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Dance/Performance in Interdisciplinary Perspective Symposium

Fri, March 9th, 2018
7:30 pm

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Dance/Performance in Interdisciplinary Perspective Symposium

This symposium, hosted by the Williams College Dance Department, approaches dance and performance as an interdisciplinary method, site of inquiry, and medium of learning. It will bring together scholars and practitioners from Williams College and beyond who utilize movement-oriented performances to engage with disciplines as diverse as sports and martial arts, theater, music, sciences, arts, and anthropology. In framing “dance/performance” broadly as both staged and everyday acts of representation, as a lens for contextual analysis and a technique of bodily practice, the symposium will emphasize how embodied practices can provide insightful perspectives into issues relevant to the humanities and sciences. It will also highlight the various ways that “dance/performance” can enable collaborations that may be thought of as non-traditional or non-normative. The keynote lecture will be delivered by Janet O’Shea, Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

For more information please contact Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance History and Theory Munjulika Tarah.



Time Panel Location

Fri. Mar. 9, 2018


7:30pm – 8:45pm Opening Panel:
Maren Hassinger & Sandra Burton
Rashida K. Braggs (Africana Studies)
Kai M. Green (WGSS)
Moderated by Sandra Burton (Dance)
8:45pm Reception WCMA
Sat. Mar. 10, 2018
9am Coffee and Snacks 62 Center (CTD)
9:30am – 10:45 am

“Besides, Beyond”:
Sonnet Coggins (WCMA) & Kailani Polzak
(Art History)
Tomas Adalsteinsson (Golf)
Amy Holzapfel (Theatre)
Moderated by Greg Mitchell (WGSS)

CenterStage, CTD
11am – 12 pm Keynote: Janet O’Shea
Moderated by Janine Parker (Dance)
CenterStage, CTD
12 pm – 1:30 pm Lunch on your own
1:30pm – 2:45 pm “Suspended Gestures”:
Erica Dankmeyer (Dance)
Catherine Howe (Art History)
Horace Ballard (WCMA)
3 pm – 4:15 pm “Subversive Moves”:
Corinna Campbell (Music)
Vivian Huang (WGSS)
Allana Clarke (Art)
Moderated by VaNatta Ford (Africana Studies)
L231 (accessible through WCMA)
4:15pm – 5pm Transition to CTD, Coffee and Snacks CTD
5pm – 6:15pm “Patterns of Dialogue”:
Colin Adams (Maths)
Shayok Misha Chowdhury (Theatre) & Kameron NealModerated by Munjulika Tarah (Dance)
CenterStage, CTD


Sponsored by WCMA, Lecture Committee, Oakley Center, Dean of the Faculty, Davis Center, Dance Department, Theatre Department, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality StudiesAnthropology & Sociology Department, and Alumni Relations.



Strange Bedfellows? Academic Disciplines in an Age of Right-Wing Populism
By Janet O’Shea (Keynote)

The science wars of the 1990s pitted the sciences and the humanities against one another in a battle over empiricism, objectivity, and the social construction of knowledge. At first glance, the rise of science denial among right-wing populists seems to continue an opposition to science via recourse to the social context in which information is generated. Right-wing populists’ recourse to terms such as “alternative facts” and “fake news” suggest an enthusiastic, if muddled, recourse to the postmodern critique of knowledge production.

At the same time, however, the rise of right-wing populism, with its accompanying anti-intellectualism, has led to a rejection of science, as merely one belief system among many, and of the humanities, whose social analysis is rejected as political correctness under an intellectual guise. The rise of right-wing populism has therefore created common cause among scientists and arts/humanities scholars. Such a vociferous rejection of a range of academic disciplines suggests a possibility for resistance. Nor need this shared interest be a matter of mere political efficacy.

Among the greatest threats we now face are those that are physical and environmental in nature, ranging from climate change to vaccine denial to food oppression and environmental racism. Such issues call out for a better understanding of science, its rigors, and the ways in which science sheds light on the material, physical world. And, yet, these are also problems that cannot be solved by recourse to scientific discourses alone. They do not exist solely because of a gap in scientific understanding but also because of conditions that are social, political, economic, and historical in nature. Such crises call out for a combined effort between the sciences and the humanities.

In this talk, I suggest neither that humanities scholars have failed the sciences nor that scientific knowledge is reductive but instead that scienticism and science denial are both threats to intellectual exchange, struggles for social equality, and environmental justice. More specifically, I intend for this talk to open up a dialogue as to the role that the arts and the humanities generally, and dance studies in particular, can play as we face large-scale crises that are both physical (scientific) and political (cultural) in nature.


