Scholarly Research: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Dissecting cultural appropriation and representation in ballet by Lisa Fusillo

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 @ 12:00 pm CST

Lisa Fusillo
University of Georgia

Keywords: Appropriation, acculturation, cultural identity

Cultural appropriation and representation are complex issues at the forefront of our global society and in ballet, choreographic representational choices in ballets old and new are being carefully scrutinized.  As we begin to recognize the imbalance within the cultural ecosystem in the arts, we are seeking ways for cultural organisms to coexist with respectful acknowledgment of individual identities.  Examining the implications and ramifications of cultural (mis)representation, specifically in ballet, this discussion focuses on disentangling the constructs of appropriation, acculturation, colonization, inspiration, and/or celebration of identity.  Using the example of the ballet Le Tricorne (The Three-cornered Hat), this presentation considers the gap between appropriation and colonization, with specific attention to acculturation. The research poses that representation of cultural identities in context, can supersede perceptions arising from questions of appropriation.

Le Tricorne, one of the iconic ballets created for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, remains in the repertoire of several major ballet companies throughout the world a hundred years after its creation.  The issue today is that this Spanish-themed ballet was created by a Russian choreographer, Léonide Massine, who modified and theatricalized traditional Spanish dance in a balletic style. Promoted by the Russian impresario, Serge Diaghilev, the ballet has a Spanish libretto with the Spanish music by Manuel de Falla and designs by Spanish native son, Pablo Picasso. In a contemporary context, the issue of cultural representation is at a critical juncture as to whether the ballet should continue to be presented.  As such, this paper presents a perspective on the role of dance history and preservation in the ecosystem of cultures, with attention to and consideration of appropriation, acculturation, inspiration, and representations of cultural identity in ballet.

Lisa A. Fusillo began her professional ballet training at the Washington School of Ballet and later trained in New York, London, Russia, and Denmark. In addition to earning the Professional Teaching Diploma from the Royal Ballet School, she also holds certifications from American Ballet Theatre® National Training Curriculum and New York City Ballet Education Department.  She was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan and her choreography has been presented in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, England, the Netherlands, Thailand, Taiwan, and at the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS.  Her publications include articles on Léonide Massine, Charles Weidman, and dance in American musical theatre. Dr. Fusillo is professor of dance at the University of Georgia, founder/director of Dance Repertory Project and recently was selected Phi Kappa Phi Artist 2020-2022.  In 2020, she was named UGA Foundation Professor in the Arts.

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