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Reflecting on Derek Walcott’s early relationship with movement, dance and ritual, this article sheds light on the centrality of embodied memory in Walcott’s work for the stage and reflects on the relationship between memory and materiality in his epistemology of performance. Walcott’s ideas shaped his approach to dramaturgy in the late 1950s and position his work in relation to global debates around materialism (Brecht) and ritualism (Grotowski) in the theatre. A discussion of two plays, Dream on Monkey Mountain and Pantomime, examines the use of gestural language in specific performances of each. Such an approach demonstrates that the importance of embodied memory, as reflected in the staging of these plays, relates to certain Afro-Caribbean belief systems, which have exerted much influence on Walcott’s work. The article also emphasizes how Walcott’s theatre functions as a decolonial praxis that fosters the emergence of empowered subjectivities and Africanist modes of humanness that challenge the cultural order of colonialism. Jason Allen-Paisant is a lecturer in Caribbean Poetics and Decolonial Thought at the University of Leeds, and Director of the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. He is currently at work on the monograph Staging Black Futures in the Twenty-First Century.
Very little has been written on Anglophone Caribbean theatre (the few publications include work by Judy Stone, Errol Hill, Richardson Wright, Rex Nettleford, and Wycliffe and Hazel Bennett). As for theatre from the French-speaking Caribbean, it also remains an understudied field. A few book-length studies (Bérard, Sahakian, Artheron) on theatre from the French Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe. and French Guyana) have emerged in recent years; however, the extraordinary and rich theatre tradition of Haiti has been almost entirely neglected by scholars and critics of Caribbean theatre. Yet drama, in the form of dance theatre, music theatre, various forms of ritual theatre, political theatre, and national pantomimes, has not only been at the heart of the Caribbean literary and cultural sensibility. The genre in its various forms has played a major role in nationalist movements across the Caribbean, and in attempts at cultural decolonization viewed as indispensable to processes of political and social decolonization. This paper focuses on ritual theatre during the decades of the 1930s to the 1970s in the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, an era in playwriting and staging marked by returns to the Haitian Revolution; major investments in history; ancestral recuperation; politics and traditional culture; and cultural decolonization through the project of rewriting colonial narratives. I argue that ritual theatrical forms, enlisting Afro-derived Caribbean ontologies, reflected the importance of the sacred in affecting the material conditions of existence in the colonized post-slavery societies of the Caribbean.
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