Don't Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture

Don't Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture

Don't Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture

Don't Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture

Synopsis

At some point in their career, nearly all the dancers who worked with George Balanchine were told "don't act, dear; just dance." The dancers understood this as a warning against melodramatic over-interpretation and an assurance that they had all the tools they needed to do justice to the steps--but its implication that to dance is already to act in a manner both complete and sufficient resonates beyond stage and studio.
Drawing on fresh archival material, Don't Act, Just Dance places dance at the center of the story of the relationship between Cold War art and politics. Catherine Gunther Kodat takes Balanchine's catch phrase as an invitation to explore the politics of Cold War culture--in particular, to examine the assumptions underlying the role of "apolitical" modernism in U.S. cultural diplomacy. Through close, theoretically informed readings of selected important works--Marianne Moore's "Combat Cultural," dances by George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Yuri Grigorovich, Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, and John Adams's Nixon in China --Kodat questions several commonly-held beliefs about the purpose and meaning of modernist cultural productions during the Cold War.
Rather than read the dance through a received understanding of Cold War culture, Don't Act, Just Dance reads Cold War culture through the dance, and in doing so establishes a new understanding of the politics of modernism in the arts of the period.

Excerpt

For three days in April 1996, a group of historians and literary scholars gathered in Toledo for a conference on U.S. politics and culture during the cold war. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the election of Boris Yeltsin: these were relatively recent events, and there was exhilaration in the air, the sense that a still-emerging field within American Studies—cold war cultural studies—was about to expand in exciting new directions. Most of the participants were tenured senior professors, several from large prestigious universities. I was in the second semester of my first year of full-time teaching at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d gotten into the conference by mistake. It wasn’t only my lack of seniority and institutional clout that had me worried. A paper on The Nutcracker? What had I been thinking? Certainly I believed I had something to say that was worth hearing. But could the ballet hold its own among such heavy-hitters as Silent Spring, Alfred Hitchcock, Invisible Man, the Venona Project, and George F. Kennan’s “Long Telegram”? And not just this ballet— any ballet. To be sure, dance history is an acknowledged discipline, and the more theoretically inflected field of dance studies had been on the rise since the mid-1980s. Still, despite a reputation for being uniquely open to fresh subjects and interdisciplinary study, American Studies was not exactly humming with dance-related scholarship. I was not sure why, though I had some ideas. Happily, however, my paper got a friendly hearing—and folks weren’t just being polite. Maybe, I began to hope, dance was on the way toward drawing the serious scholarly attention it so obviously deserved.

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