- Performance Studies in Motion: International Perspectives and Practices in the Twenty-First Century ed. by Atay Citron, Sharon Aronson-Lehavi, and David Zerbib
Along with the edited volume The Politics of Interweaving Performance Cultures (Fischer-Lichte et al. 2014) and Diana Taylor and Marco Steuernagel’s trilingual What Is Performance Studies? (2015), Performance Studies in Motion marks an increasing diversification of cultural representation and frameworks for analysis in publications about performance studies. This makes it an invaluable resource. Even before receiving it for review, I had included one chapter on a teaching syllabus (William H. Sun and Faye C. Fei’s account of “Social Performance Studies” in China), cited another in a research grant application (Henry Bial’s “Performance Studies 3.0,” which narrates past, present, and future developments in the discipline using an Operating System analogy), and benchmarked the cultural diversity of a new course I was developing against its contents page. However, such diverse offerings bring their own conceptual challenges, not all of which are met in the book.
Eight parts (or “Motions”) categorize the 24 contributions according to a combination of familiar designations (“Perspectives and Prospectives,” “Beyond Experimental Theatre,” “Performance in/of Social Spaces,” “Into the Political Arena,” “Contemporary Rituals”), and more novel frameworks (“At War,” “Applied Performance Studies,” “Performance Studies and [End Page 162] Life Sciences”). The material covered is correspondingly varied. Among the highlights for this reader is a discussion by Carol Martin of two performances that use the table as a “postmodern agora” (71) for staging global processes; a punchy interview with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett that conceptualizes the Museum of the History of Polish Jews as “a seamless scenographic environment” (132); Klaas Tindemans’s clarifying performance-based explanation of Belgium’s “democratic self-destruction” (148); a fascinating account by Chen Alon of how the Palestine-Israeli group Combatants for Peace interpellate Israeli Defense Forces personnel into their Boalian activism; Liora Sarfati on the extent and effects of integrating new media into Korean shamanism; and Atay Citron’s discussion of “medical clowns,” who work in hospitals to complicate an otherwise reductive repertoire of patient narratives and identities. Other readers may find themselves drawn to contributions on political protests in Poland (Dariusz Kosiński), Richard Schechner’s participation at a famous gathering of key poststructuralist thinkers at Johns Hopkins University in 1966 (David Zerbib), approaches to performing Jewish prayer onstage (Sarit Cofman-Simhon), the adaptation of postgenocide plays for Rwandan audiences (Jennifer Herszman Capraru), or a scientifically falsifiable inquiry into an aspect of theatrical improvisation (Lior Noy).
Summarized thus, Performance Studies in Motion sounds rather more dizzying than when read cover to cover, but no less demanding of the reader’s ecumenical goodwill. For while there is much to be gained by a selective and strategic purloining of individual chapters or sections, as a reflection on (rather than simply a contribution to) the internationalization of performance studies, the book contains some salutary shortcomings.
The main problem is a familiar one. Insufficiently qualified, the “as” performance approach is unwieldy. The reader may affect polite interest in what each contributor has to say, but without stronger framing by the editors and a shared sense of mission among the contributors, the volume lacks a cumulative effect. Granted, a number of conceptual frameworks do present themselves. In their introduction, the editors assert that the collection reflects the disciplinary and cultural diversity of performance studies, and that the organizing term “motion” names “the performance of these objects of research as well as the movement that characterizes analytic processes of thinking about them” (2). But this is a truism, built on the straw man of fixed objects of research in other disciplines. And although the sections are called “Motion I,” “Motion II,” and so on, they lack momentum: there is no sense that each proposes and advances a particular contention, as the titling might suggest. A second agenda resides in a debt to the ideas of Richard...