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Warwick Abstracts

Takarazuka’s Gone With the Wind: Performing America and the (De)nationalization of Japanese Women's Bodies
Nobuko Anan
Takarazuka, Japan's all-female musical theatre/revue company, produced an original musical adaptation of Gone with the Wind in 1977. This production illustrates a nationalist perspective on the postwar Japan-US relationship. The reconstruction of national identities in Japan is staged through an association with the nostalgic reproduction of the American Old South. One of the central strategies for reproducing identity is the troupe's tradition of cross-gender casting, which focuses on the gender dynamics in nationalist reconstruction. A woman actor specializing in male roles plays Rhett, and the character of Scarlett is divided into inner and outer selves, illustrating the conflict in gender construction between “traditional” roles and those composed by the forces of “modernity.”
In Takarazuka’s Gone with the Wind, nostalgia for the Old South uncannily resonates with that for Old (that is, Imperial and colonial) Japan. Takarazuka's masculinist administration uses cross-gender casting to challenge what they perceive as the postwar US reinstallation of modernity by installing the mask of sympathy/identification with the US in the narrative, and, in spite of Scarlett's own inner contradictions, re-marking Japanese women's bodies as representing "national essence." These performances also might reflect more recent tensions between Japanese nationalist/masculinist identifications and the legacy of the postwar US Occupation (both militarily and economically). Although Takarazuka’s Gone with the Wind was first produced in 1977, it has been revived numerous times, most recently in 2004, and remains to this day one of the company’s most popular productions.
I suggest that the piece might also be read as a reaction to the proposed deletion from the US-imposed postwar Japanese Constitution of the article that declares Japan’s eternal renunciation of war, and to the crisis of national identity exacerbated by Japan’s involvement in the Gulf and Iraq Wars. I also suggest that Takarazuka’s cross-gender performances actually go beyond the intentions of the theatre’s administrators, both eviscerating the official narrative and revealing lesbian and transgender desires among performers and fans.
In the city of Calcutta there are no cobras: Representations of India in Victorian theatrical and visual culture
Jim Davis
This paper draws on principles embedded in theatre historiography to consider British and English-speaking representations of India in the Victorian period. Often there is a total or partial erasure of India, as in Henry Nelson O’Neill’s paintings of troops leaving for or returning from India at the time of the Indian Mutiny or in Boucicault’s play Jessie Brown, or The Relief of Lucknow. The English garrison theatres in Calcutta and elsewhere largely existed to replicate and disseminate English culture, while touring professional actors perpetuated a diet of Shakespeare, comedy and farce. Some actors took an interest in their surroundings when they toured, as was the case with the German actor Daniel Bandmann, who performed Shakespeare in English, and visited India in the early 1880s. In this paper I will pull together two current interests: English representation of non-English cultures in the nineteenth century and the ways that English actors negotiated and interacted with other cultures in this period (something which has been the focus of recent research on English actors in Australia in this period). Theatre as a site of erasure and of intervention, of representation and invention, of cultural imperialism and cultural ambassadorship, will be at the heart of this paper.
Modernity Disavowed: Memory of a Revolution in Heiner Müller’s The Task
Milija Gluhovic
Remembering and forgetting form the thematic kernel of Heiner Müller’s play The Task (Der Auftrag, 1979), which is based on a historical event that took place in the Caribbean in the aftermath of the Haitian revolution. While most of the existing critiques of the play as well as its stage interpretations read it as an allegory for the failed socialist revolutions, the socio-historical changes that occurred in Eastern Europe in the last two decades make it both possible and necessary to shift the analytical emphasis and bring to the fore a broader global perspective that is generated in the play. Reaching diachronically from the Age of Revolution to the present, The Task presents an explosive synthesis that explores the relation – or apparent nonrelation – between the events in the Caribbean and the metropolitan discourse of modernity, taking issue with the notion that modernity is an unfinished project that simply did not fulfil its emancipatory potential. More specifically, I propose that The Task engages the idea that the modernity that took place in the Western Hemisphere (in theoretical discourse as well as in cultural and social institutions) in the course of the nineteenth century contains as a crucial element the suppression of an antislavery struggle, which was aimed at giving racial equality and liberation the same weight as those political goals that came to dominate Western nineteenth-century politics and thought – most particularly those relating to the nation and national sovereignty.
