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Reviewed by:
  • The Senses in Performance
  • Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe
Sally Banes and André Lepecki, eds. The Senses in Performance. London: Routledge, 2007. Pp. xi + 216, illustrated. $33.95 (Pb).

The sixteen essays collected in this important volume deal with how theatre and aesthetic performance engage the five senses of both performers and spectators. Only a few of the contributions to the volume are revisions of material previously published; as a result, the book represents very much the current state of discussion within the field. The theoretical context for the discussion is set in the editors' brief introduction, with references to Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, and Michel Foucault. It is striking that the book's contributions engage with the senses in performance from the angles of performance studies, theatre studies, and cultural studies: references to the natural sciences that might be relevant to an analysis of the senses, such as anatomy or physiology, are spare. In fact, none of the contributors either represents those disciplines or engages directly with them.

Five chapters comprise the book's first part, which explores the relationship between theory and practice in the work of writers who combine both: Richard Schechner, Sally Banes, Deirdre Sklar, Phillip B. Zarrilli, and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Since Schechner's unique interpretation of the Indian rasa theory in the context of the senses (first published in 2001) was subjected to a critical analysis by David Mason in early 2006, it is disappointing that Schechner's revision does not take Mason's critique into account. Banes discusses olfactory performances, providing an excellent survey of the field, both historical and contemporary. Zarrilli emphasizes the importance of silence in relation to, and as the basis of, the senses. His approach, as ever, is grounded in his experience with the Indian martial arts form of Kalarippayattu, but he very successfully builds the bridge to Western experience and philosophy; seven illustrations, some with very detailed captions, help the reader visualize his argument. Finally, Sklar "unearths" kinaesthesia, and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett "makes sense" of food in performance, with descriptions both accurate and particularly vivid (v). [End Page 413]

The book's second part provides three accounts of the use of the senses across the history of performance. The research of Denise E. Cole, who considers eating customs in early Tudor entertainment, uncovers a wealth of information about these customs in relation to the architecture of feasting halls. Mary Fleischer contributes a detailed study of the olfactory element of symbolist theatre, a topic that, judging by her bibliography and citations, appears to have been particularly rich in recent research. Stanton B. Garner, Jr., traces the use of the senses in the past 125 years of realism, demonstrating ably that the illusions of sensory impressions, rather than an appeal to the senses themselves, have proved central.

The five essays that make up the book's third part focus on contemporary performance. Stephen Di Benedetto raises a number of pertinent questions about the ways the senses have been employed, considering a selection of performances he has experienced over the last few years. His description and analysis are finely balanced. Dorita Hannah explores a performance event at the 2003 Prague Quadrennial, amply and helpfully supporting her lucid argument with illustrations. Similar visual material would have benefited Maya E. Roth's essay, which analyses the styrofoam landscape of Sea of Forms (Omaha Magic Theatre) and the spectators' "sensory employment and expression" of this landscape (158). Martin Welton describes the Sound and Fury Theatre Company's 1998–2000 production of War Music, which took place in complete darkness and thus privileged the senses of hearing and touch. Welton's analysis resonates for me in light of my own experience of a promenade performance in total darkness, in which the performers touched spectators in ways significantly related to the text. Jennifer Fisher also investigates touch performances, referring to a wide range of contemporary performances in their cultural contexts.

Part four of the book collects three case studies. Kerrie Schafer offers a performance analysis of Sydney Front's production of Don Juan in the context of their further repertory. The material described in this essay could well serve to support an investigation into theatre or...


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