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Reviewed by:
  • Theatre, Facilitation and Nation Formation in the Balkans and Middle East
  • Julia Goldstein
Theatre, Facilitation and Nation Formation in the Balkans and Middle East. By Sonja Arsham Kuftinec. Studies in International Performance series. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; pp. 240.

In her second book, Theatre, Facilitation and Nation Formation in the Balkans and Middle East, Sonja Kuftinec discusses the various theatrical facilitation projects in which she has participated as either facilitator or observer over the past fifteen years. The book opens with the assertion that, especially in places riven by political and ethnic strife, theatre can provide an effective strategy for conflict resolution, given its ability to illuminate collisions of simultaneous truths, rather than simply resolving binary conflicts. Indeed, Kuftinec eschews static models of conflict resolution in order to consider potentially productive processes that denaturalize ethnic and national identities, invite active witnessing, and allow participants to animate collective memories that tell an alternative history. It is a richly complex book that analyzes individual case studies through a performance studies framework that draws from critical theory and social psychology, as well as Kuftinec’s fieldwork observations.

In chapter 1, Kuftinec argues that in contexts of conflict, performance has a particular capacity to “reimagine community and reanimate ethical relationships” (1). Focusing on conflicts centered on national identity in her two primary sites of research—the Balkans and the Middle East—she demonstrates how theatre practices can destabilize identity politics for participants, thus rendering visible the mechanisms that construct national identities. Those identities, she maintains, are often strategically constructed for political purposes. Thus engaging the three terms in the book’s title—theatre, facilitation, and nation formation—Kuftinec shows how the theatrical medium’s unique capabilities as an embodied representational practice can help “facilitate” (a term borrowed from the field of conflict studies) new identities that are built on a foundation of ethical subjectivity. In a section titled “Methods and Ethics,” Kuftinec emphasizes the work of Paolo Freire and Emmanuel Levinas, concluding with her commitment to practice a method that steers between the Scylla of perpetuating victimization through an “aesthetics of suffering” and the Charybdis of proposing an unrealizable utopia through a “dramaturgy of hope.”

In chapter 2, Kuftinec documents several theatre projects involving youth from the divided Bosnian-Herzegovinian city of Mostar, emphasizing how, especially for participants, theatre can illuminate the ways in which collective memories are constructed and can be manipulated. She provides a succinct explanation of historical conflict in Mostar, showing how memories of interethnic coexistence had been purposefully cleansed in order to justify violence in the region. The first case study, a theatre piece developed in a refugee camp, demonstrates the productivity of reflective nostalgia. A performance by Mostar youth at an international summer camp highlights the power of active testifying and witnessing, while a subsequent project demonstrates how the metaphor of theatre can be used to help survivors process the experiences of trauma. A final section critically reviews the successes and failures of each project, noting a trajectory among the pieces from personal testimony toward direct political action.

Chapter 3 analyzes “Between the Lines,” a twofold project involving facilitated theatrical seminars with youth across the Balkans, which culminated in an exhibit at Berlin’s House of World Cultures. As Kuftinec discusses, this project illuminated the tensions between violence and fragmentation in the Balkans and the human rights discourse of a cohesive “new Europe.” In one seminar, Croatian youth staged contrasting notions of “the people”—as an imagined community, and as a group of politically activated subjects—in order to reveal how majority/minority relations are negotiated in nation formation. While this seminar was successful in activating participants as political subjects (leading to a subsequent youth-organized facilitation project), another seminar was less so; Kuftinec describes the factors that inhibited those participants from examining structural and symbolic violence. The chapter concludes [End Page 462] with a detailed description and analysis of the Between the Lines exhibit that resulted, which combined installations and live performances by seminar participants to speak to the complexities of representing national and ethnic cultures.

In chapter 4, Kuftinec takes up conflict in the Middle East, presenting a spectrum of case studies sponsored by...


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