Anya Peterson Royce reflects on her career

Anya Peterson Royce: Core Faculty: About: Department of Anthropology:  Indiana University Bloomington

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I am turning your question around because I have had two professions each of which I have loved greatly; the first of which, classical dance, has been instrumental in what I have done in the second, anthropology.

At the age of seven, I began taking ballet classes. It was a neighborhood studio but the owner/teacher had had good training, a combination of Danish (Bournonville) and the American version of Fokine.  She was strict and the yearly recitals demanded a command of the technique as well as interpretation. My last year of elementary school, I began commuting to the San Francisco Ballet school in the city—a bus to the F train at the top of the Alameda, the train to SF, a bus to the ballet school for a 90-minute class, then the reverse, doing homework on the way. By high school, I was taking 5 classes a week, taught by dancers who were trained by those Russian dancers of the Diaghilev company who came to the US as teachers after the great impresario died. It was thrilling! The demand for mastery built a confidence that was empowering, never mind the chance to be a lady-in-waiting in the annual Nutcracker on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House.

Then came a pause. I had been given a full scholarship to Stanford. Ballet was still my passion but trying to do both, I decided to go to school and continue my classes at SF Ballet. For that year, I commuted to San Francisco, bicycling to the Palo Alto bus station—bus to SF then another bus to the school. At the end of the academic year, I realized I could not continue this way. My Stanford Russian instructor had Russian friends and family in New York, and I was able to rent a room in the apartment of the Makedonovs.  I went to NYC with one suitcase, $400, and their address. For the next three and a half years, I lived with them, took classes at the School of American Ballet and Ballets Russes, danced with the Brooklyn Ballet and for a year with the Deutsche Operetten Teatr, and lived on the upper West Side where I spoke Russian at home and Spanish on the streets. Money was always an issue. We were paid by the performance by Brooklyn Ballet and in good times, like the Nutcracker season which also had the opera’s Hansel and Gretel, I could pay the rent and feed myself. I had odd jobs otherwise; the best was processing checks at First National City Bank on the midnight to 8 shift during my last NY year.

In my time in NYC, I was a regular in the standing room line at the Met for opera, dance, symphonies on those nights when I did not have a performance myself. My access to the best of opera was made easier because opera was a staple at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and we were always hired for the dance interludes. That experience took my naïve love of opera and gave it a more knowledgeable base. I shared the BAM stage with the likes of Zinka Milanov and Robert Merrill in a memorable Aida. I met artists and impresarios like Marcel Marceau, Sol Hurok, Igor Moiseyev, Jose Greco and his dancers, Ludmilla Schollar, Anatol Vilzak, Sviastoslav Richter at Carnegie Hall for his first US recital, dancers from the Kirov Ballet whose first US performance overlapped with my time in NYC—I was one of the interpreters during their stay and got to take company class with them. Many of these artists became friends and mentors. And much of what I have written about the arts, especially those performance arts, comes from watching their performances and classes and listening to them, especially when we talked about what created those performances that lifted up both performer and audience.

