Xenophobia in Motion? | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Xenophobia in Motion?



Dear editor:

Re: Sharira--Fire and Desire, Chandralekha and Company dance review, September 14, 2001

This review is not really a review of the purported subject, but rather a disturbing look at what is tolerated when nonwhite people and nonmain-stream art forms are at issue. To begin with, the title of this review, "Foreign Bodies," sets a flip tone of adolescent xenophobia that is carried throughout the essay. The bharatanatyam con-ference and performances that Kelly Kleiman refers to were not organized by the Dance Center of Columbia College as is stated, but by the most prestigious Indian dance company in North America, Chicago's own Natya Dance Theatre. This information was prominent throughout the Dance Center and in all of the printed materials available. Racism takes many forms; some are overt, some covert. Overlooking the organizations and institutions of nonwhite people is one insidious form that racism takes.

The first half of the essay is an excursion through the writer's scant stereotyped experiences with pseudo-Indian culture. These include references to the Beatles' 1960s film Help!, Bob Hope movies, and the Concert for Bangladesh. Unbelievably, the writer connects the appearance of the musicians to 30-year-old images of the Beatles. The only issues the writer wrote convincingly of was a complete lack of qualification for reviewing Indian dance, a lack of respect for people who aren't like her/him, and a lack of seriousness about dance writing. Apparently it's OK not to be serious or qualified in order to review art forms of brown people.

"The dancers might have been up there doing the Indian equivalent of flipping the bird and I'd never know it" reveals an astounding lack of seriousness and respect. These artists perform in prestigious venues around the world and receive glowing reviews by qualified dance writers in European capitals and elsewhere. Artists certainly do not expect all reviews to be unqual-ifiedly positive, but they do expect reviewers to be minimally qualified and to not reinforce racial stereotyping in such a low and embarrassing way.

With everything that's happening in the world, it's particularly impor-tant not to add to the trivialization of nonwhite people and nonmain-stream art forms.

Loretta Brockmeier


Kelly Kleiman replies:

I intended no disrespect to Natya Dance Theatre; the press materials came from Columbia College and said, "The Dance Center of Colum-bia College opens its 32nd season by hosting..." I looked no further.

Ms. Brockmeier has mistaken observations about racism for racist observations. I don't trivialize non-Western art forms by acknowledging my limitations in assessing their performance. Unless we prize artistic segregation, noninitiates must be entitled to respond. If my work sparks debate about the art form, the whole dance community benefits.

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