Sie sind auf Seite 1von 26

Thomas F.

DeFrantz AND
Anita Gonzalez, EDITORS
BLACK
PERFORMANCE
THEORY
BLACK PERFORMANCE THEORY
BLACK
PERFORMANCE
THEORY / Thomas F. DeFrantz AND Anita Gonzalez, EDITORS
Foreword by D. Soyini Madison
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS DURHAM AND LONDON 2014
:o:DukeUniversityPress
Allrightsreserved
PrintedintheUnitedStatesofAmericaonacid-freepaper
DesignedbyHeatherHensley
TypesetinMinionProbyGraphicComposition,Inc.
LibraryofCongressCataloging-in-PublicationData
Blackperformancetheory/TomasF.DeFrantzandAnitaGonzalez,editors;
forewordbyD.SoyiniMadison.
pagescm
Includesbibliographicalreferencesandindex.
isv,8-o-8::,-,oo,-,(cloth:alk.paper)
isv,8-o-8::,-,o:o-,(pbk.:alk.paper)
:.Blacksintheperformingarts. :.AfricanAmericansintheperformingarts.
i.DeFrantz,Tomas. ii.Gonzalez,Anita.
v:,o.v,,v,,:o:
,:.o8'oo,,dc:,
:o:,o,,,,
Frontispiece:AmyPapaelias,NavigationsofBlackness:,:o:,.Courtesyoftheartist.
vii Forewordby D. Soyini Madison
xi Acknowledgments
: Introduction:FromNegroExpressiontoBlackPerformance
Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
PART I: TRANSPORTING BLACK
: :.Navigations:DiasporicTransportsandLandings
Anita Gonzalez
,, :.DiasporicSpidering:ConstructingContemporaryBlackIdentities
Nadine George- Graves
, ,.Twenty-First-CenturyPost-humans:TeRiseoftheSee-J
Hershini Bhana Young
o, .HipWork:UndoingtheTragicMulata
Melissa Blanco Borelli
PART II: BLACK- EN- SCNE
8, ,.Black-AuthoredLynchingDramasChallengetoTeaterHistory
Koritha Mitchell
o.ReadingSpiritandtheDancingBodyintheChoreographyof
RonaldK.BrownandReggieWilson
Carl Paris
::, ,.Uncovered: A Pageant of Hip Hop Masters
Rickerby Hinds
PART III: BLACK IMAGINARY
:: 8.BlackMovements:FlyingAfricansinSpaceships
Soyica Diggs Colbert
CONTENTS
vi / Contents
: .Post-logicalNotesonSelf-Election
Wendy S. Walters
:,8 :o.Cityscaped:Ethnospheres
Anna B. Scott
PART IV: HI- FIDELITY BLACK
:o ::.RipItUp:ExcessandEcstasyinLittleRichardsSound
Tavia Nyongo
:8 ::.DontStoptilYouGetEnough:Presence,Spectacle,andGood
FeelinginMichael Jacksons Tis Is It
Jason King
:o :,.Afro-sonicFeministPraxis:NinaSimoneandAdrienneKennedy
inHighFidelity
Daphne A. Brooks
::, :.Hip-HopHabitusv.:.o
Thomas F. DeFrantz
:, Bibliography
:o, Contributors
:o Index
Blackperformancetheory(vv1)helpsusdeciphertheimperativesofblack-
ness. Translating the meanings of blackness by excavating the enlivening
enactmentsthatsustainblackness,theorydoesthelaboroftranslatingthe
thickontologiesofwhatblackimperativesarebylocatingthemwithinthe
generativeforcesofperformance.Witheachgeneration,perhapswitheach
turn of a phrase, we stake a new claim within a new world order for the
natureandsignifcanceofblackness.Blackperformancetheorycomplicates
old claims of blackness, because life is change and the world keeps turn-
ing, demanding new vocabularies and new actions. Blackness is born and
rebornassomethinguniquelyitself,instarkdiferenceagainstthatwhich
itisnot,andincomfortingfamiliaritywiththosethingsthatareitself.To
saysomethingdiferentandnewaboutblackness,aboutithavinganature
or a decipherable core, is serious work because it is head spinning in its
contradictionsandcontingencies.Blackperformancetheoryshowsushow
eachunfoldingoriterationofwhatblacknessiscanbeconstitutedbyper-
formanceandrevealedwithinunlimitedperformanceframes.
Tisvolumetransformsblackontologiesandimperativesintothelived
realmsoftime,space,andaction:bodies,machines,movement,sound,and
creationnowculminatewithintemporalitiesofstruggleandrenewal.Black
performancetheoryshowsushowsubjectsandsubjectivitiesanimateblack-
nessacrosslandscapesthatareallspectacularlyexcessiveinthecauseandef-
fectsofAfricandislocation,imperialisttrade,capitalaccumulation,human
violence,andblackabjectionaswellascircum-Atlanticexpressions,black
labor,Africanistretentions,blackdiasporamovements,thepoliticsofblack
isbeautiful,andmore.
In deciphering the imperatives of blackness, vv1 becomes an opposi-
tionalmovewithinamatrixofdiscipliningpowersreigningovertheblack
body. Because it deepens the details of black expressivities and transgres-
sionswithintheabidingcontextsofdisciplinaryhistoriesandcirculations
ofinequality,vv1translatesallofthiswithinfuidrubricsofperformance,
FOREWORD
viii / Foreword
performativity, and the performative. If performance constitutes forms of
cultural stagingconscious, heightened, refexive, framed, contained
within a limited time span of action from plays to carnivals, from poetry
toprose,fromweddingstofunerals,fromjokestostorytellingandmore;if
performativitymarksidentitythroughthehabitusofrepetitiveenactments,
reiterationsofstylizednorms,andinheritedgesturalconventionsfromthe
waywesit,stand,speak,dress,dance,play,eat,holdapencilandmore;if
theperformativeistheculminationofbothinthatitdoes somethingtomake
amaterial,physical,andsituationaldiferencethenvv1speakstowhyall
thismatterstoblacknessandtocontestedidentities.Blackperformancethe-
oryhelpsusrealizeperformance.Inthisperformance/theorycouplingwhat
isrevealedtousishowperformanceperformsandhowtheoryperformsus
through its realizations, claims, and possibilities. It works to translate and
inspire,topoliticallyinterrogateandsensuallyinvoke,howrealmsofper-
formance struggles and troubles illuminate black agency and subjectivity
withinreimaginedspacesofbeing.
