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Black Performance Theory

Recent Publications by Group Participants

Annemarie Bean

A Sourcebook of African-American Performance: Plays, People, Movements (Worlds of Performance)

New York: Routledge, 1999

A Sourcebook on African-American Performance: Plays, People, Movements is the first volume to consider African-American performance between and beyond the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and the New Black Renaissance of the 1990s. Amazon.com book link This book is also available for purchase in a digital format for Microsoft Reader here.


Jennifer Devere Brody

Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture

Duke University Press, 1998

Using black feminist theory and African American studies to read Victorian culture, this volume looks at the construction of "Englishness" as white, masculine, and pure and "Americanness" as black, feminine, and impure. Brody's readings of Victorian novels, plays, paintings, and science fiction reveal the impossibility of purity and the inevitability of hybridity in representations of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and race. She amasses a considerable amount of evidence to show that Victorian culture was bound inextricably to various forms and figures of blackness.

Opening with a reading of Daniel Defoe's "A True-Born Englishman", which posits the mixed origins of English identity, Brody goes on to analyze mulattas typified by Rhoda Swartz in William Thackeray's "Vanity Fair", whose mixed-race status reveals the "unseemly origins of English imperial power". Examining Victorian stage productions from blackface minstrel shows to performances of "The Octoroom" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin", she explains how such productions depended upon feminised, "black" figures in order to reproduce Englishmen as masculine white subjects. She also discusses H.G. Wells's "The Island of Dr Moreau" in the context of debates about the "new woman", slavery, and fears of the monstrous degeneration of English gentleman. "Impossible purities" concludes with a discussion of Bram Stoker's novella, "The Lair of the White Worm", which brings together the book's concerns with changing racial representations on both sides of the Atlantic.Amazon.com link


Thomas F. DeFrantz

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. Full Article



Anita Gonazlez

Authored/Edited Books

·       Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez, editors. Black Performance Theory: An Anthology of Critical Readings. Duke University Press, in process.

·       Gonzalez, Anita. Afro-Mexico: Dancing Between Myth and Reality. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-292-72324-5.

·       Gonzalez, Anita. Jarocho’s Soul: Cultural Identity and Afro-Mexican Dance. Lanham: University Press of America (Roman and Littlefield), 2004. ISBN # 0-7618-2775-7.

Book Contributions

·       Gonzalez, Anita. “Tactile and Vocal Communities in Urban Bush Women’s Shelter and Praise House,” The Community Performance Reader edited by Petra Kuppers and Gwen Robertson. New York: Routledge, 2007. ISBN # 978-0415392310

Journal Articles

·       Gonzalez, Anita: “Diversifying African American Drama,” Theatre Topics, 19:1 (March 2009), 59-66.

·       Gonzalez, Anita: “Indigenous Acts: Black and Native Performances in Mexico,” Radical History Review, Issue 103 (Winter 2009) 131-141.

·       Cox, Aimee Meredith, with Tiye Giraud, Anita Gonzalez, Petra Kuppers, and Carrie Sandahl. “Anarcha Anti-Archive,” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 4.2 (2008) url: http://liminalities.net/4-2/anarcha


Richard C. Green III

Soul Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure
Edited by Monique Guillory and Richard C. Green

New York: NYU Press 1997

No other word in the English language is more endemic to contemporary Black American culture and identity than "Soul". Since the 1960s Soul has been frequently used to market and sell music, food, and fashion. However, Soul also refers to a pervasive belief in the capacity of the Black body/spirit to endure the most trying of times in an ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. While some attention has been given to various genre manifestations of Soul-as in Soul music and food-no book has yet fully explored the discursive terrain signified by the term. In this broad-ranging, free-spirited book, a diverse group of writers, artists, and scholars reflect on the ubiquitous but elusive concept of Soul. Topics include: politics and fashion, Blaxploitation films, language, literature, dance, James Brown, and Schoolhouse Rock. Among the contributors are Angela Davis, Manning Marable, Paul Gilroy, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michelle Wallace, Ishmael Reed, Greg Tate, Manthia Diawara, and dream hampton. Amazon.com link.


Tavia Nyong'o

2005 “Punk’d Theory” Social Text 84/85.

“Passing as Politics: Framing Black Political Performance” Women and Performance 29.

“The Black First: Crispus Attucks and William Cooper Nell” Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2003.

“Black Theater’s Closet Drama,” Theatre Journal 57(4).

“Queer TV: A Comment” GLQ 11.1: 103-105.

2002 “Racial Kitsch and Black Performance” Yale Journal of Criticism 12(2): 371-191.


Hershini Bhana Young

Haunting Capital: Memory, Text, and the Black Diasporic Body

UPNE: 2005

NIn Haunting Capital, Hershini Young sets out to re-theorize the African diaspora “so that the concept becomes unintelligible without an understanding of gender as a constitutive element.” Young uses the historically injured bodies of black women, as represented in novels by black women, to talk about colonialism, gender, race, memory and haunting.Haunting Capital departs from traditional trauma studies, which stress individual wounding and psychotherapeutic models. Instead, Young explores the notion of injury as a collective wounding, resulting from the trauma of capitalistic regimes such as slavery and colonialism. She also introduces the idea of the ghost to her discussion of collective injury, where it functions not only on theoretical and metaphorical levels, but also by invoking African cosmologies in which ghosts are ancestral beings with a real spiritual presence. More specifically, Young insists on the contemporary reality of African nations and eschews the presentation of Africa as a vague, undifferentiated point of origin that characterizes many other studies of the African diaspora. Her reading of African contemporary novels by women, alongside African American and Caribbean novels, works to show the African diaspora as haunted by similar, though different, issues of gendered and racialized violence. Amazon.com link.