- Performing Palimpsest Bodies: Postmemory Theatre Experiments in Mexico by Ruth Hellier-Tinoco
In Performing Palimpsest Bodies: Postmemory Theatre Experiments in Mexico, Ruth Hellier-Tinoco uses the idea of the palimpsest—a manuscript that was erased in order to create space for more writing—as a lens for analyzing contemporary Mexican performance. Performers' bodies, like palimpsests, carry the traces of previous texts on them; they are layered with touches of history and memory that can sometimes be read simultaneously (though perhaps not always entirely). As Hellier-Tinoco states, "Through layering, accumulations and iterations, palimpsest bodies perform complex trans-temporal provocations and re-visions" (5). In this way, she suggests, the performers onstage reinterpret the bodies of history in an act of postmemory.
In order to demonstrate this, the book focuses on the Mexican theatre company La Máquina de Teatro, which was founded by Juliana Faesler and Clarissa Malheiros in 1996. To date, the company has staged over 30 productions that have toured throughout Mexico and across the globe. La Máquina de Teatro creates pieces that challenge the historical images and stereotypes that stem from Mexico's past and reimagines them from feminist and queer perspectives. For this book, Hellier-Tinoco chose to focus on four of the group's performance projects that are based on real and mythological [End Page 148] characters of Mexican history. Mexican Trilogy explores the figures of Nezahualcóyotl, Moctezuma II, and La Malinche. Zapata, Death Without End is a yearlong project that consisted of experiments and workshops among five different Mexican theatre collectives, all responding to the legacy of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. War in Paradise is a work-in-progress that stemmed from a three-week collaboration among twenty-five artists (it was based on a novel about Lucio Cabañas, the Mexican schoolteacher who became a revolutionary during the 1960s and 1970s). A solo piece performed by Malheiros, Time of the Devil explores Mexican iterations of the Devil. Each is a different type of theatre experiment and therefore gets its own chapter; each one includes a full summary and analysis of the performance/workshops as well as a number of photos and detailed descriptions of stage actions.
The author positions herself within the scope and analysis of the book as an artist and scholar who has worked in Britain, Mexico, and the US, acknowledging her own body "as a container and transmitter of memories and histories" (12). This aspect, however, could have been given more attention as a way of expanding the methodological practices that scholar-artists can use when writing about live performance, especially given the focus on "embodied archival-repertoires" throughout the chapters. In some ways, the book is unconventional in format and methodology, but it serves a greater purpose by archiving and presenting the work of La Máquina de Teatro to an English-speaking audience that otherwise might not have encountered the group or its pieces. With well over 300 color photographs (though some are repeated various times), this book presents the work of the Mexican theatre company in a way that is accessible to scholars, artists, and students.