The audience is seated several rows deep, facing a blank gallery wall. As they wait, their chatter buzzes through the room. From an open panel at one side, Trajal Harrell enters without fuss. The crowd hushes and necks crane to get a better view. Harrell is barefoot and wears a button-down shirt and wide-legged trousers. He holds a pink floral pattern dress (from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons) to his chest as he twirls through the back of the room and around toward the front; eyes closed, enraptured. Gradually, he reaches the front, where there are two benches. He places the dress on one of them and puts on shoes. Now, we think, the performance starts. Harrell begins to speak. He advises the audience, "I've discovered that if I have a little bit of potato chip, and orange juice from two bottles, the dance goes better."1 As he tells us this, he retrieves the food from underneath the bench, leaving detritus bags and newspaper while he prepares for his ritual. He takes sips of orange juice from each bottle, eating a few potato chips and raw pistachios, and then prepares (and eats) a bowl of yogurt and white peach jam. This portion of the performance is part narration, part eating, part feeling. Everything is slow and exact.

Then, the movement intensifies. Harrell sits on a bench and pulls on various items of clothing over his own a black skirt with ruffles at the bottom over one leg, a dress or two over his shoulders. He begins to writhe. Using large movements with his right hand, he makes the empty ceramic bowl sing as he hits the sides with his spoon. The movements are controlled but also unexpected. Gradually he stands, bringing the bowl with him. Some clothes fall to the floor while others stay on him. He dances with the bowl. Gazing intently as it, he stirs and makes noise and takes large steps. He briefly sits on the floor and leaves the bowl. Rising, he brings the dresses toward him, looking down before sitting again to put on a black button down and long black skirt. Then he stands, stares, and stamps around. The clothing remains on the furniture. He hikes his skirt and spits. He twirls. He raises his arms. The room fills with Harrell's hard breathing. Eventually, an instrumental jingle plays from the light box/motion sensor at the front of the room. Harrell puts two colorful hats on his hand, waves at the audience and bows as he walks backward out the room.

Harrell's food and beverage consumption at the beginning of the piece is part of his ritual to summon the energy of Kazuo Ohno's butoh masterpiece Admiring La Argentina. Performed by Ohno (and choreographed by Tatsumi Hijitaka), Admiring La Argentina stages an autobiographical narrative that centers Ohno's fascination with La Argentina (Antonia Mercé), an Argentinian-born Flamenco dancer who performed in Tokyo when he was in his early twenties. In his autobiography, Ohno describes feeling haunted by his encounter with La Argentina at pivotal moments in his life and, therefore, deciding to produce a dance in which he un-becomes himself in order to inhabit these instances of return. Admiring La Argentina, then, is an embodied performance of becoming (and undoing) that works through many different costumes and movement frameworks to integrate elements of modern dance, flamenco, and tango to locate affinities with La Argentina.2 Harrell's The Return of La Argentina, which had its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in October 2015, brings together Harrell's investigations of butoh, a form of avant-garde dance developed in Japan after World War II that emphasizes the otherness of the body, slowness, and the transformation of consciousness, with his interest in voguing, which took root in Black and Latinx ball culture of the late 1980s.3 Over the course of the performance's 45 minutes, Harrell moves the audience through the racialized coordinates of the flesh and the atmospheric in his employment of gestures from voguing, butoh, and, more indirectly, flamenco. These movements, in turn, summon affects, affiliations, and tensions that register not only on and through the materiality of Harrell's body and his blackness, but also illuminate the ways that racialized femininities complicate the representational field itself.

