Episode 17: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching


Dance dramas are theatrical presentations that use dance (and sometimes words, but mostly dance) to tell a story. Em and Jesse look at dance dramas from around the world, from Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish invasion to Japan. With a number of digressions involving Prince, Irish step dancing, Alvin Ailey, and the movie Being John Malkovich.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ A shout out to Manual Cinema in Chicago. Here’s the Candyman trailer.

We talked about Kara Walker in episode 10 (see notes 16 and 24).

2/ The theatre in the Water Tower is Lookingglass Theatre. Mr and Mrs Pennyworth (trailer here) was a Lookingglass Theatre production with Manual Cinema. If you’re in Chicago, we recommend them both.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is here. They’re doing workshops at the end of October/through November 2020 online, and more will undoubtedly pop up. Check them out.

Also, check out the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta–great programming for kids.

3/ Dance drama! We talked about this a little bit at the end of episode 12 (note 30), in the context of Aztec and Mayan dance dramas.

Misty Copeland is the first African American woman to become a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, which is one of the biggest ballet companies in the US (if you are like me/Em and don’t understand what a principal dancer is–it’s like having a fifth degree black belt in dance, I guess). For his own purple reasons, Prince hired her to dance on top of his piano (and throughout his stage show) back when he was still alive and touring. [Heart.–Jesse]

Race in ballet is a complicated topic, but it is worth noting that until relatively recently, it was common for non-White ballerinas to powder their skin while performing to appear paler, while some roles were danced by White dancers wearing blackface. In addition, there are traditional standards for what ballerinas look like that privilege the look of white bodies. Finally, ballet is expensive to train in if you’re not being paid–think $200 per month for pointe shoes.

The Richmond, VA woman who took up Irish dance is Morgan Bullock and video of her can be found here.

Ballerinas changing the Lee statue in Richmond (and much more!): Brown Ballerinas for Change.

Alvin Ailey founded his own dance troupe and choreographed a landmark piece called “Revelations.” More about “Revelations” here.

An excerpt from Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake. NYT write-up.

2/ Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1648–1695). Wrote the Loa for the (Auto Sacramental of the) Divine Narcissus. See episode 12, note 30 and following.

Of women elsewhere in Europe doing amazing things during this time, look no farther than Sophia of the Palatinate (1630–1714), who became electress of Hanover and was mother of (the British) King George I. Had seven children who lived to adulthood and had Gottfried Leibniz as her librarian and personal friend before dying age 83. Her descendants now occupy all seven European thrones and Luxembourg.

Anne (1665–1714) was also queen of England during this period (beginning 1702).

3/ Nahuatl is an interesting language. Here are some words in it you already know or might recognize: chipotle, coyotl, axolotl, chocolotl. [English likes to import food words. Lots of other words too, English is a very spongy language, but definitely food words.–Jesse]

The Chester play was discussed in episode 8 (see note 26).

The Spanish-style morality play discussed here is a last judgment play (titled Final Judgment) in Nahuatl. An English translation can be found in Stages of Conflict edited by Taylor and Townsend. Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa and the Mayan Rabinal Achi can also be found in translation in this excellent collection.

A slightly fuller explanation of the sexism of the Final Judgment: The priest stops our heroine, Lucia, from confessing(!!!) and accuses her of not accepting the seventh sacrament, holy matrimony. Presumably the point isn’t just that she’d been sleeping around but that she may have been married in an Aztec ceremony, which of course wouldn’t count. I refrained from mentioning in the podcast that Christ himself appears (it’s the Last Judgment, remember) and berates Lucia, helping to thrust her into Hell(!!!!). Again, the play is horrifically sexist and excruciatingly colonialist, but it’s a fascinating study.

“You have to be allowed to confess everything, that’s the point.” See also Michel Foucault’s History of Human Sexuality, vol. 1 on the link/transfer between confession to priests and confession to analysts in modern society. [Oooooo, yes!–Jesse]

[24:21] “They have a God…” They actually have a couple of gods–Quetzalcoatl, and the one I am struggling to name, Coatlicue (“Snake Skirt”). (“Coatl” means snake in Nahuatl; -tl or -tli are absolutive singular suffixes for non-possessed nouns, I hope Dou are glad I looked that up.)

Jesse: Interestingly, Coatlicue is a mother goddess, so it’s possible that an indigenous audience would have seen Lucia actually turned into Coatlicue after (as a reward for?) the horrors Christ and the Spanish attempt to visit on her. Probably not the ending the Spanish intended.

I’d also like to give a shout out here to contemporary lesbian, Chicana, playwright Cherrie Moraga. Check out The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea and Heart of the Earth: A Popol Vuh Story to get started.

4/ The Mayan dance drama Rabinal Achi was also discussed in episode 12 (see note 30).

