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Articles and Essays

Identifying the Endgame

THEATER (2017) 47(1): 3-15

This essay begins by outlining the forces of assimilation and dissent within the history of black American performance artistry since the 1960s. DeFrantz proposes a shift in curators' priorities away from representing multiculturalism in national presenting organizations in favor of a dynamic engagement with existing communities and publics. He calls for a recentering on minoritarian forms, a shift that would embody a new ethics and reflect new American demographic and cultural realities.

I Am Black: (you have to be willing to not know)

THEATER (2017) 47(2): 9-21

The discourse of race in contemporary performance falls apart when whites try to understand black performance. Contemporary black performance is saturated with experience and complexities that evade easy affiliations or knowings. This dialogic manifesto-lecture-performance offers strategies for acknowledging how artists of color and their collaborating audiences of color operate in several keys simultaneously but are inevitably compelled to reduce their work and experience to the unknowable, shameful category of “race.”

A performance/lecture/manifesto offered in New York, Durham, Manchester, and Brighton ... so far. 

African American Dance - Philosophy, Aesthetics, and “Beauty”

TOPOI Vol. 24., No. 1, January, 2005, pp 93-102.

Aesthetics in dance, and especially the terms of “beauty” as they might relate to African American artistry, remain extremely difficult to discuss. How can aesthetic theory be engaged in relation to African American dance practice? What sorts of aesthetic imperatives surround African American dance and how does black performance make sense of these imperatives?” Who names the quality of performance, or who determines that a performance may be accurately recognized as “black? More than this, how can African American dance participate on its own terms in a discourse of “beauty?”

This essay offers portions of my current research project to consider the recuperation of “beauty” as a productive critical strategy in discussions of African American dance. I argue that black performance in general, and African American concert dance in particular, seek to create aesthetic sites that allow black Americans to participate in discourses of recognition and appreciation to include concepts of “beauty.” In this, I suggest that “beauty” may indeed produce social change for its attendant audiences. I also propose that interrogating the notion of “beauty” may allow for social change among audiences that include dance theorists and philosophers. Through a case-study consideration of work by three African American choreographers, Donald Byrd (b. 1949), Ulysses Dove (1947- 1996), and Abdel Salaam (b. 1949), I ultimately hope to suggest critical possibilities aligning dance performance with particular aesthetic theory relevant to its documentation and interpretation.