Ms. Fernando's (assistant professor of English at UMass/Amherst) play
will be shown twice, once at UMass and again at Smith College as part of
Smith College Theatre New Play Reading Series. Play Reading incorporates
live dance choreographed by Kevin Iega Jeff, Artistic Director of Deeply
Rooted Productions of Chicago in residence at UMass.
What: “Dance, Salome! Dance!” A Staged Reading with Live Dance of New
Play by Tanya Fernando, Assistant Professor of English, UMass/Amherst
When: April 8, 7:30 p.m., Rand Theater, UMass in Amherst and April 9,
7:30 p.m., Earle Recital Hall, Sage Hall, Smith College in Northampton
Tickets: Both performances are free and open to the public. 413.585.ARTS
(2787). Web Site: www.smith.edu/smitharts
Smith College New Play Reading Series Presents New Play by Dance,
Salome! Dance!, New Play by Tanya Fernando
For immediate release: April, 2009
Publicity Manager: Joan P. Maxson, Tel. 413.585.3222,
Ticket Information: Tel. 413.585.ARTS (2787) or visit
Northampton: In August of 2004, on the front page of the Sunday Arts
section of The New York Times was a full-length photograph of a
principal dancer from the Pacific Northwest Ballet. The image was
startling, perhaps a bit obscene: the dancer was doing an arabesque, and
hanging from her ankle was a price tag—printed on it: $100,000. The
caption read, “For the art patron who has everything, ballet companies
are offering something novel: the dancers themselves.” As a consequence
of decreased funding, premier American ballet companies are auctioning
off, for exorbitant sums, their principal dancers to the highest bidder.
The repercussions of the auction are manifold and controversial;
however, two aspects stand out: it makes a dancer into an object, an art
object; and it forges a willing or unwilling relationship between dancer
“Dance, Salome! Dance!” is a collaborative project between a playwright
and a choreographer. It is set in the rarefied space of a premier
ballet company in order to examine the recent trend of “dance auctions”
sweeping that world. It plays off of Oscar Wilde’s fantastic
reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Salome, the original text of
dance and patronage. Like Wilde’s play, this piece is a full-length
work in one act where the engine that propels it is the question:
“Salome, will you dance for me?” Such a question points to the
ethical limits of what it means to desire and collect. We all know the
price of the dance: the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.
Like Wilde’s play, this piece mixes art forms and ends in a full-length
“Dance, Salome! Dance!” questions the perplexing entanglement of
patronage, commodification, and desire. However, there is a twist to
the play. In this meditation on the arts and society, the
protagonist—the principal dancer—is a black woman. As soon as race
enters this sphere, the questions change. What looms behind the dance
auctions for this character are of course the slave auctions of another
century that have left behind a traumatic residue in the memories of
many. For this character, the idea of being sold is not playful, not an
advertising ploy to raise revenue, but offensive, unethical.
The play raises a number of questions. What are the ethical
implications of treating the dancer as an object, and collecting “it”?
How does racial identity affect the perspective of the artist? Who has
the responsibility of protecting the arts and its artists, if that is
what it needed? Why must we care? By engaging audiences with these
questions, the play provides an alternative platform for discussing the
relationships between money and art, art and race.
Tanya Fernando is an emerging playwright and an assistant professor in
the department of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Kevin Iega Jeff is a highly recognized choreographer and the Artistic
Director of Deeply Rooted will incorporate the dances. They will be performed by
Karah Abiog of
Deeply Rooted Productions.
Joan P. Maxson
Publicity Manager/Performing Arts