Blackperformancetheoryishighstakesbecauseitexcavatesthecoded
nuancesaswellasthecomplexspectacleswithineverydayactsofresistance
byonceknowna/objectsthatarenowandhavealwaysbeenagentsoftheir
ownhumanity.Blackperformancetheoryisoppositionalbecauseithonors
the subaltern, rhetorical roots of black symbolism that survive and break
throughthetimeworndeathwishcastagainstblackexpression.Tetheo-
rist attends to performance histories, aesthetics, and orders of belonging
governedbymultifariousmodesofun-freedomaswellastheradicalper-
formances that violent constraint has invoked. But, as much as black per-
formancetheoryisaboutpolitics,entangledwithinhistoryandpower,itis
alsoanenterpriseandlaborofthesenses.Tegifofperformancetheoryis
itsdistinctattentionandindebtednesstothesensoryasthesensesactualize
temporality,enlivendesire,andembracebeautyacrossthepoeticsof bod-
ies and the aesthetics of their creations. Performance theory honors and
heightensthegravitasofthesensesasgatewaystothesymbol-makingbody,
itssonics,anditsexistentialtruthswrappedinartandpurpose.
Ifthegenealogyofblackperformanceextendslikearhizometocrossits
densecontinentalrootsandbuddingdiasporicexpressivitiesintheculmi-
nationandcontinuumofendlesscircum-Atlanticperformances,thenblack
performancetheoryinheritsanethicscommandedbytheperformativesof
Africanistmultitudes.Becauseblackperformanceisbornthroughandsus-
tained by circum-Atlantic epochs and its (dis)concordant expressivities, it
followsthatblackperformancetheoryisindebtedtothetruthofthisAfri-
canistinheritancethatconstitutesthefactofblackness.Africa/Africanisms/
Foreword / ix
Africanistsymbols,meanings,andliveshavebeentheprototypeofabjec-
tion.Terefore,thepoliticalstakesandsensoryafectsofblackperformance
theoryrequireanintellectualrigorthatelucidatesanddisentanglesthecom-
plexitiesoftheseAfricanismsandthehauntingterrorsoftheirdegradation.
Blackperformancetheoryalsorequiresanethicsofengagementthatbegins
with,butmovesfrom,economiesofdislocationanddisciplinarypowerto
futures of what black performatives do and its instructive elaborations on
futurity. Black performance theory ofers up something beyond what we
already know, because it is an ethics that does not stand in iterations but
intellectually thrives in thick performatives of kinesis and invention: for
lifes sake.
Tis volume is a palimpsest of black performance histories, practices,
afects, and ideologies. In this contemporary moment, what surfaces and
leavesitsimprintuponvv1isthedemandfornewimperatives,expanded
notionsofblackontology,freshmeditationsonblackabjection,andrenewed
dialoguesonhowperformancecangenerateitall.Tisclaimgoesfurtherin
enunciatingthatraceisbothafundamentalconstantandaresistantfactor
intheinfniteandboundlessreachesofblackperformance,itssensibilities,
anditsanalytics.Iamremindedof HarryBelafonteslamentof howblack
artistshaveturnedtheirbacksonblacksocialresponsibility,adding,Give
meBruceSpringsteen,andnowyouretalking.Ithinkheisblack(Zawia).
Hereinthenotionthatculturalpoliticstrumpsrace.FromToniMorrisons
notedcommentaboutBillClintonbeingthefrstblackpresidenttothecon-
troversyoverthemeaningsofpost-black,thepointisthatraceisafactof
blacknesswithinraciallyboundlessarticulationsandperformativesthatrise
from this fact. Tis volume illuminates the constant of blackness and its
abidingboundlessness.
Exceeding iterations of ready-made blackness and overcooked theories
ofperformance,thisvolumehonorsthechargetotheorizeoutsidetheex-
pectedandtosaysomethingnew.Itdoesthiswitheachessay.Teorizingis
arealcommitment.Itishard,good,interventionistwork.Blacknessmakes
theorizing even more complicated, because it makes theory expand and
reach into histories and economies that are layered by abjection and sub-
jugatedspaces.Blackperformancetheory,withheartfeltcommitmentand
sharp-tonguedintellect,deepenstheexpanseandreachofthisintervention-
istworktooferupblackimperativesofpolitics,beauty,andthesenses.
D. SOYINI MADISON
Black Performance TeoryisaprojectofSlippage:Performance|Culture|
Technology,TomasF.DeFrantz,director.
mi1OmceoftheProvost,mi1su.ssDeansOmce,andespeciallyPhilip S.
Khoury,whofundedSlippageandBlack Performance Teoryaswe
woundourwayaroundthecountry.
AlloftheparticipantsintheBlackPerformanceTeoryworkinggroup
overtheyears,andespeciallythewitnesseswhoheldproductive
silenceandparticipatedintheworkinggroupviathestaminaofsus-
tainedgesturesofstillness.
TeoutstandingemotionalgenerosityofVenusOpalReese,Sandra
Richards,andMaeG.Henderson,eachofwhomhelpedusconjure
this workforwardinherownspecialway.
D.SoyiniMadison,whosewritinginspiresusall.
Temanyartistswhoperformedatthevariousvv1workinggroupses-
sions:TaddeusBennett,TemaBryant,MarkA.Davis,KimFowler,
AmatulHannan,AdrienneHawkins,CraigHickman,Tomasi
McDonald,CarlHancockRux,PamelaSneed,andCristalynWright.
Tehostsofthevv1workinggroupfrom:8to:o:,:RichardC.Green,
TomasF.DeFrantz,AnanyaChatterjea,AnnemarieBean,E.Patrick
Johnson,DaphneBrooks,StephanieBatiste,OmiOsun/JoniL.Jones,
TaviaNyongo,AwamAmkpa.
CourtneyBerger,andthestafatDukeUniversityPress,foranunprec-
edentedresponsiveness.
ColleaguesatDukeUniversity,especiallyDeanSrinivasAravamudanand
ViceProvostfortheArtsScottLindroth.
