Ariel Osterweis Explores Desmond Richardson’s Impact on Dance in New Book Body Impossible

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Scholar-practitioner and Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance faculty Ariel Osterweis explores the concept of virtuosity in contemporary dance and performance through a study of Desmond Richardson’s renowned career in her newest book Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity. This book, published by Oxford University Press, not only celebrates Richardson’s virtuosic prowess but also explores the complex intersections of Blackness, queerness, masculinity, and class in the realm of dance. 

In Body Impossible, Osterweis presents the multitude of ways Richardson has shaped the landscape of dance, focusing on his creative commitment to improvisatory fun and excellence. From commanding performances on the stages of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet Frankfurt to collaborations with icons like Michael Jackson and Prince, Richardson’s versatility epitomizes the demands placed on contemporary virtuosic dance artists. Co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Richardson, alongside choreographer Dwight Rhoden, is widely acclaimed for pioneering a virtuosic queer Black aesthetic. 

More on the book from Osterweis’ website:

Osterweis suggests that discourses of virtuosity are linked to connotations of excess, and this book’s analysis of the formal and sociocultural aspects of virtuosity reveals under-recognized heterogeneity brought about by underground and popular culture’s influence on concert dance. Focusing on the decades approaching the millennium (shaped by Reaganism, the Culture Wars, the AIDS epidemic, the New Jim Crow, and MTV), Body Impossible accounts for the constitutive relationship between disciplined perceptions of virtuosity’s excess and the disciplining of the racialized body in national and transnational contexts. 

Osterweis is currently developing their next monograph, Prophylactic Aesthetics: Latex, Spandex, and Sexual Anxieties Performed, as well as a book of interviews called Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration: Dance and Performance Interviews. Their publications have appeared in Dance Research Journal, TDR/The Drama Review, Women and Performance: a journal of feminist theory, e-misférica, Theatre Survey, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, Choreographies of 21st Century Wars, Trajal Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XL), and The Futures of Dance Studies.

Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity is set for release on April 23.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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