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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

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Leda Martins

Interview with Leda Martins (2011)
Leda Martins is a poet and Professor of Dramatic Art and Literature at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the graduate program in Arts at FALE/UFMG. She completed a post-doctorate in theories of performance at New York University in 2000. Leda Martins also has a doctorate in comparative literature from UFMG and a Master of Arts from Indiana University. She has written several books, published numerous essays and poems, and written many manuscripts and articles. Among her publications are: The O Moderno Teatro de Corpo Santo (Editorial UFMG 1991), A Cena em Sombras (Editorial Perspective 1995), Afrografias da Memória (Editorial Perspective 1997), and Os Dias Anônimos (Editorial Sette letters 1999).X

Diana Taylor: So, Leda Martins... Could you introduce yourself for us, please?

Leda Martins: Leda Martins, or Leda Maria Martins, professor at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Diana: Leda, in Portuguese—I’m sorry I can’t ask you in Portuguese, but—could you give us an idea of how performance studies has unfolded in Brazil, or if it has unfolded?

Leda: Diana, in Brazil... I think we can speak of two lineages of performance studies. One is via Paul Zumthor. So, for example, in my university, already in the 80s, late 80s, early 90s, there were people working with performance studies via Zumthor. The theories of Paul Zumthor: translating, using... In São Paulo, Renato Cohen introduces performance studies via Schechner. He was Schechner’s student in New York. So, Renato Cohen in São Paulo, his approach is more via the United States performance studies. In Rio, Zeca Ligiéro, also via... a little more via a performance studies approach, particularly from New York. In my case, specifically, I always worked with both lineages. Both with Zumthor’s work and the work done in the department in New York, the work we have done with you [at New York University] for some years now, but also at Northwestern [University], where Professor Sandra Richards also belonged to the Performance Studies Department there. So we had a good exchange in this sense.

“Performance studies helps us study, for example, different ritual practices. In studying them, performance offers us a certain methodological approach, which is fundamental.”

In Brazil, I would say we don’t have departments, as you have, specifically dedicated to performance studies. We have scholars and artists in departments in different fields who work with performance via either theater departments, or literature departments, or anthropology. For example, in Belo Horizonte, there was a center that worked with performing arts and with exhibits. That is, all these infusions from performance studies... I’m talking mostly, you see, about the southeast [of Brazil]. As I was telling Anabelle, Brazil is a continent. I don’t believe I can cover all of performance studies from all of Brazil. Mostly those with which I have more contact, which would be the Northeast. And Bahia, which is very interesting, because in Bahia there is a connection. What is strong in Bahia is ethnoscenology, but there is a deep connection between us, at UFMG, and the theater program in Bahia, from Armindo Bião’s work. So there is a very interesting dialog with ethnoscenology in performance studies, without the quarrels that exist in Europe, maybe in the United States, between these two fields of knowledge. And that’s very interesting in Brazil: there’s a connection between these two fields of knowledge. So I would say we don’t have, perhaps, we won’t find as a department—I think I can safely say this—a performance studies department in Brazil. We will find, within several fields of knowledge, teachers, intellectuals, and practitioners—many artists call their practice performance—or a curiosity about performance. I don’t know if I answered your question.

Diana: Yes, yes, yes. And performance studies as a methodology? For example, your work on oralities, or other work related to the body, with all the embodied knowledge. All this is performance to me, right? So there are many such studies that don’t fit, let’s say, officially or strictly, within a known field. But I believe there are many people who do extremely important work that is, I believe in the broader sense, performance studies.

Leda: I think the signifier that is, let’s say, most useful in Brazil, that is used the most, is maybe not performance, but corporality.

Diana: Yes.

Leda: So we have a significant diversity and also several fields of knowledge. From psychoanalysis to theater, anthropology, music, et cetera, all the way to neuroscience, this connection between neuroscience and corporality. So, I believe corporality is a signifier with more currency in Brazil. But I would say that, within the last decade, performance has grown as a field of knowledge, as an episteme. Especially because I distinguish this from practice, what we call the practice of performance, and there you have a wide range of artists who call themselves performers, or who are curious about it. Now, as an episteme, in the university we can already find it in UFMG, in Rio de Janeiro, in São Paulo, for example, performance as performance studies; then as a theory, as an episteme, and particularly as a methodology. And I have been using that a lot. Even before working with Sandra Richards at Northwestern and with you in the United States, I already worked with—I always say it was my little corner in Brazil—both with the word “performance,” and specifically seeking a methodology.

And that’s what I find interesting, I mean, the encounter with the Department of Performance Studies at New York University, and particularly with you, I believe it happened due to a connection with something I already was doing as well. And for me it was very fascinating to get to know, for example, all that articulation and interlocution that is used, and that you use in particular, between performance, knowledge, and memory. I had already been using, since the 80s, both the term “performance,” and since the 90s, “oraliture,” but also trying to map it within performance studies. And, like me—I am sure I can say this—there are several intellectuals and artists, as well. Artist-intellectuals—that separation is strange, it doesn’t actually exist—who use performance as a practice, but also as a way of looking at practice. Particularly in my case, this correlation within performance studies between orality, and with it corporality, is what I called “oraliture.” And particularly, what I find fascinating in Brazil and what fascinates people from several fields of knowledge in Brazil, is that performance studies helps us study, for example, different ritual practices. In studying them, performance offers us a certain methodological approach, which is fundamental. I have to look at you, and not at the camera. I always talk to people, you see? It’s the body.

: Thank you, Leda.

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