Performing Archives of Passing, Moving Bodies across Language

  • Heather Hermant


This experimental travelogue through process narrates research-creation work about an eighteenth century "multicrosser," Esther Brandeau / Jacques La Fargue, purportedly Jewish female passing as Christian male and the first (known) Jewish arrival to what is now called Canada. Outed on both counts and deported, this historical figure moved across many axes of differentiation simultaneously. This movement, these multiple simultaneous passings, and the fractured evidence that erupts this life into knowability, compel particular ways of working in order to translate from French colonial interrogation record into the colonial present. This paper describes the complexity of translating the first black box theatre work to contend with this story, ribcage: this wide passage by Heather Hermant, to French as thorax : une cage en éclats (trans. Nadine Desrochers). The author situates this practice-as-research within debates about body as archive and what constitutes knowledge; proposes performance-as-research as a realm in which a "new intersectionality" might best be elaborated; and body as translator/ion across languages and genres, temporalities and spatialities.


ANF (Archives nationales de France). "Procès-verbal de l'interrogatoire d'Esther Brandeau jeune juive qui "s'est embarquée ..." Série C11A, Fonds des Colonies, Correspondence générale, Canada, 15 September 1738: 66-99. Microform. Library and Archives Canada. Fiches #129-130.

Alexander, M. Jacqui. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Print. DOI:

Barrett, Estelle and Barbara Bolt, eds. Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. London: IBTauris, 2007. Print.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and the Structure of the Literary Field. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Print.

Burshatin, Israel. “Written On the Body: Slave or Hermaphrodite in Sixteenth Century Spain.” Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Eds. Josiah Blackmore and George S. Hutcheson. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 395-420. Print.

Cavanagh, Robin. “Welcome: The Next 500 Years...” York University. Eco Art & Media Festival, York University, Toronto. 7 March 2012. Workshop.

Chapman, Owen, and Kim Sawchuk. “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and ‘Family Resemblances’” Canadian Journal of Communication 37.1 (2012): 5–26. Print. DOI:

Cole, Ardra L. and Gary Knowles, eds. Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Methodologies, Examples, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2008. Print.

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print. DOI:

Dekker, Rudolf and Lotte C. Van de Pol. The Tradition of Female Transvestitism in Early Modern Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. Print. DOI:

Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. Print. DOI:

Fleishman, Mark. "The Difference of Performance as Research." Theatre Research International 37.1 (2012): 28-37. Print. DOI:

Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003. Print.

Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print. DOI:

Ford-Smith, Honor. "Give thanks." Message to the author. 8 Mar. 2013. Email.

Gilman, Sander. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. Print.

Goldberg, Theo David. The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism. Hoboken: Wiley- Blackwell, 2009. ebrary PDF file.

Hermant, Heather. "Performing (Readings of) Moving Across as Decolonial Praxis." Everyday Feminist Research Praxis: Doing Gender in The Netherlands. Eds. Koen Leurs and Domitilla Olivieri. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Forthcoming. Print.

Hermant, Heather. "Becoming Archive—ribcage: this wide passage." Canadian Theatre Review 153.1 (2013): 39-43. Print. DOI:

Hermant, Heather. "Becoming Archive: Performance as Archival Research and the Story of an 18th Century Multicrosser." Performance Practice as Research Working Group, 8th Encuentro of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. University of São Paulo, São Paulo. 17 January 2013. Working group presentation.

Hermant, Heather. ribcage: this wide passage. Trans. as thorax : une cage en éclats by Nadine Desrochers. Unpublished script-score. Print. Personal collection of Heather Hermant.

Kershaw, Baz and Angela Piccini. "Practice as Research in Performance: from Epistemology to Evaluation." Journal of Media Practice 4.2 (2003): 113-123. Print. DOI:

Klein, Julie Thompson. Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities and Interdisciplinarities. Charlottesville: UP Virginia, 1996. Print.

Lasry, Pierre. Une juive en Nouvelle-France. 2001. Montréal: Midbar Editions, 2004. Print.

Lasry, Pierre. Esther: A Jewish Odyssey. Montréal: Midbar Editions, 2004. Print.

Lugones, Maria. "Toward a Decolonial Feminism." Hypatia 25.4 (2010): 742-759. Print. DOI:

Mariscal, George. "The Role of Spain in Contemporary Race Theory." Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies. 2 (1998): 7-22. Print. DOI:

McKay, Sharon E. Esther. Toronto: Penguin, 2004. Print.

Oberlander, Wendy. Translating Esther. Curated by Carolyn Bell Farrell. The Koffler Gallery, Toronto. 20 March – 4 May 2003. Installation.

Roberts, Diane. "The Lost Body: Recovering Memory—A Personal Legacy." ¡Viva! Community Arts and Popular Education in the Americas. Ed. Deborah Barndt. SUNY Press, Albany; Between the Lines: Toronto, 2011. 42-54. Print.

Schneider, Rebecca. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London: Routledge, 2011. PDF file. DOI:

Shoemaker, Deanna B. "Autoethnographic Journeys: Performing Possibilities/Utopias/Futures.” Handbook of Autoethnography. Eds. Stacy Holman-Jones, Tony E. Adams and Carolyn Ellis. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2013. 517-537. Bluefire Reader.

Steinberg, Sylvie. La confusion des sexes: Le Travestissement de la renaissance à la revolution. Paris: Fayard, 2001. Print.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. Print.

Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. Print. DOI:

The Jew in Canada. Toronto: Jewish Publications Limited, 1926. Print.

Velasco, Sherry. The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, & Catalina de Erauso. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. Print.

Wahrman, Dror. The Making of the Modern Self. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2004. Print.