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Adrienne Cohen ─ Infinite Repertoire: On Dance and Urban Possibility in Postsocialist Guinea ─ Virtual Book Talk

Thursday, February 25, 2021

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Watch on Watson's YouTube Channel.

Watch on YouTube

In Guinea’s capital city of Conakry, dance is everywhere. Most neighborhoods boast at least one dance troupe, and members of those troupes animate the city’s major rites of passage and social events. In Infinite Repertoire, Adrienne Cohen shows how dance became such a prominent—even infrastructural —feature of city life in Guinea and tells a surprising story of the rise of creative practice under a political regime known for its authoritarianism and violent excesses. Guinea’s socialist state, which was in power from 1958 to 1984, used staged African dance or “ballet” strategically as a political tool, in part by tapping into indigenous conceptualizations of artisans as powerful figures capable of transforming the social fabric through their manipulation of vital energy. Far from dying with the socialist revolution, Guinean ballet continued to thrive in Conakry after economic liberalization in the 1980s, with its connection to transformative power retrofitted for a market economy and a rapidly expanding city. Infinite Repertoire follows young dancers and percussionists in Conakry as they invest in the present, using their bodies to build a creative urban environment and to perform and redefine social norms and political subjectivities passed down from the socialist generation before them. Cohen’s ethnography weaves the political with the aesthetic, placing dance at the center of a story about dramatic political change and youthful resourcefulness in one of the least-studied cities on the African continent.

Moderated by Daniel Smith, Charles C. Tillinghast, Jr. ’32 Professor of International Studies, Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Africa Initiative

Africa Initiative

Adrienne Cohen's research in cultural anthropology focuses on the relationship between aesthetics and politics in the Republic of Guinea and also on youth and generational change in urban Africa. Her forthcoming book Infinite Repertoire: on dance and urban possibility in postsocialist Guinea (U. Chicago Press 2021) is about dancers and musicians in Guinea’s capital city of Conakry working in troupes called “ballets.” These performing artists, whose profession was originally the outgrowth of socialist cultural policies, are reinventing the contours of their practice in a capitalist economy. She uses dance as a medium through which to examine the complex relationship between affect, social life, and political economy in Africa. Adrienne has also written about migration between Africa and the United States, and has conducted research among expatriate Guinean Artists in New York and California.