Issue 17.4, November 2002

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Essay Excerpt

In the November 2002 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Deborah A. Thomas explores the intersections among arts institutions, cultural representation, and nationalist politics. Her article “Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica,” is a study of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, an institution founded by Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas in the early 1960s that, at independence, was part of a larger national movement to reposition Jamaican arts and culture away from Eurocentric frames and towards indigenous ones. The stakes inherent in this mission become clear as she traces the company's historical trajectory over the years from indendence to the late 1990s, analyzing its development in relation to shifts in Jamaica's political economy. Thomas charts the meaningful institutional webs that the company's founders and its first generations built and highlights the ways in which the arts institution became increasingly (though not unproblematically) embedded in wider national, regional, and international structures for support, promotion, and sustenance. She also describes the gaps between generations of company members in their understandings of what it meant to belong to the company, of the meaning of its service-oriented mission and ethic of volunteerism, and of the basis for its “indigenous” cultural repertoire, foregrounding the ways in which articulations of class and gender abraded against the democratizing impulse of Jamica's founding “creole multiracial nationalist” project. Given these themes, “Democratizing Dance” will be of particular interest to scholars in Caribbean and African diaspora studies, as well as scholars with interests in performance, nationalism, globalization, and cultural politics.

From Democratizing Dance: Instutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica by Deborah A. Thomas