Explorations in Embodying Diaspora
by Rashida K. Braggs

Rashida K. Braggs will perform an excerpt from her solo-embodied performance and discuss her accompanying ethnographic research on jazz women of African descent migrating to and from Francophone cities. Braggs uses embodied performance to investigate key themes and questions in African diasporic research. For this symposium, she will share some of her work-in-progress on Grammy award winner Angelique Kidjo. Drawing on her personal interview with Kidjo along with investigations of the autobiography, concert reviews, and live shows, Braggs especially explores Kidjo’s perspectives on African identity as intersected with gender identity and negotiated via travels throughout the African diaspora. Kidjo’s migrations between Benin, France and the U.S., her political advocacy for the education of African girls, and her disavowal of African musical stereotypes prompt Braggs to use performance as a tool for analyzing concepts such as cultural hybridity, authenticity, assimilation and black female empowerment. This performance also queries Braggs’ own positionality as an African American woman scholar-performer-traveler and her relation to Kidjo and other musicians as they all travel through the African diaspora.


by Kai M. Green

Triggers is both a live performance and a short film centered on Black women and girls’ trauma. Triggers is a poetic journey through the weight of witness, the stories of Marissa Alexander and other instances of intimate partner violence that I have witnessed as an adult and a child are central. In the film I talk to my former little Black girl self. This piece honors her struggle and the struggles of little Black girls everywhere. What does it mean to hold the history of a little black girl in my trans-male body? Or better, how does it feel? This piece is most aptly described as a Choreopoem. I translated a letter into a script and I used that script to craft both a live performance and a short film. I work with a jazz band, three dancers, and a stencil artist in order to create this piece. We use improvisation as a method allowing us to build dynamic connections between live instruments (bass, drums, trumpet, saxophone, trombone), body, and text.


Rendering Histories Visible and Invoking Bodily Experience in the Museum
by Sonnet Coggins and Kailani Polzak

In August 1986, a box was discovered in the basement of Fayerweather Hall containing artifacts from the Lyceum of Natural History, a student-run museum whose collection was housed in Jackson Hall (site of Driscoll dining hall today) from 1855-1909. Among the sixty-four items, now in the reserve collection of the Williams College Museum of Art, was a Hawaiian ankle rattle made to be worn by a hula dancer. This presentation will discuss the exhibition and program series that has been inspired by the Lyceum collection, its ankle rattle, and by archival collections here on campus that take stock of the relationship between Williams College and Hawai’i, from the founding of the missionary movement in 1806–commemorated on our campus in the Haystack Monument–to the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893. These letters, photographs, newspapers, scrapbooks, and objects speak to a history that is generally regarded as peripheral here at Williams and yet it’s effects are still deeply felt in Hawai’i. Within two gallery spaces at the Museum we will engage with notions of positionality, whether conceptually in regard to histories or physically by creating displays which require the viewer to open drawers and listen to multiple voices in order to learn with the objects. Ultimately our aim is not merely to present new information, but to create a bodily experience of histories that have long rested inert in College collections.


Dancing Beside Ourselves: Para-Performativity, Collectivity, and the “Rising Chorus” in Twenty-First Century Art and Activism
By Amy Holzapfel

What happens when something happens beside something else? In Touching Feeling, the late queer studies scholar Eve K. Sedgwick advocates for a horizontal rather than vertical form of criticism, a way of positioning her subjects of inquiry “beside” rather than “beneath” or “beyond” one another. Inspired by Sedgwick’s call, this paper examines the role of the “chorus” in twenty-first century art and activism as an ever-rising, collective body that occupies a space beside or adjacent to a dominant site of power and, in so doing, comments on or frames the actions of that power, similar to the way in which an actress in Brechtian theatre stands beside her character and the events being enacted on stage rather than striving to fully enter into her role within the dramatic narrative. Viewing two examples from art and activism as case studies—first, the “Chorus of Less Than Desirable Slaves” appearing in Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2016 drama Father Comes Home From the Wars, and second, the so-called “rising chorus” of student protesters who staged a lie-in for gun control days after a mass shooting occurred at their high-school in Parkland, Florida—I define the chorus itself as a historically “para-performative” institution. In J.L. Austen’s theory of speech acts, a “performative” is an utterance that, through its vocal issuing, indicates the performing of an action, such that, as he famously put it: “to say something is to do something.” Here, I suggest that a “para-performative” may be defined as a diagetic speech act that occurs adjacent to or beside another performative action in order to comment on, frame, interrupt, subvert, or in other ways undermine or corrupt that same action.


Preparing the Mind For Performance
by Tomas Adalsteinsson

Any performance, athletic, academic, theatre, musical or dance – starts in our minds. It starts with an idea and an image of how that performance should look like. With practice, trial and error, we bring this idea and image to life by putting it into action. Together we will explore the power of the mind, and how we can best prepare the mind for performance. Learning to build a robust performance routines, visualize effectively, and focus without comparison are some of the essential skills to perform at a high level.


Suspended Gestures
Erica Dankmeyer, Catherine Howe (Art History) and Horace Ballard Erica Dankmeyer will re-stage Martha Graham’s iconic “Celebration” (1934). This performance by Williams students highlights dance as a medium for analyzing and remembering the past. Sam Gilliam’s Situation VI-Pisces 4 (1972) will serve as the painterly environment for the performance, putting Graham and Gilliam, two innovators of line and gesture, in dialogue. Prof. Catherine Howe (Art History) and Horace Ballard (Assistant Curator, WCMA) will join the panel to talk about intersections between dance and art.

