Dr. Harmony Bench, Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance, is one of six recipients of a prestigious 2016 Batelle Engineering, Technology, and Human Affairs (BETHA) Endowment grant. BETHA grants support projects that examine the complex relationship between science and technology on society and cultural issues.
Dance in Transit, a digital humanities research project, examines the archive of modern dance performance from the first half of the 20th century. In collaboration with Dr. Kate Elswit of Bristol University, UK, the project seeks to “reflect back historically” on the movement of touring dance companies through the lens of globalization and transnationalism, Bench says. The outcome of the project will be a database, available for public use, that includes information on 30,000 performances, highlighting the various ways dance is transmitted, from live performance, to film, to program materials, to the boats, trains, and planes that brought dance companies to performance locations. This project builds on and continues Bench’s Mapping Touring project, in which she examined the movement of touring dance companies from the early 20th century, culling information about performance dates, locations, and performers from programs held in library special collections.
Of particular focus for Dance in Transit is African American choreographer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham, who carried out research in the Caribbean and used her ethnographic findings to create dances that toured domestically and internationally. In addition to the touring database, Dance in Transit will include digital scholarship on Dunham’s work. With support from the BETHA grant, Bench and Elswit will travel to Southern Illinois University, The Library of Congress, and Jacob’s Pillow to gather data on Dunham and other touring companies from the early 20th century, assisted by 4-6 undergraduate researchers.
Bench, who joined the faculty of the Department of Dance in 2010, teaches courses on politics, performance, and philosophy in the context of dance studies. She is co-editor of the International Journal of Screendance with Simon Ellis, and has authored numerous articles for journals and anthologies. She is currently working on a monograph entitled Dance as Common: Movement as Belonging in Digital Cultures, in contract with the University of Minnesota Press.