Working Paper 79

Genuine and Spurious Dance Forms in Kamchatka, Russia

Alexander D. King

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 79

This paper explores two interrelated themes found in the anthropology of ethnic dance ensembles in Kamchatka, Russia: authenticity and the place of individual in society. I use two elite dance troupes (one professional, the other semi-professional) to analyse local categories of cultural authenticity. People in Kamchatka were vocal about representations of indigenous dance on the stage and critiqued dance performances on the basis of whether or not they lived up to their expectations for a proper representation of traditional forms. These critiques are consistently made with respect to the representations themselves and are wholly detached from ethnic (or other) identities of the performers. They provide insight into the nature of authorised knowledge of cultural traditions in Kamchatka. The second part of the paper explores the role of children’s dance ensembles in cultural revival movements in small villages. Performing traditional indigenous Kamchatkan dance is not a case of memorising a set stock of moves and positions but entails finding oneself through an individually creative engagement with a style modelled by elders. In both cases, I argue that a semiotics of dance focuses our attention on what symbols do (as opposed to simply what they mean) within a cultural field.

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