- Performing Animality: Animals in Performance Practices ed. by Lourdes Orozco and Jennifer Parker-Starbuck
Bridging theatre/performance and animal studies, Performing Animality: Animals in Performance Practices provides an impetus to revisit the anthropo- and logocentric implications of the foundational theories and methods of theatre and performance. Rejecting the Cartesian beast-machine for arrogating reason and feeling as exclusively human faculties, the volume takes up the “illegitimate” others—animals, animal acts, circuses—upon which the legitimation of the human and its theatre have been built. Mainly focusing on the Anglo-American performative milieu from the eighteenth century onward, the anthology is organized in four parts. It unfolds from an introduction articulating the centrality of performance to animal studies, to call for an animal performance studies (part 1), to consider live animal deployments (part 2), animal representations (part 3), and animal realness (part 4) in performance.
Setting the stage for animal performance studies as part 1, Laura Cull’s chapter evinces how the anthropological and linguistic inception of performance studies locates performing as an exclusively human property or else limits it to selected primate species. Moving from “the production of knowledge about the animals” toward an “embodied proximity to animals’ own ways of thinking and performing” (25; emphasis in original), Cull considers a “radically inclusive” performance, always “open to perpetual mutation” through a mutual encounter with animals (24). That interminably unsettled term performance is unsettled anew, as it renegotiates the boundary between the human and the animal.
While most of the essays in the second part reposition performance’s humanistic affordance, Garry Marvin’s opening piece on Spanish bullfighting silently underscores humanism’s persistent grip on an anthropological approach to performance. Taking the purpose-bred bulls as “noble” performers collaborating with the matadors, this elegantly argued piece elevates the animal as a commensurable co-creator, yet at the price of transforming the bull into a willing agent in the human spectacle of its own exploitation and execution. The more complex urgency of animal performance studies emerges in the detailed historical accounts of human/animal relationalities in the subsequent essays. Monica Mattfeld explores the Learned Pig’s eighteenth-century London performance, Peta Tait considers the “natural” deployment of horses in nineteenth-century circus, and Catherine Young investigates animal vaudeville as part of American modernism’s industrialization of performative time and space. Examining performing animals within the contexts of British expansionist militarism, of the fashioning of national identity, and of consumerist entertainment, these articles retrieve the significance of animality lost to theatre history. Attentive to the philosophical, scientific, and cultural dualisms performing self-interested versions of humanity and the human, these three articles also importantly register an ethical perspective transforming the conduct of animals in histories of performance.
The essays in parts 3–4 dramatize the ways in which the human representation of animals in performance furthers or forecloses the interplay of sympathy and empathy. Kim Marra contrasts the affective production of animality by the virtuoso puppeteers of the UK National Theatre’s War Horse to the orchestrations of military-imperialist hippodrama of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Distinguishing the human detachment from horses’ instrumentalization then with the loving attachment actualized in the puppeteers’ prosthetic equine embodiment now, Marra analyzes how the empathetic imagination of animality can be engaged to strengthen human/animal bonds through the recognition of shared vulnerabilities. Overtly responding to Derrida’s deconstruction of the singularity of “the animal,” Una Chaudhuri’s Theatre of Species forsakes the systemic disvaluing of continuities between and within the human and nonhuman by locating human and “animal lives in a shared space of political and ecological precarity” (148).
The objectification of animals is persistently challenged in Performing Animality. Exploring notions of performance, memory, and in/animation fostered by a critical commitment to animal/human coevolution and interdependency, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck meditates precisely on this objectification, analyzing taxidermy as “the liminal space between the animal’s life and death” (151). The shift from “theatrical” to “performative taxidermy” takes her beyond staging “the animal-object itself and toward its [End Page 186...