Academic journal article TheatreForum

Skin of the Wolf: Contemporary Latin American Theatre through the Lens of Three Countries in Transition

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Skin of the Wolf: Contemporary Latin American Theatre through the Lens of Three Countries in Transition

Article excerpt

Latin American theatre was forged in the political and encoded. While early Latin American theatre, like that of most civilizations, emerged as communal religious ritual, the frisson created by the Spanish conquest resulted in a theatre magnetized by opposing poles of domination and revolt. In his Theatre in Latin America, Dr. Adam Versényi, details the carefully staged moment when Hernán Cortéz, surrounded by his own soldiers and a cadre of Aztec leaders, greeted the twelve Franciscan friars he had imported to convert the Indians of Tenochtitlán to Christianity. Upon their arrival, Cortez knelt before the humbly-dressed friars and kissed each of their hands (Versényi, 1993, p. 1). In this performance, Cortez enacts submission to achieve domination. Already tactical, already coded this moment births a strategy of political conquest by infiltration. The Franciscans go on to penetrate indigenous religious ritual with Christian cosmology, shifting belief systems by shifting the narratives within a recognizable performance structure. Yet, as Versényi asks, who converted whom? (Versényi, pp. 34-35) When the wolf dons sheep's clothing, who has hijacked whom?

Thus begins a theatrical history of political struggle wherein the tension between often conflicting political agendas of form and content destabilize meaning. Whether within popular forms appropriated to deliver ruling class narratives, traditional narratives encoded with political critique, or new pieces devised to exhort rebellion under guise of metaphor-the dance of power and revolt upon a continent marked by dictatorship and domination has taken place in a theatre of camouflage.

Yet in the twenty-first century, much of the era of dictatorship that has characterized Latin America in the last century is waning. Over the course of last season, as a member of Theatre Communications Group's international delegations, I attended the Festival de Teatro de La Habana in Cuba, Santiago a Mil in Chile and El Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá in Colombia. Each of these festivals took place in a Latin American country that is in the process of transitioning from either a dictatorship (in the cases of Cuba and Chile) or a violent internal power struggle (in the case of Colombia) to a new political paradigm. The following is an analysis of selected productions contextualized by both the theatrical history and current socio-political climate of each country. Through this analysis, I seek to track the movement out of a "theatre of crisis" (Taylor, 1991) and into the next phase of Latin American theatre.

As detailed by Yael Prizant in Cuba Inside and Out: Revolution and Contemporary Theatre, the Tainos of Cuba produced highly ritualized performance. Upon arrival, viewing the content as subversive, the Spanish banned rather than coopted Taino performance and replaced it with Spanish forms. (Prizant, p. 6). However, by the end of the 1700s, Spanish form was in turn subverted by nationalistic content. Cuban playwright, Francisco Covarrubias, spawned a cadre of writers that used Spanish neoclassical form to contain themes of rebellion, Cuban identity, and national pride (Prizant, 2014, p. 6). In the case of early Cuban performance, the sheep took on the mantle of the wolf as cover from which to communicate solidarity and rebellion.

As the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain grew, Cuban theatre became more overtly political in both form and content. Post-Independence industrialization created a more specifically socialist/Marxist theatre. From the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries, form and content in Cuban theatre were aligned in rebellion first against colonial rule and then against a repressive national government propped up by Imperialist economies. The sheep shed its wolves clothing in overt advocacy for its independent identity and economic survival.

Theatre thrived in the early days of Post-revolution Cuba. Because theatre had served as the voice of the people, and by extension the voice of the revolution, its role as central to the expression of a new Cuban identity led to a period of productivity and abundance. …

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