Contemporary Asian American dance includes a wide range of choreographic approaches, movement vocabularies, aesthetic traditions, and philosophies toward the body. Referencing either time or genre, the “contemporary” in contemporary Asian American dance can refer to work that includes high-art concert productions that utilize modern and postmodern movement vocabularies, reworkings of traditional Asian movement practices, or popular dance practices. Contemporary Asian American dance also encompasses work that is created by Asian American choreographers, choreography that addresses Asian American experiences or history, or work that is performed by Asian American dancers. As a field of study, Asian American dance studies is concerned with an analysis of how the critical reception of choreography by Asian American choreographers is entangled with the history of Orientalism in both American modern dance history and the racialization of Asian Americans in US history. Beginning in the early 20th century, choreographer Michio Ito (1892–1961) navigated his training in German expressionist dance with public expectations of performing recognizable Japaneseness in the face of growing anti-Japanese sentiments on the West Coast of the United States in the years before the United States officially entered World War II. In the later half of the 20th century, Mel Wong (1938–2003) faced similar issues after leaving the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to pursue his own choreography. While Merce Cunningham’s adoption of the Chinese text the I-Ching was considered a choreographic breakthrough in the development of chance procedure that would revolutionize the definition of what is considered dance, Mel Wong faced critics and funding organizations who found Wong’s own use of ritual and Asian philosophy to be incomprehensible or inauthentic. The question of authenticity in relationship to the use of traditional Asian vocabularies runs the gamut from the performance of depoliticized folk dance forms such as those performed by the San Francisco Chinese Folkdance Association to the purposeful invention of Japanese American taiko repertory by organizations such as San Jose Taiko during the 1960s Asian American movement. In contrast, choreographers such as Eiko (1952–present), Koma (1948–present), and Shen Wei (1968–present) are not concerned with the question of Asian American authenticity and have been creating work that stakes a claim in universal themes of humanity and the environment or the relationship between movement and visual art. Understanding the work of choreographers such as Eiko & Koma and Shen Wei as contemporary Asian American dance is enabled by the transnational turn in Asian American studies to include work by choreographers whose work does not directly represent traditional understandings of the Asian American experience rooted in themes such as the trauma of immigration, intergenerational conflict, or national belonging.
Contemporary Asian American Dance
Geography and Early Modern English Drama
The first purpose-built theater in England opened in 1576, the year before Francis Drake embarked on his circumnavigation of the globe (1577–1580).Early modern England’s most important theater was called the Globe, and English plays of this period consistently invoked the theatrum mundi (world-as-stage) motif. These basic facts indicate a strong relationship between geography and early modern English drama—that is, the plays performed in commercial theaters from the late-Elizabethan period until their closure at the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. English playwrights were alive to the far-reaching commercial and colonial projects contemporary with them, and they also engaged in various ways with developments in cartography at home and on the continent. The geography of early modern drama was also, however, determined by the specific design and practices of the theaters in which it was presented. This was a theatrical culture that created location not through scenic backdrops but instead through actors’ movements, costumes, and speeches, and which brought into productive dialogue the fictional world performed and the site of performance. Other theatrical traditions also shaped these plays’ geographies: drama of the period was indebted to that of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as to the conventions of native religious theater, and early modern plays inherited, to some extent, these traditions’ place-making strategies and their wider geographical imaginaries. While interested in real-world locations and in the realities of English geographical expansion in this period, then, early modern drama established a markedly fluid geography; and while geographical meanings often structured the action of these plays, those meanings derived from multiple (and often conflicting) sources. Early modern English drama asked its audiences to see in a variety of ways, and its combination of representational strategies enhanced its geographical scope.
Animal Studies and the Early Modern Period
The burgeoning field of animal studies has facilitated the exploration of human-animal relations across a variety of disciplines. Following the animal turn in humanities scholarship, a number of studies published in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have demonstrated that animals reflected the social, cultural, and political concerns of the early modern period in a unique manner due to a shift in the ways in which animals were viewed and valued. This shift was largely caused by the increasing commodification of animals, the discovery of new creatures through global exploration, a renewed interest in investigating and documenting all earthly beings, and an enhanced concern for animal welfare. A range of early modern texts reflect this shift in the perception of animals through engaged interaction with conceptions of the human-animal divide and interrogation of human exceptionalism. Animals also inhabit a multitude of early modern texts in a less prominent manner because, as is the case in the modern world, animals lived alongside humans and were a fundamental part of everyday life. While these texts may not at first seem to reveal much detail about the lives of animals and how they were viewed in the early modern period, the field of animal studies has provided a method of bringing nonhuman beings to the fore. When analyzing the representation of nonhuman beings in early modern texts through the lens of animal studies a thorough consideration of the context in which such texts were written and investigation of the lived experience of the animals they seek to portray is required in order to capture, what leading animal studies scholar Erica Fudge terms, a holistic history of animals.
Literature and Disability in the English Renaissance
Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.