5/ On the ritualistic language of courtrooms:

(Thanks to this site)

But also there are specific things that people DO in courtrooms and ways that they act (the swearing in, the way the judge and jury are addressed, the times of standing and sitting) are incredibly ritualistic.

6/ This discussion is about Christ’s trial scenes in the York Cycle plays. Henry IV had the Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, convicted of treason and executed. However, it took two judges to do the job (the first judge refused). In the York Cycle, Pilate is unwilling to condemn Christ in his first trial before Pilate, but in the second trial before Pilate, Pilate is more than happy to condemn Christ. Pamela King has demonstrated that these two scenes from the York Cycle clearly represent the real events of the Archbishop’s trials and consequently draw a connection between Pilate and the government of Henry IV. See Pamela King The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006); pgs. 189–200. Amazon link.

Over the course of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV Act IV, we see the Archbishop of York (Richard Scrope) arrested for treason and summarily executed.

Links to the York Cycle, The First Trial before Pilate, and The Second Trial before Pilate.

The Revello Passion Play or La Passione di Revello. Sacra rappresentazione quattrocentesca di ignoto piemontese edited by Anna Cornagliotti (Amazon Italy link. If you read Italian, check out WorldCat!

The Mayan warrior at the far left in the middle has a shield and a raised club/battle axe. (This is an image from the Dresden Codex.) For more codices, see this site.

Here’s a statue of a Mayan warrior with a shield (presumably the club or axe is missing from the open hand).

From Dennis Tedlock’s Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, p. 131.

Just for fun, a Mayan statue of a young corn god (Mayan and Aztec culture definitely intermingled!).

Mayan sacrifice by decapitation (Close up on the axe, middle/left.)

The intersex servant is referred to as a slave but clearly has a fairly important ceremonial position.

The change of number in the warriors’ names from 13 Yellow (or Golden) Eagles and 13 Yellow (or Golden) Jaguars to 12 happened before the script was written down in the extant version. Nonetheless, the symbolism of the numbers makes it fairly clear that this is a change–one that was apparently made quite early, presumably as part of the process of adapting Rabinal Achi slightly in order to be allowed to continue performing it under the Spanish. (Of the many other dance dramas that existed, this is the only one we still have.) This is a change that would have aligned nicely with the new performance date of St Paul’s Day and other similar syncretic adaptations.

7/ Atsumori. And here’s a full performance. Watch times if you don’t have time to watch the whole performance: entrance of waki/priest 6:00–8:00; entrance of shite/Atsumori disguised as a common grass cutter 18:35–20:20; entrance of kyogen/townsperson 41:20–42:00; entrance of Atsumori as ghost-warrior self 1:00:00–1:01:40; Atsumori dances out his death 1:18:20–1:21:20 and 1:26:00–end (notice the use of the sword).

Zeami Motokiyo wrote it and a lot of other stuff.

8/ [1:07:35] Em should have said “Chinese-speaking people” rather than “Chinese people.” We regret the error.

9/ Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar). Still super iconic.

Jesse: I purposely ignored black/brown/yellow/redface in my comments on “full face makeup,” because while racist makeup is an extremely important thing to discuss, it should NOT be used as an excuse to explain why the so-called West seems to have given up on full face makeup and/or masks. These issues are partially related, but also separate.

10/ Being John Malkovich. Still one of the most surreal films I [Em] has ever seen, I think.

Basil Twist and Stickman–a marionette performance that will make you cry.

Episode 1: An Introduction to the Middle Ages


Em and Jesse discuss the inspiration behind the podcast and try to answer a few questions: What are the Middle Ages? How are they different from the Dark Age? Where did the name “Middle Ages” come from? Why study the Middle Ages? Also, Jesse makes controversial claims about Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus.

Notes, Corrections, and Citations:

1/ This is the comic referenced

2/ Neil Gaiman (esp. Sandman) / Reading Rainbow. This was a Twitter Thing (actual tweets can be seen here)…here’s an older podcast LeVar Burton did reading a Neil Gaiman story called “Chivalry.”  It looks like he did livestream “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale,” but I don’t see the actual recording–maybe it didn’t get archived? 

3/ John Dee: Professional weirdo. Ben Jonson did have a book of Dee’s; it is called Liber Iuratus Honorii [usually translated as “the sworn book  of Honorius”]. Here is the catalog entry, courtesy of Dr. Kate Mesler.

4/Marlow’s Dr Faustus–was it secretly about John Dee? Probably not. Dee probably didn’t have this reputation yet (i.e., super powerful and/or evil), and anyway he was abroad in Europe when Marlowe wrote his play. Also, Faustus was a real guy who died around 1541. His legend was already spreading in chapbooks by the 1580s, and there was an English translation by 1588. Marlowe wrote his play between 1589-1592, clearly based on the legend of Faust.