Beyond Cosmopolitanism: The Nation, Citizenship and Convivial Culture
Nadine Holdsworth
In After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? (2004), Paul Gilroy suggests that ‘the meaning and ambition of the term “cosmopolitanism” has been hijacked, diminished and tainted by a neo-imperial agenda. Alternatively, Gilroy suggests that there is potential in what he refers to as a more “vulgar” or “demotic” cosmopolitanism. To this end, Gilroy offers up the potential of ‘conviviality’ as a term. Whereas cosmopolitanism stresses universal rights and global co-existence, conviviality, in its opening up of terms such as inclusiveness, co-habitation, hospitality and sociability, places greater stress on encounters between people within and beyond the nation state. Using ‘conviviality’ as a frame, this paper asks what a convivial culture might encompass. According to Gilroy, it is marked by its unruliness, a haphazard quality whereby literature, art and above all popular culture is capable of generating ‘emancipatory interruptions’ through moments of clash and rupture that force us to see the nation and its citizenship in a new light. Through an exploration of popular culture and public art projects such as Britain’s Got Talent, and the sculptor, Anthony Gormley’s one hundred-day public art project One and Other (Trafalgar Square, London, 2009), this paper considers cultural practices that open up ‘convivial’ spaces and the potential for an inclusive, democratic national citizenship. It will also discuss the ways that technology and communication networks enable these cultural practices and the engaged citizenship they foster to play out on the wider international stage.
Seeing Better: Modernist Legacy and it Modifications
Silvija Jestrovic
In this talk I will try to argue that the concept of making the familiar strange was not only an integral part of the historical avant-garde, but also potentially one of the most important legacies of European modernism. Although the concept could be traced throughout Western critical thought and through its various artistic practices, it has been canonised within the historical avant-garde. I will briefly contextualise the well-known estrangement concept of B. Brecht and somewhat less known notion of making the familiar strange of the Russian Formalist scholar Victor Shklovsky outlining their aesthetic and ideological analogies and differences. My aim however is to explore how these concepts become decontextualised and recontextualised through some contemporary performance strategies and interventions. The legacy of the defamiliarisation strategies has been sufficiently examined in regards to the Western avant-garde practices of the 1960s and also in relation to so some postmodern practices (i.e. Féral’s “Alienation Effect in Postmodern Performance”), but I am interested here in a more active impact of the estrangement concept in politicising performance that goes beyond its historical legacy.
On the one hand, I will look at the latest production of Brecht’s Mother Courage currently playing at the National Theatre in London asking why this performance of a very high quality fails to be political? In other words, why in this performance some of the most recognisable Brechtian strategies appear to be so “culinary” (to use Brecht’s terminology)? On the other hand, I will look at practices and conceptual approaches that are not overtly Brechtian, but are far more politically subversive and still grounded in estrangement strategies particularly in the area of performing ethnicity, displacement and gender.
This paper will investigate the notion of artistic thinking as” thinking from the point of view of estrangement” (Shklovsky) as both ideological position and as strategy that has its paradigms in European modernism, which, as a palimpsest, creeps through a much different context of multiple histories and fragmented narratives. Here are some of the questions I would like to explore through discussion with the JNU conference participants following the presentation: Does this modernist paradigm of seeing better, destabilising fixed positions, narratives and view points have a potential to play a role in intercultural and postcolonial performance both as an artistic strategy and as a way of thinking? How could, in the intercultural and postcolonial context, this paradigm of estrangement be appropriated (or re-cuperated?), modified, and made one’s own, in a similar way Brecht adapted Beijing Opera into European theatre of Verfremdung?
Taking stock of artistic research in the academy, circa 2010. Or: How to undo things with actions.
