Reimagining the Ballet des Porcelaines: A Story of Magic, Desire, and Exotic Entanglement

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The Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago (CEAS) is thrilled to be partnering with UChicago Arts, the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), the Office of the Provost, and the Department of Music to bring "Reimagining the Ballet des Porcelaines: A Story of Magic, Desire, and Exotic Entanglement" to campus March 2-3, 2022.

In 1739, a group of artists and aristocrats staged a ballet pantomime known as the Ballet des Porcelaines. It tells the story of a prince searching for his lover on a faraway island ruled by a magician, who has transformed the inhabitants into porcelain. On the one hand a standard Orientalist fairy tale, the ballet is also an allegory for the intense European desire to know and possess the secrets of making porcelain. Although it would later inspire famous ballets featuring sleeping beauties and porcelain princesses, the Ballet des Porcelaines is virtually unknown. 

Meredith Martin (NYU Associate Professor of Art History) and Phil Chan (choreographer/arts activist and Final Bow for Yellowface co-founder) have revived this lost gem and updated the ballet for multiracial and contemporary audiences, mainly flipping its script and putting Asian protagonists front and center. By reimagining the production with a team consisting primarily of artists of Asian descent, they explore the meaning and relevance of historical artworks for the present, and communicate the profound sense of mystery, luxury, and seduction that porcelain held in the past.

An evening program on both March 2 and 3 at the Logan Center for the Arts will provide a curated space to view this short, groundbreaking ballet that includes an opportunity to directly engage with the show's creators, world-class performers, and renowned scholars to better understand the historical, cultural, artistic, and performative "entanglements." In addition to performances, panel discussions and Q&A sessions, there will be a ballet masterclass (limited spots available) with Daniel Applebaum, soloist of New York City Ballet, on Thursday, March 3 from 3:30-5:00 pm and the concurrent exhibition Porcelain: Material and Storytelling (February 15-March 6, 2022), curated by Wu Hung, Adjunct Curator at the Smart Museum of Art ; Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History and the College; and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago, at the University's Smart Museum of Art.

For the full list and bios of the program's organizers, click here.

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