Andmostimportant,RichardC.Green,whocreatedtheincitingspace
forthiseventthroughhisstartlingscholarlyimagination,andencour-
aged usalltovibrateinanotherkey.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Black Performance Teory refects upon and extends twentieth-
century intellectual labors to establish black expressive culture
as an area of serious academic inquiry. Here, we bring forward a
wealthofcriticalparadigmsthatilluminatethecapacitiesofblack
performance and black sensibilities to enable critical discussions
ofperformancehistories,theories,andpractices.Authorshereare
less concerned with errors of omission in a historical genealogy
ofperformancestudiesthanaprojectofrevelation,oneinwhich
thecapacityof blackperformanceisrevealedasapartofitsown
deployment without deference to overlapping historical trajec-
tories or perceived diferences in cultural capital from an elusive
Europeanistnorm.Blackperformancetheoryemergesnow,aswe
are convinced of the endurance of black performance even in a
worldthatdailyrealignstheimplicationsofrace,ethnicity,gender,
sexuality,location,ability,age,andclass.Asweattempttocapture
the feld through defnitions, dialogues, or performative writing,
we discover two important truths: that black sensibilities emerge
whetherthereareblackbodiespresentornot;andthatwhileblack
performancemaycertainlybecomemanifestwithoutblackpeople,
wemightbestrecognizeitasacircumstanceenabledbyblacksen-
sibilities,blackexpressivepractices,andblackpeople.
Touncoverahistoryofblackperformance,webeginbyconsid-
eringnamingthemechanismsusedtodesignateblackpresence.
Forexample:African,Ethiop,Negro,colored,black,AfricanAmer-
ican. Tese monikers demonstrate shifs in thinking about black
identity and representation. Each label represents a context for
packagingideasaboutblackpeopleinparticularplacesandduring
particularhistoricaltimeperiods.AfricanorEthiopsuggestsorigi-
INTRODUCTION / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
FROM NEGRO EXPRESSION TO BLACK PERFORMANCE
2 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
nary locations and routes of black migrationwhether free or enslaved.
Negro and colored were terms of patriarchal domination, popular in the
nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Black and African Ameri-
canrepresentresistant,dissidentself-namingsthatemergedinresponseto
political activism of the latter part of the twentieth century. And by now,
inthetwenty-frstcentury,blackhasstabilizedaninternationalidentityof
diasporanconsciousness.
Tenamingofblackpeopleallowedauthorsindiferenthistoricalerasto
categorizeblackpracticesofperformanceaccordingtotheracializedbeliefs
ofthetime.Colonialandnineteenth-centuryauthorsofendescribedAfri-
canandEthiopperformancesasdemonstrationsofforeign,orprimitive,
cultures.
I
IntheearlytwentiethcenturyoftheUnitedStates,anundeniable
growthinprofessionalblackperformancebyNegroandcoloredartists
generated increased commentary. While some authors considered these
performances as mere entertainments, theoretical writing concerned with
blackperformanceasartistrybegantoemergeatthistime.Strikingly,the
mostpowerfulexamplesofthisgenreofwritingcamefromAfricanAmeri-
canartistenclaves.
2
InNewYork,authorsoftheHarlemRenaissancewon-
deredattheemcacyandimpactofblackexpressionastheyproducedplays,
visualartsworks,dances,andmusicalcompositions.Teirearlytheorizing
establishedthatblackperformancestylesandsensibilitieswerenotmerely
verbaloraural,butalsoincludedvisualsymboliccodesthatcommunicated
andcommentedin-group.Teseauthorsandartistsbegantoquestionhow
black expression translated to outsider audiences. Among these authors,
ZoraNealeHurstonemergedasanoriginarytheoristconcernedwithaes-
theticcompositionofblackperformance.
Negro Expression
Hurston wrote a prescient short article for the groundbreaking anthology
Negro, published in :, (Hurston). She ofered a taxonomy of African
American performativity titled Characteristics of Negro Expression that
referenced sites, modes, and practices of performance. Te essay, and its
placement alongside the creative writings of other artists and researchers
oftheHarlemRenaissanceera,predictedabroadinterestinunderstanding
African diaspora performance. Te implications of Hurstons short essay
still stand: black performance derives from its own style and sensibilities
thatundergirditsproduction.Andblackperformanceanswerspressingaes-
theticconcernsofthecommunitiesthatengageit.
Working from her feldwork observations, Hurston theorizes Negro
performanceoftheAmericanSouthoftheearlytwentiethcenturyinpro-
Introduction / 3
vocative, unabashed style. She proclaims Negro talk to be dramatic and
notes a characteristic willingness to use action wordswords that paint
picturesasastabilizingpointofentrytounderstandingtheexpressiveaes-
theticsof blacklanguageandgesture.Perhapsthemostimportantquality
thatHurstonincludesinherexplicittaxonomyisthewilltoadorn.Here,
languagepushesforwardtowardanunprecedentedspaceofexpressiveness.
For example, the word syndicating to refer to gossiping demonstrates
metaphorandsimile;thedoubledescriptiveslowdownorhightallelab-
oratemeaning;andverbalnounssuchasfuneralizeorjookingcapture
actioninlanguage.FollowingHurston,wecanconcludethatblackexpres-
siveperformancespringsfromtheneedtocommunicatebeyondthelimited
eventsofwordsalone.
Hurstonsessayalsohighlightsdancing,dialect,folklore,cultureheroes,
imitation,andtheJook;eachsectionconfrmsNegroExpressionasitsown
source and subject of possibility. Perhaps this is Hurstons grand achieve-
ment:sheallowsblackperformancetobeindialoguesimultaneouslywith
itself,theworldaroundit,andthelivesof blackpeople.NegroExpression
isanactofconfrmationthatisaestheticallymotivatedandfoundationalto
understandingthecommunitythatpracticesit.
In its frst iterations, Negro Expression was routinely aligned with ver-
nacularandfolklorestudies,areasthatallowedforuncomplicatedreadings
offxedsocialpracticeswithoutresourcetoaestheticorliterarytheory.In
time, editors and researchers, including activist Nancy Cunard, folklorist
Alan Lomax, musicologist Eileen Southern, dance researcher Lynne Fau-
ley Emery, anthropologist Lawrence Levine, literary theorist Houston A.
