The University of Chicago News Office
March 28, 2002 Press Contact: Meredith Ray

Cross-cultural conference on “The Courtesan’s Arts” at the University of Chicago

Courtesan cultures have emerged powerfully in various times and places, often generating antagonisms and debate in environments where sexual politics have been highly charged. Invariably, too, these courtesan cultures have strongly emphasized the arts. This cross-cultural conference on "The Courtesan’s Arts" integrates performance and scholarship to explore how writing, music, dance, and painting, as cultivated by courtesans, have been related to wider cultural and political problems.

The conference will promote cross-cultural collaboration among scholars working on courtesan cultures in places ranging from ancient Greece, the Far East, and South Asia to modern Japan and Renaissance Italy. In recent years, scholars have begun exploring the history of courtesans in particular contexts but without the dialogues necessary to reveal the underlying conditions under which courtesan cultures have thrived and transformed. This conference asks why courtesan cultures appear, how courtesans have mobilized social change to negotiate their position in changing worlds, and how their arts have figured in. Included will be public talks, a performance of courtesans' music from Renaissance Italy by the Newberry Consort, a lecture-demonstration on courtesans’ dances of North India by the Chitresh Das Dance Company, a panel discussion on geisha in today’s world, and a concluding round-table discussion.

On Saturday, April 6, at 6 p.m., Kathak master Chitresh Das and his principal company member Jaiwanti Pamnani will present a lecture demonstration on nautch, or dance of the baijis (courtesans of North India). British rule in India might have obliterated the classical dance form of Kathak were it not for the courtesans that preserved the tradition in their nautch dance. These North India courtesans, known as “baijis” [pron “BI-jees”], serve as a crucial link to the classical Indian dance of the past and bear witness to the prodigious artistic significance of courtesan culture in India. This performance is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required. The performance will be held in Fulton Recital Hall, located on the fourth floor of Goodspeed Hall on the University of Chicago campus, 1010 E.59th St.

“The Courtesan’s Voice in the Time of Machiavelli,” a one-time-only performance of courtesans' music from Renaissance Italy by the Newberry Consort, will be held on Friday evening in the Newberry Library at 8 p.m. Directed by Mary Springfels, it will incorporate from Machiavelli's plays, Verdelot's madrigals, and other unique items from the Newberry Collections. Tickets for this one-time performance are $35 for front-section seats and $25 for second-section seats. Discounts are available for seniors and students. The concert will be held at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St. For tickets or more information, please call (312) 255-3700.

"The Courtesan's Arts" will be held jointly at the Newberry Library and The University of Chicago on April 5-7, 2002, with April 5 events to take place at the Newberry Library and April 6-7 events to take place at The University of Chicago. All public talks, the panel discussion, the concluding round-table discussion, and the Chitresh Das Dance Company lecture-demonstration are free and open to the public. Participants are asked to pre-register through the website: The website also includes the conference program, list of participants, abstracts, maps, and other useful information.

This conference is made possible through major funding by the Women's Board of The University of Chicago. Additional funding has been provided by the following co-sponsors: the Adelyn Russell Bogert Fund of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Committee on South Asian Studies, the Department of Music, the Humanities Division, and the Weiss-Brown Fund, all of The University of Chicago; and the Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies, through The University of Chicago's consortium funding.
Last modified at 04:02 PM CST on Monday, April 01, 2002.

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