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Reviewed by:
  • Performance Studies in Canada eds. by Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer
  • Tracy C. Davis (bio)
Performance Studies in Canada. Edited by Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017; 448 pp.; illustrations. $120.00 cloth, $39.95 paper, e-book available.

In performance studies, particular methods have become associated with national, or even continental, traditions. Usually, such traditions are in fact institutional, which is not the same as national (except in very small countries). This collection of essays about Canadian performance studies is methodologically inclusive, and addresses themes widely taken up in the discipline, particularly locatedness, political resistance, and practice-derived theorization. Deep engagement with the legacies and ongoing reverberations of colonialism as marked on the landscape and cityscape, emergent in protest and subversive art, and tracked across historical time make this collection specifically Canadian in focus while also singularly germane to conversations about performance studies everywhere. Authors document a great breadth of political practices, such as specific decolonizing frameworks in performance, blatant seduction by neoliberal marketing, projects that capture local performative idioms, and incorporation of First Nations peoples' ritual protocols into exhibitions, to name but a few. As Ric Knowles notes in the "Afterword," the essays point to the artificiality of "Canada" in the manufacture of a unified identity, and to the state's complicity in erasures born of convenient myth-making. At the same time, however, they also show the power of performance to change the discourse.

The editors argue that indigenous practices are missing from "global performance studies," which is true, but rather than just taking an additive approach, this collection importantly mounts an allied, self-reflexive critique against performance studies' complicity in the recolonization of indigenous peoples through nationalized claims. We are familiar with the conscription of indigenous peoples and indigenous motifs in spectacles associated with the Olympic Games, and not just in Canada. Claiming everything as performance, according to the editors, is yet another disavowed manifestation of colonialism, exoticizing a broad-spectrum approach (26). Dylan Robinson (Stó:lō nation) radically eschews iconic trappings of indigeneity to show First Nations protestors' capacity to "reorchestrate activism across sensory and artistic registers […] to disrupt marginalization of Indigenous activism as being 'just angry'" (231), in a strategy to de-essentialize readings of affect. Likewise, Heather Fisch-Davis (a descendent of European settlers) foregrounds the consequences of settler-derived worldviews in "positional, transparent, intertextual, and imaginative" (70) criticism of geological palimpsest-building. Through exceptionally nuanced claim-making, case studies show the stakes of performative behavior and performance-based analysis that seriously reckons with histories, current contingencies, and the prospective acts of signaling futurity.

The 14 chapters do not specifically provide "coverage" to regions (though the essays address performances from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts) or homage to theoretical guiding [End Page 175] lights (though Marshall McLuhan, Josette Féral, and Keith Johnstone all get a nod), but demonstrate some of the insecurities—or "performance stumblings" (23)—that ensue in deessentializing the claims to performance as well as debunking performance-based claims to Canadian exceptionalism. Pam Hall's chapter on The Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge (, a web-based project to collect vanishing practices of maritime-based fishing cultures of Newfoundland, invokes ways to slow down thinking to ask what informants and scholars do vis-à-vis knowledge-making. Examples of mitten knitting, cod salting, woodfinding (recognizing the potential for boats in living trees), and rope splicing emerge persuasively as "both an act of valuation and preservation" (370). This is performance at the brink of extinction, transferred intelligibly into an archive of practice through ethnography. In a different vein, Julie Nagam describes the traveling exhibition Walking with Our Sisters' ( arrangement of vamps (the decorated upper portion of moccasins) to mark the absence of disappeared indigenous women, and the gentle instruction of visitors that brings them toward an encounter with the synecdoche of murdered and missing women. Natalie Alvarez observes military training at Canadian Forces Base Camp Wainwright, where a mise-en-scène of aluminum trailers, skeletal wooden structures, and burnt-out vehicles stand in, like pageant wagons, for an Afghan village. During exercises, the village is populated with...


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pp. 175-176
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