As suggested by Ohno's performance, La Argentina captivated international audiences in the early twentieth century with her Flamenco performances. One of her signature dances was La Corrida, a five-minute narrative of a bull fight, told through Flamenco and set to the music of Joaquin Valverde. Wearing a fitted dress that flared at the knees, Mercé used complex footwork, castanets, and outstretched arms to interpret the ritual spectacle that Ernest Hemingway later described as "death in the afternoon." Mercé's virtuosic interpretation became a staple in her repertoire and launched her international career. We can feel these intensities in descriptions of the performance. One critic writes, "in her Corrida, Argentina projects all the excitement of the struggle, the stamping horses, the headlong rush; then like the odor of blood and flesh, a rapture of love and voluptuousness rises from the stage."4 Another dwells on the dance's sensuality and suspense: "Rhythm upon rhythm, her dance becomes one of sensuous illusion . . . a translation of mimetic, intensified motion."5 The different elements of the dance the complex footwork, the polyrhythmic castanets, sinuous movements, leg lifts and outstretched arms presented an engrossing spectacle to the audience. In situating Mercé within the context of mid-twentieth century Spain's shift toward autocracy, Ninotchka Bennahum argues that her emphasis on embodying the heterogeneity of Spanish history challenged Franco's desire for a monolithic nationalism and marked Mercé as "an assiduous ethnographer, combing Spain for rhythms, materials, and design concepts."6 In other words, Mercé allows us to sense Flamenco as a form of minoritarian resistance.

Ohno does, indeed, (softly) kick his feet during his performances of Admiring La Argentina, which could be imagined as part of his summoning of her spirit as well as a repetition of her foot movements. He also expresses a wide range of emotions on his face, whose white make-up magnifies them and emphasizes their transitivity affect, here, is atmospheric even as it is emphatic. Ohno also inhabits La Argentina by wearing a ruffled dress, whose bulk and heft infuse his arm movements, foot stamping, and skirt lifting with visible strain, providing a contrast with La Argentina's performance of effortless virtuosity and emphasizing butoh's investment in defamiliarizing movement. In Return of La Argentina, Harrell repeats gestures from both Ohno and Mercé. For example, we might recognize Ohno's capture of La Argentina in Harrell's stamping of his feet, lifting of his arms, and intense gazes toward spectators. Harrell, however, is also invested in seeing where alliances between the minoritarian might lead, what he calls "future possibilities."7 These cross-cultural moments of encounter become ways to explore what it might be to be together in ways aslant from normativity.

Throughout Return of La Argentina, Harrell makes overt the ambivalence of these embodied encounters. Critically, this ambivalence is one of the ways in which Harrell deliberately asserts differences between these forms of movement. While flamenco, butoh, and voguing are each born from different historic and geographic practices of minoritarian survival, Harrell's performance highlights how they might align while also allowing the audience to sense the messiness of this set of encounters. Sara Jansen, Harrell's dramaturg for the performance, describes Harrell's emphasis on these gaps as a "resistance to the archive," which are themselves modes of "deconstruction" and creation that "underscore the fact that a performance is an 'object in the making,' rather than a finished product."8 In addition to the historical actualities behind these discontinuities, what Jansen's comment also highlights is Harrell's role in bringing these disparate entities together. His choreography offers encounters between voguing, butoh, and flamenco as well as between Ohno and Mercé. Harrell acts as the conduit for encounters between multiple temporalities, methods of movement, and theories of being. There are also, however, circuits of racialized signification that Harrell cannot control that impact the legibility of his work. Here, I am thinking about the indirect ways that racialized femininities haunt Harrell's performance producing structures of signification even without explicit citation.

Racialized Femininities, Invisibility, and Polyphony

In addition to staging encounters with dance history, The Return of La Argentina produces an encounter with racialized femininities the conditions of possibility upon which these layers of meaning making rely. I refer, here, to La Argentina, whose presence threads through Ohno and Harrell's performances, and the black mater(nal), which structures even more indirectly. To grapple with the black mater(nal) is to delve into the ambivalence of representation itself. I say this because the question is not how she might be more fully incorporated, but how one might attend to the way that her shadow presence forms the bedrock of ontology and modernity more broadly. If the black mater(nal), following Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, produces the very conditions of possibility for what we see, is there a way to resolve this indebtness?9 I describe the presence of the Black mater(nal) in Return of La Argentina as a being on-stage that is simultaneously a being off-stage. The black mater(nal) may surround, but she is not actually figured.

