Corporeal Politics

NEW PUBLICATION: Corporeal Politics: Dancing East Asia, edited by Katherine Mezur and Emily Wilcox

The new book Corporeal Politics: Dancing East Asia, edited by Katherine Mezur and Emily Wilcox, was published by the University of Michigan Press in September 2020. It is part of the Studies in Dance History book series and is the first book-length academic study of multiple genres of dance across the East Asia region. Contributors come from across the US and East Asia and include leading scholars of East Asian dance and performance studies, history, and literary studies.

Corporeal Politics investigates the development of dance as a deeply meaningful and complex cultural practice across time, placing special focus on the intertwining of East Asia dance and politics and the role of dance as a medium of transcultural interaction and communication across borders. Countering common narratives of dance history that emphasize the US and Europe as centers of origin and innovation, Corporeal Politics demonstrates the expansive creativity of dance artists in East Asia and asserts the region’s importance as a site of critical theorization and reflection on global artistic developments in the performing arts. Corporeal Politics addresses a wide range of performance styles and genres, including dances produced for the concert stage, as well as those presented in popular entertainments, private performance spaces, and street protests.


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New Studies in Socialist Performance

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Xiaomei Chen’s “New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay,” which reviews Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan, and Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC book review editor for media studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay

Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan
Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox

Reviewed by Xiaomei Chen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2020)

Xing Fan, Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. 308 pp. ISBN: 978-988-8455-81-2 (cloth).

Emily Wilcox, Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. 322 pp. ISBN: 9780520300576 (cloth).

This review essay examines two outstanding recent books in Chinese performance studies: Xing Fan’s monograph Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Peking Opera during the Cultural Revolution (Hong Kong University Press, 2018) and Emily Wilcox’s Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2019). Both books are substantial and significant contributions to theatre studies, contemporary Chinese literary and cultural studies, and comparative Asian theatre history, with a sharp focus on aesthetic traditions in the context of intellectual and political history.

Xing Fan’s Staging Revolution focuses on the complexities of the “revolutionary modern Peking opera” promoted during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), also widely known as “model theatre.” She is among the very few in English language scholarship to fully delve into the aesthetic features of Peking opera (jingju 京剧) in the modern period, with an emphasis on five major components of jingju arts: playwriting, acting, music, design, and directing. Staging Revolution expands the scope of Barbara Mittler’s remarkable book A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Harvard University East Asian Center, 2013) and Rosemary A. Roberts’s excellent study Maoist Model TheatreThe Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Brill, 2010)With a comprehensive study of the artistry of model theatre, Fan’s Staging Revolution has raised to a new level the academic study of the model theatre, and by extension, the cultural legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

The scope of her book, moreover, reaches beyond the period of the Cultural Revolution. Her succinct narrative of jingju history and practice—from the late eighteenth century to the Yan’an period of the 1930s-40s and on to the high Maoist period before the Cultural Revolution—delineates a rich history of the sociological and ideological functions of jingju and its artistic heritage and development, with the latter being the most innovative contribution of Fan’s book. Continue reading

Revolutionary Bodies

Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy
By Emily Wilcox
University of California Press, 2018

Revolutionary Bodies is the first English-language primary source–based history of concert dance in the People’s Republic of China. Combining over a decade of ethnographic and archival research, Emily Wilcox analyzes major dance works by Chinese choreographers staged over an eighty-year period from 1935 to 2015. Using previously unexamined film footage, photographic documentation, performance programs, and other historical and contemporary sources, Wilcox challenges the commonly accepted view that Soviet-inspired revolutionary ballets are the primary legacy of the socialist era in China’s dance field. The digital edition of this title includes nineteen embedded videos of selected dance works discussed by the author.

At publication date, a free ebook version of this title will be available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program. Visit to learn more.

Centre Stage: modern dance in China

Sharing some dancing delights for our readers!–Alison Friedman <>

Source: China Policy (8/3/18)
centre stage: modern dance in China

It’s August, and it’s time for a break. So pack Centre Stage, our annual arts special, in your backpack and lose yourself in the sensuous world of modern dance before returning to the trade war and other worries.

