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Don't Act, Just Dance

Don't Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Don't Act, Just Dance
    Book Description:

    At some point in their career, nearly all the dancers who worked with George Balanchine were told "don't act, dear; just dance." The dancers understood this as a warning against melodramatic over-interpretation and an assurance that they had all the tools they needed to do justice to the steps-but its implication that to dance is already to act in a manner both complete and sufficient resonates beyond stage and studio.

    Drawing on fresh archival material,Don't Act, Just Danceplaces dance at the center of the story of the relationship between Cold War art and politics. Catherine Gunther Kodat takes Balanchine's catch phrase as an invitation to explore the politics of Cold War culture-in particular, to examine the assumptions underlying the role of "apolitical" modernism in U.S. cultural diplomacy. Through close, theoretically informed readings of selected important works-Marianne Moore's "Combat Cultural," dances by George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Yuri Grigorovich, Stanley Kubrick'sSpartacus, and John Adams'sNixon in China-Kodat questions several commonly-held beliefs about the purpose and meaning of modernist cultural productions during the Cold War.

    Rather than read the dance through a received understanding of Cold War culture,Don't Act, Just Dancereads Cold War culture through the dance, and in doing so establishes a new understanding of the politics of modernism in the arts of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6528-6
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part I Rethinking Cold War Culture

    • 1 Combat Cultural
      (pp. 1-14)

      The Moiseyev Dance Company of the Soviet Union made its U.S. premiere at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on Saturday, April 19, 1958. The troupe’s visit had been organized by the charismatic impresario Sol Hurok, whose energetic courtship of Soviet cultural officials had begun two years earlier, but the company arrived in Manhattan just three months after the signing of the nations’ first bilateral cultural exchange agreement (a circumstance that delighted Hurok because it not only endowed the privately arranged booking with a certain official gravitas but also set the stage for similarly lucrative opportunities in...

    • 2 History: From the WPA to the NEA (through the CIA)
      (pp. 15-33)

      Government support of the arts in the United States has several traits that make it unusual in the history of public arts patronage. Wealthy Americans have always collected and commissioned artworks and acted as sustaining patrons for individual writers, painters, and composers, yet such discrete and often idiosyncratic practices do not correspond to the quasi-public, institutionalized traditions of royal and religious patronage that were fundamental to the development of modern European and Asian programs of government arts funding.¹ Rather, Federal One, the first systematic public arts program in the United States, was begun as an employment project during the Great...

    • 3 Theory: Adorno and Rancière (Abstraction, Modernism, Gender, Sexuality)
      (pp. 34-58)

      To the contemporary American academic humanist reared under the command “always historicize,” Jacques Rancière’s 2003 assertion that “there is no criterion, … no formula” for determining the correlation of politics and aesthetics may seem willfully naïve or deliberately provocative.¹ Along with his observation that “there is no such thing” as historical necessity, his claim seems to dismiss current beliefs about the best scholarly practices for uncovering and interpreting connections between art and politics (Rancière,Dissensus201). Certainly, it is neither accurate nor fair to characterize current wisdom asentirelygoverned by the perception that artwork is a symptom or reflection...

    • 4 Dancing: “Don’t Act, Just Dance”
      (pp. 59-68)

      The metapolitics of cold war culture are linked to a perception of the aesthetic as a queerly feminine realm of experience. Clinging to this perception are several otherwise antithetical views of the arts and government arts patronage that, as I have shown, circulated widely in the United States during the cold war, from the confident assumption that propagandists can manipulate art to dismissals of art as a useless frivolity and denunciations of its fickle, subversive energies. Rather than study the origins and accuracy of modern perceptions of art’s essential femininity and/or queerness, I want to explore how this view informed...

  5. Part II Rereading Cold War Culture

    • 5 Figures in the Carpet: Balanchine, Cunningham, “Persia”
      (pp. 71-124)

      William Faulkner was not the only difficult American novelist whose stock enjoyed high valuation during the cold war. The story of Henry James’s elevation to literary canonization, however, bears little resemblance to Faulkner’s dramatic, rags-to-riches narrative of critical redemption, following instead the same slow path that characterized the rise of government arts patronage in the 1930s.¹ James’s full accession to the title of “The Master” of American letters was accomplished in the early 1950s with the publication of the first installment of Leon Edel’s five-volume biography, but Ross Posnock traces of the start of James’s canonization to the 1934 publication...

    • 6 Spartacus
      (pp. 125-150)

      Despite disagreements about the political motivations and effects of cold war culture, most scholars concede that American dance, literature, and visual art came into their own after World War II largely thanks to a reinvigorated exploration of modernist principles of form and style. This was not the case, however, for cold war U.S. cinema. Although the postwar years saw the emergence of a group of artists whose film practice had clear formal allegiances to modernism and the European avant-garde (for example, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, and Jonas Mekas), their explorations of visual abstraction and figuration in purely cinematic...

    • 7 From Art As Diplomacy to Diplomacy As Art: The Red Detachment of Nixon in China
      (pp. 151-158)

      At a preview performance a few months before the official unveiling of his first opera, John Adams joked thatNixon in Chinawas “for Republicans and Communists” (Steinberg 115). He had a point: for a work with so much baldly political content, the precise nature of the opera’s politics—in other words, its attitude toward that content—has proved elusive. The 1987 Houston Grand Opera world premiere left reviewers struggling to come to terms with what Alex Ross has calledNixon in China’s “studied ambiguity” (586). Some finessed the challenge by laying the entire enterprise at the feet of director...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 159-186)
  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-202)
  8. Index
    (pp. 203-210)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)