Baz Kershaw
At the start of the third Christian millennium a new species of research had gained a potentially sustainable niche in the ecologies of knowledge in the Western universities of Homo sapiens. Variously named by expert observers as ‘artistic research’, ‘performance as research’, ‘practice-led research’ and so on, the species was sufficiently well established by the end of the millennium’s first decade to attract some interest from the then current guardians of the future. Many members of the new species – which happened to be especially diverse – were divided by this attention, because (as we now know all too well) the wider environment that the guardians had been instrumental in creating was becoming increasingly stressed, to the point that strong rumours were circulating about its likely collapse. This presentation will look back to those bad old days in order to reconstruct some of the forgotten traits that the then new species shared. It is aided in this difficult task by the recent discovery of three small caches of their DNA-equivalent traces in the vicinity of the last ecological era’s epicentre.1 Not surprisingly, this discovery has confirmed that their ontological, epistemological and methodological impact was in some respects radical, as somehow they had learned how to undo things with actions that successfully challenged the pathological hope of their desperate times. Most astonishingly of all, perhaps, there are indications that they were aware of our signature mantra – less is more, of course – at least as evidenced by one fragmentary example drawn from what we now call the inter-species holo-scene, but which they rather charmingly referred to as ‘The Zoo’.
1 Now known in the codex as PlR, P-a-R, and MLPR, which in full gives:
Roger Dean and Hazel Smith (eds) Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
Lynette Hunter and Shannon Rose Riley (eds) Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Ludivine Allegue, Simon Jones, Baz Kershaw and Angela Picinni (eds) Practice-as-Research: in Performance and Screen, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Re-thinking the Public Sphere for a Global Age
Janelle Reinelt
Many challenges confront the notion of a public sphere as it was first articulated as a democratic space of discourse defined in opposition to the state (Habermas) or, in a reformulation of Nancy Fraser’s, as ‘a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk’. Two contemporary questions that pertain especially to performance are 1) is there such a thing as a transnational public sphere? and 2) Is the medium of talk the medium of such a sphere?
For performance scholars, the necessity of developing a methodological approach to international comparative analysis of the concept of the public sphere seems important because performance is itself arguably a more ubiquitous medium than ‘talk’ in the contemporary moment of global and mediatized communication. However, the problems of understanding what the key components are of such a public sphere and also of the relationship between global and local versions of a/the public raise considerable doubt about any possible political efficacy claimed in its name.
This paper takes up the major debates about the public sphere—whether it is necessary to associate it with rational discourse and if so, whether this makes it an elite and exclusive concept; whether performance’s embodied practices through gestural and image vocabularies enhance the possibilities for effective public engagement and the formation of new publics and counter-publics, or removes the critical vocabulary of ‘reason’ and ‘debate’ necessary for it to function; whether globalized media blocks or enhances the communicative circuits of political engagement needed to sustain democractic praxis.
While I am a relatively new scholar with regard to the Indian situation after independence, I will try out a number of ideas I have developed to see how JNU and Warwick colleagues think one can theorize the public sphere in the Indian context and offer some comparison/constrasts to the European and /or US situations.
‘Show the (w)hole - experience and evidence’
Tim White
Chris Burden's 1980 display of the wound he incurred in his notorious Shoot, nine years earlier, renders documentation and performance coterminous. As that much-lauded tree falls once more to the forest floor, is it enough to have heard it or do we actually require that the splintering thud be recorded, indisputable evidence trumping individual experience? Mark C. Taylor, in his essay Back to the Future evokes Derrida’'s notion of “the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time” as the space of postmodernism and Lyotard contributes the idea that the postmodern artist is "working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done”. This paper will consider the role of documentation in relation to these remarks, questioning its status as posterior to the event and suggesting that it might be regarded as the fixing bath of performance, enabling it to be brought to light.
This theoretical debate shows up in very concrete form as part of our student assessment at Warwick where students are now being asked to produce video documentation of their performance for purposes of review by external examiners as part of their assessment. While this requirement can be acknowledged as a pragmatic response to the busy lives of external examiners, it may also be regarded as symptomatic of an increasing blurring of the status of both the specific time and space of performance, as discussed in this presentation.