ASTRID VON ROSEN
Coloured Costume Ecologies: Black Dances, White Bodies, Swedish Settings
In 1967, black dancer, choreographer and pedagogue Claude Marchant (1919–2004) arrived in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, to teach what was at the time, in this particular context, termed “jazz technique”. A former Dunham dancer as well as independent choreographer and performer in the United States and Europe, Marchant’s arrival and teaching had a revolutionary impact on the white local dance community and its audiences in Gothenburg. Marchant’s teaching and new dance techniques offered a substantial alternative to the classical ballet school, only accepting a few students after a selection process. Creating the first independent dance company in Gothenburg, Marchant made it possible for a new generation of dance students to become knowledgeable of many aspects of performance-making. This would, for example, include partaking in costume-making for bold and liberating presentations of African-Caribbean numbers, dance drama, gospel dancing, and carnival.
While the groundbreaking character, immediate success, and longstanding impact of Marchant’s work are strikingly absent in Swedish performance historiography, the ambition of this paper is to mobilize bodies in costume as vital parts of a “scenographic ecology” (Hann 2019: 20, 47-48) to open up for reflection and dialogue on this neglect. This means that body-costumes are understood as active agents in the crafting of felt and experienced, multisensory relations and atmospheres during performance as well as before and after it. In recognition of this, the article explores the following research question: In what ways can attention to coloured costume ecologies help expose and understand the complexity of black dance heritage (De Franz 2002, Clark and Johnson 2006; specifically on costume see Barbieri 2017: 113-114, 123-124) moving with white bodies in a Swedish context?
Astrid von Rosen (PhD, Gothenburg 2010) is an Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and joint coordinator of the Archives Cluster in the UGOT/UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies. In her research, she combines art historical and scenographic analysis with participatory approaches to contribute to social change and transformation, methodological development, and historiographical revision. Publications (2020) include “On the Wire: Scenographing Affect at Sillgateteatern in Gothenburg around 1800”, in Genres in Context: Dance, Theatre and Opera around 1800, Routledge, and “Scenographing Resistance: Remembering Ride This Night”, Nordic Theatre Studies. She is the author of “Dream-Playing the Archive: Exploring the 1915–18 Düsseldorf production of A Dream Play”, in August Strindberg and Visual Culture: The Emergence of Optical Modernity in Image, Text, and Theatre, Bloomsbury (2018). Currently, she is principal investigator of the three-year project Expansion and Diversity: Digitally mapping and exploring independent performance in Gothenburg 1965–2000, granted by the Swedish Research Council.