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Reviewed by:
  • Native American Performance and Representation
  • Theresa J. May
Native American Performance and Representation. Edited by S. E. Wilmer. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009; pp. 296. $49.95 cloth.

Native theatre and performance studies is a growing field of critical inquiry that raises provocative questions about notions of identity, the role of theatre and performance in community, oral tradition, hybridity, and the adept and diverse uses of theatre, dance, and film by indigenous artists. S. E. Wilmer's assertion that "[n]ative cultural practices are not static" is the through-line of Native American Performance and Representation (3). Noting that "the amalgamation of traditional and modern practices . . . [has] given rise to new methods and forms of narrative, performance, and cultural expression" (3), this collection builds on such works as American Indian Theater in Performance, edited by Jaye Darby and Hanay Geiogamah (2000), and arrives concurrently with Darby and Geiogamah's American Indian Performing Arts: Critical Directions (2009), Christy Stanlake's Native American Drama: A Critical Perspective (2009), and Shari Hunhdorf's Mapping the Americas: The Transnational Politics of Contemporary Native Culture (2009). Wilmer gathers diverse voices, writing styles, and methodologies under one cover to "review and assess the changing nature of Native performance strategies in a multicultural society" (1). Each essay speaks to and builds on others in this volume of fourteen essays, making for a lively seminar-in-print in which Native artists engage with scholars about the histories of Native representation, the emergence of the Native theatre movement, and the innovations of contemporary Native performance.

Daystar/Rosalie Jones traces her own artistic journey from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), founded in 1962 by Lloyd Kiva New, to the Native American Theatre Ensemble, founded by Geiogamah, and beyond, in a compelling self-portrait of a Native artist struggling to bridge traditional [End Page 688] Native dance and modern dance. Jones writes that "our arts work is part of our healing [and reflects the] unexpected richness of particular human beings steeped in tradition but living very much in the contemporary world" (35).

That world is taken up by Sarah Bryant-Bertail in a chapter that complicates notions of "authenticity" in masked Northwest Coast Native dance, including the 1904 World's Fair and Seattle's Tillicum Village, providing the collection with a rich overview of Native representation and its resistance to fixed interpretation. Her analysis provides a detailed history that illuminates the interpretations of nineteenth- and twentieth-century anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss, Franz Boas, and Michael Taussig as she deciphers the implications of embodiment, through which meanings continually emerge and shift, producing "[i]dentity [that is] conjunctural, not essential" (59).

Maria Lyytinen's contribution on the Pocahontas myth dialogues with "Stories from the Body: Blood Memory and Organic Texts" by Spiderwoman Theatre's Monique Mojica. The former takes a revisionist look at the myth of Pocahontas and its permutations in popular culture, and then analyzes how Mojica's performance text deconstructs both the history and the myth. What Bryant-Bertail lays out in rigorous theoretical analysis, Mojica affirms: "our bodies are our libraries—fully referenced in memory, an endless resource, a giant database of stories. . . . Our bodies house a collection of experiences as clear as tattoos on our skins" (97). She describes the gestation and birthing of "organic texts" through a process of "deep improvisation" (97) that defies the logic of linear narrative to unearth stories that reside in the blood.

Julie Pearson-Little Thunder illuminates two early works of the Red Earth Performing Arts Company using Diana Taylor's notion of the repertoire, bringing scholarship from the 1970s Native theatre movement together with contemporary theories of performance as cultural transference. Ric Knowles reexamines Indian residential schools not only as instruments of assimilationist colonialism, but as sites of sexual violence. Comparing representations of rape and sexual violence in plays by non-Natives, Native men, and First Nations women, Knowles shows how autobiographical performances by First Nations women (like the "organic texts" discussed by Mojica) can work as "agent[s] of individual and cultural re-membering and healing [for] those individual and communal bodies that have been dismembered through colonization" (147).

Jorge Huerta's essay on representations...


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