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Analyzi ng Performance

Theater,Dance, and Film

PatfiCe PaViS

Translatedby Davidwilliams

TheUniversity of MichiganPress AnnArbor


The task of performance analysisis enormously demanding, so much so that it is perhaps beyond the skills of any one person. Effectively it requires

one to take into account the complexity and range of typesof performance, using a seriesof availablemethods-some more tried and testedthan oth- ers-or even inventing other methodologiesbetter suited to one's particu- Iar project and objectives.The spectatornowadays, whether she is amateur or professional(i.e., a critic or an academic),is confronted with the most diverse kinds of performance without a repertoire of universally recognized and proven methods of analysisat her disposal.Existing analysesare rather

discreetas to the

means and methods they employ, as if the reception and

interpretation of performanceswent without saying.The mapping of the various aspectsof performance and their organization, however, is not at all self-evident; still less so their interrelations within the mise-en-scdne itself, and the ways in which theseelements are recomposedin the minds of the spectator.This study of performance analysisaims to clarifii the array of different perspectives,and to provide simple and effective tools for the reception and analysisof a performance. First of all, therefore, an attempt must be made to clari$' the principal techniques of "analysis" (a term to

which we shallreturn). It is thus with the utmost humility and, above all, caution that we should approach the field of performance; for it is both a minefield containing the most contradictory theories and the most insidious methodological suspi-

cions, and a fallow field


has as yet failed


develop a satisfactory

method of universal application. In order to assessthe current situation and future possibilitiesfor the analysisof mise-en-scdne,therefore, we have



to run the risk of treading on the odd mine (m22e e4;pine). This book aims to provide nonspecialist theatergoers with some. guidelines and keys for anarysls.

If such a bold

undertaking is to succeed,in one way we would need to




scratch, by putting ourselves inside the skin of a theater

lover. We would need to forgg.Jeyerything that has already been written in

the fields of seln-iology,the aesthetics of reception, hermeneutics, or phe-

nomeqology, so as to apply theSe knowledges more effectively and intu-

itively to the descriptioii?iid


of live performance; but this


be as thanklessas it is impossible.A pragmatic approach is made all

the more delicate given that there are obviously no fixed rules nor evidence to determine whether a production has been "adequately" describedand

understood, or whether the many theories and contradictory observations have served only to impede a "simple and clear" view of the performance. In addition to this multiplicity of methods and points of view, there is the extreme diversity of contemporary performances.It is no longer.possi- ble to group them all together under a si.4glecategory even those as broad

as performing

arts, stage arts, or _live performance. Text-based theater (the

staging of a preexisting text), fhysical theater, dance, mime, opera, Tanztheater(dance-theater), and performance artare all implicated; all are artistically and aesthetically produced forms of performance, and not sim- ply "Organized Human Performance Behavior."' Mise-en-scdne is no lg*nger conceived here as the transposition g-f.atext from page to stuge,b"t rather asa stageproduction in which an author (the director) hashad com- plete authority and authorizationto give i&m utrd'-eaning to the perfor- mance as a whole. This author, it must be stressed,is not necessarilya con- crete individual (such as a director or choreographer);"ratherit is a paiiial

(in-biJth sensesof the word), reduced "subject" of limited rysponsibility informing every aspect of the process of producing the mise-en-scdne, making artistic and technical decisions-without these decisions being reducible to intentions that would only need to be reconstituted,once the performance has been shown in its finished form, for the fidelity of their realization to be tested. In fact, analysis does not have to speculate about such decisionsand intentions; it basesitself on the end product of working processes,however incomplete and disorganizedit may be. Performance analysisas discussedhere should be distinguished from histoiiCal recon'sffntti'on. An analyst is present at a pd"ifoimance; she has a

direct experiente of it live, whereas a historian is forced to

reconstruct per-

formances from secondary documents and accounts. The analyst provides


an account for a listener or reader who has (usually, but not necessarily) seen the same production. So analysis,in the strict sense,can only occur if

the analyst has personally witnessed a live performance,

in real time and in

u r"ul plur", unfiltered by the distorting mediations of recordings or sec-

ondary accounts. In this way, analysisdiffers from the reconstructionof past performances.

The forms of these analyses and the discourses in which

they are

inscribed are extremely varied: spontaneouscommentaries by spectators' specialist critical reviewsin both print and electronicmedia, questionnaires

drawn up after periods of reflection of differing lengths, sound or audiovi- sual recordings, written or oral descriptions of sign systemsby conscien- tious semiologists, poetic or philosophical meditations inspired by a per-

formance, and so on. The

list of such discursivemodes is open-ended,and

their combination frequent. It is not a question of finding thetight method

of analysis (which, asone might expect,does not

existas such), but rather

of reflecting on the merits of each approach, examining what qg.h reveals about the object being analyzed-in other words, a pl*ralism of methods

and-questiqnings, which !s the elgctopposite of a p9Jiinci49.-A3aiiii"it*


. . .

Weshall return to thispoint.- .

The structure of this book reflectsmy concern to provide nonexpert the- atergoersand theater lovers with an outline ofthe current stateofresearch

(part r). I will then go on to consider the principal components of perfor-

mance in a more

detailed way, drawing on diverse methods of investigation

(part z), before shifting the focus toward reception (part 3) in order to reconstruct the spectator'sdramaturgical readingsof a given performance, her conscious and unconscious reactions, as well as the sociological and anthropological dimensions of her perspectivesand expectations. Each component of performance deservesto be examined both in itself and in relation to the others; each requires its own investiggLlivetools, thijb making a general theory of mise-en-scdnehigtrk im_probable.Therefore specific methods suitable for examining the functioning of each component in a systematic way will be proposed. At the same time, an overview of a mise- en-scdne as a whole remains of primaryimportance, without lapsing back into the kina ofiiiiical impressionirrn fr"hi.fr theater people seem rather

fond. To avoid this ultimately reductive, albeit elegant, impressionism, a few detours will be taken to encourage the spectator to regain confidence in her,9wn gaze,a confidenceshe should never have lost.