Reading and Decoding Performance

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2PS1064

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon

Course Coordinator and Team: Benil Biswas

Email of course coordinator: benil[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: The students should be aware of debates, modes of analysis, and practices in Performance Studies. They would have received some of this through courses studied in the first two semesters. MA Students from any discipline can credit this course as an Elective, provided they demonstrate a keen interest in the course content.

Course Objectives/Description:

Reading/Decoding Performance is an important component of the Performance Studies Programme. Its primary focus is to critically and creatively investigate performances and enable students to represent these investigations in writing. The course will involve two significant activities: (i.) watching performances, and (ii.) reading analogous critical texts which will provide lenses and methods through which these performances can be read/decoded.

The course will work with the assumption that methodologies to study performance might be as numerous as the kinds of performances themselves. Given this, the readings prescribed for the course will be selective rather than comprehensive. The readings will engage with a wide variety of disciplinary methods with an emphasis on careful study. Student participation in class will take four key forms: Presence, Reading, Discussion, Writing. Through class discussions, one presentation, two response papers, a curated performance diary, and a term paper, students will be encouraged to hone their skills in performance analysis which brings together attentive scrutiny of the materiality of performance with sophisticated critique.

Course Outcomes:

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Develop research agendas which will further progress into becoming MA Dissertation projects.
  • Equipped with a range of analytic tools with which to evaluate performances of various kinds.
  • Reflect on and respond critically to the various formulations on and around Analysing Performance.
  • Critically interrogate the representation and documentation of performance.
  • Delve into the question of Archiving Contemporary Performances, with a strong of historiography.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Week 1

Mapping the terrain: Introduction to Reading and Decoding Performance

The week will be an introduction to the course through watching and discussing basic elements of Performance analysis- that is Reading and Decoding. Student will be familiarised with the four key forms: Presence, Reading, Discussion, Writing. It will be attained through class discussions, one presentation, two response papers, a curated performance diary, and a term paper

Week 2 & 3

These two weeks will take us further into the concept of Archive and Repertoire, while we develop our skills of describing a performance.

Key Readings:

  • Pearson, Mike. Michael Shanks - Theatre_Archaeology (Routledge, 2001)
  • Derrida, Jacques and Freud, Sigmund. Archive fever _ a Freudian impression (University of Chicago Press,1998)
  • Suggested Readings:
  • Auslander, Philip. Theory for Performance Studies_ A Student's Guide (Routledge, 2007)


Week # 4: Decoding Performance and Semiology

This week we will explore the possibility of ‘semiology of performance’, as essentially analysing a performance would mean to be in a position to understand the signs and symbols encoded with the body of the performance and what it implies.

Key Readings:

  • John Phillips commentary on Paul de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric”
  • Can be accessed online at
  • Carlson, Marvin. Semiotics and Its Heritage in Critical Theory and Performance. Reinelt, Janelle G. and Joseph R. Roach. (eds.) Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992. Pp. 13-25.
  • Patrice Pavis, “The State of Current Research,” in his Analyzing Performance: Theater, Dance, and Film (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 7-30.
  • Counsell, Colin and Laurie Wolf (eds.) Introduction. Performance Analysis: An introductory Coursebook. London & New York: Routledge, 2001
  • Fischer-Lichte, Erika. Theater as a Cultural System, The Theatrical Code, The Theatrical Communication, Theatricality in The Semiotics of Theater. Jeremy Gaines and Doris L Jones( tr.) Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992.


Further Readings:

  • Pavis, Patrice. Analying Performance: Theater, Dance, And Film. Ann Arbor: Univeristy of Michigan Press, 1996.
  • Elam, Keir. The Semiotics Of Theatre And Drama. London & New York: Routledge, 1987.
  • Interesting website:


Week # 5 : Documentation, Reportage and Reconstruction in Performance

We also tend to focus on the debate between reportage and reconstruction of performance. We also tend to focus on the debate between reportage and reconstruction of performance in analysis.
Activity: We will watch a short performance once in the classroom and students will be advised to take down notes. One will prepare an essay based on that viewing and present it to the class.

