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Reviews397 Annabelle Henkin Melzer. Dada andSurrealist Performance. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Pp. xviii + 288. $14.95. The short life of the Cabaret Voltaire split the avant-garde into two groups: those who were present at the birth of Dada and those who missed it. Annabelle Melzer's Dada and Surrealist Performance has a different history. Unlike the Cabaret Voltaire, Melzer's book is a repeat performance. For those who missed her book back in 1980 when it circulated under the title Latest Rage the Big Drum (UMI Research Press), its re-release offers another chance at reading that is well worth the time. The decision at Johns Hopkins to pick up Melzer's study and to require only a supplementary update in the bibliography is a telling comment on the overall quality of her book. She offers a fascinating history of early avant-garde performance that balances discussion of socio-historical contexts with meticulous analysis ofthe theoretical manifestoes and the dramatic scripts of figures like Kandinsky, Ball, Tzara, and Breton. While Dada and Surrealist Performance does not take into account any of the recent debates on critical theory and performance art, Melzer certainly has mastered the primary literature of the early avant-garde. She proposes in her book to explore the valley neglected by "critics and theatre historians [who] have again and again jumped from Jarry to Artaud" (p. xiii). Given her combined focus on Dada and Surrealism, it is not a matter of coincidence that her study begins with an account of Tristan Tzara's arrival at the Paris train station early in 1920. Tristan Tzara is the key figure in the transition from Dada to Surrealist performance , and thus we not only see the "first Paris-dada evening through Tzara's eyes," but he becomes the driving force in Melzer's (re)construction of Dada history (p. 7). Her interest is not in the numerous forms to which the Cabaret Voltaire gave birth but in the ties between Zurich and Paris. After her anecdotal point of departure, Melzer gives a rather traditional literary history of the birth of me Cabaret Voltaire. She traces Hugo Ball's intellectual development back to Munich where as a young man he fell under the influence of Kandinsky and the other members of the Blaue Reiter. There is rich discussion of Kandinsky's writings and their relation to Ball. While her study of Ball's biography is one example ofthe more traditional means through which Melzer establishes the intellectual roots of the Cabaret Voltaire, she documents Dada's indebtedness to other traditions and movements through her analysis of the simultaneous poems and tone-poems that were performed in the Cabaret itself. This latter analysis broadens into a discussion of the "common elements ... to be found in dada and futurist performance" (p. 49). In her discussions of the origins of Dada, Melzer is thus able to consider the influences on the Cabaret Voltaire at two levels: she uses biographical information to construct the intellectual history lead- 398Comparative Drama ing to Zurich, and she relies on a notion of intertextuality that connects the texts from the Cabaret to those of other movements. As informed as Melzer's analyses are, such text-based criticism ultimately becomes problematic for any book that purports to be a work on performance. Melzer is certainly aware ofthis problem and mentions it not only in her introduction but also in her analysis of seminal Dada pieces such as Tzara's La Première aventure céleste de M'Antipyrine. In her introduction Melzer concedes that "all one can fairly understand by performance is what the critic-researcher-author has proposed as a reconstruction of 'It', the event" (p. xvii). With such disclaimers already in place when she turns attention to "The Dada Actor and Performance Theory," Melzer is able to illuminate the fundamental acts of self-erasure that are characteristic of Dada performance. Citing Dada's "stand against art, history and permanence," Melzer argues that the nature of performance coincides with the presumptions of Dada expression (p. 58). Since nothing "remains visible" after a performance concludes, performance, she argues, "is in perfect accord with the dadas...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 397-399
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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