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Reviewed by:
  • Performance in the Borderlands ed. by Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Harvey Young
  • Gregory J. Robinson
Ramón H. Rivera-Servera and Harvey Young, eds. Performance in the Borderlands. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 283pp. Notes, index. ISBN: 978-0-230-57460-1.

The edited collection Performance in the Borderlands represents an interdisciplinary, thematically oriented set of essays on borders, borderlands, and transnational connections. Focusing, with a few exceptions, on the northern portion of the Western Hemisphere (Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada), the essays of this collection deal with various permutations of border experiences, narratives, and encounters and contemplate the ways in which those play out in performance (here defined to include traditional conceptions of performance, such as staged drama, art installations, and documentary films, in addition to ideas closer to de Certeau’s notion of performance of everyday life). Although the collection draws primarily on the field of performance studies, the methods and concerns of the chapters span the disciplines of post-colonial studies, Latino and Latin American studies, musicology, theater, and dance. The essays in this book create an internal dialogue, as the volume’s interdisciplinary scope and broad approach to its thematic focus encourage readers to find resonances and parallels across chapters. It thus conveys a deep, multifaceted understanding of conceptual, material, and discursive borders and the ways in which they structure our daily lives.

In the introduction, “Border Moves,” the editors stake out the collection’s main positions and framing questions. Rivera-Servera and Young articulate broad, open definitions for both borders and performance. They acknowledge the importance of the U.S.-Mexico boundary but push beyond the framework of that literal border, highlighting “the intranational divisions (state and regional differences) within the United States, the creation of boundaries by multinational capitalist investment and militaristic presence in the Caribbean, and the natural and political obstacles that inhibit travel” (4). In the same vein, they define performance as “broadly constructed to include the enactment of ritual, the performance of duties of citizenship, and the manners in which communities and nations record their cultural histories” (5). [End Page 142]

Several of the chapters deal with representations of borders in the arts or in theatrical stagings of border relationships. Josh Kun’s chapter, “Playing the Fence, Listening to the Line,” considers the ramifications of the U.S.-Mexico border as a “sonic territory” (19), with its own acoustic signatures, following the work of several performers and multimedia artists as they use sound to evoke elements of border life. In a similar fashion, Paige A. McGinley ponders racial and class boundaries in the early to mid-twentieth century in the United States. She interprets John Lomax’s stagings of American folk music—in both his own performances and those by his collaborator Huddie Ledbetter, or “Lead Belly”—as theatrically conceived presentations that dramatized many of the lines dividing the audiences and musicians Lomax worked with: borders between black and white, academic audiences and nonacademic musicians, stasis and travel, confinement and freedom. In “Crossing Hispaniola,” Ramón H. Rivera-Servera analyzes the ways in which several theatrical, dance, and literary works highlight aspects of the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that complicate dominant narratives of national and racial animosity between the two states.

Another group of chapters considers the ways in which relationships of individuals and groups to and across borders (national, racial, and cultural) affect the conditions and contexts for various forms of performance that may or may not directly engage with notions of borders. Alejandro Madrid, for example, traces the process by which danzón, a style of music and dance originating in Cuba in the nineteenth century, has become a form of nationalist discourse among a group of devotees in Mexico. He cites the Habana Danzón Festival, an encounter in which dancers from Mexico and Cuba use danzón to perform their own narratives of nationalism, as an opportunity to highlight the fact that “seemingly fixed notions of national belonging are in fact responses to transnational flows that affect and often define local understandings of nationalism” (37–38). Madrid draws attention to the Caribbean as a border between...


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