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The Tableau Vivant – Across Media, History, and Culture

Stijn Bussels will attend the two-day conference on The Tableau Vivant – Across Media, History, and Culture at the Colombia University of New York. He will deliver a paper on ‘‘Restored Behaviour’ and the Performance of the City Maiden in Joyous Entries into Antwerp’.

During the past two decades, one of the main issues for debate in the field of performance studies has been the question of whether or not ephemerality is the fundamental ontology of performance. Although the problem of the transitory nature of the performative or theatrical event has a long genealogy, He proposes that the current debate is fruitful with regards to social rituals and cultural performances in the early modern period. In this paper, he will therefore bring Richard Schechner’s concept of performance as ‘restored behaviour’ to the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century spectacle — and, more particularly, to the study of the tableaux vivants used during joyous entries in the Low Countries. The concept of restored behaviour gives us an opportunity to think of joyous entries as performative events that exceed their merely ephemeral characteristics, but that are always inscribed within a larger complex of tradition and change, repetition and uniqueness, persistence and renewal.

He will show that early modern joyous entries and their tableaux vivants should be viewed within a complex matrix of tradition and change by focusing on the performance of the Maid of Antwerp, Antverpia. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century entries into Antwerp, the figure of Antverpia was time and again staged in the very first tableau vivant seen by the new ruler or governor as his procession came into the city. Near the entry gate she stood, either frozen in one specific gesture or making only minimal movements. Kneeling or bowing, the figure of Antverpia allegorically emphasized the city’s submission to the new ruler or governor. However, deviations from previous performances of Antverpia — such as the details of her costume or the personifications accompanying her — made it possible to press, subtly but publicly, conditions on the ruler or governor in exchange for civic obedience. Thus the very beginning of this political ritual made explicit its essential purpose: Antverpia performed a carefully constructed discourse, one which both honoured the new ruler or governor and presented him with a list of civic wishes.

The conference is an initiative from Film and Media Studies, Columbia University’s School of the Arts and will be held from 30 November until 2 December in New York.

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