Mary Isbell – Amateur Stages: Nineteenth-Century Theatricals on Land and at Sea

Amateur Stages recovers the “theatrical” as a distinct type of performance in the period, documents the widespread popularity of the practice with diverse social groups including aristocrats, middle-class families, university students, office clerks, and sailors aboard naval vessels, and theorizes the unique features of theatricals through concepts derived from nineteenth-century literature.

La Marr Jurelle Bruce – ‘Inversions of the World’: Madness, Blackness, and Radical Creativity

“‘Inversions of the World’: Madness, Blackness, and Radical Creativity,” considers a cohort of twentieth- and twenty-first-century African-American artists who have instrumentalized “madness” for radical art-making, self-making, and world-making. Proposing a theory of madness that addresses its floating signification—and engages its phenomenological, clinical, sociocultural, and political dimensions—he confronts “the mad” in the work of writers Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Kennedy, Gayl Jones, and Ntozake Shange; jazz musicians Buddy Bolden and Charles Mingus; comedians Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle; legal theorist Patricia J. Williams; and hip hop musician Lauryn Hill.

Elise Morrison – Discipline and Desire: Surveillance, Feminism, Performance


Discipline and Desire: Surveillance, Feminism, Performance investigates the emergent genre of ‘surveillance art,’ or art works that centrally employ technologies and techniques of surveillance to create theatre, installation, and performance art.  Theoretically grounded in cultural theory, feminist theory, and performance studies, and focused on practices within performance and new media art, this book project examines the wide variety of ways in which surveillance artists tactically utilize material technologies of surveillance to politically and aesthetically address a multitude of social, political, and technical issues raised by increasingly pervasive surveillance around the world. By appropriating surveillance technologies from military, state, and consumer markets into public and private spaces of performance and interactive installation, surveillance artists re-contextualize these technologies and the power dynamics that historically attend them, provoking critical inquiry of the disciplinary functions of the human-technology interface of surveillance.  The book explores a range of surveillance art works by groups such as The Surveillance Camera Players, the Institute for Applied Autonomy, and the Shunt Collective, and artists as Sophie Calle, Jill Magid, Steve Mann, Janet Cardiff, Mona Hatoum, Giles Walker, and Edit Kaldor, each of whom stage performances and interactive installations that show up, critique, and/or re-structure dominant surveillance technologies and techniques.  Though most contemporary surveillance artists do not draw explicit allegiances to feminism, this book argues that such artists are in implicit conversation with feminist approaches to defining, critiquing, and building alternatives to a dominant, disciplinary gaze in visual culture.


John Cooper – Imperial Balls: An Art History of Sex, War, and Dancing in India, England, and the Caribbean

Nautch dancing in Lucknow and Calcutta

The Anglo-Indian word nautch derives from the Urdu nach, the Sanskrit nritya and the Prakit nachcha, meaning ‘dance’. Rather than signifying a specific dance form, nautch points towards a social setting for dance in diplomatic, mercantile and social exchanges between Indian elites and the British Raj from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The visual culture of nautch dancing is rich. It was inflected by multiple traditions of image-making. It was one of the most repeatedly illustrated scenes of imperial experience and includes work by both Indian and colonial artists in a variety of media.

This part of the dissertation is an art history of nautch dancing and its performers: those who danced, those who watched, and those who made its visual records.

Colonial ballet in England

The ‘Classic’ or ‘Romantic’ ballet of the 1830s and 1840s was replete with what were then called ‘dances of national character’. These folk-based forms encompassed an international geography including the Caribbean, North Africa, Eastern Europe and India, with a special fixation on dances of Spanish origin. A new professionalized class of flexible dancers emerged to render these national idioms in step with audience demand and they were matched by a class of artists and printers who documented, amplified, and embroidered their travel in images.

This part of the dissertation follows the traces left in the archive by women dancers who passed not only across the boundaries of national habits but also across the stages of theatres, clubs, saloons, music halls, drawing rooms and streets in imperial London.

Social dancing in the Caribbean

The complex social fabric of Caribbean colonies gave rise in the early nineteenth century to a range of dance cultures. Plantations, colonial theatres, markets, ball rooms, barracks and streets were all sites of expressive physical movement in which a range of West African and European performance traditions were articulated under conditions of profound social change. These various dance worlds were represented by a range of artists who reflected- by turns indulgently, satirically, ambivalently, and critically- on the make up of Caribbean society.

In this section of the dissertation I document the process by which the social forces at work in the Caribbean were transformed into choreographic ornament borne in different ways on different performers’ bodies.


Lynda Paul – Sonic Vegas: Live Virtuality and the Cirque du Soleil

My current work addresses the role of music and sound in a particularly complex and significant subset of Cirque du Soleil’s output: its permanent Las Vegas shows. My study uses a performance-centered methodology, based on direct observations of Cirque’s Vegas shows as audience member and backstage guest (during performances and rehearsals); personal interviews with the shows’ musicians and directors; and analyses of the shows’ more “fixed” traces (CD recordings, “Making of ” DVDs, souvenir programs, and so on) in relation to their performances. Through this approach, I situate Cirque du Soleil’s resident Las Vegas shows within the culture of the Vegas Strip as well as in circus and theater history more broadly, and demonstrate the ways in which Cirque’s Vegas productions utilize interactive, part live and part technologically mediated musical soundtracks to structure and give meaning to their visual spectacle. By seeing how music is used toward such ends, we are able to reconceptualize music’s role in multimedia genres more generally, and to understand more deeply how music can be used to negotiate the relationship between the physical and the virtual in multimedia theater.

(Lynda Paul, “Sonic Vegas: Live Virtuality and the Cirque du Soleil,” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2012)