Performance Studies Issues and Methods

September /11/ 2000

Eleonora Fabião

What is Performance?

To perform is to act in many senses. To act is to transform. An artistic performance extremes this possibility of acting and transforming through the adventure of experience. The etymology of "experience" presents some important references: "having learn by trying", "risk", "danger", "venture", "crisis". To perform is to experiment. You do a good or a bad performance if you accept or not the action as a transformative experience.

An artistic performance is necessarily transformative, transitive. In that way, it is impossible to be a passive spectator in a performance situation as much as it is impossible to be an spectator in a party. Your presence is part of the show. If you are there, you are it. The performance is a vital experience through which the participants pass from "before the performance" to "after the performance".

It is relevant to detach that the scene configures a very particular space-time equation; it is a territory of dilatation, of poetic distention. Our perception is stimulated by the cropping established by the poetic fact - our view envelop the fact, the fact defines a point of view. The scene is, par excellence, the action’s place. The performer is the incarnation of action; the one who shows, represents, lives, deflagrates individual and collective experience. The scene has a symbolic sense - the performer is an arquetipe of transformation; the performer searches knowledge through action. The performer’s body as the performer’s search are, simultaneously, private and public, personal and collective. The representative circumstance of the scene always reminds us that we, at the same time, are and represent what we are.

It is obviously incoherent to reflect about a performance piece using the classical schema that separates art from life and fiction from reality. That schema doesn’t consider the theatricality of every day life or the truth of the game/show. This dicotomic criterion sounds unsuitable; the performance establishes a "representational short-circuit". The art of performance disestablishes rigid oppositions. However, it doesn’t mean that the tension between differences are going to be conciliated by the performative sense. The performance environment is radically paradoxical. The peculiar perspective presented by the art of performance is the creation of dialogical spaces. The performance’s poetic turns the traditional "this or that" into "this and that": the performer is not playing a character different from her/himself but a character of her/himself.

Performance Studies establishes a kind of "border sense". In the field of performance, what is fiction and what is non-fiction? In performance’s field what is original and what is copy? In the field of performance, what is theater? In the field of performance, what is serious and what is play? In the field of performance who are you yourself and who is character? In the field of performance what is audience? In performance’s field where are the limits between the stage and the urban space? All these questions sound a little bit ridiculous when we are on the border, when a new paradigm exiges semantic review. A border is not a limit but the possibility of transition. What is curious in my opinion, is that the "field of performance" is not simply a new "country". The "field of performance" seems to be a dilatation of the frontier line. In a world map is possible to see all the ramifications of this "net-field".