I left New York for San Francisco where I was a principal dancer with the San Francisco Russian Opera and Ballet Company and started teaching at the Temoff School. As is so often the case, I was injured during a rehearsal. My last performance was as Zobeide in the Fokine ballet Scheherezade. I decided to return to SI left New York for San Francisco where I was a principal dancer with the San Francisco Russian Opera and Ballet Company and teaching at the Temoff School. As is so often the case, I was injured during a rehearsal. My last performance was as Zobeide in the Fokine ballet Scheherezade. I decided to return to Stanford to finish my BA.  I no longer had a scholarship, but I funded myself by teaching classes at the Temoff School in San Francisco, this time making the trips in my second-hand Volkswagen beetle. I planned to major in Comparative Literature because I had accumulated five languages. Then I took an introductory Social Anthropology class with George Spindler, one of the founders of the subfield of Anthropology and Education.  He was a mesmerizing lecturer and I found the notion of listening to rather than reading about compelling. I became an Anthropology major with an outside major, Honors in Humanities.  Luckily for me, the Ford Foundation had a program to fund undergraduate research over the summer.  It had to be in Latin America but all topics were open. I applied to look at folk and indigenous dance in Mexico, the first month to be working with the Ballet Folclórico de Amalia Hernandez and the remainder of the summer to look at dance in Oaxaca and in Veracruz. I spent the first 3 weeks in classes and rehearsals with the Ballet Folclórico learning the repertory and the rationale for the choices of dance cultures and their restaging. The next months I traveled to Oaxaca for the annual festival of dance just outside of Oaxaca City and then to the coast of Veracruz to document dance. And that was the beginning of my work in Juchitán, Oaxaca, now in its 6th decade. I began that work first in the summer of 1968. My husband, Ronald Royce, and I were married just weeks before leaving for Mexico. Our combined fellowships allowed for few luxuries so we drove in my by-now well-broken-in Volkswagen. Ron’s grant was to investigate the state of social science research in Mexico; this was the summer of protests and strikes everywhere, much of it directed at universities, so we went to Juchitán planning a two-week stay.  The car broke down on our way out of the city and was not ready to travel for another month. Despite all the unforeseen difficulties, we returned to our PhD programs determined to work in Juchitán. We spent our first full year there in 1971-72. Ron was a linguistic anthropologist working on the Isthmus Zapotec language and a brilliant photographer. I was looking at indigenous identities and the social and political strategies that supported a strong Zapotec community. Our partnership, our different projects, our different ways of seeing and listening, of being able to talk about what we saw and what it meant made us more productive—more field notes, maps, photos, questions, as well as helping us see more connections and through-lines; that second level of understanding and interpreting. Being there as a couple established us as more settled and responsible with different obligations and prerogatives. More than all those things, it was comforting to share the joys and heartaches of fieldwork.   

Coming to Indiana University, I was able to satisfy my need for the performing arts as well as finding a wealth of support for my Mexico work.  While based in the Anthropology department, I was invited to teach advanced technique and classical variations in the School of Music Ballet Department. More recently I have been a guest lecturer in the History of Ballet class. I was for many years the dance reviewer for the Herald-Times. The existence of great teacher-performers on the cello faculty allowed me to satisfy both a personal desire and a scholarly interest. I enrolled in cello classes with Helga Winold for three years and learned from the extended cello faculty, attending master classes and performances and informal gatherings. On some occasions, I was invited to play 2nd cello in an IU performance. In 1986, I collaborated with Thomas Binkley of Early Music, he as musical director and I as    historical director for the Teatro Antico and Early Music Institute production of L’Amfiparnaso, by Orazio Vecchi (1550–1605), performed at the Creative Arts Auditorium, Indiana University. I was charged with reinventing the commedia dell’arte interludes.

In 2008, I began what has become an ongoing commitment to both teaching and research in Ireland. It was in that year that I was invited to be part of a small group at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. Our task was to plan the next ten years of the Academy programs. In 2010 I was appointed an External Examiner in the MA Choreology program and in 2014 began working with the PhD students in the Arts Practice program. It has been an extraordinary time working with performance and performers as they situate their craft in cultural and historical contexts. With that as a base and my work on landscapes of transformation in Oaxaca, I was invited in 2015 to become a member of the UL LANDscape research group.

I am continuing to work in Oaxaca. A collaborative grant with colleagues in Juchitán will make 3D maps of the three most rural sections of the city, those that go from the settled to the wild. We will also be making 3D story maps of places in those sections that are important to the communities. For the last two years, I have been photographing the three sections. In addition, I am working on a book about ritual and especially pilgrimage in Juchitán. The latter map onto the work with the rural sections since at least three of the oldest pilgrimages originate in those sections.

What’s the story behind the publication of your first book?

Prestigio y Afiliación en una Comunidad Urbana: Juchitán, Oaxaca was first published in 1974, Translated by Carlos  Guerrero.  Serie de Antropología Social 37.  México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional  Indigenista/Secretaría de Educación Pública.

INI published a series of works on indigenous peoples and, at their request, mine was translated and published in that series. It has been republished twice, once in 1990 and then in 2016. The 2016 publication was part of a series of the 25 most important books on indigenous communities. Copies were given free to the young people in Juchitán. It has been used as a text in the Juchitán secondary schools. Any royalties go back to INI and now to the new publishers, the 2016 one located in the city of Juchitán and glad to have the income to work on projects for the community. 

