Lee Gurdial Kaur Singh
Ph.D., Modern Russian History, University of California, Riverside
ABD, Critical Dance Studies, University of California, Riverside
AB, cum laude, Dance, Mount Holyoke College
Dr. Lee Gurdial Kaur Singh is a Title VIII Research Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, DC.
When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies?
As a dancer, I became interested in Russian ballet through technique classes and ballet pedagogy training at Mount Holyoke College. There, Rose Marie and Charles Flachs employ what is known as the Vaganova method. As a historian, I developed an interest in Soviet ballet in the Winter of 2012. I was simultaneously taking an independent reading course that included Elizabeth Souritz's Soviet Choreographers in the 1920s and a seminar with Kiril Tomoff on Soviet historiography. At that point, Souritz's book was the most recent book in English about Soviet ballet, and it only covers the first decade! Eager to find out what happened after 1927, I formulated a dissertation project—bringing materials and methods from Soviet historiography into ballet history and ballet into conversations about Soviet history.
What support have you received throughout your career that has allowed you to advance your scholarship?
My doctoral studies in Dance were supported by a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, which allowed me to focus on learning Russian and beginning archival research for my dissertation. My last dissertation research trip was supported by an ASEEES Dissertation Research Grant and two Research and Travel Grants from the Department of History at UCR, plus additional funding provided by my father. Current research for dissertation-to-book revisions is financed by a Title VIII Research Scholarship from the Kennan Institute. I also received a Davis Graduate Student Travel Grant from ASEEES in 2019, making it possible to present a paper and attend the entire convention.
What is your current research/work project?
I am preparing to revise my dissertation into a book manuscript tentatively entitled Ballet for Socialism's Sake: The Red Poppy at the Bolshoi Theater, 1927-1960. I contend that early generations of Soviet artists shared Soviet leaders' goal of using ballet to educate and enlighten mass audiences politically. I argue that this pedagogical mandate (common to ballet and other art forms) spurred artists to create ballets on contemporary subjects such as colonial oppression and women's equality. Artists then created new embodied storytelling techniques to convey new types of stories and characters. The first decades of socialist realist ballet production yielded aesthetic innovations that transcended the borders of the Soviet Union and continue to resonate in twenty-first-century ballet repertoire. For ballet, socialist realism was generative.
How do you envision your current research projects(s) within the broader field of SEEES?
While there have been new books published about Soviet ballet in the decade since I formulated my dissertation/first book, my project focuses on artists' integration into the Soviet cultural project (rather than resistance to the Sovietization of ballet) and on domestic ballet production (rather than ballet as part of cultural diplomacy). Along the way, I also uncovered many fascinating details about day-to-day theatrical operations at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which may be of interest to social historians and scholars of theater and opera. And I write about gendered representation on stage and gendered participation in ballet production. Given Russia's reputation as perhaps the most balletic country and ballet's continued popularity throughout much of the former Soviet Union, I am always happy to bring ballet into SEEES conversations about history and cultural life!
What does your ASEEES membership mean to you? How has your involvement with ASEEES helped to further your career?
I participated in the ASEEES Mentoring Program for three years and am very grateful for the connections made and the advice I received through that program. While I hope to have an academic career, given the current job market, I have also participated in the Exploring Career Diversity program and the Exploring Career Diversity webinars, and I appreciate these opportunities. This year, I am part of the Initiative for Diversity and Inclusion and its associated IDI Mentoring Program. I am getting a lot of advice and support through this ASEEES community. I am also excited to be part of the Music Study Group, which helps me connect with scholars in adjacent fields (such as opera studies). ASEEES provides me with opportunities for networking, funding, feedback on my research and job search, and being part of a multidisciplinary community of people interested in the former Soviet Union.
Plisetskaia mural: I always looked forward to seeking Eduardo Kobra's brightly colored mural in honor of Maia Plisetskaia as I walked up ulitsa Bol'shaia Dmitrovka in Moscow between the Bolshoi Theater and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History.
Photo credit for Plisetskaia mural: Lee G.K. Singh
Tao-Khoa costume: This is one of ballerina Galina Ulanova's costumes for the role of Tao-Khoa in the ballet The Red Poppy/The Red Flower at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. It was on display at the theater in 2015 as part of an exhibit celebrating Ulanova's 105th birthday.
Photo credit for Tao-Khoa costume: Lee G.K. Singh
Photo credit for headshot: John Milewski