This year, Alison M. Friedman, performing arts impresario and China modern dance expert, takes us backstage to meet a generation of dance pioneers who are moulding the human form into stretches of both the limbs and the imagination. Founder of cross-cultural enterprise Ping Pong Productions, after 15 years immersed in China’s modern dance world Alison is now Artistic Director of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, one of the largest cultural developments of its kind.

centre stage is our fourth annual culture special, following best dressed on fashion, hip flicks on film, and choice cuts on music.

click to download slideshow (videos linked)

click to download slideshow (videos embedded)

Dance adaptation of Lin Yutang war novel

Source: China Daily (5/26/18)
War novel takes new life as dance production
By Chen Nan

The dance production A Leaf in the Storm will be presented by the Beijing Dance Theater at Beijing’s Tianqiao Performing Arts Center from June 6 to 10.

Based on a war novel of the same title by Lin Yutang, the production marks the first time the story is retold in dance. The novel, which was published by New York publishing firm John Day Book Company in 1941, is about the lives of several characters in Beijing during the Japanese invasion. Continue reading

Asian Theatre and Dance–cfp

CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS: Adaptation, Translation and Acculturation in Asian Theatre and Dance
A Symposium at the Centre for Asian Theatre and Dance, Royal Holloway, University of London, 25 May 2018

Adaptation, and parallel adaptive acts such as translation (Jakobson 2000) and acculturation, are the foundation blocks for intercultural and cross-cultural projects (Chan 2012), but also have agency in developing national multicultural narratives (Leong 2014).  As Chan highlights, ‘adaptations serve as carriers of cultural subjects and formations’ (2014: 412).  Inevitably, acts of intercultural and cross-cultural adaptation are bound to the cultural-political sphere, to post-colonial and neo-colonial histories. Yet, they are as much a product of the personal and the national, as they are the communal and the global. Translation happens not only between texts but also within performance, articulating the commensurability or lack of understanding among actors representing contrasting world views (Lindsay 2007). Continue reading

Dancing East Asia conference at U Michigan

Dancing East Asia: Critical Choreographies and their Corporeal Politics
April 7-8 | Hatcher Library Gallery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

This conference examines the moving body as a medium of artistic experimentation, cultural exchange, and political activism in East Asia. Invited scholars from Asia, Europe, and North America will present new research on dance in the East Asian region, including China, Japan, North and South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Covering late imperial times to the present, the conference will offer a landmark event for the emerging field of East Asian dance studies.

Dancing East Asia has been designated the 2017 “Special Topics Conference” by the Society for Dance History Scholars, the dance studies organization of ACLS.

This conference is one part of an ongoing research project focused on Dance Studies and Global East Asia and an edited volume directed and authored by Emily Wilcox and Katherine Mezur.

Visit the conference website. Continue reading

Dance Exhibition at U of Michigan

The University of Michigan Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the University Library are pleased to announce a new exhibition, Chinese Dance: National Movements in a Revolutionary Age, 1945-1965, to be held March 1-May 15, 2017 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Featuring materials from the University of Michigan Library’s Asia Library, home of North America’s largest collection of research materials on Chinese dance, the exhibition introduces modern Chinese dance history during the period from 1945 to 1965 through digitized photographs, performance programs, archival materials, books, and videos.

The exhibition is co-curated by Emily Wilcox (U-M Department of Asian Languages and Cultures) and Liangyu Fu (U-M Asia Library) and co-sponsored by the U-M Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the University Library. Continue reading

Core socialist values in song and dance

Source: Sinosphere, NYT (9/1/16)
China’s ‘Core Socialist Values,’ the Song-and-Dance Version

BEIJING — The 12 “core socialist values” are memorized by schoolchildren, featured in college entrance exams, printed on stamps and lanterns, and splashed on walls across China. Now they have made their way into 20 song-and-dance routines that the authorities in Hunan Province plan to promote to the country’s millions of “square dancers,” the mostly middle-aged and older women who gather in public squares to perform in unison. Continue reading

Dance version of Bi Feiyu’s The Moon Opera

Source: Global Times (10/115)
Wang’s ‘The Moon’ wows audiences

A scene from The Moon Opera Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Xiaolei

