Tag Archives: Dance

Naṭarāja redux

nataraja

In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.

The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.

The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.

This according to “Rewriting the script for South Indian dance” by Matthew Harp Allen (TDR: The drama review XLI/3 [fall 1997] pp. 63–100; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-28267).

Above, a traditional sculpture depicting Shiva as Naṭarāja; below, a bharatanāṭyam piece that evokes the cosmic dancer.

Related article: Varieties of love

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Uncracking the Nutcracker

Photo from the original 1892 production of “Nutcracker” showing Varvara Nikitina as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Pavel Gerdt as the Cavalier.

Although the place of Ŝelkunčik (Nutcracker) in the hearts of today’s audiences is secure, its genesis hardly seemed auspicious.

Čajkovskij repeatedly sought to abandon work on the project, and complained bitterly about it to the Director of Imperial Theaters; the reasons why he begged to be released from it, or why he ultimately persevered, remain unknown.

The problems probably involved the libretto, which the fastidious composer may well have found vexing. Parts of it lack any rationale, the balance of mime and dance is lopsided, and the overall arc of the story is incoherent, with several essential plot elements entirely missing.

These issues can be resolved by rendering most of the ballet as Drosselmayer’s thoughts rather than Clara’s dream. One can easily imagine the composer taking delight in this solution.

This according to “On meaning in Nutcracker” by Roland John Wiley (Dance research III/1 (fall 1984) 3–28; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1984-12142).

Today is the 130th anniversary of Nutcracker‘s premiere!

Below, part I of Mark Morris’s approach, which he called The hard nut.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Romantic era

Balinese aesthetics

besakih temple

In Bali, the concept of désa kala patra (place-time-context) anchors the levels of meaning enacted in performances of tembang (vocal music), informs the construction of traditional dance and theater events, and underlies pedagogical methods.

The preservation of this ideological core is fundamental to Balinese identity as modern elements, such as electronic sound technology, are woven into the cultural fabric. The concept of taksu (spiritual energy) illuminates the religious underpinnings of Balinese artistic values.

This according to Voices in Bali: Energies and perceptions in vocal music and dance theater by Edward Herbst (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1997).

Above, Pura Besakih (Mother Temple of Besakih) is a stunning example of Balinese aesthetics; below, a taste of Balinese gamelan and dance.

More posts about Bali are here.

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Breaking barriers in Latinx musical practices: An annotated bibliography

California State University, Fullerton Photos: Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Celebration 2019

As the largest minority in the United States, the Latino/a/x population has spawned a diverse array of cultural and musical expressions, many of which have impacted American popular culture. From the Latino/a/x groups historically affected by border expansions, to today’s immigrants, these communities express their experiences, political struggles, and lives in oral traditions, music, dance, and sound.

This bibliography reflects the diversity of musical and dance expressions of these communities. Beyond the dominant sonic imaginaries towards mariachi music, or the ideas of correspondence between geographic region and musical style, the selected texts reflect a complex reading of how cultural practices challenge ideas on race, gender, sexuality, experiences of dislocation, belonging, and identity. This bibliography references practices on the Mexican-American border region, the Appalachian region, Puerto Rico, and New York, and spans multiple genres, from son jarocho and salsa, to Latin jazz and reggaetón.

Written and compiled by Beatriz Goubert, Editor and Product Development Coordinator, RILM

__________________________________________

  • Alvarado, Lorena and Frances R. Aparicio. “Dissonant love: Music in Latina/o diaspora weddings”, Music in the American diasporic wedding, ed. by Inna Naroditskaya (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019) 70–86. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-5492]

Abstract: Deploying Deborah Vargas’s critical concept of dissonance as a disruption of the heteronormative and cultural nationalist limits, this essay examines the heterogeneous musical repertoires featured in U.S. Latina/o weddings that trouble or “disrupt” the dominant sonic imaginaries—the Mexican mariachi—that conflate national identity with musical traditions. Tracing the musical repertoires in U.S. Latino weddings, the essay juxtaposes a survey conducted by the authors with 11 couples and four Latino grooms and their own readings of weddings in films (including the Latino film Mi familia [My family]), novels, and poetry. In order to weave a broad picture of music in Latino weddings, the essay weaves textual and ethnographic approaches as an intervention that can only begin to suggest new ways of thinking about the social meanings of musical repertoires in these weddings. Tensions between tradition and modernity, between national and global sounds, generation-informed musical taste and predilections, and gendered norms, surfaced in the film and literary texts studied as well as in the surveys completed by young Latina/o couples.

