Beyond Nation? A Thrice-Told Tale from Bulgaria’s Postsocialist Soundstage


January 29, 2010 - 3:00pm

Donna BuchananDonna Buchanan, Associate Professor of Musicology at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will give a free lecture titled

"Beyond Nation? A Thrice-Told Tale from Bulgaria’s Postsocialist Soundstage."

In A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmoderism, and Ethnographic Responsibility (1992), anthropologist Margery Wolf masterfully relates a single incident from her fieldwork in three complementary literary guises—as fieldnotes, a short story, and a scholarly ethnography—to illustrate how situated presentation engages different audiences, illuminates different issues, and conveys different meanings. Similarly, while conducting “follow up” fieldwork with Bulgaria’s Kutev Ensemble during 2007–08, I encountered three divergent musical and dramatic productions of Bulgarian expressive culture whose narratives, like Wolf’s tales, collectively pose a postmodernist inquiry into the politics of representation. In this paper I juxtapose these staged commentaries to tease out the perspectival dialogues on nation currently at play within Bulgarian artistic communities. Thus, while presentations by the recently established company “Bŭlgare” traffic in timeworn but disturbingly powerful primordialist appeals to ethnonationalist sentiment, those of rhythmic gymnast Neshka Robeva, such as her “Bezhantsii (Refugees), sidestep and extend the concept of nation by situating the Black Sea bluster of local choreography and movement in a diaspora of international venues and transnational genres. Most strikingly, through strategically composed and choreographed works that call upon diverse regional and international folkloric and popular culture styles, including those of minority populations, the Kutev Ensemble is deliberately performing against gender and ethnonationalist stereotypes in favor of productions cosmopolitan in form and postnationalist in content. In so doing, they are redefining the very essence of “national” folklore in direct defiance of a lingering socialist-era cultural policy legacy, while simultaneously parrying market tensions, touristic expectations, and government corruption.

A specialist in the musical styles of Bulgaria, the Balkans, and the NIS (especially Russia and the Republic of Georgia), Donna Buchanan’s scholarly interests include music as symbolic communication, music in aesthetic systems, music and power relations, music and cosmology, and music and social identity. Her additional teaching areas include ethnomusicological methodologies, ethnography, Mediterranean traditional and art musics, the musical cultures of indigenous peoples, and Russian and East European classical music, particularly Bartók, Musorgsky, and Shostakovich. Her articles have appeared in major journals of ethnomusicology, musicology, and East European studies. A faculty affiliate of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC) since 1998 and its Director from 2005–08, Professor Buchanan also established “Balkanalia,” the University of Illinois Balkan Music Ensemble, which performs regularly under the auspices of both REEEC and the School of Music. Her first book, an ethnomusicological monograph entitled Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition (University of Chicago Press, 2006, with accompanying CD-Rom), is the result of more than ten years of intensive ethnographic research in Bulgaria, funded by IREX, Fulbright, ACLS-SSRC, Wenner-Gren, and NEH grants. A second, edited volume, Balkan Popular Culture and the Ottoman Ecumene: Music, Image, and Regional Political Discourse (Scarecrow Press, with accompanying VCD), was published in 2007. In 2007 Professor Buchanan began new research concerning Bulgarian music, spirituality, gender, and postsocialism; and music, memory, and the politics of the Armenian genocide among Bulgarian Armenians.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Music, Center for Russian and East European Studies, European Union Center for Excellence / European Studies Center