First, La Argentina who is made present in the titles of the performances and through deliberate invocation. In Admiring La Argentina, Ohno references La Argentina through his flouncy dress. This adherence to style is what we might think of as a form of ornamentalism, in that it posits La Argentina's femininity as transferrable, as something that one can put on.10 In their slowness, his movements pantomime hers such that the viewer is manifestly aware of Ohno's place in the transmission of gesture. His movements do not often align with the imaginary of flamenco; he abandons stomping for swaying and twirling, the most recognizable moment is when he seems to reference La Corrida by making a gesture that looks to be bullhorns on his forehead. We always know that we are watching Ohno and his memory; her femininity is routed through him. In contrast to Ohno, Harrell does not put on the dress, but holds it in front of him suggesting a relationship to La Argentina that is more at arm's length. Instead, he wears dark clothing a blue shirt and pants that he will later exchange for a long skirt with a few ruffles at the bottom. These are nods not only to La Argentina, but to Ohno's performance. In this inhabitation of Ohno as La Argentina, Harrell brings us some of the same techniques of signification fashion but in lieu of slowness, he allows the dance's (and La Argentina's) dynamism and muscularity to shine through. We see vigorous movement and we see muscles (most notably when Harrell lifts his skirt); both illuminate Harrell's flesh, yes, but they also allow us to consider the under-discussed fleshy aspects of butoh. Harrell, notably, is not the form's first intersection with black flesh La Argentina's anthropological investigations and Hijikata's (Ohno's choreographer for Admiring La Argentina) admiration of Katherine Dunham bring us toward the fleshiness of a submerged black mater(nal).

Drawing on evidence that Hijikata attended performances by Dunham during her year-long (1957) stay in Tokyo, Michio Arimitsu recontextualizes Hijikata's interest in "intense corporeality, sexual transgression, criminality, and the grotesque and the abject" as a response to Dunham's invocation of Vodou rituals.11 In particular, he argues that May 1959 performances of Forbidden Colors  in which Hijikata, in black face, appeared to sodomize a chicken on stage as part of a queer sexual exchange with another man was directly inspired by Shango, a performance that begins with the sacrifice of a chicken as part of a ritual for Damballa, the snake deity. Arimitsu situates this interest in Dunham as part of a wider historical context of Japanese interest in blackness, which is "a mixture of a fetishistic desire for the 'primitive' and the 'exotic' and a genuine fascination with the cultures of the African diaspora."12 When we think with blackness, the system of boundary breaking that gets positioned as "queerness" becomes rescripted through blackness and we can better see the fleshiness of these relations. That is to say that black flesh's fungibility in relation to animality, gender, and sexuality, are most on display. Butoh's investment in the atmospheric, however, registers as more palatable than the ways in which blackness has persistently been excluded from modernity's many epistemes.13

Given these crossings of the queer, black, and fleshy, Arimitsu argues that Dunham's performances of black female sexuality were particularly inspirational, writing succinctly that "Dunham might well have been a transcultural godmother of butoh."14 This statement gives us space to think about not just Dunham, but the unseen black mater(nal) on which butoh rests. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues that these "foreclosed modes of being/feeling/knowing, which Wynter terms 'demonic ground,' are discontinuous (and therefore thought to be irrational) with the racially linear teleology (read eugenic schemas) of biocentrism, which include the very hegemonic categories and ascriptions of the discourse of 'gender and sexuality' itself."15 In Jackson's elaboration of this foreclosure, black femininity "is not a figure in the first instance but a historical a priori."16 This is to say that the production of flesh has made black gender into something else, something fungible and something outside the order of normative gender and sexuality. For Jackson, this non-normativity is dematerialized in that it structures possibilities for being and perceiving. Jackson's argument is useful for thinking with Arimitsu's statement that Dunham serves as a godmother to butoh. Through Jackson, we can see why mere traces of Dunham appear gestures, chickens, and blackface and how the idea of her presence shapes butoh's relationship to gender and sexuality. Here, butoh's play with marginality becomes attached to the ways that the black mater(nal) itself indexes a difficult to categorize (and even think) outside.

Within the context of Hijikata's relationship to Dunham, but more particularly, the specific dances he and/or Ohno would have seen, we can think about these black mater(nal) forms of structuration in relation to Dunham's presentation of a Vodou ceremony, which emphasized the summoning of a deity in order for a participant to be possessed its own unique form of becoming. As an anthropologist working in the Caribbean, Dunham had privileged access to these rituals she even became a Vodou initiate which gave her insight into a holistic spiritual form of embodiment. Reflecting on the initiation ceremony, Dunham describes a multitude of feelings: "I felt weightless like Nietzsche's dancer, but unlike that dancer, weighted, transparent but solid, belonging to myself but a part of everyone else. This must have been the 'ecstatic union of one mind' of Indian philosophy, but with the fixed solidarity to the earth that all African dancing returns to, whether in assault upon the forces of nature or submission to gods."17 The particular constellation of philosophy that Dunham summons Nietzschean, Indian and African philosophies shy away from the production of universal knowledge and instead pivot around forms of collective consciousness. In this context, possession leads to a robust connection with entities beyond the individual self such that individual transformation only matters insofar as it promotes expansion.