  • Chávez, Xóchitl Consuelo. “La creación de Oaxacalifornia mediante tradiciones culturales entre jóvenes oaxaqueños de Los Ángeles, California”, Desacatos Revista de Ciencias Sociales 62 (enero–abril 2020) 172–181. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-69173]
Guelaguetza Festival 2019

Abstract: The Guelaguetza and the philharmonic bands are community practices of the Oaxacan migrant communities in the United States—from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles—and in the places of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico. These cultural productions cross the border between Mexico and the United States and survive in the region called Oaxacalifornia. As part of the traditions and forms of cultural expression, music and dance help to recover a community identity, despite economic instability and political conflict, and overcome the difficult processes of transnational migration. Oaxacalifornia is a microcosm, a migration route of human bodies, ideas, languages, and identities. Young people create a bicultural identity that claims and constitutes their indigenous cultural citizenship in Oaxaca and California.

  • Colón Montijo, César. “Carimbo: Raza, farmacolonialidad y conjuro en la espectropolítica salsera de Ismael ‘Maelo’ Rivera”, Del archivo a la playlist: Historias, nostalgias, tecnologías, ed. by Darío Tejeda (http://iaspmal.com/index.php/2021/07/07/del-archivo-a-la-playlist-actas/, 2021) 286–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-5920]

Abstract: The song Carimbo, by Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera, tells the story of Carimbo, an enslaved man who talks to the sonero about the infamous mark that slavery left on his voice. Carimbo’s spectral voice can be thought in relation to the precarious contemporaneity of the 1970s in which Maelo recorded it. Maelo’s Carimbo is not only the subject of the times of slavery, he is also that contemporary subject who struggles with the infamous mark of pharmacolonial violence. The incantation that Carimbo and Maelo vocalize as a survival tactic allows us to rethink the concatenation of their voices as an entry point to theorize a spectropolitics of listening. The incantation tells us much about the politics of life and death in contemporary Puerto Rico.

  • Enriquez, Sophia M. “‘Penned against the wall’: Migration narratives, cultural resonances, and Latinx experiences in Appalachian music”, Journal of popular music studies 32/2 (June 2020) 63–76. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-14803]
Che Apalache performing at The Crying Wolf in Nashville, 12 September 2019

Abstract: Although the Appalachian region has long been associated with white racial identity, Latinx people remain the region’s largest and fastest-growing minority. What perspectives and experiences are revealed when such narratives of whiteness are challenged by the visibility of Latinx migrants? What does music tell us about ongoing discourses of migration and border-crossings? This essay analyzes Latinx immigration narratives in Appalachian music and offers the possibility of a Latinx-Appalachian musical and cultural resonances. I take up the music of artists who claim hybrid Latinx-Appalachian cultural and musical identities. Namely, this essay focuses on Che Apalache—a four-piece band based in Buenos Aires that plays Latingrass—and the Lua Project—a five-piece band based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that plays Mexilachian music. Using field recordings and ethnographic interviews with both groups, this essay analyzes references to U.S.-Mexico border politics, acts of border crossing, and Latin American-Appalachian geographic similarities. I engage U.S.-based Latinx studies and Appalachian studies to establish relationships of Appalachian and Latinx cultures and incorporate analyses of both Spanish and English lyrics. Ultimately, this essay suggests that listening for Latinx migration narratives in Appalachian music challenges assumptions of belonging in the shifting U.S. cultural landscape.

  • Fernández L’Hoeste, Héctor and Pablo Vila, eds. Sound, image, and national imaginary in the construction of Latin/o American identities. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-64488]

Abstract: Addresses a gap in the many narratives discussing the cultural histories of Latin American nations, particularly in terms of the birth, configuration, and perpetuation of national identities. It argues that these processes were not as gradual or constrained as traditionally conceived. The actual circumstances dictating the adoption of particular technologies for the representation of national ideas shifted and varied according to many factors including local circumstances, political singularities, economic disparities, and highly individualized cultural transitions. This book proposes a model of chronology that is valid not only for nations that underwent strong processes of nationalism during the early or mid-20th century, but also for those that experienced highly idiosyncratic cultural, economic, and political development into the early 21st century.

  • Hernández-León, Rubén. “How did son jarocho become a music for the immigrant rights movement?”, Ethnic and racial studies 42/2 (2019) 975–993. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-25678]

Abstract: Chicana/o activists and artists in Greater Los Angeles have turned son jarocho, a traditional music genre from southeastern Mexico, into an organizing resource and a means to express the plight of immigrants. Building on a movement that started in Mexico to reestablish the communal celebration of the fandango as the center of the son jarocho tradition, these Chicana/o activists have reinterpreted fandangos as the enactment of community. They have also repurposed son jarocho and its lyrical content to articulate demands for the rights of undocumented immigrants and other social justice causes. These endeavors take place in community and cultural centers founded and led by a mix of immigrant generations: veterans of the Chicana/o civil rights movement of the 1970s, first generation immigrants and their adult children and grandchildren. These actors embrace fandangos as a metaphor and blueprint for community participation as they write new lyrics to demand justice for immigrants.

