- World Dance Cultures: From Ritual to Spectacle by Patricia Leigh Beaman
World Dance Cultures: From Ritual to Spectacle is the first monograph by Patricia Leigh Beaman, artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University and visiting associate artist at New York University's Tisch Department of Dance. With a focus on non-Western cultural traditions, Beaman presents a rich set of introductory materials on twenty-seven dance cultures. Though written as an undergraduate textbook, World Dance Cultures, with its accessible language and carefully chosen illustrations, also appeals to general readers. Given that more than half of the dance cultures featured in the text originate in Asia and the Pacific islands, the book can also serve as a starting point of research for Asian performance scholars.
Beaman does not uphold a rigid definition of dance when choosing what to include in the book. In the introduction, Beaman elucidates her selection criteria as "the fragility of cultural traditions, and in some heartening instances, their resilience, is an important theme throughout this introductory textbook, which delves into the historical, political, economic, and artistic factors that shaped both these cultures and their dances" (p. xviiii). Beaman's selection criteria lead to both the book's strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, her emphasis on the fragility and resilience of cultural traditions guides readers to appreciate the dance forms in their own contexts. On the other hand, her stress on the obstacles that a dance overcomes in its development sometimes hinders a balanced depiction of the art form's cultural background.
The book discusses a variety of Asian theatre, dance, and performance forms. The first chapter discusses the Indian dance forms Bharatanatyam and Kathak and dance theatre Kathakali. Chapter Two, titled "Bali and Java: from Temple, to Village, to Court," looks at the baris, sanghyang, and legong dance in Bali, Balinese dance theatre calonarang, and Javanese dance bedhaya. The next chapter, "Cambodia and China: Dance as a Political Tool," introduces Cambodia's robam boran, China's jingju, and model opera The Red Detachment of Women. Zooming in on Japan, chapter 4 examines noh, kabuki, and butoh. The following chapter takes readers to the pacific islands for the Hula kahiko in Hawai'i, the Māori haka, and the gisalo ceremony practiced in Papua New Guinea. Further chapters include dance and performance forms from Africa, North Africa, Turkey, Spain, and the Americas.
World Dance Cultures has many helpful features for classroom use. Beaman's thoughtful way of structuring each chapter ensures that students treat each art form not as an amalgamation of techniques but [End Page 250] an expression of its culture. Instead of delving right into the specificities, each chapter starts with a map of the region and an overview that summarizes the discussion to come. After the overview, each section then tackles one particular form of dance. Using subheadings throughout these sections, Beaman makes sure to introduce major sociopolitical events, key figures, and culture-specific concepts before addressing the form's techniques, training, costume, and makeup. For instance, an account of kathak's history, including its emergence in the Mughal Empire, the prejudices that practitioners faced in the British Raj, and the form's resuscitation during the nationalist movement, precedes an examination of kathak's technical aspects. Beaman ends her discussion of each form with a subsection titled "Current trends," informing students of the recent development of the form and, if applicable, major practitioners on the domestic and international stage.
World Dance Cultures includes multiple types of materials that facilitate teaching and student engagement. Color photographs are scattered throughout the book. To spark in-depth discussions, Beaman from time to time adds pertinent quotes and case studies ("Women in noh," for instance, pp. 97–98). To provide students with different perspectives, some chapters include excerpts of first-hand experience of the dances written by practitioners or researchers (e.g., "Mediating Cambodian History, the Sacred, and the Earth" by cultural anthropologist Toni Shapiro-Phim, p. 75). Instructors can find discussion questions both at the end of each section...