Dunham then translated these experiences into dance spectacle. In Shango, a dance in the revue that Hijikata and Ohno would have seen, for example, after the chicken is sacrificed, a "boy" becomes snake, writhing on the ground, when he is possessed by Damballa. His horizontal motions signaling a relation to Damballa's vital life force even as this shift is enacted through physicality. Important to this scene, too, are the polyphonic rhythms that accompany these transitions and drive the performance's narrative arc, which includes the villagers dancing frenetically before they hoist the boy atop the drums and the resolution of the ritual. Thinking about the drumbeats is critical because it enables us to sense the way becoming in this situation is enacted by becoming porous to external influence. The undoing of verticality to become snake resonates with the types of transformations that butoh prioritizes, while the spectacle that Dunham produces hews more closely to the dynamics that the flesh invites. Notable, here, too, is that there is a distinction between the spectacle of Shango and the circuits of becoming and embodiment activated within Vodou rituals themselves.

The polyphony of Vodou rituals, which hums through Shango also appears in La Corrida's castanets, speaking to a black mater(nal) overlap between Dunham and Mercé. While the women did briefly encounter each other Mercé visited Ludmilla Speranzeva's studio and gave the young Dunham a lesson in Chicago in 1928, and Dunham was said to have been intrigued by her sinuous movements and her use of dance to embody local ritual it is this deeper connection that intrigues me.18 In parsing the blackness of flamenco, K. Meira Goldberg argues that

its disordered and raucous universe the emblematic ¡Ole! of Gypsies, smugglers, fortune tellers, and prostitutes described a long-demarcated and, I will argue, racialized zone within Spanish performance: of ostentatious satire, self-referential rhetoric of abjection, and acid social critique. Flamenco's essential qualities its tumultuous sensuality, quixotic idealism, and fierce soulfulness thus echo with the socio-political and aesthetic contests that trace the rise and fall of an empire.19

Goldberg further argues that the 19th century form of flamenco contains as many roots in Spanish Moorish culture as movements especially zapatiendo and music castanets from Afro-diasporic dancers arriving in Spain from Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.20 Goldberg's history not only makes blackness central to understanding flamenco, but it further augurs Ohno and Harrell's citations of La Argentina to an invisibilized sonic black mater(nal).

Moreover, in addition to their employment of Afro-diasporic sounds, both La Corrida and Shango grapple with animality and an attachment to non-dominant epistemologies by examining ritual. Both the bull fight and the ritual for Damballa celebrate the limits of human agency and invite contemplation of what lies beyond this particular human experience by dancing becomings punctuated by polyrhythms. Beyond the ghost of slaughtered chickens that Arimitsu cites, then, we can locate the influence of the black mater(nal) in the sonic structures of Admiring La Argentina, where Ohno moves to a recording of La Argentina's castanetsand Return of La Argentina, where the sound of castanets is distilled into the rhythmic sounds that Harrell makes when his spoon hits the edges of the bowl.

Thinking with the castanets and the black mater(nal) gives us insight into how this maternity might be enacted. In describing Ohno's relationship to La Argentina, Mark Franko writes, "Argentina brought the universe and the womb together in one body. It is as if Ohno imagined the zapateado and the use of castañuelas (castanets) as the demiurge, a kind of making of the world from nothing."21 Like the womb, the soundtrack these castanets clicking envelop Ohno and envelop the spectator. This envelopment emphasizes the fleshiness of the sonic, which can be described as touch at a distance because even if a sound is not heard, its vibrations make an impact. More specifically, the sonic pushes us toward thinking about relation and the fleshiness of difference. In Admiring La Argentina, viewers are immersed the black mater(nal) suggested by the castanets even though they may not be aware that this is happening. The bringing forth "from nothing" to which Franko refers is emblematic of this representational conundrum the black mater(nal) structures but remains illegible. In Return of La Argentina, viewers experience an echo rather than immersion suggesting yet further disembodiment of the black mater(nal) and yet more representational distance.

