May 23, 2013
The Performance of Peace
Posted on Jul 5, 2012
By Jean Randich
In “Theatre, Resistance and Peacebuilding in Palestine,” Abeer Musleh, a Palestinian youth development worker, writes about the poignant efforts of the Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah and the Alrowwad Youth Theatre in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem to instill pride, express dreams, overcome fears, solve problems, resurrect culture and nourish the ability to envision a different reality—the first step to change—especially in children:
Aida Nasrallah, a Palestinian-Israeli poet and performance artist, and Lee Perlman, a Jewish-Israeli coexistence expert, co-wrote “Weaving Dialogues and Confronting Harsh Realities.” They attempt to bridge the chasm between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. What makes this chapter fascinating is the interweaving of their two points of view. Even as Perlman approaches Nasrallah to collaborate with him on the study of the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa, she is suspicious of his motives and their dialogues capture the tenuous, sensitive unfolding of their relationship across the territorial, cultural, religious and ethnic divide.
In “Fires in the Memory: Theatre, Truth and Justice in Argentina and Peru,” director Varea recounts, among other things, a powerful and psychologically brilliant framing of the Greek classic “Antigone” from a survivor’s perspective, by the Peruvian Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani:
Experimental playwright and performer Ruth Margraff celebrates Indian playwright Manjula Padmanabhan, who penned a shocking, visceral play, “Hidden Fires,” dealing with the Gujarat massacre in which Hindu extremists killed approximately 2,000 Muslims in 2002. Padmanabhan opens with a savage monologue in which a Hindu rioter admits to killing innocent Muslims—“In his final moment, he looked straight at me. The heat of his life was like a blaze in my face! And then … he was out”—and closes with the actors, all of them Hindu, sprawled on the floor in “a silent alliance with the victims of Gujarat, seeming to embody and amplify the unspoken truths of Muslim voices denied, ignored and disappeared without a trace.”
In “Alive on Stage in Cambodia: Time, Histories and Bodies,” playwright Catherine Filloux writes of her 20 year engagement with the Cambodian people, ignited when she created an oral history project with Cambodian women, Catholic sisters and Cambodian monks in the Bronx. Her plays deal with the trauma of surviving genocide, and she discusses how the process of creating her cross-cultural opera—“Where Elephants Weep,” in which traditional and contemporary Cambodian ritual and music meet—worked to foster reconciliation and peace.
Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Volume I
By Cynthia Cohen (Editor); Roberto Gutierrez Varea (Editor); Polly O. Walker (Editor); Dijana Milosevic (Contribution by); Charles Mulekwa (Contribution by)
New Village Press, 320 pages
Walker’s case study, “Creating a New Story: Ritual, Ceremony and Conflict Transformation Between Indigenous and Settler Peoples,” provides a fitting conclusion to this volume. Walker is part Cherokee, part Settler, and knows the cost of land grab and colonization in her bones. She describes the long overdue joys of the Two Rivers Powwow in which Settlers are invited to participate in Methow rituals in memory of the expulsion of the Native Americans in 1886. She also explores the Myall Creek Memorial Ceremony in Australia, an act of reconciliation to remember and mourn the slaughter of the indigenous people at the hands of stockmen in 1838. Such ceremonies, with their emphasis on acknowledging grave wrongs, respecting difference, engaging with multiple worldviews, and healing, help the descendants of the dispossessed and dispossessors free themselves from the grip of history.
These ventures are as intense and complex as the conflicts that give rise to them, but one thing is brilliantly clear: The human spirit is resilient. Roberta Levitow, a founding member of Theatre Without Borders, recalls, in her preface to this book, the healing power of a midnight Eastern Orthodox candlelighting ritual in bleak Romania: lights in the darkness, each kindling other lights. By reconstructing what is lost, by healing what is broken, by creating space for new visions of the world, of ourselves and others to emerge, we blaze a trail for greater understanding, empathy and peace.
Jean Randich, who is a professional freelance theater director, has worked with Catherine Filloux, Ruth Margraff and Roberta Levitow in that capacity.
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