restricted access Editorial Comment: Special Issue on Rethinking Intercultural Performance
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Editorial Comment:
Special Issue on Rethinking Intercultural Performance
Penny Farfan, Special Issue Coeditors and Ric Knowles, Special Issue Coeditors

Intercultural performance has perhaps most often been understood as the genre that Daphne Lei argues in her essay in this special issue should more rightly be categorized as "Hegemonic Intercultural Theatre." Practitioners and advocates of this dominant intercultural form, from W. B. Yeats and Antonin Artaud to Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine, and Robert Wilson, have been criticized for Western appropriations of non-Western cultural forms in service of falsely universalizing claims that extend rather than intervene in imperialist cultural agendas. These postcolonial critiques, by practitioners and scholars like Rustom Bharucha, Una Chaudhuri, and Helen Gilbert and Jacqueline Lo, among others, have themselves become part of the canon of what William Peterson refers to in his essay in this issue as "classic" intercultural theory. The essays that follow rethink intercultural performance through historical and contemporary examples that utilize the rubric of the intercultural as both site and method.

The issue begins with three historical studies from different periods and geographic contexts. First, Leo Cabranes-Grant considers performative behaviors and events relating to the Martín Cortés insurrection in sixteenth-century colonial Mexico in order to propose that intercultural performances in this context should be understood not as liminal or hybrid zones between preexisting ethnic or national cultures, but as "engines of emergence" for new political allegiances and identities. In Cabranes-Grant's analysis, Diana Taylor's model of colonial scenarios, with its emphasis on representation and reception, is enhanced through attention to material production and a mapping of the networks of intercultural relations inherent in particular objects deployed within politically strategic performances. Thus in an intercultural masquerade staged by Alonso de Avila for Cortés, son of conquistador Hernán Cortés, masks, feathers, flowers, and mugs functioned as "prepositional" objects that pointed toward the Indigenous artisans who produced them, but also toward a new "New Spain" in which Creole encomenderos like Avila, donning Indian masks and performing a mitote dance before their would-be leader Cortés, asserted new political affiliations premised on their claims to ownership of the lands and Indigenous labor that produced the objects, against Spain's claims upon those same resources. At once "reflect[ing] and further[ing] the intercultural becoming of a society in which Indian and Spaniard increasingly blended," Cabranes-Grant argues, Avila's masquerade was engaged in "actualizing an altered New Spain that at that moment could only be envisioned as a theatrical act."

In the next essay, Diana Looser takes issue with the prevailing view that theatre in the Pacific Islands is a postcolonial practice whereby Indigenous performance traditions are syncretized with purportedly Western dramatic and theatrical forms. Instead, Looser brings together little-known evidence of performances dating from the intercultural moment of early colonial contact within the region to challenge the idea that "theatre" and "drama" as understood in the West did not exist in the pre-colonial Pacific Islands. Recognizing that the surviving ethnographic accounts of what were understood as "play productions" by early foreign visitors to the region were themselves a form of intercultural performance, Looser nonetheless asserts that these records, which in some instances describe performances about cross-cultural encounters with visitors to the islands, necessitate a revision of existing historiographies of Pacific Islands theatre as having developed from colonial influences. As well, in view of recent uses of archival records as inspirational resources for the creation of new Pacific Islands theatre, Looser suggests that the evidence on which her essay centers may "contribut[e] material that might infuse and invigorate current repertoires, stimulating not only work that blends Pacific and Western performance, but new intercultural configurations that explore the complex interactions and reciprocities between past and present cultures of Oceania." [End Page i]

Katarzyna Jakubiak approaches the intercultural through a consideration of four productions of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in Poland in the 1960s, all of which featured all-white casts in blackface. Rather than simply evoking US minstrelsy, Jakubiak argues, the use of blackface in these productions functioned as one aspect of a larger project of intercultural translation, alongside the linguistic translation...