Mar 4 at ICGC: South Africa, Cuba & China's 'Ballet Diplomacy'

ICGC Brown Bag Series  Friday March 4th, 2016  Noon-1pm   537 Heller Hall

Dancing Diplomats: What South Africa, Cuba, and China's 'Ballet Diplomacy' Tell Us About Contemporary Forms of Nationalism
Presented by: Meryl Lodge, Department of Anthropology

Abstract: This paper examines Gauteng Ballet Company (GBC), a nearly 60-year-old professional company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and its pursuits and partnerships with national Cuban and Chinese ballet companies and schools over the last ten years. GBC’s administrators frame these exchanges as “ballet diplomacy,” where dance solidifies political and cultural ties to states that are essential to the success of postcolonial South Africa. They market “ballet diplomacy” to government officials, labor organizations, and corporations as a means to further investments abroad through funding “a world class ballet company for a world class city”. The dancers in these choreographies of diplomacy use these pathways for securing their own futures on the divisive international ballet stage. Taken together, these engagements with South African nationalisms reveal a complex entanglement of capital, governance, and movement, showing how dancers and their institutions frame their artistic work “in the name of the nation.” Recent anthropology in postcolonial South Africa has demonstrated the competing and resistant forms of nationalism that often undercut state logics and ideologies. In this paper I instead turn to explore what it might mean to “buy in” to state rhetoric and agendas as a strategy for institutional survival.

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