Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, 'Race', and Nation in Early Modern Dance

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, 'Race', and Nation in Early Modern Dance

Article excerpt

Ramsay Burt. (London and New York: Routledge, 1998). 222 pp., $22.99 paper.

In Alien Bodies, Burt uses interdisciplinary methods to consider the issues of modernity and modernism in relation to the work of several makers of early modern dance. In nine chapters, he carefully examines the social constructions of nation, race, class, and gender as they were inscribed upon the dancing body. The Atlantic is the space and the period between the two great wars the time of this book's focus.

Overall, Burt makes many cogent and important points, not the least of which are his reflections on the figure of Josephine Baker, his analysis of the mass dance movement in Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia, and his chapter comparing the use or misuse of indigenous peoples'intellectual/religious material in specific works of Katherine Dunham, Mary Wigman, and Martha Graham. However, it is within these very pieces that he often makes statements which lessen the power of his argument.

In Savage Dancer: Tout Paris Goes To See Josephine Baker, Burt's lucid comments on the problem of essentializing the black female body are very helpful. This chapter's power comes from the tension created through the author's juxtapositioning of the thinking of those who were contemporaneous, be they critics or producers, and Baker's own critical reflections on her star persona and her art. Burt cautions us against seeing Baker's art as genius, because it lifts her out and above the ranks of other black women and makes her a token white. …

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