- The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater ed. by Nadine George-Graves
Focused, sustained attention to how distinctions between dance and theatre clarify or obfuscate disciplinary boundaries is overdue, as these disciplines adjust to interdisciplinary research trajectories and initiatives across the higher education landscape, particularly in the United States. Artistic practices have long been "postdramatic"; so too do our scholarship and teaching reflect and generate an intermixing of critical approaches and aesthetics across performance genres. Yet unproductive silos continue to isolate scholars and artists considered, as Nadine George-Graves terms them in her introduction to the substantial and excellent Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater, "too dance for theater, too theater for dance" (1). George-Graves provocatively proposes that thinking and doing across dance and theatre may in fact be disciplinary rather than interdisciplinary, if we are to conceptualize, as this collection does, the discipline of embodied performing arts in terms of "performative embodiment as a negotiation of power dynamics" (5).
Although the entire collection is well worth exploring and has much to offer to scholars, teachers, and practitioners alike, space limitations preclude reference to many of the forty-four contributors by name. Instead, I reference especially compelling chapters from a range of scholarly concerns. George-Graves has divided this behemoth into ten sections: "In Theory/In Practice," "Genus (Parts I and II)," "Historiographical Presence and Absence," "Place, Space, and Landscape," "Affect, Somatics, and Cognition," "Unruly Bodies," "Biopolitics," "National Scales and Mass Movements," and "Infection." One of the collection's strengths is its deliberately global and temporal scope; chapters range from classical Rome to the contemporary moment, and address a remarkably global set of sites. Its organization by thematic concern welcomes a capacious range of scholarly expertise, while [End Page 140] avoiding disciplinary divides. For example, "Biopolitics" includes research on Chinese opera (Daphne Lei), Nicaraguan dance drama (E.J. Westlake), Afro-Puerto Rican bomba (Jade Y. Power-Sotomayor), and the Lindy Hop in Harlem nightclubs (William Given). But in a collection this large, there are many more resonances, groupings, and tensions available for the reader and, due to its largely rigorous, engrossing contents, picking your way through at random will also not disappoint.
One of George-Graves's most timely correctives is her claim that though "the genre buzz around contemporary performance may lead one to believe that this is a historic moment of convergence," in actuality "dance and theater have met in many important ways historically and globally…there are aesthetics that not only resist the separation between dance and theater but also never accepted it" (3). Erika T. Lin examines one such historical moment, Morris dancing within the 1621 drama The Witch of Edmonton, via its contemporary understanding of dance and theatre as interanimating in "festive performance" (336). V.K. Preston's analysis of the "first" ballet, Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx's 1582 Balet comique de la Royne, is a detailed, compelling example of how we might approach the archive, having discarded disciplinary distinctions, offering the energizing question, "[w]hat do we make of unfamiliar notions of performance and performativity in the historical past—ones whose conceptions of doing defamiliarize media in the present?" (57).
Unfamiliar notions of performance in the past can become so as a result of forgetting, erasure, or both. Odai Johnson's analysis of fourth century Roman mimes (whose art blends dance and theatre) deals with a rising Christianity's forceful erasure of the pagan memories housed in mimes' "bodysites" (325), whereas Thomas Postlewait's historiographical exploration of the dwarf masque performer Jeffrey Hudson places responsibility for Hudson's erasure squarely on theatre historians. Postlewait persuasively claims that Hudson's dwarfism has allowed scholars to "tur[n] away from him because we can see and identify him without difficulty," thus "confin[ing] Hudson within the 'embodied' categories of dwarf, freak, amateur, and child performer" (626-627). Contributions by Marlis Schweitzer ("Salomania"), Lisa Doolittle and Anne Flynn (indigenous Canadian dance in the colonial period), and Anita Gonzalez (nineteenth-century transatlantic maritime performance), among others, further elucidate the unfamiliarity of the past's performances, and...