Baker Jr., cultural theorist Kobena Mercer, and historians Shane White
andGrahamWhite,oferedvolumesthatattestedtotheresiliencyofblack
cultural expression.
3
Eventually, disciplinary amliations including anthro-
pology,musicology,dance,theater,andtheliteraryandvisualartscreated
mechanismsfortheconsiderationof blackperformancethatsoughttoac-
countforitsstructuralcomplexityanddiversity.
Flash Forward Thirty Years: Africanist Aesthetics and Civil Rights
:oo:ArthistorianRobertFarrisTompsonpublishesDanceandCulture,
anAestheticoftheCool:WestAfricanDanceaspreludetohismagisterial
catalogueAfrican Art in Motion: Icon and Act in the Collection of Katherine
Coryton White(:,),andLeRoiJonespublishesTeRevolutionaryTe-
atreinacollectionofwritingstitledHome: Social Essays.
Tompsons work considers the aesthetic value of West African dance
and song: West African dances are key documents of aesthetic history;
4 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
theyarenonverbalformulationsofphilosophiesof beautyandethics;and
theyfurnishameansofcomprehendingapervasivestrandofcontemporary
Americanculture(8,).Tompsonstheorizationofperformanceincludes
a taxonomy of four shared traits of West African music and dance: the
dominance of a percussive concept of performance; multiple meter; apart
playinganddancing;call-and-response;and,fnallythesongsanddancesof
derision.Tesesharedtraitsbecamethefoundationforanaestheticideol-
ogysurroundingAfricanistperformanceasafamilyofpractices.
From Tompsons essay, a possibility to theorize black performance in
termsofitsownontologiesemerges.Tompsonswritingsbuiltuponfeld-
workthatheconductedonthecontinent;hewasexplicitlyseekingoutcon-
nectionsamongperformancemodesandartpracticesinvariousgroups.In
takingthislongview,asHurstonhaddoneinhertoursoftheAmerican
Southagenerationearlier,Tompsonconfrmedaestheticcommonalities,
andimperativesthatguidedcreativecommunicationsamongblackpeople.
TeturntoWestAfricanvaluesandaestheticsmarkedageneralinterest
inAfrocentricthoughtthatwasaby-productofincreasinginterestinnarra-
tivesoforigins.Tompsonsworkcoincidedwithblackpoliticalactivismin
urbanlocationsthatgeneratedartinspiredbysocialchange.Teaterartists
andactivistsincludingAmiriBaraka(LeRoiJones)describedtheirperfor-
manceprioritiesintermsofrevolution.BarakasessayTeRevolutionary
Teatre conceived of black performance as continuing, evolving, ritual
and experimental work that could evoke the imagistic world of spirit and
dreams.
4
Hiscallforatheatreofworldspiritopenedpossibilitiesfordefn-
ingblackperformanceasprocessratherthanproduct.
WhileHurstondocumentedwhatshesawamongthefolk,andTomp-
soncreatedterminologythatcouldcategorizeAfricanistaesthetics,Baraka
called for a deployment of theatrical imagery that could connect an idea
ofblacknessacrosstimeandspace.Hewrote,Teimaginationisthepro-
jectionofourselvespastoursenseofourselvesasthings.Heencouraged
revolutionary black performers to incorporate intangible aspects of black
lifeintheirart:ritesofpassage,gutturalmoans,ritualchants,andimpro-
visationalrifs.Hisinsistenceonanimaginaryspaceofpossibilitycreated
aninterculturalandintertextualarticulationofblackperformance,onethat
exploredanessentialsoulofblackfolk.
Flash Forward Thirty Years and Counting: Working Together to Dene
Black Performance
:,:TeBlackPublicSphereCollectivepublishesTe Black Public Sphere
(University of Chicago Press), a coedited volume; :8: Michele Wal-
Introduction / 5
lace and Gina Dent ofer Black Popular Culture (New Press); and in :oo,,
Harry J. ElamJr.andKennellJacksonsvolumeBlack Cultural Traf c: Cross-
roads inGlobal Performance and Popular Culture(UniversityofMichigan)
appears.
TelevisionandInternetreplicateblackacts.Mediaamplifyandacceler-
atethedistributionofperformance,andanever-wideningglobalpopulace
comesintocontactwithAfricanistaestheticsinmotion.Blackperformances
areembodiedbypeopleofcolorand,importantly,otherswhohaveaccessto
theconstellationofgestureandwordthathadpreviouslyemergedinblack
communities.Academicdefnitionsofperformancebroaden,torecognize
amnitiesanddiferencesamongthelocationandexperienceofblacklifein
afragmented,postmodernworld.Conceptsofhybridity,publicspheres,the
postcolonial, queer black sexualities, and de- essentialized identities enter
discussionsof blackperformance,emphasizingcomplexitiesoftheoretical
analysis.
Collectively,thethreevolumesaboveestablishedcommunitydialogues
ofacademicsworkingonblackperformance.Tesecuratedprojectsbrought
together scholars who consistently considered a public for performance
morebroadthantheaudienceinanyroom.Teirdiscussionssituatedper-
formancenotonlyasfolkloreorpoliticalidentity,butwithintheinterdis-
ciplinaryspheresofglobalpopularcultureandmediatedexpression.Taken
together,theyconfrmedaninstitutionallegitimacyforadvanced,nuanced
discussionofblackperformanceasartifactandartistry.
Post /::, a proliferation of perspectives exploring black performance
theorydecentralizesacademicinquiry.Feedbackandtalkbackloopsamong
artists, authors, and audiences explode boundaries between making and
writing about work. New literary formats confrm playful, and serious,
modesofengagementwiththeory.Inthismoment,thepresentvolumepro-
ceeds,andweparsethetermsblack,performance,andtheory.
Parsing Black
DeFrantz: For me, black is the manifestation of Africanist aesthetics.
Tewillingnesstoback-phrase,tomovewithapercussiveattack,tosing
against the grain of the other instruments, and to include the voices of
thosegatheredinthefabricoftheeventthesearetheelementsofblack
thatendureandconfrm.Yes,itcanbethegrainofthevoiceorthesway
ofthehip;astuttercallthatsoundslikeanenginestartingoranunantici-
patedreferencetopoliticalcircumstances:theseelementsmarktheemer-
genceof blackintimeandspace.Tisblackisaction:actionengagedto
enlargecapacity,confrmpresence,todare.
