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Reproducible Dances: Reconstructing the "Ephemeral" With Funding From the National Endowment for the Arts' "American Masterpieces: Dance" Program


This dissertation examines how the American Masterpieces: Dance initiative (2007-2010) of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) conceptualized dance. The funding program provided grants to reconstruct and restage dances for touring around the United States. The NEA initiative is the case study through which this dissertation investigates the ways in which funding mechanisms, including the federal government, make claims about dance and choreography. The American Masterpieces: Dance program contributed to the widely held belief that dance disappears even though the grant supported reconstruction and bringing choreography back to be performed live. While American Masterpieces endorsed the ephemerality of dance, this theorization is at odds with the reconstructions the initiative supported, since the existence and possibility of these reconstructions prove that dance does not, in fact, disappear. The American Masterpieces grants awarded to reconstruct the work of Jane Comfort, David Gordon, Pat Graney, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Alwin Nikolais exemplify some of the different ways that the reproduction of dance through this program contributes to debates in dance studies about canonization, archives, and how dance can work in multiple ways at once. The grants that reconstructed Nikolais's work during his centenary both furthered the choreographer's inclusion as part of the canon of American modern dance and destabilized this same canon. The National Performance Network (NPN) distributed American Masterpieces funds to Comfort, Graney, and Joseph and these artists' reconstructions exhibit the multiple, overlapping methods through which choreography can be archived and preserved. The American Masterpieces program attempted to bring back and revive masterworks by creating surrogates through reconstruction without acknowledging either the imperfection inherent in the reconstruction process or the presence of multiple performance surrogates existing in the past and Gordon calls attention to this through his reconstruction. Choreography's reproducibility, rather than repeatability, enables it to subvert the programming goals of governmental grant programs through signaling on more than one level simultaneously, critiquing the status quo in some ways, while consolidating it in others.

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