The book, based on my dissertation, focuses on the social, cultural, and political structures and networks in this indigenous Isthmus Zapotec community. I discuss how these shape relationships and prestige and support communal responses to change at both the local and national levels. It is the first book to address matters of tradition and change in this community. While still in the field in 1972, I had given lectures about my work to great interest on the part of the community. When I was approached by INI about a Spanish publication, I replied with an enthusiastic yes, realizing that this was an excellent way to continue the dialogue that I had begun in Juchitán. The book has not been published in English though much of its substance has been published in English in articles and chapters. As a book, it did not count toward my academic career because it was not in English. Works like mine, however, based on such a close and longterm engagement with the community, need to be available to that community and to my Mexican colleagues.  I publish as much as I can in Spanish so that it is available to both. My longterm work was recognized in 2016 with the awarding of the Medalla Binniza (Medal of the Zapotec People), given by the Fundación Histórico Cultural Juchitán for distinguished scholarly contributions to the Isthmus Zapotec. It was the first time it was awarded to a non-Mexican.

What moment of fieldwork interaction do you still think about, amazed that you got to witness it?

March 23, 1997, Palm Sunday in Juchitán (my 25th year of fieldwork in Juchitán)

I was not usually in Juchitán during Holy Week so this was a chance to see the week-long celebrations from the beginning. On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the image of San Salvador is taken from his home in the parish church of San Vicente to the home of one of the members of the community that cares for him near the Panteón Domingo de Ramos (cemetery Palm Sunday). He is received and feted with garlands of flowers, and then spends the night.  The next morning he is taken to the chapel in the cemetery where he oversees the blessing of the palms.  Then he is carried in a procession back to the San Vicente parish church.  I had seen the Saturday preparations and had returned with Na Mavis, an aunt, to the cemetery to arrange the flowers in the family tomb and to stop by the chapel for the blessing of the palms and the beginning of the procession. We then went quickly to San Vicente to await its arrival.  The following are my field notes on that arrival:

Palm Sunday 1997…the sky is electric blue, cloudless on this early morning. I was in the courtyard of San Vicente Ferrer, the parish church, just having returned from the cemetery where I helped the family arrange the armloads of flowers necessary for this day of remembrance. I waited for the arrival of the Palm Sunday procession, winding its way through the streets after distributing palms to all participants at the small chapel of the cemetery. I could hear them now, voices raised in those joyous songs welcoming Christ the King to Jerusalem. The higher-pitched voices of children rise above with cries of “Vivo Cristo Rey.” The church behind me is filled with flowers, white gladiolas, dozens of them, jasmine and frangipani scattered at the feet of all the saints. The fragrance swells with the heat of fat, beeswax candles. All is ready and the crowd is dancing with anticipation. A scout returns, “They are just turning the corner!” Then, as if my ears deceive me, I hear the low, elongated notes of funeral sones. Jesús Urbieta, one of a cadre of talented young painters who died in Mexico City two days earlier, is being borne by silent comrades to rest a moment in the Casa de la Cultura where his paintings had often hung. The parish church and the Casa de la Cultura sit next to each other, separated only by a wrought-iron fence. The two processions arrive simultaneously. San Salvador, borne on the shoulders of the men who care for him, heavy garlands of frangipani hang around his neck; jasmine, frangipani blossoms, and petals of roses of Castile rain down on him, making his way sweet. The children in white shirts too big for them wave their palms. Beaming women carry huge vases of white flowers. The Glorias fill the courtyard announcing the happy arrival. Urbieta too is carried on the shoulders of his closest comrades, men who have cared for him. His coffin is heaped high with flowers of the wild–white jasmine, long, ropy palm flowers, tuberose, hibiscus, frangipani all on a bed of the healing herbs–dill and cordoncillo. Everyone brought jasmine, guie-xhuba in Zapotec, in honor of the club Urbieta had founded by that name to help young artists. Urbieta has begun his journey to his new home among the dead. Christ, in the midst of celebration, has begun his death.  

