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Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 106-108

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Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt. By Eugenio Barba. Edited by Lluís Masgrau; translated from Italian by Judy Barba. Aberystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 1999. 335 pp. £35.00 (cloth); £14.95 (paper)

Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt is an expanded version of Eugenio Barba's 1986 book Beyond the Floating Islands, which in turn was an expanded version of The Floating Islands (1979). The core thrust of each book—reflections on his work with Odin Teatret—remains the same, although the categories have changed slightly. This anthology includes twenty-eight texts written since 1964 (all previously published except for "A Rift Theatre"), a foreword, an afterword, and an appendix by Ferdinando Taviani that catalogs performances by Barba's Odin Teatret between 1965 and 1998. Twelve of these texts can be found in Beyond the Floating Islands (one slightly altered for this new book) and one other text is in The Paper Canoe (1995). The remainder have been culled from various international journals and published interviews. Some texts have been collected from several sources and stitched into a new single essay.

As in Beyond the Floating Islands, the essays have been divided into chapters representing particular themes and approaches in Barba's work. Two new chapters—"The Way of Refusal: Third Theatre" and "Identity: Legacy"—essentially cover the fourteen intervening years between the two books. Each [End Page 106] chapter consists of five or more texts elegantly arranged in chronological order in such a way as to introduce the theme and then expound upon it. Lluís Masgrau prefaces each text with an interpretive summary while placing it contextually within Barba's work. Original publication information is included as are many photographs documenting Odin Teatret's thirty-plus years performing worldwide.

Omitted from this new book are Barba's essays on the art of acting and his theories on theatre anthropology. Instead Barba tackles the broad questions directed primarily toward an audience of theatre compatriots: what is theatre's function in society, how do we pass on a theatrical legacy, and how is the experience of theatre transformed when we write or talk about it? Is theatre an archaic form? Does it have meaning in contemporary society—and, if so, for whom?

Throughout his career Barba has been consistently and unapologetically contradictory. Read together, his essays paint a portrait of a man who has consciously chosen exile but desperately wants to be part of a community—a world called planet theatre. He longs to be separate, but not isolated. He rejects theatrical boundaries set by society, yet he continues to define—and thus organize—those who like himself live on the fringe, as floating islands, as the Third Theatre. He wants to transmit a legacy, but shies away from playing the role of teacher. He refuses to reduce his experience to pedagogy, yet he clearly wishes to pass on his knowledge.

Barba ardently argues that action and intention are not the same—that the results of our actions (performances) fall victim to personal interpretation, context, and time. Again and again he reiterates that theatre is not merely performance but a form of being and reacting. It is about social relationships, not technique. It is about transcendence, a "chance to meet men and women who do not feel at ease in their condition, and who keep standing on tiptoes as though, one day, they were going to fly" (p. 22). In the same way that a theatre group is more than the sum of its performances, Barba evidently wants his life in the theatre to be more than the sum of these texts. A word of caution, however. This book is not about Barba reconciling his theories and opinions with practice. In the whole book he devotes only four sentences as an apparent direct address to his critics. The nagging and contradictory questions remain. For example: How do his Latin American experiences relate to his development of a Eurasian theatre? How is it possible to travel so blithely across cultures without taking into consideration specific historical and social contexts?