6 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
Gonzalez:Bywayofcontrast,Iunderstandblackasaresponsetohisto-
riesthatextendbeyondAfricaanditsaesthetics.Blackperformanceex-
pands,synthesizes,comments,andrespondstoimaginationsaboutblack
identity as much as to its own inherent expressions. If black identity is
constructed and articulated by those outside of the race then perfor-
mancesof blacknessarecreatedinresponsetotheseimaginedidentities
aswellastoculturalretentionsandAfricanisthistories.Culturalinfusions
fromotherpartsoftheworldcollectandminglewiththemultitudeofAf-
ricanperformancegenrestocreateagreatdiversityofstyles.Iviewblack
asadialogicimaginationanoutsiderresponsetotheveryexistenceof
peoplefromAfricawhocarrytheirownshifingculturalideologiesand
metaphysicalworldviews.
Parsing Performance
Anita:Performanceformeinvolvesenactment,re-creation,orstorytell-
ing.Performerspresenthumansinrelationshiptotheexceptionalcircum-
stancesthatsurroundthem.Evenasperformancecentersinlivingbeings
andconcreteexperiences,itisalsoametaphoric,orsymbolic,iterationof
life.Inperformance,thevocalphysicalexpressivebodybecomesacon-
duit,orcauldron,ofexpressivepotentialthatrecyclesemotion,spirit,be-
havior.Performersusemetaphoricorsymboliccontenttocommunicate
perspectivesaboutlife.
TommyD:Performance,asIimagineit,involvestheexcitementofbreath
to create subject or subjectivity. In other words, performance emerges
in its own conscious engagement, and it is created by living people. Of
course,somewillarguethattextsperform,ormusicvideosperform,
which may be true, but for my sensibility, performance involves subjec-
tivity occasioned by action born of breath. People make performances
happen,whethertheybeinthenightclub,inchurch,intheclassroom,on
thejob,oronastage.Importantly,performersneedtorecognizetheirown
performanceinorderforittobevaluable.Itneedstobeconsciousaction,
conceivedorcreatedasperformance.
Parsing Theory
Male- Identied Queer High Yellow Duke University:Teory,inthisforma-
tion,isthemobilizationofpracticetowardanalysis.Tetakingstock,or
noticing,ofactiontorecognizeitscomponentpartsanditsimplications,
and the extension of that noticing to construct a way to understand, or
interpret, what is happening there. Teory assumes action and practice
alreadyinmotion;theorymightbetherealizationofthatnoticingtrans-
Introduction / 7
latedintotext,ormusicandmotion.Surelytheorydoesnthavetobewrit-
teninordertobecomemanifest,butjustassurelytheoryhastobeshared
amongpeopletobeavaluableanalytic.
Afro Southern Caribea now in Ann Arbor:Teoryisnotlimitedtoaca-
demicorintellectualinquiries.Teoriesdevelopthroughevaluativepro-
cessesinitiatedbyartistsinthemomentinwhichtheyassesswhatworks
about a performance. Performance theory can be delivered through a
handgestureorsketch,embeddedinalecture,ordisseminatedwithinthe
pausesofasoundscore.Artistsarticulatethoughtfulanalysesinamulti-
plicityofways.Post-performancediscussionseasilytaketheformofactive
breath or performed actions that comment and expand upon originat-
ingconcepts,relocatingtheperformancepracticeswithinnewtheoretical
contexts.Tisistheorymanifest:anarticulateresponsetoaperformance.
Alltheory,andcertainlythebesttheory,issubjectiveauniqueandper-
sonalresponsetotheperformanceactthathelpsthereaderorviewerto
perceiveinaneworunexpectedmanner.
Black Sensibilities
From Madison, WI: I remember defending my dissertation with Sally Banes,
the prolifc and innovative dance scholar, at the University of Wisconsin in
1997. Afer a lengthy oral defense in which I argued passionately about the
relative construction of blackness and the need to recognize variable types
of blackness based upon historical and social circumstances, Sally turned to
me with a deadpan face. Well then, Anita, she said, What are you going to
teach? Her point was that if black is relative and variable, then how do we talk
about it / theorize it? In an attempt to diversify blackness, I had removed black-
ness from the equation. My desires to articulate blackness within paradigms of
postmodernism were realized through participation in the Black Performance
Teory working group.
Blackperformancetheorycameintobeingasathinktankaboutblack
performance at a moment when blackness had been successfully decon-
structed as a social and literary category without fxed contents. And yet
blackperformanceremainedapalpableaspectofbeingintheworld.Many
ofthescholarsinvolvedinearlymeetingsofthegroupwerethefrstoftheir
familiestoattendprimarilywhiteeducationalinstitutionsandtoimmerse
themselves in theorizing black performance within integrated academic
institutional contexts. In these circumstances, we were forced to describe,
articulate,andvalidateourblackness.Manyofuswondered,Areweblack
enough:
From Cambridge, MA: I began my frst tenure- track job at the Massachu-
8 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
setts Institute of Technology in the late 1990s, and immediately felt the isolation
of professional academic work. Each institution is encouraged to have one
of everything, so of course I arrived as the only scholar- practitioner working
in dance and African American studies, as well as media and popular cul-
ture studies. We launched bpt at mit and Duke to create community that
could nurture the working- through of concepts and performance ideologies in
a group model that resonated with our sense of Africanist structures of com-
munal labors.
Unliketheirprogenitors,theauthorsofvv1emergedfromenvironments
thatwonderedatanontologyof blacknessthatextendedbeyondrace.We
wondered,ifblacknesswasnolongerstable,whatareitsperformativemark-
ers:Howcanblackperformancesbetheorizedtowardtheirownends,even
asthoseendsaredispersedacrossgeographiesandhistoricaleras:Tewrit-
ersandartistsof vv1embracedthenotionof blacksensibilitiesasaway
tocaptureideasofblackperformativity.Blacksensibilitiestheenlivened,
vibratingcomponentsofapalpableblackfamiliardemonstratethemicro-
economicsofgesturethatcohereinblackperformance.