  • Loza, Steven, ed. Barrio harmonics: Essays on Chicano/Latino music (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-14233]

Abstract: Explores Chicano, Mexican, and Cuban musical forms and styles and their transformation in the United States. Employing musical, historical, and sociocultural analyses, Loza addresses issues such as marginality, identity, intercultural conflict and aesthetics, reinterpretation, postnationalism, and mestizaje—the mixing of race and culture—in the production and reception of Chicano/Latino music.

  • Miller, Sue. “Pacheco and charanga: Imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the típico tradition of New York City”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 41/1 (spring–summer 2020) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-2944]

Abstract: Explores the performance practice and aesthetics of Cuban dance music in the U.S. in relation to the concept of sabor. This multifaceted term encompasses a range of meanings and includes, among other elements, a dance imperative, melodic call-and-response-style inspiraciones, and a clave feel. A case study of Dominican-born Johnny Pacheco, a charanga flute player and the cocreator of the term salsa, allows for exploration of a specific New York-based sabor as well as consideration of issues such as imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the context of charanga típica performance in mid-20th-century New York. Pacheco’s musical contributions, critiqued by Juan Flores as “traditionalist” and by John Storm Roberts as “revivalist”, have often been overshadowed by his considerable entrepreneurial activities. Rather than examine his work as a record producer and entrepreneur, Pacheco’s earlier recordings made as a charanga flute improviser are examined to demonstrate that, pace Roberts and Flores, his improvisational style illustrates a particular New York performance aesthetic rooted in clave aesthetics and the rich musical culture of the Bronx—an aesthetic that is related to, but distinct from, that of earlier Cuban role models.

  • Power-Sotomayor, Jade. “Moving borders and dancing in place: Son jarocho’s speaking bodies at the Fandango Fronterizo”, TDR: The drama review 64/4 (winter 2020) 84–107 [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-12392]
Fandango Fronterizo Community logo

Abstract: The annual Fandango Fronterizo is a binational performance gathering where the U.S.-Mexico border meets the ocean. Fandanguerxs, gathering on both sides of the border wall in Tijuana and San Diego, enact a performative, political gesture that interrupts the discursive racialized and gendered logic of the two nation-states, refusing to be eternally desterrados by the violence of the border.

  • Ramos-Kittrell, Jesús A., ed. Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8323]

Abstract: Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization considers how neoliberal capitalism has upset the symbolic economy of “Mexican” cultural discourse, and how this phenomenon touches on a broader crisis of representation affecting the nation-state in globalization. This book argues that, while mexicanidad emerged in the early 20th century as a cultural trope about national origins, culture, and history, it was, nonetheless, a trope steeped in otherization and used by nation-states (Mexico and the United States) to legitimize narratives of cultural and socioeconomic development stemming out of nationalist political projects that are now under strain. Using music as a phenomenological platform of inquiry, contributors to this book focus on a critique of mexicanidad in terms of the cultural processes through which people contest ideas about race, gender, and sexuality; reframe ideas of memory, history, and belonging; and negotiate the experiences of dislocation that affect them. The volume urges readers to find points of resonance in its chapters, and thus, interrogate the asymmetrical ways in which power traverses their own historical experience. In light of the crisis in representation that currently affects the nation-state as a political unit in globalization, such resonance is critical to make culture an arena of social collusion, where alliances can restore the fiber of civil society and contest the pressures that have made disenfranchisement one of the most alarming features characterizing the complex relationships between the state and the neoliberal corporate system that seeks to regulate it. Scholars of history, international relations, cultural anthropology, Latin American studies, queer and gender studies, music, and cultural studies will find this book particularly useful.

  • Rivera-Rideau, Petra R. and Jericko Torres-Leschnik. “The colors and flavors of my Puerto Rico: Mapping Despacito‘s crossovers”, Journal of popular music studies 31/1 (March 2019) 87–108. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-3436]
Street art in La Perla, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Abstract: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s song Despacito shattered records to become one of the most successful Spanish-language songs in U.S. pop music history. Declared 2017’s Song of the Summer, the remix version featuring Justin Bieber prompted discussions about the racial dynamics of crossover for Latin music and Latina/o artists. However, little attention was paid to the ways that the song’s success in the Latin music market demonstrated similar racial dynamics within Latin music, especially in the song’s engagement with reggaetón, a genre originally associated with Black and working-class communities. This paper examines the racial politics that surround the success of Despacito in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream. We argue that Despacito reinforces stereotypes of blackness in the Latin mainstream in ways that facilitate reggaetón’s crossover. In turn, Fonsi himself becomes attributed with similar stereotypes, especially around hypersexuality, that represent him as a tropical Latina/o racialized other in the United States. Through close readings of media coverage of Despacito alongside the song’s music video, we argue that it is critical to look at its success in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream in order to examine the complex and contradictory process of crossing over.

