- Global Ibsen: Performing Multiple Modernities
In 2006, multiple centenary commemorations of Henrik Ibsen's death brought the playwright to renewed attention around the world. Events included numerous productions of Ibsen's plays in Norway and abroad, an international scholarly conference [End Page 657] hosted by the Centre for Ibsen Studies at Oslo University, and a revised and expanded Ibsen website (www.ibsen.net), which is continually updated and includes a wealth of information and resources relevant to Ibsen studies. That same year also saw smaller and topically focused symposia, among them the Global Ibsen conference, co-organized by Freie Universität and the Academy of Arts in Berlin. The recent volume Global Ibsen: Performing Multiple Modernities is one of the strongest permanent records to emerge from the commemorative Ibsen Year events. Its seventeen chapters—revised and expanded conference presentations—provide a significant contribution to Ibsen scholarship.
Covering a range of Ibsen plays, the volume of essays has two specific aims, writes one of its coeditors, Erika Fischer-Lichte, in her single-authored introduction. First, Global Ibsen focuses on the production history of Ibsen's plays—treating recent performances, as well as productions dating to the playwright's own era. With this focus, the volume seeks to remedy the striking dearth of production-oriented studies in Ibsen scholarship. In addition, the volume seeks to investigate "the impact of such performances on the theater, social life and politics of [the] cultures" (1) in which they were performed. In several cases, the essays provide excellent introductions to the production history and legacy of specific Ibsen plays in contexts that may not be well-known to theatre or even Ibsen scholars (this includes essays on reception and production in East Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America).
Second, as Fischer-Lichte forcefully argues, the collection seeks to elucidate how Ibsen's plays "address problems modern or modernizing societies all over the world were and still are facing" (1). With its focus on production histories, Global Ibsen wants to show how "the performance of an Ibsen play not only referred to the ongoing process of modernization but also played a major part in advancing it" (3). Fischer-Lichte's assumption, however, is not one of "modernization as a process of Westernization" (3); rather, she builds the rationale for the volume on sociologist S. N. Eisenstadt's assumption of multiple modernities developing in various ways and along different chronological and geographical trajectories. Problematizing the relationships of Ibsen's plays with configurations of modernity is thus a central driver in the book.
In her introduction, Fischer-Lichte explicitly uses the concept of "interweaving" (7), rather than "intercultural" (7), to describe the relationship between modernity/modernization and the productions at hand in Global Ibsen. Intercultural theatre, she suggests, purports to identify a strict origin of a specific cultural expression, framing it as an opposition between "one's 'own' and what is the 'other's,'" or as a trade-imbalance, which "weighs the transfer of non-Western elements into Western theater differently than vice versa" (7). Interweaving, by contrast, suggests the creation of something new from two or more sources that, while different, do not exist in a hierarchical relationship to one another. This conceptual distinction is critical to the impact the volume can make: the introduction and several of its essays assume with refreshing candor that Ibsen's plays are part of a multifaceted cultural network of production, and that the legacy of Ibsen as a modern champion of individualism, liberalism, and women's rights, for example, must be understood from a number of cultural perspectives that might, in fact, challenge it. Connections to postcolonial theory are implicit in this conception; Global Ibsen complicates in productive ways the Western assumption that Ibsen's plays enact a narrative of cultural progress and are therefore paragons of modernity.
Each chapter of Global Ibsen—covering productions in countries ranging from Denmark to Japan, Greece to South Africa, Brazil to Egypt—is similarly organized. All chapters provide a historical...