Fewwillarguethatblacksensibilitiesdonotpermeatecontemporarylife,
arising in fragmentary moments of personal relationship or in sustained
performance practices. For example, hip-hop, conceived as a fexible plat-
formincontrovertiblyblackatitsroot,hasbecomeanengineforexpressive
discovery and marketplace situatedness embraced globally. Gospel music
has become a defning mechanism for the circulations of Christian min-
istriesofseveraldenominations.Blackstrategiesof talkingbacktoever-
wideninghegemonicmainstreamsofsexualities,religion,classconscious-
nesses, and even race are engaged regularly in terms of fashion, language,
physicalstance,andtheexpansivemutabilitiesof beingblack.Questions
about the impossibilities of purity within always-shifing black identities
wererecountednearlydailyduringtheearlypresidencyof BarackObama.
Inallofthesemaneuvers,blacksensibilitiesstylizedwaysofbeinginrela-
tiontoeachotherandourenvironmentsbecomewellspringsofcreative
tactics employed consciously and subconsciously as resources of strength,
resistance,andunexpectedpleasure.
In a remarkable essay published in :ooo that provides an overview of
blackperformancestudies,E.PatrickJohnsoncogentlyexplainsthefraught
terrain of blackness as a manifestation of the epistemological moment of
race,onethatmanifestsitselfinandthroughperformanceinthatperfor-
mancefacilitatesself-andculturalrefexivityaknowingmademanifestby
adoing(Johnson,BlackPerformanceStudies,o).Intheessay,Johnson
arguesmanymodalitiesinwhichblacknessofersawaytorethinkperfor-
Introduction / 9
mancetheorybyforcingittogrounditselfinpraxis,especiallywithinthe
contextofawhitesupremacist,patriarchal,capitalist,homophobicsociety.
Wondering that the two categories are already in oppositionblack and
performanceJohnsonwrylynotesthatinthiscontext,blackperformance
hasthepotentialofsimultaneouslyforestallingandenablingsocialchange
(Johnson, Black Performance Studies, o). Forestalling, within a larger
contextofwhiteperformance;andenabling,asaseeminglyendlesscapacity
forallpeopletoemergeintopresencethroughperformance.
Johnsonalsonotesthatwhileblackperformancehasbeenasustaining
and galvanizing force of black culture and a contributor to world culture
at large, it has not always been recognized as a site of theorization in the
academy(Johnson,BlackPerformanceStudies,,).Black Performance
Teoryseekstooferexamplesofhowthattheorizationhappensandtopre-
dictwherewemaygofromhere.
Somemaywishtodefnewhatblackperformanceisbyrefectingupon
whatitisnot.
Black performance is not static, contained, or geographically specifc.
Tereisnolocalethatdesignatestheoriginofblacksensibilitiesbecause
skincolorshavealwaysbeenglobalandrelative.Teverynotionofblackis
conceivedwithinpolitical/socialeconomiesofpowerdefnedbyhistorical
circumstances. And yet the circumstances multiply or difuse the instant
thattheycreateadistinctentitythatwewanttodelineateasblack.Authors
inthevolumetheorizetheweb,thespirit,theecstasy,theethnosphere,and
thethermodynamicsofdecidedlyundeterminedmodesofexpressionthat
communicatewithinblackrealmsoracrosspoliticaloraestheticorsocial
boundaries.Raceisbothadefningparadigmforblacknessandaresistant
frameforunderstandingtheunboundnatureofthefeld.Clearlyblackper-
formanceisnotending,butrathertransforminginresponsetotechnology,
andever-changingtransnationalsettings.
Black performance contains history and racism, but it is not about ei-
therofthosethings.Blackperformanceinjectsitselfintopertinentpolitical
discussionslikethosesurroundingthedeathofTrayvonMartin,ateenager
shot in :o:: while walking and wearing a hoodie within a predominantly
whiteFloridaneighborhood.TeMartintragedydemonstrateshowmark-
ingsassociatedwithblackperformancesuchasahoodiecanbedeadly.
Clearly,theorizingblackperformanceisimperativeinthepresentmoment.
While deployment of feminist theory might point toward the resistant
capacitiesof blackperformanceasasiteofopposition,theauthorsinthis
volume explore performance largely as an ever-present feature of human
exchange.Inthisformation,performancemayberesistant,amrmative,or
10 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
several states in-between and simultaneously; it may underscore opposi-
tionalaestheticsorcolludewithcreativepracticesfarremovedfromthelives
ofblackpeople.Here,thetermsofperformanceareexpansivelyimaginedto
allowforsubversiveandnormativesimultaneity:cross-rhythmsofrupture
and coherence amid shifing landscapes of intervention and virtuosity. In
thisway,narrativesofdominationandoppressionthatofencircumscribe
depictionsofblackperformancearrivealongsideconsiderationsofpresence
andactivityastheirownmeansandends.
Ratherthanconstrainperformanceaspublicorprivate,liveormediated,
historicalorcontemporary,theoristsinthisvolumeallowslippagebetween
theseareastogounedited.Recurrently,queeringthecapacitiesoftheoreti-
calinterventionarriveasanurgencyinthiswork:theauthorsherewonder,
repeatedly,attheproductiveworkofdisidentifcationthatproducesthesyn-
chronoussingularitiesofblackperformance.
3
On Performative Writing
Somepostmodernperformancetheoristsdescribeintertextualityasapost-
:oosphenomenon.
6
However,wefnditsrootsinearlierrenditionsofblack
aesthetic writing. Performative writing might be the writing that Hurston
refers to at the beginning of her essay, when she writes of the black per-
formerthathisverywordsareactionwords.HisinterpretationoftheEn-
glishlanguageisintermsofpictures.Oneactdescribedintermsofanother
(Hurston).Hurstonswritingdemonstratedblacktalkingbackrichpor-
trayalsofnuancesofNegroform.Herwillingnesstobeplayfulinherwrit-
ingalsopredicatedtheperformativescholarshipoferedhere.Talkingback
playfullyconfrmsablackmodeofintertextualandinterstitialwritingsthat
enlivenanalysesofblackperformance.