  • Ruiz Vega, Omar. “Representando al caserío: Narcocultura y el diario vivir en los videos musicales de reggaetón”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 39/2 (fall–winter 2018) 229–265. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-44684]

Abstract: Reggaetón music videos frequently portray representations of narco culture and Puerto Rican marginalized communities. Existing literature explains these representations as an expressive vehicle that reflects the life and problems in the barrios and housing projects. However, the analysis of 14 reggaetón music videos provides a critical perspective of the narco-related messages. Reggaetón’s narco references help strengthening the stereotypes prevailing in Puerto Rican society toward marginalized communities, promoting a problematic identity through narco-aesthetics messages.

  • Sánchez Rivera, Rachell. “Reggaetón, trap y masculinidades: Dinámicas sociales al ritmo del perreo combativo en Puerto Rico”, Taller de letras número especial (2020) 42–55. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-64456]

Abstract: Examines the Puertorican reggaetón imagination based on the perreo combativo, a combative reggaetón dance that was part of the 2019 social protest against Governor Ricky Rosselló. The analysis of the intersections between gender, race, class, and identity overcome the unitary view of Puertorican identity embedded in machismo.

  • Schreil, Cristina. “Eunice Aparicio: Slow and steady”, Acoustic guitar 28/4:298 (October 2017) 48–49. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-55454]
The Women Taking on the Macho World of Mariachi: Posted by Great Big Story, 2016

Abstract: Flor de Toloache’s guitarist, Eunice Aparicio, shares her mariachi playing tips. Formed in 2008, the Latin Grammy winning Flor de Toloache are New York City’s first all-female mariachi group. Today its members hail from diverse locales such as Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Australia, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

  • Washburne, Christopher. Latin jazz: The other jazz. Currents in Latin American and Iberian music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-10628]

Abstract: Jazz has always been a genre built on the blending of disparate musical cultures. Latin jazz illustrates this perhaps better than any other style in this rich tradition, yet its cultural heritage has been all but erased from narratives of jazz history. Told from the perspective of a long-time jazz insider, this book corrects the record, providing a historical account that embraces the genre’s international nature and explores the dynamic interplay of economics, race, ethnicity, and nationalism that shaped it.

  • Williamson, Emily J. “Reclaiming the tarima and remaking spaces: Examining women’s leadership in the son jarocho community of New York City”, Transatlantic malagueñas and zapateados in music, song and dance: Spaniards, natives, Africans, Roma, ed. by K. Meira Goldberg, Walter Aaron Clark, and Antoni Pizà (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019) 406–413. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-6519]

Abstract: If the tarima is the corazón of the fandango, is the zapateado its heartbeat? Then, is the bailadora the life that flows through this heart? The tarima and zapateado are often described in romantic and powerful metaphors. However, few scholars have examined women’s relationship to the performance and practice of son jarocho. In this paper, I build upon Martha González’s theory of “rhythmic intention,” and argue that women in the recently formed Mexican fandango revival or “jaranero” community across the five boroughs of New York City are not only moving and executing sounds of zapateado on the tarima with rhythmic purpose, but also outside of the fandango. The jaraneras of New York City are creating distinctly feminine spaces for music as well as leadership. Their leadership is present in their organizational work that maintains and cultivates the son jarocho community and in their musical practices—at fandangos, in professional stage performances, and in music workshops. This paper presentation will provide ethnographic examples that demonstrate the ways in which women are making and articulating space for jaraneras by sounding their fandango-centered practice on and off of the tarima.

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Le style ballets russes

The influence of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on the worlds of dance and music has been well-documented; less known today are the reverberations that the company’s productions sent straight to the heart of Parisian fashion and interior design. Schèhèrezade, the hit of the 1910 season, epitomized the exoticism of “le style ballets russes” for designers and their galvanized patrons.

The first, and perhaps the foremost, to espouse the company’s saturated hues, sumptuous fabrics, and seductive Orientalism was Paul Poiret, who daringly introduced harem pants and turbans (inset), with boldly colored silks and velvets. Poiret also popularized brightly colored interiors, replacing conventional furniture with divans and tasselled cushions.

The company’s visits to London had a similar impact. “Before you could say Nijinsky” Osbert Lancaster recalled in Homes, sweet homes (London: Murray, 1939) “the pastel shades which had reigned supreme on the walls of the Mayfair for almost two decades were replaced by a variety of barbaric hues—jade green, purple, every variety of crimson and scarlet, and, above all, orange.” He added that the style’s adherents had “a tendency to regard a room not so much as a place to live in, but as a setting for a party.”