What we are left with, then, is the force of a black mater(nal) which is present but illegible and the ghost of La Argentina who is named but whose figuration disappears under the materiality of Ohno and Harrell. I am not sure whether to describe these relations as erasures or appropriations. To be sure, homage disappears much of La Argentina's specificity while maintaining presence through residues of femininity dress and gestures. However, there is also the inescapable rhythmic qualities of the pieces, which cannot quite be annihilated. They might suggest that representation need not be the ultimate political goal, that survival might inhere outside of its ambivalent affiliations and betrayals, and that becoming un-representable produces its own significance.

Fierceness, Voguing, and Black Feminine Defensiveness

While butoh circulates as part of a modern dance performance circuit, voguing and ballroom culture are part of everyday practices of survival for many black and brown queer people. Although, this culture has been brought into the circuit of modern dance by performers like Harrell, the ballroom scene is more expansive than the realm of spectacularized performance; it fills pragmatic roles housing, kinship for queer and gender non-conforming black and latinx people now but especially in the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS emergency, in addition to offering several affect and movement-based routes for navigating the precarity and hostility of the outside world. In his reading of ballroom culture, for example, José Esteban Muñoz argues that voguing allows participants to inhabit a normativity usually foreclosed to Black and brown queer people. He writes, "I am proposing that we might see something other than a celebration in these moves the strong trace of black and queer racialized survival, the way in which children need to imagine being Other in the face of conspiring cultural logics of white supremacy and heteronormativity."22 What Muñoz brings our attention to is that survival in this world relies on a proximity to, rather than rejection of, normativity. Though Muñoz does not describe it as such, in the balls this approximation comes in the form of "realness," which challenges notions of authenticity, trafficking instead in attitude, the right walk, and the ability to emulate models' angular poses. In contrast to butoh's emphasis on openness and disfigurement, voguing mobilizes affect and movement as a way to close the ruptures that normative society uses to encircle queer youth of color. Voguing, in other words, enacts a defense of self through becoming. Suturing these fissures, however, requires the right attitude, what one might call fierceness. As one of Marlon Bailey's informants reports, "In Ballroom, the fear of people seeing weakness and vulnerability becomes an obsession. This aspect of life becomes a protectorate at any cost."23 These elements of attitude, mimesis, and survival infuse Harrell's performance in The Return of La Argentina, augmenting our understanding of the black mater(nal) and the representational ambivalences occasioned by racialized femininity.

Harrell, however, does not show us conventional voguing, which Madison Moore describes as a dance form that is "posing as dance: liquid moves characterized by long arms, femininity, fluidity, hand gestures that frame the face, hard angles and awkward positioning of the body."24 Instead, voguing is woven into the beginning of the show when Harrell saunters toward the front of the room in a set of movements that evokes walking on a catwalk, which Moore describes as "a long plank built for the display of spectacle, the display of commodities."25 Through this lens, we can read Harrell's walk with the pink Comme des Garçons dress as a commitment to the realness of his performance, invoking Ohno in addition to giving us occasion to think about what this signals about the commodification of La Argentina, herself. The aura of fierceness hovers around Harrell both because the audience expects to see voguing its influence is announced in program notes and is known to be part of Harrell's movement archive and because of the expectations summoned by Harrell's queer blackness. However, his affect is not quite that of a runway strut. Harrell's eyes are closed; he is inhabiting the performance through affective retreat. This distance both summons and confounds spectatorial expectations such that Tavia Nyong'o argues that the "performance disappoints expectations of hyperbolic blackness and queerness in dance and theatrical contexts instead of fulfilling them . . . it remains difficult or impossible for the viewer to disentangle vogue from postmodern dance or, for that matter, from any of the other performance genres Harrell draws from."26 In Nyong'o's analysis, Harrell is performing "critical shade," refusing access to his own interiority and unsettling expectations of the ways that blackness and queerness circulate.27