It’s no surprise that writer Bi Feiyu’s novel The Moon Opera has been adapted into various art forms from small screen TV dramas to big screen movies and even modern dance. However, people who have seen the trial performances in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province in late September and the official debut at the National Center for The Performing Arts in Beijing from October 4-6, were surprised to find that the dance version presented by dancer Wang Yabin surpassed their expectation for a dance drama. A melding of modern and classic dance forms, The Moon Opera by Wang Yabin portrays both the stage career and emotional life of an opera performer, said a review by Beijing Youth Daily. Continue reading

White-Haired Girl returns to stage

Source: Sinosphere (11/10/15)
‘White-Haired Girl,’ Opera Created Under Mao, Returns to Stage

A scene from a new production of the revolutionary opera “The White-Haired Girl,” which had its premiere in Yan’an, China, the Communists’ wartime stronghold.

A scene from a new production of the revolutionary opera “The White-Haired Girl,” which had its premiere in Yan’an, China, the Communists’ wartime stronghold.Credit Lu Xu/Chinese Ministry of Culture

Mao Zedong was said to have been moved to tears when he watched an early performance of “The White-Haired Girl,” an opera created to meet his call for rousing revolutionary art. And under President Xi Jinping, a revival is on the road, reinvented once more to appeal to a Communist Party leader’s stringently ideological tastes.

The opera was first performed in 1945 in Yan’an, the Communists’ revolutionary base in northwestern China, inspired by Mao’sprecepts for revolutionary art and literature delivered at a landmark forum in 1942. The Ministry of Culture said it had revived the story in response to Mr. Xi’s own landmark speech last year on the role of the arts in China, when he demanded politically wholesome art cleansed of decadence.

The revival had its premiere in Yan’an on Friday, and performances are planned in nine additional Chinese cities, culminating in Beijing in mid-December, the Ministry of Culture said in an emailed statement. Continue reading

How Li Cunxin danced to freedom

Source: The Guardian (7/30/15)
‘I would have jumped off a roof for Mao’: how Li Cunxin danced to freedom
Forced into ballet as a child in Mao’s China, Li Cunxin defected to the US and had to work as a stockbroker to support his family back home. But he never quit dancing. As he brings the Queensland Ballet to Britain, he talks about his traumas and triumphs – and shock at seeing people take their privileged lives for granted
By Judith Mackrell

Li Cunxin dances The Rite of Spring at Houston Ballet.

Li Cunxin dances The Rite of Spring at Houston Ballet in 1986.

Li Cunxin was just 11 when Chinese officials came to his home in rural Shandong and told him he’d been selected to study at the Beijing Academy of Dance. It was 1972, the height of Mao’s cultural revolution, and an entire nation was being shoehorned into creating a new communist China. Cunxin had never danced before – his physique simply looked promising – but once in Beijing, he was plunged into a punishing physical regime, designed to make or break him as a future member of Mao’s ballet. Every day in the studio, Li’s untutored legs were yanked into stretches that tore his hamstrings. His feet – numb and cold in their alien ballet slippers – were forced into inexplicably odd positions. Homesick, sore, and 1,000 miles away from his family, Li cried himself to sleep at night. Continue reading

Lu Xun-inspired ballet (1)

This was just performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, and there is a review of it (unfortunately, quite negative) in today’s New York Times. See below.

Rebecca Karl <>

Source: NYT (10/17/14):

Contemporary Choreography Woven From Poems of China’s Past
‘Wild Grass,’ by Beijing Dance Theater, at Next Wave

Beijing Dance Theater, with, foreground from left, Zhang Qiang and Li Cai, at the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. CreditRuby Washington/The New York Times

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Lu Xun-inspired ballet at Kennedy Center

DPDSB_BeijingDanceTheater_400x400Next week the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., will present one of China’s newest contemporary ballet companies, Beijing Dance Theater (founded in 2009 by Wang Yuanyuan), performing a collection of works called Wild Grass, inspired by poems of Lu Xun: Wang is one of China’s most successful young female choreographers and dance entrepreneurs. Her adaptation of Jin Ping Mei generated controversy and attention a few years ago: A post-show discussion will take place on Wednesday, Oct 22nd.

Emily Wilcox