Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

Intercultural Directing:
Revitalizing Force or Spiritual Rape?

Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei

The Japanese have a word for it. Off-center, leaning at a dangerous angle, not- quite kosher. The word is "kabuku," the verb from which Kabuki derives. The ethnographer James Clifford says we all live in ". . . a pervasive condition of off-centeredness in a world of distinct meaning systems, a state of being in culture while looking at culture, a form of personal and collective self- fashioning" (9).

American directors using intercultural techniques are all a little "kabukued," living in the margins, creating new selves. Faced with diverse cultural imperatives, how do they respond to "off-centeredness"? When is intercultural borrowing an enhancement to art and when is it a cultural travesty? Theorists Patrice Pavis and Rustom Bharucha offer polarized possibilities in a world without a center.

As a semiotician, Pavis observes how Western directors appropriate Asian cultural elements to create syncretic theatre. He analyzes Indian theatrical devices in the works of three European directors: Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook, and Eugenio Barba. He concludes that there are four essential ways to read intercultural performance. The first is Mnouchkine's ". . . pre-Brechtian 'culinary' way of staging the classics, a refusal to analyze how Shakespearean [or other classic] dramaturgy or a culturalist rereading of it may be made productive for us here and now." Here Pavis refers to Twelfth Night. The text is neither altered or re-interpreted, but Asian acting styles and design elements spice the production. The second refers to Mnouchkine Indiade, a new work about India by Hélène Cixous. Pavis calls it ". . .a 'postmodern' way of dispensing with a critical and political approach to history: despite a hallucinatory ethnological representation, the heated and moralizing humanist discourse returns us to a romantic picture of the people and their suffering." Peter Brook Mahabharata typifies the third strategy, an "investigation of theatre's ritual function, without claiming. . . to grasp culture in its political and ideological dimension. . . ." The fourth approach is represented by Barba's staging of Goethe Faust. It is ". . . inscribed in a current of anthropological research which no longer compares cultures in terms of theme or socioeconomic background, but which faces the area of performance codification and the universal principles of pre- expressivity" (210). Pavis embraces the intercultural impulse as a revitalizing

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