The politics of theater dance is commonly theorized in relation to bodily freedom, resistance, agitation, or repair. This book questions those utopian imaginaries, arguing that the visions and sensations of canonical Euro-American choreographies carry hidden forms of racial violence, not in the sense of the physical or psychological traumas arising in the practice of these arts but through the histories of social domination that materially underwrite them.
Developing a new theory of choreographic space, Arabella Stanger shows how embodied forms of hope promised in ballet and progressive dance modernisms conceal and depend on spatial operations of imperial, colonial, and racial subjection. Stanger unearths dance’s violent ground by interrogating the expansionist fantasies of Marius Petipa’s imperial ballet, settler colonial and corporate land practices in the modern dance of Martha Graham and George Balanchine, reactionary discourses of the human in Rudolf von Laban’s and Oskar Schlemmer’s movement geometries; Merce Cunningham’s experimentalism as a white settler fantasy of the land of the free, and the imperial amnesia of Boris Charmatz’s interventions into metropolitan museums. Drawing on materialist thought, critical race theory, and indigenous studies, Stanger ultimately advocates for dance studies to adopt a position of “critical negativity,” an analytical attitude attuned to how dance’s exuberant modeling of certain forms of life might provide cover for life-negating practices. Bold in its arguments and rigorous in its critique, Dancing on Violent Ground asks how performance scholars can develop a practice of thinking hopefully, without expunging history from their site of analysis.
About the Author
ARABELLA STANGER is a lecturer in drama, theater, and performance at the University of Sussex.
"Stanger’s Dancing on Violent Ground is an important new contribution to critical dance studies that shows how the utopian ideals of some of the most celebrated Euro-American theater dance works are not only imbricated with but also actively conceal structural conditions of racial violence, displacement, and inequity. Thinking with Indigenous critiques of settler colonialism and Black studies critiques of Western liberal notions of individualism and freedom, Stanger develops a politically incisive spatial analysis that demands that we reckon with the materialist histories that undergird seemingly liberatory choreographic ideas." —Anthea Kraut, author of Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance
“Incisive and original, Dancing on Violent Ground roots choreographic meaning in the politics of space. Considering questions of imperialism, racism, land seizure, dispossession, and labor, Stanger shows how a wide range of European and American concert dance idioms obscure the exploitative histories of the spaces—theatrical, urban, national, and geopolitical—in which they occur. Well-written, thoughtfully structured, and deftly argued, Dancing on Violent Ground offers an important contribution to dance studies and critical geography.” —Janet O'Shea, author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training
“Stanger achieves a clear intervention in the field of dance studies by shifting her analytical attention toward the ways that bodies and institutions design and inhabit space. This approach interweaves the corporeal, architectural, political, and philosophical details of dance history through a materialist analysis that accounts for the people and communities displaced from their homes through physical and cultural acts of seizure . . . Methodologically, this analysis (like those that precede it) models what Stanger terms ‘critical negativity’—an ‘analytical attitude attuned not to how dance improves experiences of living but to how dance’s exuberant modeling of forms of life might provide cover for life-negating practices.’ Dancing on Violent Ground exemplifies the effectiveness of this scholarly orientation and draws attention to the need for similarly attuned inquiries. At the same time, Stanger’s writing demonstrates an abundant critical generosity—a deep and keen engagement with a wide range of carefully cited scholarship. In addition to the rigor of her research, it is the combination of these scholarly practices that makes Dancing on Violent Ground so compelling.” —Rebecca Chaleff, Dance Chronicle