New project - Dancing Antic Hays: Performing Modernist Chineseries, 1900-1940

Project aims

Modern dance in the West was essentially a transnational art form, emerging directly from encounters with Asia. This project explores the emergence and development of modern dance and performance in the early-twentieth century as a travelling, transnational form. The circulation of ideas of “Chineseness” around the globe as part of the cultural traffic of modernism can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the migrations and artistic exchanges of dancers, yet while the impact of China on Anglophone modernist poetic practice is well documented, the area of modernist dance is surprisingly overlooked.

Research context

Modernist Studies has moved considerably from strictly literary approaches while also extending its geopolitical reach. The geographic migration, multidirectional travelling, and reciprocal exchange of modernist cultural expression in the early 20th century was made visible by dancers in perhaps the most literal iteration of Hayot and Walkowitz’s definition of modernism as ‘a particular kind of response to a modernity defined as a novel experience of the globe’. This research project is premised upon the centrality of dance and performance for our general understanding of transnational modernism and explores relationships between Anglophone modernism and modernism in China through an interdisciplinary lens.

Project activities

  • ‘Chinoiserie: The Chinese World in the European Mind’ Roundtable Discussion Sussex Asia Centre, 8 February 2016
  • ‘The Chinese Girl”: Sinophilia and the Construction of Modernist Femininities in 1920s London’, Oxford Chinese Studies Society Panel, ‘From Yellow Peril to Yellowface: the Cultural Politics of the Chinese Diaspora in Britain’, University of Oxford China Centre, St Hugh’s College, 8 May 2017
  • ‘"Whisky built the eastern half, an' cold tay built the western half. The Irish lived on whisky an' the Chinamons on tay": nailing nationhood at Promontory Point’, Modernisms and Modernities East, West and South: Comparing Literary and Cultural Experiences, Fudan University, Shanghai, 19–22 July 2017
  • “Restless” Modernism: Modernist Travels in Literature, Dance, and Art, Modernist Studies Association Conference, Amsterdam, 10-17 August 2017

Project outputs

“Beautiful, baleful absurdity”: British Music-Hall Chinoiserie and Modernist Ballet’ in A. Witchard, ed, Modernism and British Chinoiserie (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).


Travel and Accommodation Grant from Universities’ China Committee in London to attend Modernisms and Modernities East, West and South: Comparing Literary and Cultural Experiences, Fudan University, Shanghai.