Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Theater and Dance

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year about theater and dance. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. Standby: an approach to theatrical design
Langman, Joshua. Southern Illinois, 2022

Langman is a professional freelance theater designer, and in this book he provides a fascinating, insightful look at theatrical design. He investigates all aspects of theatrical design, including its purpose, the various elements of production, and the extensive mechanics involved, and he elaborates on what being a designer takes. Throughout the book’s nine chapters, Langman encourages designers to not simply go through the motions of designing for theater but to go beyond the mechanics of the work. Writing in an easy storytelling style, the author includes his personal experiences and descriptive examples of his amazing theatrical designs. He provides a thoughtful ten-page postscript and after that a section highlighting key points discussed throughout the book, aiding readers in referencing specific principles and definitions central to the book as a whole. An excellent read for anyone aspiring to be or currently working as a theatrical designer.

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2. The Oxford handbook of hip hop dance studies
ed. by Mary Fogarty and Imani Kai Johnson Oxford, 2022

The multidisciplinary field of hip-hop studies emerged in the early 2000s with the publication of several foundational works detailing hip-hop culture, for example That’s the Joint!: The Hip Hop Studies Reader, ed. by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal (2004), and Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (2005). Yet hip-hop dance remains largely absent from the available literature. To address this absence, Fogarty and Johnson compiled the first collection of academic writings on the developing field of hip-hop dance studies. Contributions are from practitioners and scholars and are organized into thematic sections devoted to legacies and traditions, methodologies, identities, spaces, and health. Combinations of participant observation, ethnography, and oral history are used throughout the book to explore the history of various hip-hop dance styles (e.g., breaking), approaches and techniques in the art form, and gendered stereotypes and racialized perceptions in this space.

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3. Why dance matters
Aloff, Mindy. Yale, 2023

Why Dance Matters is published in Yale University Press’s remarkable “Why X Matters” series, which covers books on an extraordinary range of topics. Among the titles released to date are Mark Tushnet’s Why the Constitution Matters (CH, Nov’10, 48-1753), Eric Rauchway’s Why the New Deal Matters (CH, Dec’21, 59-1157), Paul Freedman’s Why Food Matters (CH, May’22, 59-2737), and Nicholas Delbanco’s Why Writing Matters (CH, Nov’20, 58-0649). Aloff is an editor, a journalist, an essayist, and a dance critic, and in her contribution to the series she analyzes the significance and relevance of dance through the lenses of storytelling and her personal experience. Dance is Aloff’s passion, and she presents an enthusiastic cerebral perspective on the value and significance of performance dance and dance as a cultural event. She describes and praises the work of people who choose to teach dance, often under difficult conditions and with little pay or recognition.

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4. Dancing Indigenous worlds: choreographies of relation
Shea Murphy, Jacqueline. Minnesota, 2023

In this book, her second, Shea Murphy (Univ. of California, Riverside) extends a trajectory she began in her first book, The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories (CH, Jun’08, 45-5492). She deepens discussions regarding Indigenous knowledge grounded in relationality and the ways such understandings permeate current Indigenous dance practices. Sharing examples from some 20 years of research—including conversations with Indigenous dancers and communities in Aoteroa, Australia, and North America—Shea Murphy presents important perspectives. She asserts the importance of the voices of Indigenous dance artists within the larger field of dance studies. Writing as a non-Indigenous scholar, she documents, in dialogue with her Indigenous colleagues, practices that re-center their creative projects in opposition to past colonialist norms. The author draws on and incorporates arguments from other decolonizing writing in dance theory, anthropology, and philosophy. She investigates ways indigenous environments and creations manifest in California, Minnesota, New York, and Ontario, as well as Aoteroa. The widely varied contexts demonstrate the vibrancy of current respectful, relational, Indigenous choreographies. Inclusion of writing by and interviews with Indigenous collaborators further supports the author’s approach. Useful notes and an extensive bibliography ground and augment the text.
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5Meiji Kabuki: Japanese theater through foreign eyes
[ed.] by Samuel L. Leiter Lexington Books, 2022

Leiter (emer., Brooklyn College) is well known as one of the foremost scholars of Kabuki. In the present volume, he offers a fascinating glimpse of the cross-cultural moment when Japan opened to the West after the Meiji Restoration (1868) and “foreigners” encountered Kabuki for the first time. Including some 40 first-person accounts dating from 1859 to 1912, the anthology comprises six chronological sections and provides a kaleidoscopic view of Kabuki through non-Japanese eyes. The individual pieces are fascinating, but the value of the anthology is greater than the sum of its parts because of the variety and depth of the individual essays and Leiter’s erudition and strong, clearly written commentary. The book is equally intriguing for the range of its authors/observers: Americans, Europeans, Australians. Who were they? Why were they in Japan? What do their impressions of Kabuki reveal about them? This brilliant book will be an invaluable resource for scholars of Japanese theater and for those interested in history, intercultural encounters, and changing cultural perceptions.d in learning about this topic beyond the scope of their university physics courses.
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