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  • Crossing Cultural Borders Through the Actor’s Work
  • Jim Williams
Crossing Cultural Borders Through the Actor’s Work. By Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento. Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies Series. New York: Routledge, 2009; pp. 194. $95.00 cloth.

Since the last half of the twentieth century, intercultural performance has maintained an often tenuous and unstable reputation as a theatrical phenomenon, confronting and shifting identity politics, accusations of cultural appropriation, and indeterminate positions on what is ethical in cultural border-crossings. In Crossing Cultural Borders Through the Actor’s Work, an excellent, concise contribution to the field, author Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento asserts that much critical attention given to intercultural performance tends to appraise the production as a whole, typically assessing the work of the director—especially Eugenio Barba, Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook, and Jerzy Grotowski—while discounting the role of the intercultural actor, her training, commitment, and contribution made in collaboration with the director. Shifting focus toward the intercultural actor’s training as a “cultural border-crosser,” Nascimento offers “an examination of the intercultural actor’s process that acknowledges her autonomy and agency as an artist” (7), transgressing a critical bias where the actor is often viewed as subservient to the director’s vision.

In chapter 1, “The Cultural Temperature of the Twentieth Century,” Nascimento briefly explicates the emergence of intercultural performance, citing the waves of artists leaving their homelands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to “sociopolitical changes” (2). As a result, western audiences were exposed to a wide breadth of performance elements from other cultures, which in turn inspired even more fascination with the Other. This artistic emigration encouraged western theatre artists to incorporate culturally alternative performative techniques into their practices. Still, Nascimento points out that in the second half of the twentieth century, the increasing instability of cultural borders coupled with the emergence of new cultural identities further complicated existing identity politics. The author asks: “In this ever-shifting context, how can one establish when the crossing of cultural borders is justified or who is allowed to transgress categories? Even more importantly: who is entitled to determine that?” (5).

To address these questions, Nascimento (who is Brazilian) draws upon her own experience, which includes work with New World Performance Laboratory and Jerzy Grotowski’s final Objective Drama at the University of California, Irvine. Rather than describing her own work, however, she focuses on the training processes of two intercultural actors, Ang Gey Pin from Singapore and Roberta Carreri from Italy, who, like Nascimento, chose to train and perform professionally outside of their own home countries. Utilizing Patrice Pavis’s definitions of inter- and intracultural performance as a springboard, Nascimento stresses that intercultural theatre is created through the “embodiment of foreign performance techniques” (18). Noting the difference between cultural appropriation (using cultural signs as fetish or décor) and intercultural embodiment, Nascimento states that what interests her “is that in crossing cultural borders the intercultural actor takes a step beyond ‘unearthing hidden histories’ and breaks with spectators’ expectations of a perfect match between her ethnicity and cultural identity” (17). The difference between being simply a performative tourist and being a performative border-crosser is, according to Nascimento, time: “the intercultural actor’s work cannot be labeled as cultural appropriation, as the active learning of foreign performative elements in time makes them part of one’s professional and personal cultures” (18). In the next four chapters, she examines what she calls “the hidden process” of an intercultural actor—the process of training and rehearsal within an ensemble, which is erroneously neglected by critics of intercultural theatre.

Nascimento addresses notions of an authentic culture in chapter 2, “Race, Culture, and the Myth of the Authentic Culture.” Very often, she implies, critics discount the amount of time spent training in foreign performance techniques, because they are often blinded by visually subjective semiotics regarding race and ethnicity. In these instances, “the critic positions himself as a cultural gatekeeper entitled to determine who can cross a cultural border in performance, and when and why they may do so” (27). What the critic does not take into consideration is the amount of time company members spend in networking...


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pp. 125-126
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