In her wonderful new book, Diana Taylor, a distinguished professor of both Spanish and performance studies, brings her areas of expertise into "conversation." Performances, she argues, are vital "acts of transfer" that transmit social knowledge, memory and a sense of identity in Latin/o American (and by extension other) cultures.
She writes, "I am not suggesting that we merely extend our analytic practice to other `Non-Western' areas. Rather, what I propose here is a real engagement between two fields that helps us rethink both." By working from the points of disconnection between area and performance studies Taylor creates a new framework for approaching performance as embodied social practice.
Shifting focus to "the live" requires new methodologies and Taylor creates exciting new theoretical tools to further this discussion. Since, in her view, much performance writing betrays the "embodiedness" it seeks to describe; Taylor coins terms that do not derive from literary sources. The repertoire of her title is her term for a "non-archival system of transfer" that can capture the ephemeral trace of performance. By providing her reader with a kind of archive of affect, Taylor makes the body central. She argues that the repertoire "allows for an alternative perspective on historical processes...by following traditions of embodied practice" instead of literary rhetoric. As an alternative to "narrative" she offers scenario, a term with a theatrical genealogy, meaning an open-ended " sketch or outline" as a way to connote colonial encounters. For example, Taylor wittily names the scenario in which we are encouraged to "overlook the displacement and disappearance of native peoples" at the root of the popular show Survivor, "Fantasy Island." Taylor expands on this theme in her second chapter, Scenarios of Discovery: Reflections on Performance and Ethnography. She writes, "Using scenario as a paradigm for understanding social structures and behaviors might allow us to draw from the repertoire as well as the archive."
Using these terms as "portable frameworks" and moving in and out of first person experience, Taylor explores a range of hemispheric performances. Chapters on the Mexican mestizaje, campy Latino American psychic Walter Mercado, and the ways that minority populations mourned Princess Diana, explore the hybrid spaces between perception and embodied culture. Taylor revisits the Argentinean "Dirty War"
(the topic of her book Disappearing Acts) in her chapter on H.I.J.O.S. -the children of the disappeared- and the "DNA of performance" that links them with their absent parents. Chapters on Brazilian performance artist Denise Stoklos, witnessing 9/11 and a 1998 Central Park performance of Rumba musicians interrupted by the NYPD, investigate the complex relations between hegemonic power and the anarchic spirit of live performance against a background of historic violence.
This book is a path-making piece of scholarship that recognizes performance as a valid focus of analysis. It creates a dialogue between area and performance studies that values the unique features of both. The questions Diana Taylor asks in Archive and the Repertoire extend beyond this work and will shape a terrain of inquiry in performance studies for years to come.