certain migrant flows). Dr. Kedhar examined how, in response to this friction, some migrant Indian dancers employ the “dancerly tactics [of] de-centering, re-routing, stretching” in order to navigate the British dance labor market, migration, personal and familial relationships, and the moves required to build and sustain dance careers among a “racialized and uneven global political economy that seeks to restrict and regulate their movements at every step.”
The year’s final Colloquium event in May 2017 brought Dr. Nilgun Bayraktar, Assistant Professor of Film History, Theory & Criticism, California College of the Arts, and author of Mobility and Migration in Film and Moving Image Art: Cinema Beyond Europe (2016). Dr. Bayraktar presented a lecture entitled “Performing Non-belonging and Displacement: Representing Refugee Experiences in Contemporary Screen Art” in which she analyzed two video-art works: British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien’s Western Union: Small Boats (2007) and Turkish artist Halil Altindere’s Homeland (2015). Specifically, she examined how these two video-art works’ respective contemporary dance and music video aesthetics represent refugee narratives, experiences, and bodies. Dr. Bayraktar argued that Julien and Altindere’s video-art works effectively utilize dancing bodies to disrupt the discursive and visual economies that construct undocumented migrants and refugees as “invaders,” “criminals,” or “victims.”
In addition to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, several academic programs and centers at Stanford have enthusiastically co-sponsored the Colloquium this year: Stanford Humanities Center, Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford Global Studies, Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Center for South Asia, Center for Latin American Studies, and Stanford’s Feminisms & Queerings working group. The Colloquium has also received administrative support from the Department of Theater and Performance Studies.
A summary of the 2015-16 Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies appears in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ annual newsletter. It can be viewed on Scribd here. The text appears below.
Thank you to all of the inspiring scholars and artists who came to Stanford to share their work, and to all of those who showed up to support it and engage with it.
Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies: Dance, Racism, and Resistance
By Rachel Carrico
As the 2015-16 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities, I assumed the responsibility of organizing the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies. Last year, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Joanna Dee Das inaugurated this guest speaker series in the Dance Division. Building on that strong foundation, and with additional support from Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, I organized this year’s series around the theme of “Dance, Racism, and Resistance.” The meetings provided thoughtful spaces to engage with research at the intersection of critical race studies and dance studies. I invited scholars and choreographers working in the Bay Area and beyond to share new work and to reflect upon seldom-told histories with students and faculty from Stanford and nearby institutions, and with interested listeners from Stanford’s surrounding communities.
In January, Imani Kai Johnson, Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of California-Riverside, delivered a lecture entitled “The Global Cypher? Black Sociality, Soulful Allies, and a Truly Global Culture.” Dr. Johnson shared new work that she is developing for her book manuscript, Dark Matter in B-Boying Cyphers. By showing video of the 2006 “Battle of the Year” in Germany, Johnson showed us how b-boying takes shape in global arenas, and by playing audio clips of her interview with prominent b-girl Rockafella, she revealed the racial, national, and gendered tensions that exist amongst breakers who both celebrate and feel anxious about b-boying’s global spread. In this new writing, Johnson suggested that when Africanist aesthetics motivate dancing in the cypher—when dancers respond to rhythm, connect to the collective, and build on repetitions—black social values persist even when non-black people break.
Clare Croft, Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Michigan, visited the Colloquium in February to talk about her recently published book, Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreographers in Cultural Exchange (Oxford 2015). Croft reflected on her process of researching the book both in archives and through interviews. She suggested how the dance scholar can (and often should) center race in research agendas, especially when racism is not flagrant. Speaking of the “mundaneness” of bureaucracies like the State Department, Croft teased out the ways in which racism lives in arts policy and impacts dancers’ daily practices. She recounted moments when her research uncovered bureaucratic biases— in State Department notes on Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham—and instances of everyday oppression—when interviewing Arthur Mitchell. Croft concluded with a sneak peek into the ways that she is centering race in her new research on dance critic and lesbian activist Jill Johnston.
The month of March featured two guests. On March 1, Latanya d. Tigner, a choreographer with the Oakland-based Dimensions Dance Theater (DDT), discussed the company’s “Legacy of Staged Protest.” Since 1973, DDT has been making dances that emerge from socially and politically charged events throughout the African Diaspora. Tigner’s presentation allowed us to view rarely seen footage of DDT’s early works—in fact, we dusted off the VCR for the occasion! Tigner showed and discussed excerpts from To March (1992), which highlights women’s experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, and Project Panther: Phase I (1996), which honors the Black Panther’s activism in Oakland. Tigner discussed the company’s current process to recreate Project Panther in honor of the Panthers’ forty-year anniversary. Finally, we saw a piece of DDT’s recent work, The Town on Notice (2015), which looks at Oakland’s gentrification. In a mere ninety minutes, Tigner provided an inspirational model for dance and social change by sharing the ways in which DDT has been combating racism through dance in the Bay Area for more than forty years.
Later in the month, the Colloquium welcomed Anthea Kraut, a distinguished scholar in the field of dance, to share material from her hot-off-the-presses book, Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property in American Dance (Oxford 2016). Kraut, an Associate Professor and Chair of the Dance Department at the University of California-Riverside, began her talk where her book ends: with Beyoncé Knowles’ 2011 music video, “Countdown.” From Beyoncé to blackface minstrel performer Johnny Hudgins to Gypsy chorus girl Faith Danes, Kraut traced the history of efforts to assert copyright protection for choreography in the United States and teased apart their raced and gendered politics. While Kraut confessed that she can make no definitive recommendations for revising copyright laws, she can firmly stand behind Beyoncé for flipping the script that has long authorized white artists to take from non-white and “high art” to borrow from “low.”
Umi Vaughan closed out this year’s Colloquium with a multimedia performance-lecture in the Prosser Theater entitled “Drum Talk, Rebel Dance.” Vaughan, an anthropologist at Cal State Monterey Bay and an accomplished drummer, dancer and photographer, combined all of his talents to share his research into music and dance in the African Diaspora. Given Vaughan’s extensive anthropological research in Cuba, his presentation proved timely as we think about the role of dance in mediating the rapidly shifting contours of U.S.-Cuba relations.
The 2015-16 Colloquium built on the momentum generated last year to establish a “Dance Studies West” cohort. With the support of multiple centers across Stanford’s campus, and through collaborations with UC Berkeley’s Dance Studies Working Group, the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies continues to generate enthusiasm for the relevance of dance to the humanities and social sciences. As one undergraduate Stanford dancer expressed, “I am so incredibly thankful to be able to participate in this programming” because, for her, it made links between “physical movement and social movements, between race and the history of dance.”