Key readings:-

  • Rebecca Schneider, “Reenactment and Relative Pain,” and “Finding Faux Fathers,” in Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2011).
  • Phelan, Peggy. 1993. The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction. in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, pp. 146-66.
  • Taylor, Diana. 2003. Acts of transfer. The archive and the repertoire: performing cultural memory in the Americas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 1-52.


Further Readings:

  • Chatterjea, Ananya. Dance Research in India a Brief Report. Dance Research Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring, 1996. (Can be accessed at 1102231551067)
  • Diana Taylor, “Trauma as Durational Performance,” in O Percevejo Online


Week # 6: Actor/Performer and Mimesis

As the actor/performer is at the centre of mise- en-scene, we will analyse the actor and acting per say to make meaning in a performance. Further exploring possibilities to read an actor body in a dance, mime, theatre, dance theatre.

Key readings:-

  • Larlham, Daniel. Introduction in The Meaning in Mimesis: Philosophy, Aesthetics,
  • Acting Theory. (Unpublished PhD thesis) New York: Columbia University, 2012. Lepecki, Andre. The Body as Archive: Will to Re-Enact and the Afterlives of Dances in Dance Research Journal, 42/2 Winter, 2010.
  • Zarrilli, Phillip B. Toward a Phenomenological Model of the Actor's Embodied Modes of Experience. Theatre Journal, Vol. 56, No. 4, Theorizing the Performer (Dec., 2004), pp. 653-666


Further Readings:

  • Taussig, Michael. Mimesis And Alterity: A Particular History of The Senses. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Auslander, Philip. From Acting to Performance: Essays in Modernism and Postmodernism. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Johnson, Mark. The Body in Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • V. R. Prabodhachandran Nayar, M. P. Sankaran Namboodiri, Phillip B. Zarrilli, Kottayam Tampuran. Kalyāṇasaugandhikam (The Flower of Good Fortune): A Kathakaḷi Drama by Kottayam Tampuran
  • (Available at
  • Screening and analysis of Marat/Sade (body in theatre and in film), Kanhailal’s Pebet (1975)


Week # 7: Mise-en-Scene in Performance

We would explore various reading and watch performance to understand the idea of the mise-en-scene and how it works, led by Deepan Sivaraman. We will critically look at a performance piece delving into the meaning of mise-en-scene.

Key readings:-

  • Ranciere, Jacques. Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetics Community in The Emancipated
  • Spectator. London:Verso, 2011. pp. 51-82
  • Maaike Bleeker, “Thinking Through Theatre,” in Deleuze and Performance.
  • Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. pp.147-160.
  • Aronson, Arnold. Looking into the Abyss in Looking Into the Abyss: Essays on Scenography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Pp. 97- Further Readings:


Week # 8: Space, Time and Action

We would explore how in a performance, we see that the time, space and action interacts with each other in performance. The exploration would further be to understand how it translates on stage (Materiality) to the extent of the fiction and imagined (experiential). One would explore the concept of ‘Chonotopes’ by Bakhtin.

Key readings:-

  • Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. London: Peguin Books, 1968.
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas, 2008.
  • Oddey, Alison, and Christine White. The Potentials of Spaces: The Theory and Practice of Scenography & Performance. Bristol: Intellect Books, 2006.
  • (Performance pieces to be included – Ibrahim Alkazi’s Andha Yug, Anuradha Kapur’s Jekyll and Hyde.)


Week # 9: Dynamics of Smell, Touch and Taste.

We will explore the possibility of how the above mentioned ingredients of performance in analysis adds on or appeals to our senses of smell, touch and taste.

