Kabuki-Punk and Simulation

Nov 11, 2007

In an upcoming article I've written for TDR, I argue for a new type of performance criticism, one that embraces and engages with the pervasive phenomenon of hyperreal performance, which has arguably always been around. Critics, however, don’t yet seem to have the tools or vocabulary to deal with these concepts, ideas, aesthetics (see below on A Glance at New York).
     Exemplary of this hyperreal performance is Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf’s Drum of the Waves of Horikawa at HERE Arts Center. I’ve been watching the company workshop this piece over the past two years, and even wrote about their combination of “kabuki” with Bernard Shaw, which I presented at a Shaw conference to a bevy of bemused academics in ascots (despite the moniker, there are few, if any, occasions appropriate to be sporting an ascot).
     Two-Headed Calf has been working on integrating simulacra into their performances: in this case, kabuki and punk, for the most part. The “kabuki” (damn these scare quotes!) is not any authentic kind of kabuki, but a simulacrum of what they believe kabuki to look like. This led them to watch punk videos from the 70s (on YouTube, of course, bastion of Baudrillardian aesthetics), which they then morphed into the kabuki movements. The process led to a wonderful, bizarre (the rough translation of kabuki) kabuki-punk hybrid; set and lighting design, costumes and makeup, music and movement are all part of this glorious hybrid that never reaches any point of aesthetic, textual, performative, or critical authenticity. (Indeed, the weakest moments in the performance are when the scale tips too far toward one form or the other, such as the faux-punk songs).
     And although it’s tempting to cite a Jameson-esque definition of postmodern in this performance, what with its surface understanding of their performance components, the fact of the matter is that meaning is constantly deferred, and referentiality extends beyond limit. The citationality, even on its surface, is confounding: do we begin with Kabuki playwright Chikamatsu? The Slits? The Internet boom, including Wikipedia and YouTube? Performance traditions extending back to oral cultures? The possibilities go on and on…
     My work on simulacral performance will continue, to be sure, as my quest for hyperreal criticism from the performance communities becomes more and more imperative. In the meantime, groups that have been mentioned recently, from Big Dance to Billy the Mime to Two-Headed Calf, are the ones to watch as the condition grows.