Imaging Dance: Visual Representations of Dancers and Dancing

By Tomic-Vajagic, Tamara | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Imaging Dance: Visual Representations of Dancers and Dancing


Tomic-Vajagic, Tamara, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Sparti, Barbara, and Judy Van Zile, with Elsie Ivancich Dunin, Nancy G. Heller, and Adrienne L. Kaeppler, eds. imaging dance: Visual representations of dancers and dancing. Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2011. 312 pp., 40 colour plates, bibliography, index. ISBN 978-3-487-14549-5.

While much has been written about dance on film, so far we have been missing a comprehensive volume which would place specific attention on the issues of two-dimensional pictorial representations of dance. Important historical work and analysis has been carried out by scholars who considered dance as part of visuality in the theatre, firstly by dance historians such as John Bowlt, Nicoletta Misler, and others, and more recently by theatre scholars including Maaike Bleeker and Matthew Reason. However, Imaging Dance fills in this significant gap as a uniquely comprehensive volume which includes depictions of dances in various contexts outside theatre dance.

The collection, edited by a team of dance ethnologists and historians led by Barbara Sparti and Judy Van Zile, features thirteen essays that consider dance images in various sociocultural, aesthetic, and visual culture contexts. The book is divided into four distinct thematic subsections, which highlight different issues such as artists' interpretations, dance on historical records, sociopolitical aspects observed on dance depictions, and the tension between movement and stillness on images. The common denominator is clearly outlined in the editorial introduction: one of the principal aims was to reveal possible relationships between the dance in reality and in "artists' visualizations" (p. 2). In this quest, the collection reveals an impressive breadth, covering a vast chronological and geographical ground. The reader is taken on a fascinating journey, meandering through drawings of events at the Korean court from sixth and seventh century BC in Van Zile's chapter, investigating (possible) dance depictions on stone carvings (ste?ci) from the Middle Ages in Dalmatia in Elsie Dunin's, or learning about life in Ottoman Turkey of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries as documented on painted miniatures in Arzu Öztürkmen's contribution. A number of essays focus on the period between the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries, considering interesting artistic representations of dance found all over Europe (by Shelley Wood Cordulack, László Felföldi, Sandra Noll Hammond, Nancy Heller, Irene Loutzaki, and Sparti), America (Lynn Matluck Brooks, Ellery Foutch) and Oceania (Adrienne L. Kaeppler). Although the book is not conceptualized or organized as a chronological review, it closes with a thoughtful analysis of present-day dance photography by Reason, who also successfully (even if unintentionally) pulls together and elaborates upon several threads from the earlier articles.

While it may be unreasonable to expect the analysis of dance in still images to include a substantial music analysis, specialists from ethnomusicology and related fields might find interesting points about the time element in images, for instance, in Kaeppler's article suggesting that a succession of movements through time is captured in particular Western depictions of Polynesian dance. …

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