From this ontological perspective, we can think with how voguing's fierceness signifies ambivalently and multiply. On the one hand, fierceness can register as an artifact of fleshiness in which the division between interior and exterior is not only highlighted, but potentially used to negate the very possibility of interiority. Likewise, fierceness can play into spectatorial expectations of liveness, which we can imagine in the métier of being-for-others such that liveliness is posited as something that resides in black people within the register of the flesh. It is not imagined to be part of subjectivity or emotionality, but rather something ontological. This discourse on animation posits the function of blackness to be lively, to entertain, and to inhabit emotion and spectacularity, but not necessarily to feel.28 However, voguing also complicates discourses of authenticity in its play with realness as an affective stance, complicating the idea of an ontological form of blackness and emphasizing the unknown nature of interiorities that are not only unspecified but imagined to not exist.

Importantly, Harrell's performance of critical shade and ambivalent fierceness also registers the mark of racialized femininity. Nyong'o, for example, describes Harrell as "channeling the diva," an affect comprised of "haughty glamour," which is especially evident when Harrell stands at the front of the audience, hikes up his skirt, and looks intently at the audience, daring them to meet his gaze.29 Within ballroom culture, we might register this fierceness as a way to confront homophobia, femmephobia and anti-blackness, but its glancing citation of femininity as diva or through the "gaylect" of being labeled pussy and cunt that Bailey describes invite us to theorize another way that black femininity is summoned, but black women are absented. As Bailey notes, ballroom culture can be "an essentially masculinist and exclusionary space" despite its deconstructions of gender.30 Importantly, what we might register in Harrell's performance of diva intensity are the profound ways that defensiveness structures the legibility of black femininity. This defensiveness being related both to the invisibilization of her labors, as Jennifer Nash has argued vis-à-vis debates on intersectionality, and her profound social un-belonging, as I have argued vis-à-vis black hair.31 This to say that the black mater(nal) inflects the ways that Harrell's performance is understood even as it lingers outside of any explicit representation. We might also hear the pulsating remixes hovering in the background of ballroom culture and the prevalence of house mothers as indicative of other dimensions of the representational structures offered by black mater(nal).32

Racialized femininity, then, is what makes voguing legible as a form with the defensiveness that swirls around black femininity giving texture to fierceness while also anchoring the affect to precarity and exploitation. These ambivalences are summoned as much by Harrell's performance as by the ways that his blackness and queerness registers with spectators. Importantly, this space of ambivalence is also one of play Sara Jansen describes Harrell's performance as "voguing" Ohno's Admiring La Argentina in order to emphasize the deliberate circuits of criticality that Harrell's performance incites.33 In this way voguing functions as a referent for the audience and a description of Harrell's method of disruption.

By highlighting the myriad ways that racialized femininity produces conditions of possibility for Harrell's performance, we gain ways to work through representation's ambivalences. We sense presence without visibility and signification activated by affect. These disembodied modalities structure The Return of La Argentina in ways that do not require explicit acknowledgment from Harrell, but give us insight into racialized femininity as epistemological and ontological agent.

Amber Jamilla Musser is professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research focuses on the intersections of sexuality, race, and aesthetics. She is the author of Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (NYU Press, 2014), Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (NYU Press, 2018), and the forthcoming Between Shadows and Noise: Race, Representation, and Black Feminist Methods (Duke University Press, 2023). She co-edited Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies (NYU Press, 2021) and Queer Form (A special issue of ASAP journal). 

