Next London Theatre Seminar: 15 November 2018 at 6:30 PM, with Prarthana Purkayastha (RHUL) and Janet O’Shea (UCLA)

Dear colleagues,

Our next London Theatre Seminar will take place on Thursday, 15 November 2018 in the University of London Senate House (Room G26). We are delighted to feature two speakers tonight, Prarthana Purkayastha from Royal Holloway, University of London, and Janet O’Shea, from the University of California Los Angeles. As usual, start time is 6:30 PM. The seminar will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene in a local pub. Wine and refreshments will be served.

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, & Bryce

Decolonizing Human Exhibits: dance, re-enactment and historical fiction
This lecture-performance focuses on decolonizing exhibition practices and colonial archives. It begins with a survey of literature on nineteenth-century colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs as a cultural practice and the complicity of academic disciplines such as anthropology and ethnology in promoting violent forms of pedagogy. It examines the failed Liberty’s 1885 exhibition in London, specifically analyzing the nautch dancers whose moving bodies both engaged and disrupted the scopophilia framing such live human exhibits. The talk examines how re-imagining the Liberty’s nautch experiences by embodying archival slippages might be a usefully anarchic way of exhuming the memories of those dancers forgotten by both British and Indian nationalist history. The talk will discuss the structural limitations of reenactments, a current trend in contemporary Euro-American dance, and argues that historical fiction as a corporeal methodology might be a viable decolonizing strategy for dance studies.

Prarthana Purkayastha is Senior Lecturer in Dance at Royal Holloway University of London. Her monograph Indian Modern Dance, Feminism and Transnationalism (2014) won the 2015 de la Torre Bueno Prize from the Society of Dance History Scholars and the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award from the Congress on Research in Dance. She has published in Performance Research, Dance Research Journal, Asian Theatre Journal and CLIO: Women, Gender, History, among others. Prarthana is currently working on the British Academy/Leverhulme funded project ‘Decolonising the Body: Dance and Visual Arts in Modern India.’ Her research examines race, gender and nationhood through dance.

MMA Progressives and Far-Right Fight Clubs: Martial Arts as a Model for Agonistic Democracy

I have spent the last few years writing about physicalized opposition in combat sport, exploring how full contact martial art practices such as sparring and grappling differentiate themselves from violence even as they use the components of violence. In my book, Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training, I suggest that martial arts provide an opportunity for practicing disagreement with respect, engaging a sense of oppositional civility that neither assumes all viewpoints are equally valid nor that opposition is inherently suspect. As such, when handled with reflection and intention, martial arts have the potential to act as a space where, in Chantal Mouffe’s terms, participants can rehearse agonistics. In the face of rising right-wing populism, opportunities to practice radical democracy are both rare and necessary.

Two recent, unrelated events complicate, and potentially deepen, this consideration of combat sport as a site of agonistic respect: the appearance of far-right mixed martial arts leagues or “fascist fight clubs” and the election of the Sharice Davids, former pro-MMA fighter and grassroots progressive, to Congress. In this talk, I examine the nuances and contradictions that these examples reveal within martial arts practicing, considering if and in what ways combat sport can operate as a practice of radical democracy.

Janet O’Shea is author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (2018, Oxford University Press) and At Home in the World: Bharata Natyam on the Global Stage (2007, Wesleyan University Press). Recipient of a UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant to study the cognitive benefits of Filipino Martial Arts training, she gave a TEDx Talk on competitive play and has offered keynote presentations at the Martial Arts Studies conference and Dance/Performance in Interdisciplinary Perspective Symposium. Her essays have been published in five languages and seven countries. She is professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.