Event—Adult Education

Spectacle and Scandal: Controversial Performances of the Twentieth Century


Alla Nazimova as Salomé, lobbycard, 1923. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Class Description

In 1905, Strauss' Salome shocked theatergoers with its vulgar decadence. In 1913, a riot broke out at Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring premiere. These two works—and others—illustrate how twentieth-century performers unsettled and, in some instances, utterly destroyed the theatrical tradition they inherited.

We will discuss the controversial and pivotal dance, opera, and performance artworks that changed our expectations of theater and set the stage for our twenty-first-century culture of spectacle and performativity. Our four sessions will focus on three themes: non-virtuosity, spectatorship and participation, and the vulnerable body and violence. To do so, we will draw upon works by Richard Strauss, Vaslav Nijinsky, Joffrey Ballet, Judson Dance Theater, Marina Abramovic, Bill T. Jones, Cathy Berberian, Loie Fuller, John Cage, Mary Wigman, The Futurists, Twyla Tharp, and others. We will also critically consider negative reviews and protests of productions over the last twenty years.

Jeanette “Joy” Harris is an artist and scholar focused on performance and its intersection with philosophy. She is particularly interested in the interdisciplinary discourse between dance, performance art, vocality, and opera. She is an adjunct instructor at the University of Houston.

Materials List


  • Instructor-Distributed Materials

Cost and Registration

4 Sessions, $200 ($180 for Newberry members, seniors, and students). Learn about becoming a member.

We now offer our classes at three different price options: Regular ($200), Community Supported ($190), and Sponsor ($210). Following the models of other institutions, we want to ensure that our classes are accessible to a wider audience while continuing to support our instructors. You may choose the price that best fits your situation when registering through Learning Stream.

To register multiple people for this class, please go through the course calendar in Learning Stream, our registration platform. When you select the course and register, you’ll be prompted to add another registrant.


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