Key readings:-

  • Benedetto, Stephen Di. The Provocation of the Senses in Contemporary Theatre London & New York: Routledge, 2010
  • Case study- Brook’s Mahabharata, Anuradha Kapur’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Deepan Sivaraman’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  • Further Readings:
  • Etchells, Tim. Certain Fragments :Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment, London & New York: Routledge, 1999.
  • (Evaluation: performance review engaging with the spacio-temporality of the piece)


Week # 10: Approaches I: Psychoanalytical and Sociological

Though the major ingredients are already explored but to contextualize all these one has to locate oneself within the circumstance of the psychological, sociological, anthropological and intercultural approaches. These are distinct but complementary methods, which enables us to bridge the gap between the visible exploration of the craft and the cerebral exploration of the perspective.

We will revisit the already explored components of performance with the cited examples from these approaches.

Key readings:-

  • Diamond, Elin. The Violence of “We”: Politicizing Identification and
  • Phelan, Peggy. Immobile Legs, Stalled Words: Psychoanalysis and Moving Deaths in Reinelt, Janelle G. and Joseph R. Roach. (eds.) Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.


Week # 11: Approaches II: Anthropological and Intercultural

Key readings:-

  • Clifford, James, and George Marcus, eds. “On Ethnographic Allegory” , “Post- Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley & Los Angles: University of California Press, 1986. pp. 98-140
  • Conquergood, Dwight. “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics,” in Cultural Monographs.
  • Conquergood, Dwight. 2002. “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research.” TDR: The Drama Review 46(2): 145-156.
  • Further Readings:
  • Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essay. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
  • Pavis, Patrice. ed. The Intercultural Performance Reader. New York: Routledge. 1996.


Week # 12: Performance, Practice, Knowledge and Academia

  • Edward W. Said, “Professionals and Amateurs” and “Speaking Truth to Power,” in Representations of the Intellectual
  • Collini, Stefan. (2012) “The Character Of The Humanities” in What Are Universities For?
  • Bill Readings, “The Posthistorical University,” in The University in Ruins
  • Further Readings:
  • Shannon Jackson, “Practice and performance: modernist paradoxes and literalist legacies,” in Professing Performance.


Week # 13: Towards the praxis of Reading/Decoding Performance.

We will explore the arena of contemporary performance practice in India, and students will be encouraged to analyze performance and along with that, the students will prepare the final submission and draft of MA Dissertation Proposal. Requirements for the final submission:

1. It should be analysis of a performance which has not been written upon.
2. The performance should have a proper documentation, which has to be attached with the submission.

Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation. New York: Dell, 1967.
Bathes, Roland. Image, Music, Text, (trans. Stephen Heath). London: Fontana, 1977. writing.html


Assessment Details with weights:

This course requires a substantial amount of reading, writing, viewing performance (video and live). Each week we will read, respond to theoretical approaches and address some specific issues about documenting and analysing performance.

As a 4 credit course, it will run for 2 hours per day for 2 days a week. Every fortnight, one of the 2 hours session may be conducted as a seminar/workshop, where students are required to make presentations/have performance workshop.[1] The activities for each week will include four important steps:

1. Lecture and assigned readings
2. Weekly presentations
3. Class discussion and critique of assigned readings and presentations.
4. Discussion and analysis of video screenings and performances watched/experienced.

The assessment involves students submitting two home assignments (one could be a book review or performance analysis), Presentation, One end-semester paper. These require no outside reading (other than the assigned readings and discussions in the class i.e. Each week we will read and respond to theoretical approaches and address some specific issues about studying key figures and practices in

  • Module 1 | Archives & Concept PS | Paper will count for 10 percent. (750 to 1500 words)
  • Module 2 | Presentation Write up with Book Review | 10 Points.
  • Individual Oral Presentations | 10 Points
  • Performance Diary (SCRAPBOOK) | 10 percent
  • End- Term Paper/Research Proposal | 30 percent

Reading List:

See Above.

[1] If you want to audit the course, you still have to complete the presentation and assignments.