This panel puts movement in conversation with other elements of artistic expression – color, texture, shape, space – heightening our experience of artifacts that are often experienced separately. This embodied exploration between dance, art, and art history highlights the possibilities for deeper encounters with cultural practices when we move beyond disciplinary boundaries.


Strategic Impositions on Cultural Archetypes: Recognition and Intimacy in Surinamese Maroon Folkloric Performance
By Corinna Campbell

When performing within a cultural touristic idiom, Surinamese Maroon folkloric groups face a conundrum—how and to what degree can they satisfy touristic appetites for the foreign and exotic, while promoting realistic self-images that validate their own experiences and cultural practices?  Maroons are especially marketable to tourists owing to their historical legacy as escaped slaves and freedom fighters, and the strength and alleged purity of their connections to the cultural practices of their African ancestors.  These narratives map neatly onto the format of a cultural show, which primes audiences to look for and affirm the differences and distances between performers and audiences.  Beyond touristic marketability, Maroons, too, have ample reasons and to invest in cultural archetypes; their legacies of resistance can be put to political advantage and function as powerful cultural affirmations. Often, however, characterization risks devolving into caricaturization, portraying Maroons and their traditions in a simplistic and potentially alienating or offensive light. This paper illustrates how the folkloric group Saisa employs a politics of recognition and a play of social intimacies in order to complicate simplistic interpretations of Maroon culture and performance practice.  I examine two choreographies that impose on archetypal images, unsettling dominant cultural narratives without overturning them outright.  Instead of disavowing touristic preoccupations with daily life and authentic experiences, these choreographies embrace such drives, but redirect them to known and unlikely references.  When applied to more broadly recognizable scenarios and subject matter, the touristic gaze becomes stranger than the practices on which it is focused.


We Have Work to Do: Kathy Change, Soomi Kim, and Asian Feminist Movement on College Campuses
by Vivian Huang

What is the relationship among Asian American feminism, performance, and elite educational institutions? In her full-length performance Chang(e), actor and movement artist Soomi Kim performs as Asian/American political radical Kathy Change, herself a dancer who peacefully occupied the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in the ‘90s before self-immolating to her death as her final political act. In my presentation, I discuss Kim’s presentation of her trilogy of movement works at a performance/lecture series I had organized at Harvard University titled Staging Asian America. I discuss how Kim’s performance critiques gendered stereotypes of Asian docility and suggests, instead, that the ephemerality of Asian and feminist dissidence is all but erased in official institutional spaces. Performance, then, names the medium through which Asian feminist presence persists and survives, where survival is less about normative values of visibility and more about genealogical struggle for social transformation.


Notes on Belonging to Boundaries
by Allana Clarke

My artistic practice speaks to discomfort. I, a first generation Trinidadian immigrant, perceived as African American, did not understand the nuances of racial politics in American culture. I wasn’t raised by the burdens or concept of blackness. But the burden was placed on my public self. This friction made me aware of the daily performances of our categorical existences, and the cultural signifiers we activate through our bodies and align ourselves with. It binds us. Is it possible to un-align signs from their signifiers? and embrace the disorientation caused by such an action?  This ideological thread is the basis for my work. Fluidly moving through video, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and performance the research aspects of my practice incorporates colonial, post-colonial, cultural criticism, political, and art historical texts. Searching, not for answers but, to feed my obsession with this idea of being unbound, of being more than my body.


Knotted Dance
Colin Adams

Knot theory is an active area of research in mathematics. It has fascinating applications to DNA, to synthetic chemistry and to questions about the shape of the universe in which we live. One of the ways to get students thinking about knot theory is to have them make human knots and then try to rearrange themselves and disentangle. Taking this a step further, it would be very exciting to get across some of the more sophisticated ideas of knot theory through dance, with the performers demonstrating the ideas. Many of the patterns are beautiful in their own right, and could form the basis for some interesting and unusual choreography. We will talk about the possibilities and then experiment with their realization.

by Shayok Misha Chowdhury and Kameron Neal 

Shayok Misha Chowdhury and Kameron Neal are a Brooklyn-based team bringing performance and visual art into intimate dialogue. We create through 3D writing, a muscular process rooted in the tactility of materials and the expressive contours of the body. Each of our pieces is an embodied inquiry. In this draft of MukhAgni, we ask: how can we control what happens to our bodies after we die? How do the choices we make—the rituals we inherit, invent, or disregard—affect our material after-lives? What is the dramaturgy of combustion? Of decomposition? Of ash? Of soil? As queer lovers of color, we look to create, through performance, a new kind of living will: one that is always in-process; one that acknowledges, as Jose Muñoz says, “ephemera as evidence”. MukhAgni is inspired by the Hindu crematory practice of putting fire into the mouth of the dead. It is part of a series of works approaching the continuity between human and geological time: the quick, drastic brushstrokes of life bleeding into the slow canvas of erosion and sedimentation.

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