In July, 2016, Ariel Osterweis joins the faculty of The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where she will teach dance history, aesthetics, and pedagogy. From 2014-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar/Artist (Assistant Professor) in the Skidmore College Dance Department in Saratoga Springs, New York. She was Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan from 2011-2014. Osterweis teaches courses in dance history and theory, global dance and performance studies, contemporary dance technique, and choreography. Osterweis earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and holds a B.A. with Departmental Honors in Anthropology from Columbia University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude.
During her distinguished performing career, Osterweis was selected to join Complexions Contemporary Ballet (directed by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson), Heidi Latsky Dance, and Mia Michaels R.A.W., touring internationally and serving as assistant to choreographer Mia Michaels. She danced in composer Fred Ho’s AfroAsian jazz opera Journey Beyond the West at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (director of Paris is Burning) Jennie Livingston’s film Who’s the Top?, and in improvisational performances with Homer Avila. Osterweis trained at the San Francisco Ballet School, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and on a full scholarship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, where she performed works by Alvin Ailey and Bill T. Jones. Her choreography has been presented internationally and has ranged from technically demanding solos and duets to experimental pieces for large groups (including Ouroboros at UC Berkeley, based on the Drawing Poems of the Language poet Robert Grenier).
She has served as a theorist/dramaturg for performance artist Narcissister (New York) and choreographer John Jasperse (New York).
Osterweis is at work on her first book, Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity (working title), under contract with Oxford University Press. It is in large part a response to the need for rigorous theoretical investigation of virtuosity in dance and performance studies. Calling for culturally nuanced analysis and deployment of the term, this project frames virtuosity through Richardson’s versatile dance career, one that has spanned from the popular to the avant-garde (from appearances with Michael Jackson and So You Think You Can Dance to Alvin Ailey and William Forsythe). The book argues that discourses of virtuosity are linked to connotations of excess, and that an examination of the formal and socio-cultural aspects of virtuosic performance reveals under-recognized heterogeneity in which we detect vernacular influences on high art. In doing so, Osterweis accounts for the constitutive relationship between disciplined perceptions of virtuosity’s excess and the disciplining of the racialized body in national and transnational contexts. She claims that virtuosity (as distinct from charisma) obscures the border between popular and high art. She enters into recent debates in critical race theory and performance studies to assert that Richardson’s uniquely embodied but ever-mutable technique challenges assumptions that the hyper-kinetic black body submits to a capitalist imperative to move, on the one hand, and is essentially diasporic, on the other.
The book demonstrates that Richardson performs the laboring body through a particular type of virtuosity inaugurated in the 1990s, one defined by versatility and mutability. By interrogating dance training, photography, and performance, Osterweis calls into question a strand of dance theory that privileges stillness as a site of anti-capitalist critique. Instead, she suggests that hyper-kinetic choreography incorporating black vernacular dance (epitomized by Complexions Contemporary Ballet) stages its own critique of capitalism, reappropriating queer shame and racial melancholia to generate affective recognition and artistic agency. In dialogue with Roderick Ferguson’s “queer of color analysis” and Sianne Ngai’s “animatedness,” Osterweis puts forth the concept of choreographic falsetto to account for black masculine virtuosity that exploits technical skills typically reserved for female dancers in a mode that is received as “unnatural.” The mechanical, soulful, and freakish coalesce at the site of choreographic falsetto, also manifested in Richardson’s collaboration with Michael Jackson. Emerging as sweat, the labor of virtuosity is both revealed and concealed at the level of photographic surface, read through Anne Cheng’s “mutability of style.” Osterweis claims that flesh (what Hortense Spillers identifies as the location of racial wounding) is afforded the potential for redress (Saidiya Hartman) through Richardson’s muscular labor. She turns to the temporality of racial melodrama (Linda Williams) to demonstrate how blackface and virtuosity continually complicate the visibility of blackness in Othello. Despite Richardson’s hypervisibility, his work in improvisation renders him illegible as he collapses racial signifiers in pursuit of an aesthetics of difficulty with William Forsythe, approaching what Fred Moten refers to as the “black radical tradition.” As a post-Civil Rights (and Post-Soul) American representative in the Black Arts Festival in Senegal, Richardson makes a significant contribution to the way we conceptualize African diasporic performance in this globalized economy, as his virtuosity insists that we account for the queer, the technical, the inventive, and the futuristic. Finally, Osterweis examines Richardson’s role as a gay icon in the 2013 Life Ball and his recent performances in Russia against the backdrop of Pussy Riot’s imprisonment and Russian anti-gay laws.
Osterweis’ second book project, Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration (in its early stages), is an extension of her work on virtuosity that pursues live art and performance that inverts expectations of the racialized virtuosic body: what is the imaginative and theoretical potential of the refusal to embody virtuosity? When is technical virtuosity effaced—or replaced—by the explicit body? By exposing bodily function—as opposed to a highly functioning body—the profane, relational body places pressure on the cult of the seemingly sacred individual typically championed through the notion of virtuosity. This project explores the idea of what Osterweis refers to as the disavowal and displacement of virtuosity in contemporary choreography and live art. In doing so, the concept of dance itself is scrutinized through theories of value, materiality, vitalism, queer affect, and transgender subjectivity. By mobilizing dance technique’s means to different (often invisible) ends, these artists inadvertently confront the aspirational phase of training, one that imagines (but may never fulfill) a virtuosic future. Artists include Narcissister, Ralph Lemon, Trajal Harrell, Rashaad Newsome, Yve Laris Cohen, Ann Liv Young, Miguel Guttierrez, John Jasperse, Francois Chaignaud, and Cecilia Bengolea.
All of Osterweis’ work considers how extreme corporeal performance in concert, experimental, and mediated contexts influences and questions the popular choreo-visual imagination within and across multiple temporalities (historical, diasporic, queer, and trans-). The extreme manifests itself when ability becomes virtuosity, velocity verges on the hyper-kinetic, duration requires endurance, nudity approaches pornography, and wounding draws blood. By suggesting that public consumption of the extreme body occurs in relation to commodity fetishism and institutional demands, Osterweis reveals the co-constitutive status of race, class, and gender in specific cultural contexts. Her article, “The Muse of Virtuosity: Desmond Richardson, Race, and Choreographic Falsetto,” appears in the Winter 2013 issue of Dance Research Journal. She published “Performing Acupuncture on a Necropolitical Body: Choreographer Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo” in Dance Research Journal (Winter 2010), and it proposes the concept of geo-choreography to describe an anti-colonial reordering of urban landscape through social practice. For the Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen (2013), Osterweis contributed a chapter entitled “Disciplining Black Swan, Animalizing Ambition.” Her article for Trajal Harrell’s XL, “Museum Realness: Rashaad Newsome, Trajal Harrell, and Voguing in the White Cube,” interrogates the racialized and sexualized politics of archiving, drag, and transgender performance as it pertains to the dance form of voguing in the context of the art museum. “Dancing Social,” an epistolary essay with Barbara Browning on Narcissister, is published in Theatre Survey (Fall 2012) and “Public Pubic: Narcissister’s Performance of Race, Disavowal, and Aspiration” appears in the Winter 2015 issue of TDR/The Drama Review.
Osterweis’ teaching and research interests include Performance Studies; Critical Dance Studies; Critical Race Studies; African American Studies; Postcolonial Studies and African Performance; Feminist Performance Art, Disability Studies; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; “Difficult” Body Genres (Pornography, Freak Show, Minstrelsy); Ethnography; Dance Technique (Ballet, Modern, Contemporary); Improvisation, and Choreography.