Theatre & Dance ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-8-2019


The Modern Synthesis of Josephine Baker and Carmen Amaya explores how flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya and African American performer Josephine Baker utilized modern synthesis in their careers. I define modern synthesis as a synthesis of various ideas and identities that supports a modern fluid identity that points to the idea of an alternative space that is beyond definition and human categorization. Expanding upon the ideas of Brenda Dixon Gottschild and William Washabaugh, I propose that there exists a thread of a tragic/comic dichotomy in African American performance and simultaneous opposition in flamenco and that Baker and Amaya came out of these traditions and used modern synthesis to formulate new modern hybrid identities. Coming out of a tradition of a tragic/comic context for African American performers, I argue that Baker synthesized savagery/royalty and demonstrated hybrid-gendered embodiment with her phallic banana skirt performance. In contrast, Carmen Amaya came out of a tradition of simultaneous opposition in flamenco and used modern synthesis by complicating four binaries of regional Andalusian/non-Andalusian, Hyper-gitana/hyper-American performance, the perception of gitana/classical elements in the U.S. and male/female aesthetics. Furthermore, the work finds that African American performance and flamenco were launched into modernity through artists such as Amaya and Baker, even though African Americans and the Spanish struggled with being viewed as modern historically (Woods 2012:108). The last section of the work examines my MFA choreographic work Ink on Cotton and how it continues a legacy of modern synthesis through complicating identity categories in the present day.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Theatre & Dance

First Committee Member (Chair)

Donna Jewell

Second Committee Member

Dominika Laster

Third Committee Member

Kirsten Buick

Fourth Committee Member

Marisol Encinias

Fifth Committee Member

Eva Encinias

Sixth Committee Member

Amanda Hamp




Dance, Carmen Amaya, Josephine Baker, Modern Synthesis, Flamenco, African American History

Document Type


Available for download on Tuesday, May 11, 2021