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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

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Zeca Ligiéro

Interview with Zeca Ligiéro (2011)

Zeca Ligiéro received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (1972), and his Master’s and PhD in performance studies from New York University. He has done post-doctorate work with Yale University (2001-2002) and Paris VIII (2013-2014) with a CAPES scholarship. He is currently a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro State and has coordinated, since 1998, the Center for the Study of Afro-Amerindian Performances (NEPAA). He was curator of Augusto Boal's Archive from 2008 to 2010. He directed Povo de Rua [Street People] with Marise Nogueira in Mexico in 2001 and Peru in 2002; Desabrigo by Antonio Fraga in Rio in 2004; O palhaço negro: a história de Benjamin de Oliveira [The Black Clown: The Story of Benjamin de Oliveira] in Brazil and Colombia in 2008; Noticias de las cosas pasadas [News of Things from the Past] in Universidad Distrital de Bogotá in 2009; O Evangelho Segundo Dona Zefa in Rio from 2011-2012; and Makunaima, o Outro in Rio in 2013. He created the video installation and exhibition Pelintra's Interactive Altar in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 2002 and in New York in 2003. He has published Initiation into Candomblé: introduction to African-Brazilian Religion (Diasporic Africa Press, 2014); Augusto Boal: Arte, Pedagogia e Política (MAUAD 2013) Performance e Antropologia de Richard Schechner (MAUAD 2012);  Corpo a corpo: Estudos das Performances Brasileiras (Garamond 2011); Teatro e Dança como experiência comunitária (EDUERJ 2009); Performance Afro-Ameríndia, (Publit Soluções Editoriais 2007); Malandro divino: a vida e a lenda de Zé Pelintra (Nova Era 2004); Teatro a partir da comunidade (Papel Virtual SA 2003); Iniciação à umbanda, with Dandara Rodrigues (Editora Record 2000); Umbanda: paz, liberdade e cura, with Dandara Rodrigues, (Editora Record 1998); Iniciação ao candomblé (Editora Record 1995); and Divina inspiração do Benin até à Bahia (University of New Mexico Press 1993).X

Diana Taylor: Zeca, thank you so much for being here with us today. Could you tell me a little bit about where you work, what kind of department?

Zeca Ligiéro
: My name is Zeca Ligiéro, I am from UNIRIO [Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro]. I work in the Department of Theatre Directing, but I also work in the Graduate Program of Performing Arts at UNIRIO. And I run the Center for the Study of Afro-Amerindian Performances [NEPAA], established in 1998.

Diana: Zeca, could you tell me a little bit about how people understand the term "performance" and the concept of performance studies in relation to that?

Zeca: I have to outline a brief history: when I began to work with performance studies—I came back to Brazil after finishing my MA—and I talked about "performance," people would say, "Zeca is feeling nostalgic, he wants to go back to the 70s." This was because "performance" was understood as "performing art." So I became known as a nostalgic person. But then, gradually, I started to work with Afro-Brazilian traditions, with Amerindian traditions, to work a little with what we call "performative practices" or "performance studies." This was very important. Also the 2000 Encuentro; this established new parameters for performance studies in Rio, and consequently in Brazil. I think my work there, and the work of the Hemispheric Institute, created a new way of thinking about performance studies in Brazil. And today we have several centers all throughout Brazil dedicated to the concept—to the concepts, the several concepts—of performance studies, ranging all the way from performing art, performative practices... I work a lot with Victor Turner’s conception, with Richard Schechner, with your own conception, Diana Taylor. So I think it has changed a lot in the last few years, and today we can say that performance studies is established in several universities: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais; USP [Universidade de São Paulo], Unicamp [Universidade Estadual de Campinas], in Rio Grande do Sul we also have it, et cetera. I think now, today, we can talk about performance studies as a new field already established in Brazil.

Diana: And do you have difficulty finding materials for teaching, or are there enough things being published now, or the work that you all are publishing?

: Sorry... There is still not much material. I think there is a lot of material in English that we work with, right? I published a special issue in 2004 of O PercevejoLigiéro, Zeca, ed. 2004.  O Percevejo, no. 12., a journal edited by our program—and this issue is still a reference in Brazil—where we have important articles by several performance studies scholars. I am preparing a publication called Teatro e Antropologia
Ligiéro, Zeca, ed. 2012. Performance e Antropologia de Richard Schechner. Rio de Janeiro: MAUAD.
, an edited collection of articles by Richard Schechner. And I also have several publications of my own. This year I am publishing a book, a collection of my own articles, which should come out in September or October, called Corpo a Corpo: estudo das performances brasileiras
Ligiéro, Zeca. 2011. Corpo a corpo: estudos das performances brasileiras. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond.
. And that’s where we are, you know? It’s more open now. Leda Martins has published several articles. We have a group at USP that has held–last year they held–a very important conference on Anthropology and Performance. There's NAPEDRA, a very important group with several scholars. So I think we really have more material now. I still think we need much more material, I think... But we now find materials on the web as well, some things in Portuguese as well... I think so.

