JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Anna Paliy

April 27, 2022 by Sonja Johnston

Anna Paliy is a doctoral candidate in the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at University of Toronto. She holds an Honors BA (UWO, 2014) in Comparative Literature and an MA (U of T, 2015) in Comparative Literature and Book History & Print Culture. Anna is JHI's 2021-2022 Amilcare Iannucci Graduate Fellow.

JHI: What are your main research interests?

AP: I am mainly interested in documenting the lives and legacies of traveling ballet dancers – especially those who migrated from Eastern European countries/the Soviet Union in the beginning of the twentieth century (circa 1910-1930) as their homelands underwent cultural crisis and political upheaval, leading them to tour, emigrate, or defect. An important aspect of dance history I would like to highlight in my research is its cultural specificity. Ballet, for one, often tends to be described as a “universal art form”, whereas I wish to illustrate that the local backgrounds of its dancers, designers, and choreographers have always played key parts in how it was received and perceived abroad by both fans and critics. A few notable examples hailing from a single troupe, Les Ballets Russes, include: Vaslav and Bronislava Nijinska, who were born in Poland; Serge Lifar, who was Ukrainian; and George Balanchine, whose family heritage was Georgian. I want to show through my research that ballet has never been socially insular and has always consisted of hybrid genealogies, community networks, and physical transit routes, picking up intercultural influences from its many contributors.

JHI: What research project(s) are you working on now at the JHI and why did you choose it?

AP: I am working toward completing my doctoral dissertation during my JHI fellowship year. The topic I was already researching – and have continued to explore this year – is a sort of “ballet microhistory” centering five Western European (French and English) women artists who represented traveling Eastern European ballet dancers in several visual media. Their names are Laura Knight, Valentine Hugo, Eileen Mayo, Vera Willoughby, and Una Vincenzo. Although images of their art appear in most textbooks on global ballet history, they are seldom given credit for their contributions. Starting with their sketches of dancers created during/around live performance events, and converging these with their more fully rendered studio pieces including magazine illustrations, paintings, souvenir figurines, and sculptures, my goal is to foreground their shared corpus as a source of dance criticism which is as valid as – and indeed complimentary to – literary documents such as newspaper reviews. This year’s JHI theme, Pleasure, is a great fit for my project, because the word itself resonates with the experiential intentions of the artists I am studying: these are women who took sheer delight in watching dance, then deciding to share it with their communities beyond the theatre setting even though it was not a popular or lucrative artistic subject at the time.

JHI: What experiences are you hoping for at the JHI?

AP: During my year at the Institute, I hope for two things: to absorb new knowledge from my colleagues by attending their lectures and seminars, and to engage with traditional scholarship topics across media forms – that is, through sensory means such as sight, smell, touch, hearing, and maybe even taste. Given that many of my colleagues this year work in multisensory ways, their areas of research spanning fragrance, food, and opera, these hopes are coming true!

JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.

AP: I have recently deeply enjoyed listening to Irina Dumitrescu’s podcasts for various platforms, for instance the “Encounters with Medieval Women” series for the London Review of Books. She is our Public Humanities Faculty Fellow this year, and the way she invites listeners into underrated women’s lives is mesmerizing.

JHI: What is a fun fact about you?

AP: When I was 3-4 years old, my family moved from Ukraine to Hong-Kong for a year – which is where I learned to speak English!