5/ Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist–Jonson ended up with one of Dee’s books, so he certainly knew about him. Also, Dee had probably just died (with his reputation in tatters) when Jonson wrote the play, so–it’s not impossible that Jonson had Dee on his mind when writing the play.

6/ Geoffrey Chaucer: I’m not going to say he’s a big deal, but if you know of one person from the Middle Ages, it’s probably him.

7/ Rocca Paolina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocca_Paolina Jesse got the timeline of the discovery/excavation a little off. 

8/ Tolkien 

9/ Monty Python and the Holy Grail / Terry Jones. Terry Jones died in January 2020. Because of his fame in other arenas, it’s actually quite difficult to find a bibliography of his medieval works online. A few prominent ones are Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (co-written with Alan Ereira) and Chaucer’s Knight.

10/ Aztalan state park. Aztalan is the name of a city that was founded around 1100 CE. I’m not actually sure how many people lived there–the sources I see note the largest city of the Mississippians during this period was 30,000 people, but that was in Cahokia (IL). Why is it called Aztalan? Because the Aztecs’ origin stories claimed that they had migrated to Mexico from somewhere to the north, and because the site has 1/ earthen pyramids, and 2/ apparently, evidence of cannibalism (this claim doesn’t seem widely repeated, so take it with a grain of salt). There has been significant evidence that the Americas were very much shaped by the Native Americans: example

11/ The Hungry Woman and Heart of the Earth by Cherrie Moraga

12/ The Popul Vuh is the Mayan book of creation. There are many translations out there (I own at least two of them somehow) so I won’t link to any specific one. But it’s an interesting read.

13/ There have been a ton of books written about the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the various terrible things they did there. If you are interested specifically in the ways Christianity and native culture interacted, one more interesting book I have read is Inca Bodies and the Body of Christ by Carolyn Dean. (Join in next week for more of my new secret series, Em Recommends Her Grad School Reading List.) 

14/ Genghis Khan: If you really want to know about the Mongols, check out the relevant episodes of the Hardcore History podcast as a starting point.

15/ Kublai Khan took the throne in 1260 and ruled until 1294. He was Genghis’s grandson.

16/ Ibn Daniyal: A brief biography with a disappointingly bowdlerized summary of his plays can be found here.  

Plays in translation (they are XXX rated): English version, another cheaper English version, Arabic version.

17/ At around 29:40 Jesse asserts that Medieval Theatre is “in many ways” more interesting than Renaissance theatre, and that’s not even the most controversial thing she has alleged in this episode!

18/ ”It’s almost a cliché in certain…time traveling shows…” specifically I was thinking of an episode of Stargate SG-1 (which typically has no time travel in it, sorry). Looks like there were a bunch of scenes where Dr. Daniel Jackson badmouths the Dark Ages, actually. Example. Example

19/ Miracle Workers: The Dark Ages. I haven’t seen it (neither has Jesse) but apparently it has Daniel Radcliffe in it. And a duck. So.

20/ Blackadder: best show ever? … 

21/ Agricola: Spend a good four hours pretending to be a mud farming peasant. 

22/ Europa Universalis 4: Spend a thousand hours conquering the globe. It really will teach you a lot of geography. (I definitely haven’t spent a thousand hours playing this, but it is how I learned about a shocking number of kingdoms/countries/sultinates/etc. that existed before the modern era.)

23/ During the discussion of plays, Jesse was unclear. [Sorry about that! Em thought I conflated Mankind and the Ordinalia. This is what happens when I get excited–I talk very, very quickly and skip key details that I forget everyone doesn’t already know. I will work on this for the sake of the podcast! And also my students.-JN] Mankind is a great morality play from East Anglia. The Ordinalia are three Cornish plays: the Origo Mundi (The Origin of the World), a Passion, and a Resurrection. The “world play” refers to the first play, even though usually a “world play” contains the entire history of the world from creation to doomsday (and in this case, even the entire cycle doesn’t include a Doomsday). 

24/ Henry VI is a series of three plays by Shakespeare, not to be confused with Henry V (one play, quite good) or Henry IV (two plays, first one is generally thought to be better than the second). Jesse says Henry VII gets the throne back for a year before being killed by Edward IV–this is actually Henry VI! 

25/ National Theatre Live: this is probably the link you want

26/ Mary Shelley wrote during the summer of 1816, which was actually made famously cold by the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora (or Tamboro). Krakatoa (also an Indonesian volcano) has erupted many times, but the one everyone thinks of as “the eruption” was in 1883.

27/ It’s also worth noting that Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, so the fact that Frankenstein was specifically about man’s hubris is probably not accidental? I don’t know. I wanted to shoehorn that Mary Wollstonecraft fact in because she was awesome and a much overlooked female philosopher.