- Made in Bangladesh
On 24 April 2013, an eight-story commercial building, Rana Plaza, collapsed at Savar, twenty-five kilometers northeast of Dhaka. This, “the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry worldwide” (IGHLR 2013), was caused by structural failure and led to the death of 1,134 and injury of 2,515 garment factory workers working in five co-located factories. The workers, 80 percent of whom were women between eighteen and twenty, toiled thirteen hours a day for twelve to twenty-four cents an hour, making clothes for forty Euro-American brands, including Matalan, Primark, and Bonmarché. In this neoliberal world, where money talks, the government of Bangladesh cannot simply issue orders to remove all chances for such accidents occurring again, if only because the garment industry today accounts for nearly 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 13.5 percent of its GDP (BGMEA 2015).
In such given conditions, it takes a well-crafted artistic performance to reconfigure everyday facts, economic figures, and anonymous faces of the “other” into an experience of the “self” so powerfully that it scorches the skin. This performance, a seventy-minute postdramatic dance-theatre production titled Made in Bangladesh, was “made” by the Berlin-based dance-director Helen Waldmann and a group of thirteen Bangladeshi dancers. It was produced by Ecotopia Dance Production in Germany in collaboration with Sadhona (Center for the Advancement of South Asian Culture, Bangladesh) and Goethe-Institut (Bangladesh), and funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, with behind-the-scenes input by artists drawn mostly from [End Page 499]Europe. It premiered in Ludwigshafen on 26 November 2014, and in Dhaka the following January.
Using a tripartite structure, Waldmann devotes the first half of the performance to the ready-made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh as a sweatshop, the next quarter of the time to a self-reflexive critique of the performance as the RMG workers double as Bangladeshi dancers, and then the remaining time as a meta-commentary on the first two sections. In the process, as this review elucidates, a performance representing (here, “standing for”) the RMG industry workers and the cultural industry dancers in Bangladesh eventually represents (here “acts for”) the global center of cultural production in Europe, which continues to marginalize the postcolony. In the last instance, Made in Bangladeshfails to disentangle itself, despite its intention, from the circuits of power of the global centers, and reconfigures into Bangladesh made in Germany.
Waldmann began by having the thirteen dancers stand downstage with full-front body positions, and had the spectators focus on their feet by floor lights cutting horizontally across the dancers. Reducing their individual identities into a file of anonymous dancers, Waldmann forced the spectators to watch them play with kathakcompositions consisting solely of footwork, as, behind them, a video projection of a mammoth needle of an industrial sewing machine piercing with impeccable precision (Plate 7). Here spectators received a taste of Waldmann’s contemporizing of the traditional dance movements: shorn of the omnipresent ghunghru(ankle bells) and dressed shalwar-kamiz(instead of sari or lehenga-choli[skirt-blouse]) and trousers and shirts (instead of churidar[tightly fitted pants] with kurta[shirt extending to the knees] or angarkha[long upper body garment tied at the shoulder]), the dancers evoked the RMG workers, with their hands dangling at their sides and no attempt to present anything but the footwork. Waldmann had no intention of creating a fictive world of the RMG industry of Bangladesh, but was instead creating a metonymic space that highlighted the industry “as a part and continuationof the real theatre space” (Lehmann 2006: 151).
Made in Bangladeshdid not construct a “plot” or weave a narrative. Rather, it built “the structure of fragments that are torn apart from life” to concentrate on the interaction between the performance text and the spectators by incorporating the “moment of surprise, the surprise of things that are not expected” (“Tadeusz Kantor, Stage Director” 1982). One of these surprises was the sharp break after nearly ten minutes of...