This according to “The wider influence of the Russian ballet” by Stephen Calloway, an essay included in Diaghilev and the golden age of the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-20723).

Above, one of George Lepape’s illustrations for Les choses de Paul Poiret vues par Georges Lepape (Paris: 1911), a book commissioned and published by Poiret in a limited edition of 300.

Below, a reconstruction of Schèhèrezade.

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Hogarth and dance

William Hogarth explicitly positioned his aesthetic theory in opposition to those of his contemporaries.

He disagreed both with philosophical treatments that viewed beauty and taste in moral terms and with art treatises that relied on exemplification and lacked causal explanation; further, he attacked the mystification of the concept of grace in both approaches.

He argued that understanding beauty did not require initiation into a new body of knowledge: It simply involved exercising a natural reflective vision that finds pleasure in the forms of the human body and related designs and ornamentations.

It was natural, therefore, that—unlike other aestheticians of his time—he drew extensively on dance examples in his treatise The analysis of beauty: Dance, particularly in its use in deportment training, belonged to a sphere of relatively everyday polite culture, as opposed to the rarefied and mystifying culture of art appreciation. Anyone open to dance and deportment could learn how to appreciate them, just as anyone open to Hogarth’s theory could apply its illuminations to their everyday lives.

This according to “An aesthetics of performance: Dance in Hogarth’s Analysis of beauty” by Annie Richardson (Dance research: The journal of the Society for Dance Research XX/2 [winter 2002] 38–87; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-11454).

Above, an illustration of a country dance from Hogarth’s treatise (click to enlarge). Below, an English country dance that he might have seen—or participated in!

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Krishnaveni Lakshmanan arrives

Writing in 2004, the bharatanāṭyam performer and teacher S. (Peria) Sarada recalled her first encounter with Krishnaveni Lakshmanan:

Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School.”

“Rukmini Devi—Athai—called the child inside and asked her: ‘Would you like to dance?’ The child’s joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student.”

Lakshmanan went on to become “a danseuse of exceptional talent, versatility, and genius. Indeed, a very rare combination of stage presence and presentation! Devoted and totally dedicated to her career, which balances both teaching and performing. Krishnaveni is God’s beautiful gift to the magic world of dance.”

Quoted from “Krishnaveni of Kalakshetra” (Sruti 241 [October 2004] 19–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-34001.)

Today would have been Lakshmanan’s 80th birthday! Below, rare footage of her in performance.

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Performing Asian America: An annotated bibliography

The term “Asian American” refers to people of Asian descent who have settled in North America beginning in the mid-18th century. Encompassed within the term is a wide range of ethnic groups and immigrant experiences stretching from Japan, Korea, and China, to India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The earliest Asian immigrants were Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and South Asians who came for economic reasons and worked on building the railroads or in agriculture. Subsequent waves of migration since the 1960s have included refugees escaping from political conflict in countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, and Afghanistan. Laws passed in the United States such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, which barred further immigration from Asia, and Executive Order 9066, which facilitated the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II, highlight instances where Asian immigrants encountered racism and segregation. Many have overcome such challenges by maintaining connections with their homelands, especially through music, dance, and the dramatic arts.

The diversity of social classes and ethnic heritages of Asians in North America are represented in a wide range of performance traditions. Using the term Asian American music, for instance, has been highly contested and can refer to any music made by Asian Americans or simply music made about the Asian American experience (Wong 2004). Some artists have voiced concerns about the phrase “Asian American music” suggesting it could be essentializing or implies a unified aesthetic. Dance scholars have made the case for establishing Asian American dance as a critical field of inquiry bringing topics of Asian American studies into dialogue with dance studies. By interrogating issues of racial belonging and identity, citizenship, and model minority stereotypes in the context of dance, the field offers a framework for Asian American embodiment.

The scope of Asian American music and performance also has a historical component given the different waves of migration. Early Chinese immigrants of the 18th century brought to North America their love of Cantonese opera and narrative song traditions often heard in the Chinatowns that emerged in cities across the continent. From 1890 to 1924, Japanese immigrants brought various folk, popular, and classical music and dance to places such as California and Hawai’i. After 1965, the constituency of Asian America was transformed by an influx of different types of migrants including laborers from the Philippines, China, and Japan, war refugees (Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan), and educated professionals and wealthy entrepreneurs from across Asia.

Active scenes for various genres of Asian music and dance emerged along with newer styles blending Asian and Western musical elements. The establishment of San Jose Taiko in the context of the 1960s Asian American political movement opened a space of racial consciousness even as it forced dancers, choreographers, and musicians to navigate the external pressures of representing the often essentialized ideals of Asian America. Some immigrant musicians enthusiastically learned instruments such as piano and violin and became active in Western art music, citing it as a form of social capital that could lead to upward mobility. Others immersed themselves in jazz and hip hop, creating new experimental genres. Today, Asian Americans are singer-songwriters, metalheads, rappers, and performance artists as well as butoh dancers, taiko performers, and bhangra musicians. Each of these shifting artistic identities has contributed to the nuanced complexity of representation that comprises Asian American music and dance.    

