Review: Choreographing Asian America by Yutian Wong
Choreographing Asian America is a book by Yutian Wong, an assistant professor in the School of Music and Dance at San Francisco State University. The book is the first book-length examination of the role of Orientalist discourse in shaping Asian Americanist entanglements with U.S. modern dance history. Wong analyzes how Asian American choreographers and performers respond to competing narratives of representation, aesthetics, and social activism that often frame the production of Asian American performance.
The book consists of four chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of Asian American performance and its relation to Orientalism. The first chapter traces the historical origins of Orientalism in U.S. modern dance and its impact on the formation of Asian American dance as a category. The second chapter examines the work of Club O' Noodles, a Vietnamese American performance ensemble, and their strategies of parody, irony, and hybridity to challenge Orientalist stereotypes and assert their identities. The third chapter explores the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and nation in the choreographies of Kun-Yang Lin, Shen Wei, and Eiko & Koma, three prominent Asian-born artists who migrated to the U.S. The fourth chapter discusses the implications of globalization and transnationalism for Asian American dance and its potential to create new forms of cultural exchange and dialogue.
Wong's book is a valuable contribution to the fields of Asian American studies and dance studies, as it offers a critical perspective on the complex and dynamic relationship between Asian American performance and Orientalism. Wong demonstrates how Asian American artists use dance as a medium to negotiate their identities, challenge stereotypes, express their creativity, and engage with social issues. The book also provides rich descriptions and analyses of various works by Asian American choreographers and performers, as well as interviews with some of them. Choreographing Asian America is a must-read for anyone interested in the history, theory, and practice of Asian American dance.
The book is based on Wong's doctoral dissertation, which won the 2007 Selma Jeanne Cohen Award from the Society of Dance History Scholars. Wong draws on a variety of sources, such as archival materials, interviews, reviews, videos, and personal observations, to support her arguments and analyses. She also employs various theoretical frameworks, such as postcolonial theory, queer theory, feminist theory, and performance theory, to illuminate the multiple dimensions of Asian American dance.
One of the strengths of the book is its attention to the diversity and complexity of Asian American dance and its practitioners. Wong does not assume a monolithic or essentialist notion of Asian American identity or culture, but rather acknowledges the differences and contradictions among various groups and individuals. She also does not treat Asian American dance as a fixed or static category, but rather as a dynamic and evolving one that responds to changing historical and social contexts. Wong shows how Asian American dance is shaped by factors such as immigration, assimilation, racism, nationalism, globalization, and transnationalism.
Another strength of the book is its critical engagement with Orientalism and its effects on Asian American dance. Wong challenges the dominant narratives of Orientalism that either exoticize or marginalize Asian American dance and its makers. She also exposes the subtle and invisible forms of Orientalism that operate within academic and artistic discourses and institutions. Wong argues that Orientalism not only limits the recognition and appreciation of Asian American dance, but also influences the ways that Asian American artists conceive and produce their work. Wong calls for a more nuanced and reflexive understanding of Orientalism and its impact on Asian American performance. aa16f39245