A summary of the 2017-18 Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies appears in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ annual newsletter.
The Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies 2017-2018
“Mediations of Movement: Theorizing Dance on Screen”
By Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities 2016 – 2018
Now in its fourth year, the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies is a yearlong lecture series that brings together scholars, practitioners, and community members to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to dance practice and research. The Colloquium privileges multiple perspectives and approaches to studying dance, whether through embodied practice, performance, ethnography, historical research, movement/choreographic analysis, or cultural and social theory. At each meeting, a guest scholar or scholar-practitioner presents his or her work, followed by discussions with discussants and audience members. 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 2017–2018 Colloquium, I have collaborated with Professor Usha Iyer (Film and Media Studies, Department of Art and Art History, Stanford) to curate this year’s theme around Mediations of Movement: Theorizing Dance on Screen. Screendance studies has emerged as an exciting discipline within both dance studies and film and media studies and calls attention to the long history of engagement between dance, cinema, and other moving media. Throughout the academic year, we invited three scholars and scholar-practitioners who framed the theoretical and historical questions around screendance studies and its relevance for the study of dance, film, media, art, and performance.
The Colloquium’s November event featured this year’s inaugural speaker, Douglas Rosenberg (Professor and Chair of the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), who presented a lecture entitled “Hiding in Plain Site: Screendance Histories and the Expanded Imagination.” Rosenberg is a founding figure of the sub-discipline of screendance studies and is founding editor of The International Journal of Screendance, author of Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image, and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Screendance Studies. Opening this year’s Colloquium series with Rosenberg’s lecture, which drew a historical arc between dance and sequential images from the earliest days of photography, helped broadly frame the field of screendance studies for our audience and for the remainder of this year’s events. Rosenberg insists that “screendance is perhaps the most invasive of all arts species; it has been hiding in plain ‘site’ since well before there was a critical mass of interest in the form, even before it was named as such.”
In February, Harmony Bench (Assistant Professor of Dance at Ohio State University) presented a lecture entitled “Kinesthetic and Cinesthetic Affectivity: Moving and Being Moved by Dance Onscreen,” followed by discussant remarks by Jennifer DeVere Brody (TAPS Professor and Chair of CCSRE, Stanford). Bench’s research is focused on encounters between bodies and machine or media technologies. She is co-editor of The International Journal of Screendance, and her projects include a manuscript in process entitled Dance as Common: Movement as Belonging in Digital Cultures and a digital humanities project on the performance engagements of early 20th-century dance companies entitled Mapping Touring. Her Colloquium presentation focused on the short video Color of Reality (2016), directed by Jon Boogz with visual art by Alexa Meade and dancing by Boogz and Lil Buck. Drawing from the interdisciplinary fields of screendance studies, cinema and media studies, feminist theory, dance studies, and black cultural criticism, Bench’s lecture articulated the “role of kinesthetic (movement of the body) and cinesthetic (movement of the screened image) affectivity in dance onscreen.” Through her analysis of Color of Reality, Bench insisted that the video and its dancing address anti-black violence in ways that pushes against universalizing theories of kinesthetic empathy and affect, and instead invite viewers to watch and think alongside dance in ways that do not “attempt to resolve gaps in understanding, but rather creates a space of ethical encounter across difference.”
In May, the Colloquium welcomed Ida Meftahi (Visiting Assistant Professor at the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, University of Maryland), who presented a lecture entitled “The Bio-Political Economy of the Reel Cabaret Dancer in Twentieth-Century Iran.” Drawing from her historiographical and ethnographic study of dance in Iran, Meftahi’s lecture interrogated the social narratives surrounding the cabaret dancer in pre-1979 Revolution commercial cinema in Iran. In doing so, Meftahi traced how the cinematic cabaret dancer becomes a site for Pahlavi-era (1926-1979) biopolitics in Iran, particularly those related to “urban transformation, socio-economics of the popular stage, the formation of cultural and racial categories, and ideological discourses on public performance.”
During Meftahi’s visit, I organized a roundtable discussion entitled “Contemporary Scholarship on Dance & Dancers in/from Iran,” featuring presentations by and a discussion between scholars Anthony Shay, Ida Meftahi, and myself, followed by a performance of classical and contemporary Iranian dance by local dancer-choreographer Aisan Hoss. Iranian dance genres and Iranian dancers are gaining increasing attention among scholars and audiences in North America and Europe as Iranian dancers have begun to increasingly circulate among transnational dance circuits and social media over the past ten years. Historically and today, dance in Iran and its diaspora has been a site for the projection and production of a wide range of ideologies and discourses, such as those surrounding: gender and sexuality, modernity, nationalism, religion/secularism, high art/low art, Orientalism and auto-Orientalism, cultural preservation, resistance, neoliberalism, immigration, and citizenship. This roundtable featured the work of three scholars who have contributed to the growing yet understudied field of research on dance and dancers in/from Iran. Anthony Shay (Professor of Dance and Cultural Studies in the Theatre and Dance Department of Pomona College) is a preeminent scholar on Iranian dance whose prolific research has been foundational to the field; his 1999 book Choreophobia: Solo Improvised Dance in the Iranian World is the first scholarly monograph on social and staged dance in the Iranian world, and has been invaluable to scholars and dancers alike. Ida Meftahi (Visiting Assistant Professor at the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, University of Maryland) has produced rigorous historiographical research on dance in 20th and 21st century Iran and has made major contributions to the field, particularly her 2016 monograph Gender and Dance in Modern Iran: Biopolitics on Stage, which draws from a wide range of methodologies and archives to construct the most comprehensive view on dance in Iran to date. My research builds on the work of these two scholars to analyze the politics of dance in the Iranian diaspora, particularly as they relate to the contemporary Euro-American geopolitics of neoliberalism, immigration, and citizenship.
The Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies is sponsored by the Mellon “Dance Studies in/and the Humanities” initiative and is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This year, we are grateful for the support of several Stanford programs, centers, and departments. 2017-2018 co-sponsors include the Office of the Vice President for the Arts; Stanford Humanities Center; the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity; Stanford Global Studies; the Clayman Institute for Gender Research; the Department of Theater & Performance Studies; the Film & Media Studies Program – Department of Art History; Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies; and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.
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, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities 2016 – 2018
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.”