New Cartographies: Mapping Identity Politics in Theatre and Dance

full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), Theatre Library Association (TLA), Congress on Research in Dance (CORD)
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Session Title:

New Cartographies: Mapping Identity Politics in Theatre and Dance

Session Leader(s):

Jocelyn L. Buckner, independent scholar,
Aimee Zygmonski, University of California, San Diego,

From musical theatre, vaudeville, cabaret, and revues that seemingly "require" dance, to "straight" plays and devised theatre, the incorporation of movement and dance into theatrical performance enhances relationships, defines characters, and establishes cultural parameters. Dance practitioners have in turn long drawn thematic inspiration from theatre, reimaging the narration of stories and the exploration of social issues through a kinetically based genre. Explorations of how performing bodies exhibit and code for various identity signifiers including race, class divisions, gender lines, dis/abilities, and sexual modifiers have never been more at the forefront of conversations in these related fields. The past few seasons on Broadway alone have served as an arena for boundary blending of theatre and dance in productions exploring individual and community identities. Bill T. Jones's Fela, the film-turned-musical Billy Elliot, the dancing set in Moisés Kaufman's 33 Variations', and Next to Normal's tightly choreographed neuroses are just a few recent examples which meld dance and theatre in performance. Likewise contemporary dance is infused with theatrical influence and reflections from American modern dance icon Paul Taylor's new work "Also Playing," a tribute to vaudeville artists which is part of his 2010 season, to American Ballet Theatre's take on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

This working session is devoted to exploratory creative projects, scholarship, or research based on contemporary and historical performances that examine or use dance in theatrical performance or the development of theatrical dance to address issues of identity politics. Ideally, participants will represent a variety of specialization areas in theatre or dance and offer varying perspectives on the physical in performance, addressing theoretical, critical, or practical treatment of identity politics in performance. Race, class, gender, and sexuality as mapped upon the body heightens the societal perception of identity in its starkest form: a being moving through space, offering up his/her physical self as conduit, expanding the boundaries of traditional performance.

Questions to consider include, but are not limited to:
•How does the power of the corporeal used by playwrights, directors, choreographers, designers, and performers communicate, contain, celebrate, or complicate popular stereotypes?
•What cultural assumptions or personal/political identities transfer from the moving body to the scripted word to the awaiting audience?
•How does the negotiation of the political become powerful through dance? Through theatre? Through the deployment of the tandem workings of both?
•What are some inherent problems or limitations to the overlap in these fields?
•How does new media and technology foster or limit these tenuous theatre/dance partnerships?
•How are the geographical boundaries crossed or cultural road maps re-drawn in the intersections of dance and theatre performance and scholarship?
•How can artists and scholars encourage further interdisciplinary exchanges between theatre and dance to investigate pressing social issues?

We encourage participants from all areas, including scholars, artists, presenters, and critics. Applicants should submit a 500 word abstract and brief bio to the session leaders via email by May 31, 2010. Selected participants will then circulate a 10-15 page paper about their topic within the group prior to the ASTR conference. Participants will be paired by the group conveners to provide focused, specific pre-conference feedback to 2-3 other participants via email. Pre-conference exchanges will establish the foundation for more in-depth conversations during the two hour working group session. During the conference participants will engage in a roundtable discussion that may include small group break out sessions; opportunities to share brief demonstrations of performance techniques or designs, archival materials, or other visual examples of issues of representation that are not able to be circulated prior to the conference; as well as debate about the intersections of theatre and dance and the future of their relationship as separate yet related fields. General guidelines for working sessions and participants are at: