EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Dance, Europe and the ethnographic encounter

Location Wills 3.30
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Georgiana Gore (University of Clermont Auvergne) email
Andree Grau (University of Roehampton) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop considers dance as a privileged site for the creative interchange between the global and the local and explores through ethnographic encounters the transnational circulation of choreographic cultures.

Long Abstract

Dance, with its polysemic nature, is a privileged site in which to explore the creative interchange between the global and the local. Often transnational, dance fosters exchanges of aesthetic sensitivities and canons, and creates a context for the transposition of the institutions and the social conventions that frame it. The relationships provoked by these encounters vary, entailing parity, asymmetry, ambivalence or coercion. Europe is both a site of global dancing experiences and the exporter of imperialising strategies with far-reaching effects on local dance forms in all quarters of the world, including its own margins. Art dance provides salient examples of transnational circulation. The ballet masters and dancers of the 18th century crisscrossed Europe and the dasi attam dancers the subcontinent, as part of the dowry of Indian princesses in medieval times. Indian 'bayadères' performed in Paris and London in the early 1830s. By the 21st century Art dance had become a quasi-global movement. Popular/folk forms also have transnational trajectories. By the late 19th century influences from around the globe had appeared within the popular dance scene, from the 'chanteuses/danseuses épileptiques' inspired by Charcot's hysteric patients and by the Africans and black Americans presented in Paris and other capitals as Phenomena, to the many danseurs exotiques in music halls. In the 21st century Bollywood dancing has flourished beyond the confines of the subcontinent and the south Asian Diaspora. World dance and music festivals abound, as do regional and national celebrations of heritage, entailing both conformity to eurocentrically defined standards of correct performance but also creative hybrid innovations resisting the sanitisation of dance. We invite presentations that explore and demonstrate, through particular ethnographic encounters, the ability of dance to accommodate, through bricolage, diverse cultural elements, contexts and time frames.


Authenticity, appropriation and innovation in the circulation of danced knowledge

Author: Brenda Farnell (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores conditions under which danced knowledge circulates between cultural contexts. It asks, when does cultural borrowing become appropriation? What are the politics of "authenticity" involved? When is it a factor, and to whom does it matter? And what asymmetries of power are at work that determine or undermine ownership and rights to embodied knowledge in the global flow of ideas? Ethnographic examples are drawn from the imposition of Western "folklorization" strategies onto Ghanaian and Senegalese village dances for consumption on the international stage, and the import of Japanese and Chinese cultural elements into a contemporary choreographic work by New York choreographer Robert Wood, commissioned by the Florence Dance Company, Italy.

Negotiating changes in the context of Odissi dance in India

Author: Barbara Curda (Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand)  email
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Long Abstract

The dance form Odissi, projected as cultural heritage from the Indian state Orissa, is in its definition itself bound to a specific territory. Yet since what has been called its "revival" in the context of post-Independence India, dancers, dance teachers & choreographers have been spreading this form in diverse urban centres, amongst different sections of society, multiplying changes according to the diverse environments they evolved in. Certain factors, for example the dancer's/ choreographer's eagerness to perform 'abroad', and the increasing presence of white, yellow & other 'other' learners of the dance, suggest that 'the West' is important to the Odissi world.

Despite the diversity of actors, issues emerge around the concept of 'preserving tradition'. Independently from individual aspirations or activities, specific aspects of a person's identity open certain avenues rather than others, & contribute to this tension field.

By examining encountered situations, this paper proposes to question the individual's contribution to this reality through the particularity of the researcher's position, looking at her as a person acting on & being acted upon by 'the community'. How is the process of knowledge production influenced by her integration into the group, & diverse aspects of her multifaceted identity?

'A mi cielo': Japanese flamenco students in Sevilla, Spain

Author: Yolanda van Ede (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in Sevilla, Andalusia, this paper presents an exploration of the methodological differences in learning flamenco dance between Spanish flamenco students and teachers, and Japanese students; and some mutual misunderstanding based on these differences.

With a shared history of more than three decades, about 650 flamenco schools in Japan today, and an estimated 80.000 Japanese aficionados, a 'Japanese flamenco' (furamenko) has emerged. Critics and performers, Spanish and Japanese, acknowledge the Japanese variation as a distinct style. WHAT turns a style different is too often imbedded in moral discussions; particular within the flamenco discourse of 'rootedness', jondo, and puro. Instead, I argue that style is a performative competence, a practical kind of knowledge focusing on HOW. Only by taking style as its method, and not as its commonsensical opposition to content, the 'what' (and 'why') of Japanese flamenco can be understood. This approach avoids the ongoing (un)ethical-aesthetical discussions that miss flamenco's global development as a 'world music', an understanding of its universal appeal, and its local 'appropriations'.

In investigating the employed methods of both instruction and acquirement, (an anthropology of) the senses show to be at the heart of aesthetic valuations and of dominant learning systems in Spain and Japan.

Religious dogma or political agenda? Bharatanatyam and its re-emergence in Tamil temples

Author: Ann R. David (University of Roehampton)  email
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Long Abstract

In UK Tamil temples, the increasing religiosity and sacrility of temple ritual alongside a growth of Bharatanatyam dance performance presents a new discourse of performed Tamil Hinduism. Are these spectacles of specific 'faith' confirming a uniquely Tamil identity, or are such contemporary practices an ironic reversal to the times of the devadasis (original temple dancers)? What perceptions of the dance are held by devotees, priests, performers? What are the political implications of these resurgent religious sensibilities and do they support a 'globalized localism' (Waghorne 2004), where local, once-rural practices are being exported throughout the Tamil diaspora?

This paper, using evidence from ethnographic work in London Tamil temples and local Tamil communities, seeks to answer these questions in order to gain an understanding of the place of dance in defining religious identity. It too interrogates whether changes in temple and ritual practices and their accompanying dance forms are aspects of expressive culture that reaffirm, or 'perform' faith, or whether they are being expressed in relation to a growing Hindu scriptualism and a dominant religious nationalism.

Waghorne, J. P. (2004). Diaspora of the Gods. Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World. Oxford and New York, OUP.

In search of a new femininity: Oriental dance in Stockholm

Author: Karin Högström (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will focus the Oriental and Egyptian dance in Stockholm in relation to the unsettling or reinforcing of established understandings of the feminine, the masculine, the Swedish and the foreign.

Oriental dance (Middle Eastern Dance) is becoming increasingly popular all over the World, not least in Europe. I will discuss the practice and understanding of oriental dance in Sweden using ethnographic examples from two different schools of oriental dance in Stockholm. A majority of the dancers are of Swedish descent, and many of well educated middle class.

Choreographical creativity and the ability or ambition to accommodate diverse cultural elements will be related to the dancers' understanding of authenticity and their relationship to the Oriental "Other". I will also discuss the oriental dance in relation to the wider social context of contemporary Stockholm, and the search for a new female embodied subjectivity that motivates many of the Swedish performers of oriental dance.

The school labelling itself Oriental Dance is similar to traditional "belly dance", and looks to modern Middle East for inspiration. The Swedish dancers strive to use movements and attributes that would be recognized in Cairo or Beirut. The performers of the Egyptian Dance have, on the other hand, transformed not only the movements of the traditional oriental dance, but also the dancer's expression, attitude, costume and attributes. Most important to these dancers is not trying to make a performance similar to dance in contemporary or historical Egypt, but the dancer's ability to express the music and herself as an individual. In experimental performances the "Egyptian" dancers of Stockholm create hybrid forms that combine elements of dance, music and attributes in new ways. The "Oriental" dancers of Stockholm, by contrast, typically use established choreographical forms for oriental dancing.

Local dance and global setting or global dance and local setting? Ethnography of a Yemenite night club in Israel

Author: Marie-Pierre Gibert (Université Lumière Lyon 2-EVS)  email
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Long Abstract

Every Saturday night, when Shabbat is over and everyday life is about to resume again in Israel, the night club Mecholot Teiman ("Dances of Yemen") opens its doors in Tel Aviv. From 100 to 200 young Israelis are arriving little by little, and the dance floor starts to fill up.

While almost any international observer would agree to describe the place as a night club, it would be probably more difficult for him to recognize the dance style: it isn't any kind of rock, neither techno, hip hop, jazz or salsa.

"It is Yemenite dance of course!" would answer almost any Israeli.

"Maybe, but definitely not what I use to do in Yemen" would reply an old Yemenite Jew who did dance in Yemen before arriving in Israel at the beginning of the 1950s.

Indeed, the two pieces of dance which may mainly be observed during the night at Mecholot Teiman are the result of a dynamic contact between a Jewish Yemenite specificity and an Israeli historical and political redefinition of cultural practices based on Zionism ideology and European standards.

But what is reshaping what ? Is Mecholot Teiman simply an international model of night club (late opening, general darkness with colorful spotlights, alcoholic drinks and loud music, large dancing floor and small tables) where "international dances" are replaced by Yemenite dances? Or does the Israeli-Yemenite specificity of dancers and singers involved have an influence on this setting? Does the international setting of night club influence in turn the Yemenite dances performed there?

An ethnography of the context, along with formal analysis of the dance itself, will help us understand the process of this reciprocal influence, and the constant articulation between local and global which dominates the Israeli cultural framework.

From village to festival: an example of the construction of canons of correct performance

Author: Georgiana Gore (University of Clermont Auvergne)  email
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Long Abstract

In 1980, during my first year in Nigeria, I was invited to participate in the Bendel State Festival of Arts and Culture as 'Chief Judge of Maiden Dance'. Organised by the Bendel State Arts Council, this festival brought to the state capital, Benin-City, during one week over the Christmas holidays, nearly one hundred dance groups from the state's nineteen Local Government Areas, each group performing in one of five categories of dance (ritual, ceremonial, masquerade, maiden and acrobatic). Using ethnographic material constituted during this event and other related sources from the 1980s, I shall examine how eurocentric conceptions of dance structure, staging and performance permeated all stages of the festival from group training and selection to the marking of presentations and the awarding of prizes, and how these were relayed by personnel of the Arts Council, an institution itself modelled upon its British counterpart.

Shinbuyo: new dance as cultural form created on the Euro-Asia cultural interface

Author: Chi-fang Chao (Taipei National University of the Arts)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper intends to delineate the intermediating dimension between Europe and Asia that dancing has created during the last few centuries in the island chains of East Asia, including Japan, Okinawa and Taiwan. Started from a dramatic record of an encounter between the British Captain Basil and the Okinawan people in the colonial epoch, the paper mainly investigates dancing as the social and historical process through which East Asia countries formulated projects of cultural renovation under a local version of gradually globalized ideologies and world view. The analysis is focused on the created genre of Shinbuyo, which means 'New Dance' in Japanese, for its connection with the Europe-based dance movement and schools, such as the Danza Nouveau and Dalcroze's Eurythmics. The artistic category of Shinbuyo and its development highlights that the input of new body techniques as cultural forms has been implied with the original and shared humanity, and hence allowed different cultural bearers to create, beyond language barriers, exchange with each other under certain social and historical context in the first half of the twentieth century.

Senegalese dancers, Europe and the global market

Author: Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (University College London)  email
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Long Abstract

In the Dakarois dance world, comments referring to the use of local dances as a source of inspiration in European contemporary dance are commonplace. Senegalese dance people routinely discuss their interaction with the European scene in terms of their creativity being 'exploited', performers being pushed into 'indecency' for the satisfaction of White audiences, or so-called 'African dance' being sought after as a potentially profitable 'market'. But people also display an ambivalent attitude towards a European dance scene which is simultaneously envied for its perceived wealth and despised for the lack of 'urgency' of its creations. Meanwhile, an increasing number of European choreographers acknowledge Africa as a source of inspiration, where fruitful collaborations can be established with artists trained in different bodily techniques. Yet the received wisdom is that the choreographic experiments that have taken place on the continent over the past three decades are a simplified copy of European choreographic forms. How are we, then, to make sense of this contradiction?

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Dakar as well as on historical data, in this paper I argue that both worlds have long developed in interplay with each other. The paper also seeks to go beyond creative issues and ask what socio-economic factors lay behind the increasing to-and-fro movement of performers between Europe and Africa. From a Senegalese perspective, I suggest that choreographic encounters have become a highly valued route towards international careers and migration. But from a European perspective, the renewed interest in African performance is also entangled in economic issues. In France for example, the gradual withdrawal of state subsidies for dance companies has made it necessary to find new sources of funding, and therefore new ways of framing choreographic work. In a European context in which migration has become a sensitive political issue, it is tempting to re-frame the performing arts in terms of 'cross-cultural exchange'.

In short, this paper seeks to explore some of the artistic and sociological dimensions at stake in the long-standing interaction between European and African performers, choreographers, audiences and state institutions.

Dance and the survival of a social world: 'ancient', transformed and new performances among Uduk refugees

Author: Wendy James (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

Co-author: Judith Aston, University of the West of England

Short abstract:

This presentation draws on audio-visual illustration of the music and dance tradition of the Uduk people of the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands to suggest how robust and adaptive it has been in the face not only of European colonialism but also displacement as a result of post-colonial civil wars. Once banned by missionaries, the people even now refuse to mix the 'traditional' forms with Christian worship.

Long abstract:

Speakers of Uduk and neighbouring groups of the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands have an apparently conservative tradition of circular dance forms around ensembles of percussion and wind instruments. The basic musical patterns of these performances resonate with many of the traditional participatory rhythms of productive work. During the period of British rule in the Sudan, the dances, and even the sounds of percussion groups, were regarded as immoral and banned by missionaries. Since displacement of the people by civil war, these dances have not only 'survived' among the refugees (though instruments may have to be created from 'European' bric-à-brac), but at least one dance-form thought obsolete has reappeared. The symbolic form of the circular dance, in particular, defines an egalitarian space peculiar to its participants and turns its back on the 'outside' world. At the same time, Christianity has become very popular in the refugee camps, but the people themselves have kept the music and choreography of church performance totally separate from the 'traditional' forms. Like the choreography of public meetings organized by chiefs or refugee officials, church congregations sit down passively in rows to face 'authority' and its formal language. Hymns are sung with precise schoolroom discipline, unlike the freestyle songs of the circular dance. Our multimedia presentation, based on audio-visual material collected over four decades, illustrates the powerful role that the choreography of music and dance performance can play in the self-definition of a displaced social world. We offer it as an example of 'a privileged site in which to explore the creative interchange between the local and the global'.