Field notes, March 23, 1997 

It is the visible markers that catch one’s attention especially but not exclusively in early stages of field research. The meaning behind them and the why of them take much longer to understand. One of the demands on ethnographers is to record everything, even when you have no sense of what it means or where it fits. At some point, you can see the larger meaning. While our first field research is usually a year, succeeding visits must be worked around an academic teaching schedule, broken up occasionally by sabbaticals and fellowships. Much of my field work happens in the summers. The annual cycle is exactly that—a year’s worth of activities and ritual, so you miss much of it except via WhatsApp and Facebook. Your obligations continue even when you are not there.

This Palm Sunday was one of those moments in the field when suddenly disparate pieces come together and make a greater sense.  In this case, it was realizing the fundamental importance of notions of “wild” (gui’xhi) and “settled” (guidxi) and the transformations that happen when one moves from one state to another. Christ comes from the cemetery in the gui’xhi to the heart of the settled parish church and to his new identity as Christ the King whose death is already assured. He has begun his journey to the land of the dead.  Urbieta has also begun the slow forty-day progress from the land of the living to that of the dead.  Both are accompanied by those who care for them and who rain down on them the flowers of the wild that will keep their journey slow, stately, and moist.

That journey is one of transformation and while we associate journey with physical movement, in Juchitán this is not always the case. For example, Ta Feli, the healer with whom I worked, would fall regularly into trance as part of his healing sessions. When he “returned,” he would relate what he had learned when going to this other place.  Similarly, when one walks a pilgrimage—and I did not do this until 2011 (another 14 years!), you often walk it in the name of another. You are transformed by being a pilgrim but so is the person for whom you walked. It is the shared terrain of being human. That shared experience of death, above all its transformative nature, became my 2011 book Becoming an Ancestor: The Isthmus Zapotec Way of Death.I am currently working on the fundamental importance of transformation in a book on ritual in Juchitán. 

Which book that you wrote are you most pleased with?  Could you talk about the story behind writing it?

Anthropology of the Performing Arts: Virtuosity, Artistry, and Interpretation in a Cross-Cultural Perspective. 2004. AltaMira Press. It was in this book that I could bring together the experience of my work on performance and my life as a performer, with the social and cultural implications of embodiment. I examine performance and performers in their lives on stage, in the classroom, in rehearsal and creation. It includes the voices of great performers such as Marcel Marceau, Janos Starker, Violette Verdy, Maria Callas, Bando Tamasaburo and Peter Brook reflecting on virtuosity and artistry, silence and sound, movement and stasis. It also includes performance in daily life, the artistry of trance and altered states, an examination of Tewa ritual as a native aesthetic. 

Writing it made me see the bones and blood of the ethnographic enterprise. If we examine ethnography as a kind of performance requiring us to be interpreters then we see that, whatever the unique circumstances of our work, we must refine a craft, making ourselves into the most finely tuned instruments possible.  And lest anyone think that this means the absence of passion, let me offer up the examples of all the great artists and performers who knew and know that the presentation of the deepest emotions requires the greatest discipline.  It was one of our former colleagues, poet Yosef Koumenyaku who said that “passion without discipline is sentimentality.” My years of working with performers and as a performer made this book inevitable and collaborative.  Conversations with my community of friends in the world of performance, some the best in the world, some just beginning, made it possible to see commonalities and differences, to discover the through-line that made a performance inevitable rather than predictable, to see cultural similarities and differences across genres.  It was extraordinarily satisfying to see the fundamentals of staged performance genres (usually assuming a fourth wall) appear in communal performance like Tewa ritual, in the practice of trance and healing, and the ways in which we perform in everyday life. The time and place for writing much of this book was made possible by the Bogliasco Foundation where the staff and a small group of witty, serious, creative colleagues with whom to share ideas freed me from all responsibility except to write, and in the writing to find the through-lines that characterize all good stories. 

How has teaching changed for you over the years?

More listening, less talking. A distinguished scholar and teacher came to watch me teach a ballet class at the SMU campus in Taos.  Afterward, she said, “you were so quiet; you said hardly anything.” I answered, “I was listening to their bodies.”

 In my first year at IU, when I stood in the classroom in the old School of Education building, facing the 35 undergraduates in the Anthropology of Dance class, I wanted to disappear. I had never taught–at that time no one thought it might be an important part of graduate education.  I suffered from an excess of information about a very narrow subject and the absence of any method for communicating it.

