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Katherine Dunham's Global Method and the Embodied Politics of Dance's Everyday

Elswit, Kate and Bench, Harmony (2020) Katherine Dunham's Global Method and the Embodied Politics of Dance's Everyday. Theatre Survey, 61 (3). pp. 305-330. ISSN 1475-4533

Abstract

Katherine Dunham travelled the world for decades as a choreographer, dancer, teacher, scholar, writer, and activist. This essay develops the ‘everyday’ as an intersectional analytic through which to understand the global method tying Dunham’s transnational mobility to her practices of making-do as an African-American female artist in the mid-twentieth century, and the ways the ongoing pursuit of solvency propelled her, her performers, and her work into the world. Our critical mixed methods approach scales up from a manually curated itinerary of Dunham’s daily locations over four years (1950–3), to the politics of the everyday they cumulatively reveal. Analyzing transnational travel patterns of stays and returns can rebalance the geography of Dunham scholarship, including revealing the centrality of nightclub and other non-concert performances to sustaining the company over time. Looking further into the archives, we turn to a paradigm of friction and flexibility in order to elaborate the many factors that shaped Dunham’s touring pathways, as well as the ways that Dunham’s bodily wellbeing haunts her relentless momentum. Focusing on the bodies in the data from a perspective that combines dance studies with digital humanities points to the ways digital methods can evidence and elaborate bodily experience on- and offstage.

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