African Theatre: Diasporas (review)
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African Theatre: Diasporas. Edited by Christine Matzke and Osita Okagbue. African Theatre series, vol. 8. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey, 2009; pp. 190.

Publisher James Currey's African Theatre series, of which this book is the eighth volume, aims to provide "a focus for research, critical discussion, information, and creativity" in the area of African theatre, broadly defined. Thoughtfully dedicated to the memory of John Conteh-Morgan, African Theatre: Diasporas departs from the continent itself and explores theatre from and about some of the world's displaced African communities. As guest editors Christine Matzke and Osita Okagbue make clear, the idea of a singular African diasporic community is long outdated and inadequate to address the complexity of global African migration. The editors' introduction provides a thorough though brief exploration of the concept of diaspora as major theorists have constructed it, and clarifies their goal for this text, which is to offer the "breadth and depth of theatrical expressions of African-descended populations all over the world" (xviii). Although the geographic breadth—for both diasporic and origin locations—is less than one might have hoped even for such a short volume, the contributors emphasize the ineffable heterogeneity of diasporas and the absolute necessity of continually remapping them.

In addition to the introduction, the text features obituaries and book reviews, but the bulk of the book is composed of one interview, one play script with the translator's introduction, and eight articles comprised of histories, literary and performance analyses, and theory. Combining critical research and artistic work, the book offers a range of views from practitioners and scholars, and from those whose work crosses between such boundaries.

Several articles introduce the familiar diasporas of the Americas and their connections to West Africa, in particular the influence of Yoruba religion. Esiaba Irobi argues that the presence of ase, the life-giving force of Yoruba metaphysics, persists in the works of August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, and Djanet Sears. He concludes that ase as an embodied theory arrived in the Americas from a nontextual, phenomenological transmission, based in an "ethos of communality" (16) rather than European individualism, which is connected here with text-based transmission. Maureen Moynagh places black Canadian theatre in hemispheric and diasporic contexts; she analyzes performances that "articulate repertoires of lived experience" from within "local, national, and diasporic frameworks" and across a trans-American network of interconnectedness (12). In the first of two articles to engage diaspora [End Page 659] in Cuba, Cariad Astles writes a concise, comprehensive history of diasporic performance and performers. Debunking Castro's post-revolutionary ideal of a post-racial nation, Astles illuminates African inflections of performing bodies in popular forms that employ carnival traditions, playwriting, ritual, puppet theatre, and religion. Astles's essay provides a useful grounding for Conrad James's literary analysis of Eugenio Hernández Espinosa's plays El Sacrificio and María Antonia, which explore blackness, gender representation, pre-revolutionary Cuban history, and African connections. James finds that Hernández "exalts the African-Cuban world-view," but nonetheless illuminates "contradictions within religious culture" (49) that may "victimize" individuals (particularly women) much as "larger socio-political forces marginalize the entire black community" (49).

Moving the focus away from West Africa's influence on the Americas, Sabrina Brancato turns to Italy, focusing on three case studies to explore the dialogic practice of what she calls "interculture"—vigorous artistic collaboration between recognizably divergent cultural traditions, such as those in East Africa and Italy. Brancato's descriptions of this very exciting new work emphasize "transcultural process[es] of exchange and transformation" that occur in a spirit of conviviality, by which she means "living and feasting together" (63) as well as what Paul Gilroy describes as a practice of "spontaneous tolerance and openness" (Gilroy, qtd. in Brancato 63). Rob Baum, invoking the dual diaspora of Ethiopian Jews—in Israel, displaced from Africa, and in Africa, displaced from Israel—considers the Israeli dance group Eskesta, whose members are of Ethiopian origin. Baum uses the language of hybridity to describe the group's choreography, and examines how this history informs the group's dance. Baum's lively descriptions of the company's performances suggest optimism about its...