Gerald Casel, “Dancing Around Race” February 15th

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I hopped on Muni to the Asian Art Museum to catch Gerald Casel’s “Dancing Around Race.” The event included a lecture by Casel, 5 site-specific performances, and a post-show discussion. 

It started with a 20-minute lecture by Casel, “Dancing Around Race; Interrogating Whiteness in Dance,” which provided a framework for watching the 5 dances on the program. These dances “reflect on a year of research” – the choreographers, Yayoi Kambara, Raissa Simpson, David Herrera, SAMMAY, and Gerald Casel, participated in Casel’s year-long Community Engagement Residency through the Hope Mohr Dance 2018 Bridge Project:

“Together they interrogated the dynamics of equity in performance, specifically how the structures and systems of dance presentation are affected by race and power” 


Dancing Around Race: Interrogating Whiteness in Dance by Gerald Casel. Photo: Michelle LaVigne

I stand in relation to Casel’s work as a white woman and I appreciated Casel’s framing as it encouraged me to consider the multiple ways in which my perspective is (always) shaded by this stance. Casel’s talk charted his journey in curating and creating Dancing Around Race. It was thoughtful, reflective, and insightful and brought into constellation questions, terms, and realities of bodies, dance, and dance-making:

  • Invisibility of whiteness
  • Equity
  • False universalism (as whiteness)
  • White fragility
  • Whiteness as neutral, normal, ordinary
  • Systems
  • Economies

Casel did not hold back. He voiced struggles and frustrations working on Not About Race Dance and the Dancing Around Race Public Gatherings. He stressed the need to keep naming the inequities from various standpoints. I was particularly struck by his list of major dance companies in San Francisco dominated by “white individuals.” 

Casel’s framing lingered as I moved around the Asian Art Museum encountering works in Samsung Hall, the Wilbur Grand Staircase, Bogart Court and Lee Gallery. I didn’t take too many notes as I wanted to experience the dances without distraction. By the time I ended up back in Samsung Hall for Casel’s Duet X, I felt invited into a conversation that had already been happening and at the same time ongoing. Both Herrara’s It’s Always Also Me and SAMMAY’s a technoritwal asked the audience to carefully, mindfully and playfully consider their points of view, and their bodies’ views – they articulated and spoke. With all 5 dances, I noticed direct and unwavering movement modalities that clearly embodied a year of research and the persistence of work. The post-show discussion continued Casel’s opening lecture as the choreographers discussed their movement modalities, offered ways white communities can “decenter,” and considered what it means to unpack white neutrality.  


a technoritwal by SAMMAY. Photo: Michelle LaVigne

A week later I found myself sitting at a university forum on black women in the academy. They began by asking: “who’s research is considered valuable?” University of San Francisco University Professor Stephanie Sears responded by explaining how her research on “how black women and girls work with and against each other to create safe space, construct identities and empower themselves” was seen as “too particular” and not generalizable enough. With “Dancing Around Race” Casel is asking us to stop generalizing dance and to value dances, dancers, and dance-makers of color for their particular stances, experiences, and perspectives. Casel, like Sears, is a researcher to watch and read.


January 22nd, “Rice”

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

I got a slow start this year.

2016 started with words about dance.  I attended two discussions as a part of the Fresh Festival (“Phenomenology & Feminisms, or Ladies Night with Fauxnique Monique Jenkinson” and “Dance Discourse Project #21: Dreaming the Future Landscape”).  I’m not sure what I expected out of these events.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to “do” as an audience member/participant, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take home with me.  Maybe I chose the wrong talks (unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice in my schedule).  Maybe the they needed better facilitators.  Maybe I needed to participate more.

Now, for the dancing – Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. I bought this ticket last Fall, and it was a little weird to have this on my calendar for so long.  I am usually not thinking that far in advance.

CalPerformance program.

If I could only choose one word to describe “Rice,” it would be “satisfying.” Beautiful dancing, rhythm, video, light, sound – all of it was satisfying.

As I learned from the program notes, the choreographer, Lin Hwai-min, took his dancers to join farmers harvesting rice in the field.  It tells “the story of the land while contemplating the devastation of Earth.”  I don’t know how, but this showed up in the dance. I could sense it.  Perhaps what I found so satisfying had something to with how these dancers embodied soil, wind, pollen, sunlight, grain, fire, and water via the experiences of death and rebirth, devastation and resurrection.  The program notes also suggest that the dance “enacts a human drama parallel to the life cycle of rice.”  But is this all?  As I pressed start on my rice cooker today, I began to reflect back on the performance as something more than just a satisfying experience.  What might it mean to be watching laboring dancers embodying the human and non-human labor of rice production?  Is this aspect of labor eclipsed by the beauty of moving bodies and images?  If so, why?

It’s often so easy to sit in the audience and be satisfied with the beauty of a dance.  But dance doesn’t only exist in the theater or in program notes.  Dances connect to experiences, identities, communities, ideologies, questions, and more.  They ask us to think differently, consider alternative worlds, explore new concepts, and imagine other ways of being.  Yet, the theater can isolate the experience of watching and even detach us from those connections.  Yes, watching “Rice” was satisfying, but its labor gives me pause and in that pause I am confronted by multiple kinds labor and laboring that are visible as well as invisible.