Parker Palmer once used a strip of paper as his only prop to deliver a masterful lecture about front stage/backstage personas.  He introduced it as an example of just how high-tech Quakers ever got!  In my case, imagine two funnels with the small ends coming together–I call this “Lifelong Learning” –babies, children, even teen-agers set no limits on what might be interesting to explore, try out, or learn.  Our system of education is like a funnel, gradually narrowing the possibilities until our children enter a track that corresponds to their career choice (one they probably make so that we will stop hounding them).  This point where the two funnels come together is the PhD or highest terminal degree.  This is the point where we have a great deal of information about something that few people have any interest in and, in the process of getting it, we have stopped living a balanced, explorative life.  Fortunately, there is life–and learning, after the PhD.  We realize, perhaps in the process of trying to convey our passion for the field to others, that there are more skills, more areas, more challenges, and that, if we work at it, we might become knowledgeable rather than simply stuffed with information.

How do we ever get to be reasonably good teachers?  I think that it is like becoming a good ethnographer–we rely on the kindness of strangers.  Strangers who are our students and who, generally, respond with good will when we need help. 

For us to do this requires three things. First is to acknowledge that there is a craft and that we don’t control it; second, and I take this from performing, that the audience/students matter and shape our performance.  These are hard enough but the third is the greatest challenge: to acknowledge that, while we too learn in the classroom or lab or one-on-one with graduate students, we are not the main event in any learning context.  We may be the facilitators, but it is not about us. 

Watching colleagues whom I thought were fine teachers, I realized what they had in common. They gave students permission to bring their own personalities and experiences and passions to bear on the topic at hand.  The best teachers are those who are passionate not only about their subjects but about the world in which they and the students live.  We teach ways of thinking and being using our discipline as an example or point of departure and return.  Given the balance of power, if we as teachers bring our egos into the mix, the students will simply disappear because we expand to take up all the space–the talking space, the thinking space, the reflecting space.  Students deserve to know what we think, however, especially about topics that matter to them.  And the most difficult teaching situation, at least for me, is when we feel most deeply about something.  My best teaching has been setting a context in which I help students confront the subject on their own terms. And in which you resist commenting on everything from your own point of view.  We know most of the disadvantages–we give up control (in the blatant form that we know it); and we must forget trying to cover everything and be selective about what is important. Acknowledging that they can learn a lot of material quite well on their own is a humbling experience. We must somehow make our own passion for the subject clear without talking about it all the time– showing, not telling.  Showing makes us more vulnerable–telling lets us stay one remove from both the subject and the students.

The last class I taught before retiring was E500 the required class on theory for our social/cultural graduate students. COVID meant it was online. I asked the students to use the Canvas discussion link to post their reflections on the readings each week. Everyone posted theirs, reading and commenting on each other’s. I read them and posted my comments as well. The zoom class at the end of the week was lively, a conversation, with students commenting on the assigned readings and acknowledging each other’s and my interpretations. They were thoughtful, generous, smart, and supportive. While their research interests were varied and quite different from mine, their work and the way in which they collaborated made me realize that the field was going to be in good hands.

My teaching has included just about every context in which we share our craft and hold out the promise of discovery:  undergraduate classes, graduate seminars, doctoral mentoring, our field school in Oaxaca, 30 years of MINI University lectures, Lifelong Learning seminars, coaching classical ballet variations at the Jacobs school, as an Erasmus visiting scholar in Budapest and Szeged, and as an External examiner and adjunct professor at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.

Some final thoughts about what being a researcher and a teacher means:

*listening, hearing people into speech;

*seeing worth in every person and valuing their particular perspectives and histories;

 *building collaboration and community so that learning takes advantage of unique      backgrounds and experiences

*Working on the principle that both kinds of knowledge—the poetic and the practical, are necessary and reinforce each other. Irish poet Seamus Heaney elaborated this. I found it too in Juchitan in the Zapotec recognition of two kinds of knowledge, remarkably similar to Heaney‘s:  binni naana—people with words and binni guendabianni—people who create light.

 *Being comfortable in that middle-ground between what we know and what we might discover is essential to continued learning. Or in the words of another mentor, Sir Peter Brook: “Not knowing is not resignation…it is an opening to amazement.” From Between Two Silences: Talking with Peter Brook

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s