- Imaging Dance: Visual Representations of Dancers and Dancing Edited by Barbara Sparti and Judy Van Zile
This book, on dance from around the globe and over time, begins with an evocative introduction on the differing relationship that visual imagery can have with the actual performance, pointing out that although it is commonly believed that the images record actual dance, this is not always the case. Reading this book is like wandering through an exhibit that brings together dance images from across the globe with an authoritative dance scholar at your elbow to point out where the artist follows nature or takes fanciful flight. This melding of art historical and performance practice expertise might be an evocative model for theatre scholars to follow: “Imaging Asian Theatre” might be an equally useful book.
Here I will only consider the essays that deal with material that relates to Asia or the Pacific. Judy Van Zile’s “Do Artists Renderings Conceal or Reveal? Images of Dance in Korea” (pp. 35–52) is both an enlightening overview of how Korean scholars have viewed dance images as verifiable historical record and how the visual evidence may not validate this. She shows where an image has been borrowed from one scroll and repeated in another, implying that the artists probably did not work from life but from previous artistic representations. She also carefully discusses representations of the dance of “Ch’ŏyongmu,” an intangible cultural asset and one of the oldest and, presumably, most unchanging of the court dances. She shows the differences between current movements from the scroll images; for example, the dance is largely [End Page 322] done in group unison, but in the image two dancers move in one pattern and two others have a different gesture. She notes an inordinate number of left-handed musicians on one side of the images, and extra figures around the “Ch’ŏyongmu” dancers that are not in the current choreography. Van Zile’s careful discussion of dance images from a variety of sources convinces us that the visuals represent “the atmosphere of both the dances and the event” but the “images both reveal and conceal” (p. 48). We should not expect exact documentations.
Arzu Öztürkmen (pp. 77–86) discusses the imagery of dancing boys and grotesque fools in Ottoman imperial festival depictions. He points out that scholars like Metin And have glossed these images as depicting reality, but without giving real citation of evidence from historical sources. The author here combines accounts from early European travelers’ journals with images in miniatures from imperial festival books. Öztürkmen notes that the dance image is often conventionalized. There are adolescent dancing boys (köçeks), comic and grotesque dancers (soytaris and curcunabaz), and security guards (tulumcus) who controlled the crowd with ribald humor. The author finds that the imagery gives us little information about the actual dances. Although there are some parallels found in contemporary belly dance or clowning movements, nationalism rather than real evidence causes contemporary writers to posit continuities (p. 85).
Adrienne Kaeppler, by contrast, argues that the images of Pacific dance by selected Western artists give significant movement information. She points out some artists give only fanciful representations (for example, showing Giovanni Cipriani’s circa 1772 image that takes the composition of Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring and imposes it on a group of Tahitian dancers). But she gives high praise to the more documentary artists (for example, John Webber [1751–1793], official artist of Captain Cook’s third voyage). Kaeppler also shows that the careful artists did not necessarily document a specific moment in time. She argues that Webber, for example, takes some different iconic moments within a dance and combines them in one image “capturing a movement through time” (p. 94). Kaeppler discusses the images, the journals from the voyage that noted dance events, and Pacific Island dances as we know them today, especially in Tahiti and Tonga. The essay also discusses...