The following bibliography represents selected texts taken from RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that enhance our knowledge of music, dance, theater, and Asian American experiences. It comprises publications that detail varying perspectives, genres, mediums, and activities.

Written and compiled by Russ Skelchy, Associate Editor, RILM

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  • Baily, John and Asif Mahmoud. Tablas and drum machines: Afghan music in California (London: Goldsmiths College, 2005, motion picture). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-17147]

Abstract: A film exploring the musical life of the Afghan community in Fremont, California, with particular attention to issues of cultural identity.

  • Bryant, Lei Ouyang. “Performing race and place in Asian America: Korean American adoptees, musical theatre, and the land of 10,000 lakes”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 40/1 (winter–spring 2009) 4–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-344]

Abstract: The Walleye kid: The musical, written by R.A. Shiomi and Sundraya Kase with music and lyrics by Kurt Miyashiro, was one of two musical productions incorporating themes of transracial and transnational adoption staged in the Twin Cities in the spring of 2005. The musical, produced by the Minneapolis-based Asian American theater company Mu Performing Arts, follows a young Korean American adoptee’s journey of self-discovery while adjusting to life in rural, white Minnesota. The production is used as a case study to examine the creative processes used in contemporary Asian American artistic expression, the Korean American adoption experience in Minnesota, and the use of the musical theater to express complex issues surrounding the transnational adoption experience.

  • Cayari, Christopher. “The education of Asian American music professionals: Exploration and development of ethnic identity”, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 228 (spring 2021) 7–24. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2021-3584]

Abstract: Asian American people make up approximately 5.8% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019) and pursue careers in a variety of musical professions. However, a monoracial view of Asian Americans that conceives of all Asian Americans as a homogenous group without regard to ethnicity or cultural background has led to widespread stereotypes. The desire to acculturate to U.S. culture and Western European art music ideals can pressure Asian Americans to play certain instruments, restrict their involvement to areas of music, or force them to portray their ethnicity in offensive ways. This study looked at the racial and ethnic identity development of nine Asian American music professionals from various career paths in education, performance, curation, and history through a Web survey and subsequent semistructured interviews. Findings pertained to the musical upbringing of participants both inside and outside of school, the social contexts that affected participants’ musical endeavors, pressures from dominant cultures that participants faced while in school and during their careers, and the actions participants took in their careers that were a result of growing up as Asian Americans in various music learning contexts (e.g., school, community, familial, and informal).

  • Chambers-Letson, Joshua. A race so different: Performance and law in Asian America (New York: New York University Press, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-29192]

Abstract: Taking a performance studies approach to understanding Asian American racial subjectivity, the author argues that the law influences racial formation by compelling Asian Americans to embody and perform recognizable identities in both popular aesthetic forms (such as theater, opera, or rock music) and in the rituals of everyday life. Tracing the production of Asian American selfhood from the era of Asian Exclusion through the Global War on Terror, the book explores the legal paradox whereby U.S. law apprehends the Asian American body as simultaneously excluded from and included within the national body politic. The last chapter examines the group Dengue Fever and the racialization of Cambodian-America.

  • Hong Sohn, Stephen. “Calculated cacophonies: The queer Asian American family and the nonmusical musical in Chay Yew’s Wonderland“, The journal of American drama and theatre (JADT) 29/1 (fall–winter 2017) 20p. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-50880]

Abstract: Chay Yew’s productions commonly address queer Asian American experiences and associated themes, including the struggle to survive amid hostile familial ties and exclusionary social contexts. This article explores such issues through an extended analysis of Wonderland, a dramatic production involving four roles. Three of the roles—a Man, a Woman, and a Son—comprise an Asian American nuclear family. The fourth figure, a Young Man, is revealed to be playing the Son as an adult. Each role bears the burden of expanding the audience’s vision to include the queer Asian American as part of a domestic social construct that better integrates non-normative sexualities as part of its core foundation. The article shows how Wonderland diagnoses this problem through its thematic depictions and offers an intriguing intervention through its deployment of form—what Yew describes as a “nonmusical musical”. I investigate the “nonmusical musical” as a quintessentially queer racial performance form that employs what I term as calculated cacophonies, which elucidates how Wonderland uses dialogic, sonic, and thematic relationalities to undercut the portrayed destruction of the Asian American family. The presence of calculated cacophonies allows Wonderland to spotlight some guarded optimism: there may be a sustained possibility for the queer Asian American son to find a place in the heteronuclear family.