7
Black Performance Teory includes chapters that demonstrate how ex-
perimentation with form and ingenuity are part of what has been called
theblackaesthetic.Whenauthorsusewordstocreateunexpectedinter-
pretativespaces,theyreplicatetheopenstructuresofjazz,speech,andmo-
tion.Fouroverlappingterrainssuggestroutesofexploration:Transporting
Black, Black-en-Scne, the Black Imaginary, and Hi-Fidelity Black. Arch-
ingoveralloftheseimaginaryregionsisameta-discourseofdiaspora,the
homeward-tilting,impossibleconceptthatcontinuouslybindsconceptsof
blackness,performance,andtheory.Inconstructingthevolume,wedelib-
eratelyincludewritingsthatmoveacrossthepageastheycommunicate.To
introducetheconceptsofthechaptersincludedhere,aswellastheorganiza-
tionofthevolume,weoferrifsontheconceptsthatundergirdthevolume.
Introduction / 11
Rifng Diaspora
Diaspora is continual; it is the unfolding of experience into a visual, aural,
kinesthetic culture of performance. Like skin, it is porous and permeable,
fexible and self- repairing, fnely spun and fragile. And like skin on a body,
diaspora palpably protects us. We wrap ourselves in its possibilities, and
they remind us of impossible connectivities. In this remindingthis bring-
ing into consciousness of the intangible experience of a mythic pastwe
wear memory on our bodies; we see each other in skins that go together or
sometimes belong apart. Te connective skin of diaspora ofers us protec-
tion from the coldness of individual isolation.
Maybe this is a way to think of the damage that the individualistic push of
Eurocentric cultures does to communal, Earth- based cultures of an African
diaspora. Surely black people can live each alone in the world. But we thrive
in concert and call- and- response, in vibrant communication through a rela-
tionship to diaspora. In this way, diaspora becomes a very real process, one
that can be experienced in the interplay of ideas that performance cultures
bring forth.
Diaspora also serves as a process of unifcation. It brings together col-
lective experiences around particular issues, forces, or social movements.
Like all alliances, it is strategic. Most fascinating in current diaspora studies
are the shifing points of origin for groups of folk designated as black. Does
the journey begin in Africa, or the Americas, or the Caribbean? Does it end
where you, the artist- scholar, has landed? Even as we defne an African di-
aspora as expressed through the skin that may be marked blackthrough
its gesturesthe texture and color of these skins keep shifing through new
alliances, new ways of codifying our collective experiences. Performance
becomes a dialogue between ourselves and others as we make sense of
diasporic journeys.
Te volume begins with Transporting Black, where authors write about
diasporic notions of black identity that travel across continental borders,
even into intergalactic terrains. Anita Gonzalez and Nadine George- Graves
use metaphors of navigation and spidering to unravel matrixes of thoughts
and ideas that supersede geographic boundaries. Gonzalez situates black
identities as a call- and- response of images within a grid of circulating inter-
national representations. By exploring traf c in minstrel tropes from Liver-
pool to North American Afro- Mexican settlements, Gonzalez documents
diasporic circulations of performance and its representational capacities
across cultural groups, geographies, and historical eras.
12 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
George-Graves investigates the trickster character of Anansi as an em-
bodimentofthefuidityofAfricanagencyacrossunstablenarratives.Her-
shiniBhanaYoungdiscardstheimaginaryof locationandinsteadutilizes
theoreticalwritingsbyAlexanderWeheliye,FredMoten,andKodwoEshun
to reconsider the imagistic manipulation of alienness in the work of the
Afro-futuristgraphicartistJohnJennings.Explorationsofsee-jayingand
transportbyalienspacecrafdemonstrateblackstrategiesofmakingimpos-
siblespacetangible.
Finally, Melissa Blanco Borelli writes across the pages of personal and
theoreticaljourneysassheexaminestheimpactofthehiponmulataper-
formance and reception in Cuba and New Orleans. Her elegiac rendering
of the mulaticized rumbera as a commodity linked to exports of a Cuban
imaginaryconveysthemelancholiathatout-of-bodytransmissionsofblack
performanceroutinelyevoke.Shealignsthephenomenologicalhauntings,
alwayspresentinblackrepresentation,withanewhistoriographyofmulata
danceworship.
Black- en- Scne
Teaterliesintheword,theysay.However,inblackperformance,wherethe
vernacularandthenon-textualcarrypertinentmeanings,textisdanced,
mediated,literary,orcontainedwithintheenactmentofsexuality.Uncov-
eringthesemeaningswithinblackperformanceattimeshalf-conscious,
double-conscious,orfullyconsciousisthetaskofauthorsinthisvolume.
Lynching dramas and modern dance provide fuel for musings about how
artistscommunicatemultiplemeaningsthroughperformancetexts.
Plays are templates for performance, therefore play scripts deliberately
allow many possibilities of interpretation. Dramas about black life reveal
thepotentialsofinclusionandomissionintheatricalcircumstances.Plays
aboutlynchingenactandimplytheterrorizingmobactiontooreadilysum-
moned in the United States. Koritha Mitchell argues that the emergence
ofthisgenreofdramaticliteratureconfrmedcomplexnegotiationsof lit-
eracy,performance,andcorporealpresencethatresistedprevalentconcep-
tions of African American capacity onstage and of. Her reading of early
twentieth-centurylynchingplaysofersachallengetosmoothrecitationsof
Americantheaterhistory,suggestingthebroadreachofperformance/texts
asevidenceofperformanceideologiesconstantlyinrevision.
Queertextsof blackperformancearriveinimplicitabundance,ofenas
gesturesorsubtextofomission.
8
CarlParisminestheenactmentofspirit
asaconduitforsexualandcommunalpresenceinworkbychoreographers
Introduction / 13
RonaldK.BrownandReggieWilson.ForParis,theperformanceofspirit
groundscomplexchoreographictextssothattheymightconveyash,orthe
powertomakethingshappen.Ineachofthesechapters,theauthorsassume
abroadtheoreticalreachinperformativeoperationattheleveloftextual,
orsemiotic,analysis.
