Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage



The term “repertoire” was used by scholar Diana Taylor on her book “The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas”  to redefine the importance of performative practices in the transmission of knowledge. The definition of the repertoire as an embodied practice/knowledge (i.e., spoken language, dance, sports, rituals, reenactments ) borns in contraposition to the outlining of the archive' as the preservation of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., texts, documents, buildings, bones).

The undestandment of Performative acts as repertoires underlines their capacity to be transmitted and inherited, in contrast to a definition of performance related to an act inherently ephemeral and evanescent. The repertoire redefines Peggy Phelan,´s definition of performance as something that “cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of  epresentations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance.” In fact, for Phelan, when performance attempts to enter the economy of reproducion, it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology.

The definition of repertoire is a foundational key in performance studies, as it proposes an expanded system of learning, storing, and transmitting knowledge that connects with practices of historical writing and heritage preservation.

In this instance, the repertoire can be related with UNESCO´s definition of Intangible heritage as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”  In contrast to the definition by UNESCO, the repertoire does include everyday actions, 
daily life and mundane social practices. In doing so, for Taylor the repertoire does not refer to an ontological definition of what a performance is, but to an epistemological definition of what the performative can allow us to do and what can this mean.

The idea of the repertoire conciliates performative acts with the construction of historical records and the production of histories. As defined my Manuel Segade and Julia Morandeira, “(t)he body is the agent of history, the historiographic instrument par excellence. History is therefore somatic, a choreographic repertoire of gestures read in a given order. The museum is the place where history and its story are socially negotiated from the remains of its material cultures: it shelters objects and discourses and in it their conditions of production are revealed, the gestural repertoire that involves using them, relating to them, being history.”

The following text is an extract from the original text by Diana Taylor “The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the America”.

“The repertoire, on the other hand, enacts embodied memory-performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing-in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, non-reproducible knowledge. Repertoire, etymologically "a treasury, an inventory" also allows for individual agency, referring also to "the finder, discoverer," and meaning "to find out." The repertoire requires presence-people participate in the production and reproduction of knowledge by 'being there,' being a part of the transmission. As opposed to the supposedly stable objects in the archive, the actions that are the repertoire do not remain the same. The repertoire both keeps and transforms choreographies of meaning. Sports enthusiasts might claim that soccer has remained unchanged for the past hundred years, even though players and fans from different countries have appropriated the event in diverse ways. Dances change over time, even though generations of dancers (or even individual dancers) swear they're always the same. But even though the embodiment changes, the meaning might very well remain the same.

The repertoire too, then, allows scholars to trace traditions and influences. Many kinds of performances have traveled throughout the Americas, leaving their mark as they move. Scholar Richard Flores, for example, maps out the way pastorelas or shepherds' plays moved from Spain, to central Mexico, to Mexico's Northwest and then what is now the Southwest of the U.S. The different versions permit him to distinguish among various routes. Max Harris has traced the practice of a specific mock battle, moros y cristianos, from pre-conquest Spain to 16th century Mexico, and into the present. The repertoire allows for alternative perspective on historical processes of transnational contact, and invites a re-mapping of the Americas, this time by following traditions of embodied practice.

Certainly it is true that individual instances of performances disappear from the repertoire. This happens to a lesser degree in the archive. The question of disappearance in relation to the archive and the repertoire is one of kind as well as degree. The 'live' performance can never be captured or transmitted through the archive. A video of a performance is not a performance, though it often comes to replace the performance as a thing in itself (the video is part of the archive; what it represents is part of the repertoire). Embodied memory, because it is "live," exceeds the archive's ability to capture it. But that does not mean that performance-as ritualized, formalized, or reiterative behavior-disappears. Performances also replicate themselves through their own structures and codes. This means that the repertoire, like the archive, is mediated. The process of selection, memorization or internalization, and transmission takes place within (and in turn help constitute) specific systems of re-presentation. Multiple forms of embodied acts are always present, though in a constant state of again-ness. They reconstitute themselves-transmitting communal memories, histories, and values from one group/generation to the next. Embodied and performed acts generate, record, and transmit knowledge.

The archive and the repertoire have always been important sources of information, both exceeding the limitations of the other, in literate and semi-literate societies. Moreover, they usually work in tandem. Innumerable practices in the most literate societies require both an archival and embodied dimension-weddings need both the performative utterance of "I do" and the signed contract.”

Connerton, P. (1989) How Societies Remember, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, D. (2003) The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the America, Durham, North  Carolina and London, Duke University Press.

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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