Julia Ostwald

Performing Exoticism in European Dance Modernism: Japonist Entanglements


Japonism is one of the numerous manifestations of exoticism in European and US-American dance in the beginning of the 20th century. The ‚western‘ construction of bodies and movements marked as Japanese by dancers such as Ruth St. Denis or Ted Shawn can be associated with Katrin Sieg’s notion of ‚ethnic drag‘ as a masquerade of race linked to a specifically marked culture. I my contribution I want to complicate these rather one-directional appropriations by focussing on multidirectional migrations of movements and embodiments in two case studies in the context of Japonism in particular and modernism‘s exoticism in general: First, I am interested in the notion of deliberate self-exoticisation in the case of Kawakami Otojirō‘s Kabuki-group that was starring as the first ‚original‘ Japanese performers in Europe between 1900-1902. Second, Russian-born dancer Alexander Sakharoff and his solo Golliwogg’s Cake-Walk (1913) – in which he amalgamates specifically culturally marked dances (Kabuki, Cake-Walk, European Baroque Dance) – will serve as an example for the interweavings of exoticism and queerness. Despite their differences, both examples raise questions about masquerade, temporal drag and the agency of bodies that were moving in and through modernist exoticisms.



Julia Ostwald is a university assistant in Gender Studies at mdw. She received her doctorate in Dance Studies in 2021 at Salzburg University and is currently preparing the publication of her thesis on Constellations of Body and Voice in Dance of Modernity and Presence (Rombach, series Scenae). Her research focuses on historical and contemporary entanglements of aesthetics and (body-)politics in the context of dance, choreography, and performative arts.