RickerbyHindsofersevidenceofanunexpectedextensionofblackpop-
ularculturerepresentationsinthere-performanceofseminalhip-hopartist
album covers. For the emerging black performance artists who populated
these gallery presentations of Uncovered: A Pageant of Hip Hop Masters,
performingtherepresentationsurelyacquiredafrissonthatexceedsthe
limitsofthesephotographs.
Black Imaginary
Metaphorical spaces fragment presence across geographical and temporal
sites.Andyetwhereblackperformancemaybemobilized,wefndconfr-
mationof blackpresence.Authorsdiscoverspacesofpossibilityinscience
fction fying, or walking through devastated urban terrains. Soyica Diggs
ColbertsspaceshipsallowAfricanstofywheretheyhaveneverandhave
alwaysbeen,suggestingpossibilitiesofdiasporabeyondmeasure.Herex-
plorationofworkbyToniMorrison,GeorgeClinton,andKanyeWestattests
toaural,visual,andconceptualamliationswithinblackperformanceacross
genre.
Evocation,provocation,mediation.WendyS.Waltersdrawsusamapof
blackpersistencethatisasjournalisticasitisconceptual.Evocatively,she
siphonsofmomentsofgeographicalspaceandpoliticalevents,alwaysleav-
ingittothereadertomaptheirplacementandimpact.Inelegantperforma-
tivewriting,Waltersrendersanimpossiblecomplexityofblackperformance
byitscartographicaldimensionality.Butwhat,andwhere,doweremember
aboutblackperformance:AnnaB.Scottsmeditationpursuesthegeography
ofacityscapethatcontainstherhythms,sounds,andpulsesofblackmove-
ments. For Scott, when we revisit terrains of familiarity, we are inevitably
disappointedthatthereturnismadestrangeinoldstepsdonenew.Andyet
wehavetowalkthatwalkagain.
Hi- Fidelity Black
Soundspermeateskins,asrhythmicimpulsescareenthebody.Keensand
rumbleserupttodemonstratetheemotionalstatesoftheperformer.Gut-
turallanguagesclickoftonguesencounteringforeigndialects.Blackperfor-
manceisreinventedwithinthecacophony.Writingaboutsoundchallenges
14 / Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
equations of skin color with cultural knowledge even as it reinforces that
therecanbemustbesomeconnectionbetweentheadversityof living
blackandthepossibilitiesofecstasy.
Collectivelythewritingsherepressagainstthebrainsinnereartorecon-
fgure notions of aurality. When we read about sound, multidisciplinarity
takescontroloftheexperience.Whenweknowthesoundsbeingreferenced
byaliterarytextknowthesound,inthedeepwayofhavinglivedwithit
anditsprogenitorsweexperiencethetextathandinunexpectedarousal.
Blackperformancetheoristswriteaboutblacksoundwithavelocityofafect
andexpectation.Weexpectourbestmusictospeaktoitsownhistoryand
thehistoriesofitssonicfamilies.Tesefamiliesofafectareindeedofthe
skinandsinew,evenastheyareoftheinnerear,theintellect,andthedance.
TaviaNyongobeginshisscrutinyof LittleRichardssoundwithanau-
tobiographical account of the singers physical disability and its queering
capacities.WithinLittleRichardsfamily,queerphysicalpresencepredicts
thequeerperformanceafectthatbecamehishallmark.JasonKingwonders
atthefantasticalaurasurroundingMichaelJacksonsfnalflmperformance.
CitingaperformativepresencethatsurpassesJacksonsoversizedcelebrity,
Kinginterrogatesthesensualityofanentirelymediatedblackperformance,
atoncefragile,spontaneous,andmagical.ForDaphneA.Brooks,feminist
praxis suggests a familial of sound to align a stellar array of performers
whosenewblackfeministnoisepursuesnothinglessthananewworldor-
der.FraminghercloseexplorationofNinaSimoneandAdrienneKennedys
sonic futurism with discussions of celebrities Moms Mabley and Butterfy
McQueen,Brooksimaginestheoutrageousimpactandpresenceofthings
not heard. Tomas F. DeFrantz queries the relationships of cool to an
emergentglobalhip-hophabitusthattiesblackperformancetoadolescent
physicalitiesacrossgeography.Heassertsthatcontemporarycorporealities
becomemoreandmorerecognizablyblackintheirphysicalmanifestations,
asaglobalcohortofyouthmatureviathesonicimperativesofpopularhip-
hopmusics.
Techaptersinthisbookconfrmtheexpandingpresenceofcreativelabor
expendedintheorizingblackperformance.Buildingonavariedliteraturein
motion,wehopetocontributetothelibraryofwritingsthatofervariedand
unexpected elaborations of performance and its urgencies, capacities, and
thetermsofitsrecognition.Surelytheremightbedozensoftextstheorizing
aspectsofblackperformanceratherthanonlyahandful.
9
Iftheoryencom-
passesunexpectedwaystoorganizeinformationandmobilizetoolsofanal-
Introduction / 15
ysis, the present volume demonstrates that black performance theory has
onlybeguntouncoveritsresourcestoinspirecreativeintellectualpractice.
Notes
:. Among many publications concerned with black performance in this era, see
Bean,Hatch,andMcNamara;Chude-Sokei;ElamandKrasner;andLindfors.
:. Critical writing by artists and authors emerged in magazines and journals, in-
cludingtheCrisis(magazine)andtheLiberator(magazine);andintheblackpress,such
astheChicago Defender,thePhiladelphia Tribune,andtheNew York Amsterdam News.
,. See Baker; Cunard; Emery; Levine; Lomax; Mercer; Southern, Music of Black
Americans;WhiteandWhite.
.Writtenin:o,theessaywasrepublishedin:oo.Jones,RevolutionaryTeatre.
,.JoseEstebanMuozefectivelydefnesandparsestheconceptofdisidentifcation
inhisbookDisidentifcations.
o.TeoristJuliaKristevainspiredengagementwiththeconceptofintertextuality.
SeeDesire in Language.
,.SeeespeciallyMadison,PerformingTeory/EmbodiedWriting;andPollock.
8.SeeespeciallyJohnsonandHenderson.
. Among recent oferings that explore black performance theory, see Batiste;
Brody,Punctuation;Brown;Catanese;Chatterjea;Jackson,Real Black;Jones,Moore,
andBridgforth;Moten,In the Break;andYoung,Embodying Black Experience.