  • Liu, Sissi. “‘Kungfu/jazz’ as a new approach to music theatre making: Fred Ho and ‘manga opera'”, Studies in musical theatre 11/2 (2017) 197–214. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2017-35087]

Abstract: Kung fu and jazz—performing art forms that originated from the racial others—will be used as shorthand for two concurrent, interdependent, and dialectically opposing cultural processes: one that prioritizes boundary formation or reinforcement, and one that favors boundary elimination or crossing. The processes of kung fu and jazz are analyzed in the case of Ho’s Voice of the dragon (2006), and the paradoxical process of negotiating between the two are explored in Ho’s creation of a new genre, manga opera. I propose that in a world of increasing global encounters, racial and ethnic multiplicities, and political and cultural complexities, kung fu/jazz provides a politically progressive and transgressive approach to the process of boundary-conscious musical theater-making.

  • Nguyen, Mimi Thi and Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu. Alien encounters: Popular culture in Asian America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2007-17171]

Abstract: Showcases innovative directions in Asian American cultural studies by exploring topics ranging from pulp fiction to multimedia art and import-car subcultures. Contributors analyze Asian Americans’ interactions with popular culture as both creators and consumers. The volume reflects post-1965 Asian America paying nuanced attention to issues of gender, sexuality, transnationality, and citizenship, while unabashedly taking pleasure in pop culture. Issues of cultural authenticity are raised by addressing Asian American participation in hip hop and jazz, the emergence of an orientalist “Indo-chic” in U.S. youth culture, and the circulation of Vietnamese music variety shows. Taking popular culture seriously reveals how people imagine and express their affective relationships to history, identity, and belonging.

  • Sharma, Nitasha Tamar. Hip hop desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a global race consciousness. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-5669]

Abstract: Explores the worldviews of young U.S. people of South Asian descent (self-identifying as Desis) who create hip hop music. Through their lives and lyrics, hip hop Desis express a global race consciousness reflecting both their sense of connection with Black Americans as racialized minorities in the U.S. and their diasporic sensibility as part of a global community of South Asians. The author emphasizes the role of appropriation and sampling in the ways that hip hop Desis craft their identities, create art, and pursue social activism. Some of the Desi artists at the center of her ethnography produce what she calls ethnic hip hop, incorporating South Asian languages, instruments, and immigrant themes. Through ethnic hip hop, Desi artists such as KB, Sammy, and Bella Deejay express alternative desiness, challenging assumptions about their identities as South Asians, children of immigrants, minorities, and U.S. people. Desi artists also contest and seek to bridge perceived divisions between Black and South Asian Americans through racialized hip hop. It is described how they uncover connections between South Asians and Black Americans, highlighting in their lyrics links such as the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Mahatma Gandhi. By taking up themes considered irrelevant to many Asian Americans, Desi performers including D’Lo, Chee Malabar of Himalayan Project and Rawj of Feenom Circle create a multiracial form of Black popular culture to fight racism and enact social change.

  • Villegas, Mark R., Kuttin Kandi, and Roderick N. Labrador, eds. Empire of funk: Hip hop and representation in Filipina/o America (San Diego: Cognella, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-5390]

Abstract: Gives long overdue attention to the most popular cultural art form practiced by recent generations of Filipina/o American youth. The anthology features the voices of artists, scholars, and activists to begin a dialogue on Filipina/o American youth culture and its relationship to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class. The text also offers the opportunity to question the future of hip hop itself. Individual chapters explore Filipina/o American hip hop aesthetics, community-building, the geography of hip hop in Filipina/o America, sexuality and power, activism and praxis, visual culture, and navigating the hip hop industry. This text gives readers a thoughtful introduction to an often-overlooked aspect of American society and culture.

  • Wang, Oliver. Legions of boom: Filipino American mobile DJ crews in the San Francisco Bay Area (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-13936]

Abstract: Armed with speakers, turntables, light systems, and records, Filipino American mobile DJ crews, such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix, and Images, Inc., rocked dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. This book chronicles the remarkable scene that eventually became the cradle for turntablism. These crews, which were instrumental in helping create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave young men opportunities to assert their masculinity and gain social status. While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays, or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases—or multi-crew performances—which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off, and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut, and Mix Master Mike, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community that eventually grew to have a global impact.

  • Wong, Deborah. Louder and faster: Pain, joy, and the body politic in Asian American taiko. American crossroads (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-7730]

Abstract: A cultural study of the phenomenon of Asian American taiko, the thundering, athletic drumming tradition that originated in Japan. Immersed in the taiko scene for 20 years, the author has witnessed cultural and demographic changes and the exponential growth and expansion of taiko particularly in Southern California. Through her participatory ethnographic work, she reveals a complicated story embedded in memories of Japanese American internment and legacies of imperialism, Asian American identity and politics, a desire to be seen and heard, and the intersection of culture and global capitalism. Exploring the materialities of the drums, costumes, and bodies that make sound, analyzing the relationship of these to capitalist multiculturalism, and investigating the gender politics of taiko, the book considers both the promises and pitfalls of music and performance as an anti-racist practice. The result is a vivid glimpse of an Asian American presence that is both loud and fragile.