Banner Image: Dancer of the Year by Trajal Harrell


  1. Siobhan Burke, "Review: 'The Return of La Argentina,' A Solo Dance Fed by Chips and Pistachios," New York Times, October 26, 2015. Accessed October 7, 2020. []
  2. In describing this assemblage of movements and histories, Harrell's dramaturg, Sara Jansen, calls Admiring La Argentina "a corporeal archive of encounters, [that] reflects on the way in which encounters with teachers, influences, and diverse corporeal practices in this case from flamenco, tango, and Ausdrucktanz, to religious rituals and Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers  shape the dancer's body, how they are embodied (and, indeed, continue to return over time)." Sara Jansen, "Activating the Archive: On Trajal Harrell's The Return of La Argentina," MoMA publications,3. Accessed October 7, 2020. []
  3. For more on voguing's history see Marlon Bailey, Butch Queen Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013). For more on Harrell's specific investments in voguing see Madison Moore, Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018) and Ariel Osterweis, "Museum Realness: Rashaad Newsome, Trajal Harrell, and Voguing in the White Cube," Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XL) / The Publication, Trajal Harrell, Tom Engels, and Thibault Lac, Eds, 2017, 99-107. []
  4. Nina Bennahum, Antonia Mercé, 'La Argentina:' Flamenco and the Spanish Avant Garde, (New York: University of New England Press, 1999), 113. []
  5. Ibid.. []
  6. Ibid.xv. []
  7. This is language from the distributed program notes to "The Return of La Argentina," presented at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, MO March 1-4, 2018. []
  8. Jansen "Activating the Archive," 1. []
  9. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an anti-Black world (New York: New York University Press, 2020). []
  10. In "Ornamentalism," Anne Cheng describes "transferability" in relation to style, arguing that it "claims specificity but lends itself to transferability. It designates a racial category but can be applied to different racial subjects. It can be enlisted by those wielding power and, more disturbingly, by those deprived of it." Anne Anlin Cheng, Ornamentalism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 418. []
  11. Michio Arimitsu, "From Vodou to Butoh: Hijikata Tatsumi, Katherine Dunham, and the Trans-Pacific Remaking of Blackness," in The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance, ed. Bruce Baird and Rosemary Candelario(New York: Routledge Press, 2018). []
  12. Ibid., 5. []
  13. For an overview on these processes of exclusion, see Jackson, Becoming Human. []
  14. Armitsu, "From Voodoo to Butoh," 2. []
  15. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, "'Theorizing in a Void:' Sublimity, Matter, and Physics in Black Feminist Poetics," South Atlantic Quarterly 117, no. 3 (2018): 619. []
  16. Ibid. []
  17. Katherine Dunham, Islands Possessed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994 [1969]),136. []
  18. VèVè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson, eds., Kaiso! Writings By and About Katherine Dunham (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). []
  19. K. Meira Goldberg, Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 2. []
  20. Ibid[]
  21. Mark Franko, "The Dancing Gaze Across Cultures: Kazuo Ohno's 'Admiring La Argentina,'" Dance Chronicle 34, no. 1 (2011):113 []
  22. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising UtopiaThe Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 80. []
  23. Marlon Bailey, Butch Queen, 74. []
  24. Moore, Fabulous, 8. Also, "In contemporary voguing, however, the moves are less feminine because the top vogue beat producers, djs like Vjuan Allure and MikeQ , serve hard beats that have more in common with hip-hop than did the old way of voguing. These moves are much more aggressive, evidenced by the "dying swan" or "suicide dip" where voguers begin a balletic pirouette and come out of it by suddenly slamming their backs against the floor on the beat" (8). []
  25. Ibid. []
  26. Tavia Nyong'o, Afro-fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (New York: New York University Press, 2018), 32. []
  27. It is notable that Harrell explicitly divests from any predetermined ideas of racial authenticity. His use of voguing, for example, is not born out of his own participation in the ball scene, but his interest in movement and dance history. In interviews he describes attending balls in 2003 and 2004, but staying removed from the scene. In an interview he tells Ariel Osterweis, "Though I am African-American, I am not a voguer from Harlem. I am much more from the legacy of postmodern dance [and Judson Church]. I wanted to problematize this location and the space I occupy within it." Harrell's statements push against an idea of authenticity that would be conferred through blackness. He even describes his work as "steeped in postblackness" in order to illuminate the work that he is doing to show these frameworks of race rather than inhabit them. Osterweis, "Museum Realness,"104; 107 []
  28. For more on animation and its connection to blackness, see Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005). []
  29. Nyong'o, Afro-fabulations, 34. []
  30. Bailey, Butch Queen, 71. []
  31. Jennifer Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018). Amber Jamilla Musser, "Black Hair and Textures of Defensiveness" Palimpsest 5, no. 1 (2016): 1-19. []
  32. For an analysis of the music of ball culture, please see, Michelle Lhooq, "20 Tracks that Defined the Sound of Ballroom, New York's Fiercest Queer Subculture," Vulture, July 24, 2018. []
  33. Sara Jansen, "Activating the Archive," 3. []