Diana: Do you find that there is a resistance to using the word "performance"? Do some people want to replace it, say, with "spectacle" or something else?

Zeca: I think you still see that. It’s interesting, because I am now doing some research on revisiting Boal. And it’s interesting because Boal’s last publication, his last speech when he receives the award, he says: a religious ceremony is theater, everyday rituals are theater, you know? So I thought it was very interesting, because in fact he doesn’t use the word “performance,” but he is referring no longer to Western theater, but to a kind of performance. So that’s interesting. In my case, I treat Boal as performance studies, as well, and I have found several interesting answers within his work. But I do believe there is still resistance. I think people still say: “Performance is not a Portuguese word.” Even the computer dictionary marks “performance” and wants to change "performance" into “representation,” into “presentation.” I have to say all the time: No, I actually want “performance.” I think it takes time for things to sink in, to be transformed.

“For me, performance studies, more than a label, is a way of knowing... I believe it is a process of getting to know oneself, to know one’s own expression, to know one’s own way of being, one’s own body, one’s own voice, to be aware of one’s own work. And for people who watch, it is a way of knowing the other, as well. It is a way of knowing, sometimes, the traditions: a way of realizing how these traditions are kept.”

Diana: And do you feel there is an obstacle, or a couple of obstacles, that stand in your way when you are trying to do your work on Amerindian performance, Afro performance? Is there any special challenge to your work in that area?

Zeca: I think so, because when I use the word "performance" or “performative practice” to refer to the Amerindian tradition or to the Afro tradition, people think it’s strange, there’s still a shock. And I have been using this for 12 years, this concept of Afro-Brazilian performance, Afro-Amerindian. There is still a strong resistance. But I do see it showing up today. There have been already two conferences on black performance: not “Afro performance,” but “black performance.” So it is becoming more common; the word “performance” is already being applied not only to the arts, but also to religious traditions, to festive traditions. So I think there is a shift already, although there is still a lot of resistance. And there is resistance especially from the academic world, say, from people who are more traditional, more orthodox; they don’t like it very much, they think it is too Americanized, that is, you know... That still exists. But that’s the struggle... Because, for me, performance studies, more than a label, is a way of knowing. So, I believe performance studies is an instrument for knowledge, and I think this knowledge happens in several levels. I think it is a process for the practitioner; I believe it is a process of getting to know oneself, to know one’s own expression, to know one’s own way of being, one’s own body, one’s own voice, to be aware of one’s own work. And for people who watch, it is a way of knowing the other, as well. It is a way of knowing, sometimes, the traditions: a way of realizing how these traditions are kept. So, I think, since it’s a broad process, I think there’s a lot of prejudice, because people are too used to compartmentalized scholarship, which is too narrow. So: this field goes here, that field goes here. And since performance studies works with a very broad field, which is music, literature, politics, visual arts, cinema, TV... So it’s very broad, and people are afraid of getting lost. So, this prejudice exists. But I think it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle, and we are winning this struggle, I think. I have this feeling that for a very long time, in my own work, I felt a little, a little victimized, a little persecuted, and today I consider myself successful in my work. Because I run a center, I have several interested scholars, every day more. I have several students who look for, who are... And in several fields, you know? Today NEPAA includes everything from the Theater of the Oppressed, as well as... We have a network: we are in contact with a street theater network. So, that’s all much closer to performance than to theater, to orthodox theater, to traditional formats, to indoor theater, to theater inside the physical theater space. And I have also realized there is a strong interest in this relationship between ritual studies, festivities. Brazil is a country very rich in festivities. And sometimes we don’t have many tools to study these processes. We have Candomblé, Umbanda... I am currently doing research on festivities from the north of the country, which mix indigenous culture even more. I am investigating the presence of Turks, of Arabs in the Amazon; there’s already a different relationship, a different context. If you do this research historically, it becomes hard to locate; but if you do research on ritual you begin to realize that, within ritual, that culture is there: Arabic traditions appear within ritual. But how to explain this from a traditional historical perspective? The Arabs arrived to the Amazon in the 20th century. But maybe they did not arrive. Which Arabs arrived? And why are there Arabic rituals in the Amazon? There are several issues that performance studies allows us to know. That’s why I say performance studies is a search for knowledge, a revelation of knowledge, a production of knowledge. I think that is what makes performance studies so important. That is why I really believe in its efficiency, in its efficacy.

Diana: Thank you very much, Zeca; this is wonderful.

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