  • Wong, Yutian, ed. Contemporary directions in Asian American dance. Studies in dance history (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-1207]

Abstract: The definition of Asian American dance is as contested as the definition of “Asian American”. The term encompasses not only a range of national origins but also a dazzling variety of theoretical frameworks, disciplinary methods, and genres—from traditional to postmodern to hip hop. Contributors to this volume address such topics as the role of the 1960s Asian American movement in creating Japanese American taiko groups, and the experience of internment during World War II influencing butoh dance in Canada. Essays about artists look closely at the politics of how Asian aesthetics are set into motion and marketed. The volume includes first-person narratives, interviews, ethnography, cultural studies, performance studies, and comparative ethnic studies.

  • Yoshihara, Mari. Musicians from a different shore: Asians and Asian Americans in classical music (Philadelphia: University of Temple Press, 2007). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2007-5967]

Abstract: An examination of the phenomenon whereby musicians of Asian descent enjoy unprecedented prominence in concert halls, conservatories, and classical music performance competitions. A confluence of culture, politics, and commerce after World War II made classical music a staple in middle-class households, established Yamaha as the world’s largest producer of pianos, and gave the Suzuki method of music training an international clientele. Soon, talented musicians from Japan, China, and South Korea were flocking to the U.S. to study and establish careers, and Asian American families were enrolling toddlers in music classes. This historical backdrop is punctuated by interviews with Asian and Asian American musicians, such as Cho-Liang Lin, Margaret Leng Tan, Kent Nagano, who have taken various routes into classical music careers. They offer their views about the connections of race and culture and discuss whether the music is really as universal as many claim it to be. A Japanese translation is cited as RILM 2013-34104.

  • Zhu, Ying and Quynh Nhu Le. “Body, time, and space: Poetry as choreography in Southeast Asian American literature”, Dance chronicle: Studies in dance and the related arts 39/1 (2016) 77–95. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-26748]

Abstract: This collaboration between a dance scholar and a literary/critical race studies scholar engages cross-disciplinary strategies of reading poetry to complicate contemporary discourses surrounding Southeast Asian American cultural productions. We offer an analysis of Phayvanh Luekhamhan’s Rubber bands and Diep Tran’s Schools, focusing on their incorporation of elements integral to both dance and Southeast Asian diasporic poetry: body, time, and space. Choreographic in form and content, these poems shed light on the embodied repercussions of imperialism, war, and migration, and call forth the moving body as central to both recording and cultivating the formation of communities in diaspora.

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Hanuman and Suvannamaccha

Reamker (The glory of Rama) is the Khmer version of the epic known as Rāmāyaa in India. While it generally hews close to the original tale, Reamker includes episodes not found in the archetypal Sanskrit version; one of these involves the mermaid princess Suvannamaccha.

In this episode, the monkey warrior Hanuman, with his band of Varanas, is trying to build a causeway to the island of Lanka, where Rama’s wife Sita is being held against her will. He discovers that his work is being sabotaged by a group of mischievous mermaids, and he confronts their leader, Suvannamaccha. At first she is defiant; but then she falls in love with him, apologizes, helps him to rebuild the causeway, and eventually gives birth to their son Macchanu.

This according to “Reamker: The Ramayana from Cambodia” by Bharathi Ramasubban (Sruti 357 [June 2014] 48–51; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-4405).

Above, a mural painting of Hanuman and Suvannamaccha at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok; below, an excerpt from the episode as performed by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.

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Ballerinas and honeybees

The relational and cooperative labor of a corps de ballet illuminates the ways the dancers’ embodied knowledge and decision-making processes constitute a vital part of a production’s impact.

Two key aspects of dancers’ performances as a corps de ballet are collaboration and cooperation, which are components of eusociality, a term used to describe the highest level of organization of sociality, commonly observed in honeybees. Through embodied experiences and dancers’ decision-making, a corps de ballet operates in ways that are similar to democratic decision-making processes in honeybee behaviors.

This according to “Cooperation, communication, and collaboration: The sociality of a corps de ballet” by Kate Mattingly and Laura Kay Young (Dance chronicle XLIII/2 [2020] 132–44).

Above and below, La royaume des ombres from La bayadère is widely considered one of the world’s most demanding corps de ballet numbers.

BONUS: A short film on honeybee eusociality.

Related article: The postmodern ballerina

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