- Performing Brazil: Essays on Culture, Identity, and the Performing Arts ed. by Severino J. Albuquerque and Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez
The intersection of performance studies and Brazilian studies is still such a relatively neglected area that Performing Brazil should be considered an important contribution by its existence alone. On the performance studies side: among the limited books on Latin America, those that dedicate at least one chapter to Brazil are still the exception, while the equation of Latin America with Spanish-speaking countries is still the rule. On the Brazilian studies side: despite a recent spike in interest, in the majority of US universities Brazilian cultural studies is still treated as an afterthought within departments of Spanish and Portuguese. This dearth of resources stands in contrast to the prominent position of Brazil within the US cultural imaginary. As Severino J. Albuquerque and Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez point out in their introduction to the book, popular and Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions such as capoeira, samba, and carnival are well known to US audiences, as are a handful of recognizable Brazilian names, particularly in music and cinema. Brazilian studies in the United States is deeply tied to the specificities of its development within this country, and Performing Brazil should be read within this genealogy. The merit of the book, however, lies in its refusal to sit comfortably within the space that has been already carved out for Brazil both within Brazilian studies and within the US cultural imaginary.
Right from the first chapter, Bishop-Sanchez’s “On the (Im)possibility of Performing Brazil,” the tone is set by historicizing the parallel developments of Brazilianness, or brasilidade, and performance studies. Building upon Benedict Anderson’s preference for “nationness” over “nationality,” Bishop-Sanchez argues that Brazilianness—a concept she defines as “linked to the cultural representation of the nation and any performative re-creation of the broadly construed idea of Brazil” (17)—should be considered in light of the ways in which Brazilians have been called upon to perform nationness in the diaspora. This argument serves as a common thread throughout the book. Ana Paula Höfling, for example, writes about capoeira not by treating it as a natural outgrowth of Afro-Brazilianness, but by examining how the very important yet underexplored Viva Bahia Group has negotiated the tensions between authenticity and modernity since the 1970s, both in Brazil and abroad. Her analysis of the contrast between the group’s claims to stylized modernity in their local productions and to natural authenticity in their international tours (both in the 1970s) underscores Viva Bahia’s conscious practice of molding performances of Brazilianness to each specific audience. Eric A. Galm also covers capoeira, but he does so by connecting the establishment of formal indoor training academies in the US to the waves of economic migrants beginning in the 1980s. Brazilianness is central to the way in which [End Page 186] he examines how the embodied practice of capoeira, as well as claims to its authenticity, were affected by the gradual replacement of Brazilian expatriates with US-born masters.
The black body in general, and the mulata in particular, occupies a prominent position within US Brazilian studies, a field marked by an ongoing debate on the suitability of applying US critical race theory to Brazil, given the historical differences in the formation of race relations between these two countries. Performing Brazil does not attempt to resolve this tension; rather, it thrives on it. Benjamin Legg challenges the ways in which the popularity of Sônia Braga has been either attributed to the place of the exotic Latina within the structures of identity politics in US cinema or to the problematic idealization of miscegenation within Brazilian cinema and telenovelas. Rather, Legg argues that Braga both “fulfills pre-established stereotypes for Latinas in North American culture” and “represents a Brazilian discourse on the importance of sexuality in the articulation of national identity” (203). In her thorough analysis of Grupo Corpo—one of...