This issue’s Views and Reviews section focuses on a trend in theatre, performance, and scholarship: the increasing amount of work engaging “dramaturgy.” Like “performance,” “dramaturgy” is a potentially overdetermined word, pulled, plied, and stretched almost to the semiotic breaking point. Dramaturgy’s growing currency is clearly predicated upon its varied use and usefulness in diverse and divergent contexts and the productive ways it can be used to describe and understand the complex structures and processes operating in the radically open field we call performance.
Given dramaturgy’s semiotic openness, it follows that the dramaturg’s practical work is often described as “provisional” or “contextual” and that it is characterized by contradiction. David Williams, for example, suggests, “Perhaps above all, the dramaturg asks how to be a juggler of paradoxes in an uncertain, unpredictable, and ultimately unmasterable terrain.” This is the case because the dramaturg “sits astride the hyphen between both-and.” He continues:
She is “innocent” and “experienced”; an idiot savante; “in the know” and “ignorant”; in intimate proximity (in close-up) and at a distance (in long shot). The work requires immersive belief and critical distance, a detailed engagement with part and whole, micro and macro; and she is forever both inside/ outside, visible/invisible in the work. In order for this work to take place at all, these paradoxes cannot be experienced as mutually exclusive and contradictory binaries. Their ambiguous coexistence is fundamental in the collective elaboration of “a tune beyond us, yet ourselves / A tune upon the blue guitar / Of things exactly as they are.”(202)
While maybe a little poetical, Williams’s point is persuasive and clear: the practice and discourse of dramaturgy is fraught with paradoxes and contradictions; this is not weakness but strength and perhaps inevitability. The complexities of contemporary performance—in its manifold forms and contexts—require a simultaneous elasticity and specificity that the term dramaturgy, and the work of dramaturgs—among other collaborators—would seem to afford. The dramaturg’s agency is found, as Williams suggests, in embracing paradox as potentially productive.
Speaking about gender subjectivity vis-à-vis discourses and structures of gender normativity, Judith Butler makes an assertion similar to Williams: “That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility” (3). The connections between agency, dramaturgy, and gender performance that I am drawing here are not tenuous; each depends upon conceptions of performing for its practical and theoretical intelligibility. Indeed, for most any creative artist or dramaturg or gender outlaw—or those who are all three—paradox is the condition of possibly because it is often the by-product of rejecting totalizing narratives or systems and the received forms of knowledge that they reproduce, which inevitably foreclose new possibilities.
Two of the reviews published here address dance dramaturgy and are examples of the extension of dramaturgical thinking and practices out of theatre and into performance. Synne Behrndt’s review of Dance Dramaturgy: Modes of Agency, Awareness and Engagement, edited by Darcey Callison and Pil Hansen, notes that this anthology is the first (in English) to “focus on theorizing dance dramaturgy.” According to Behrndt, Callison and Hansen’s anthology is part of “the positive development underway in the discourse [of dramaturgy] where the focus is no longer on explaining in a generic sense what a dramaturg is or does, but rather turning attention to the dramaturgy (or dramaturgies) of process, collaboration, and creative methodologies.” Behrndt suggests that, for Callison and Hansen, “dramaturgy is the responsibility of everybody” because, in the anthology, the dramaturgical is understood “as a way of looking and being aware within the process” of performance, wherein “dramaturgical agency and responsibility [is distributed] among collaborators and spectators or [is embedded] . . . in a task-based system of dance generation.”
The second review is DD Kugler’s examination of Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance, a monograph written by Katherine Profeta. Kugler’s review hones in on Profeta’s focus on the relationship between theory and practice, which is explored through the productive lens of dramaturgy. Based in Profeta’s eighteen years of collaboration with choreographer Ralph Lemon...