--- Diva articles ---


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Diva Ex Machina:

An Introduction to the Re-Inventing the Diva Festival at the Western Front by Lori Weidenhammer


Opera singers, principal dancers, movie goddesses, athletic super-stars, super models, and... performance artists? You may well wonder why the Western Front is holding a festival celebrating the role of the Diva1 in performance art In Vancouver at least, at the end of the century, the term Diva is everywhere; there is a band called Damn the Diva, New Music West held an evening of young female musicians called Divas in the Round, a local lesbian cabaret billed itself as Divalesque and then there's the drag cabaret, Divas Inc. The local phone book lists the restaurant Diva at the Met, Diva Clothing and Crafts Ltd., Diva Fitness Inc., and a new salon downtown, Diva's Den. Cable stations are offering diva programs, biographies of divas and surveys of divas in history. The internet search for diva returns a plethora of listings including such intriguing offerings as Diva After Dark fetish wear and DIVA: Digital Interactive Virtual Acoustics.

The word diva, meaning 'goddess' in Latin and Œdivineš in Italian, was orginally an operatic term describing the most accomplished principal singers, or prima donnas. In its popular use the meaning of the word is perhaps more elusive. Attempts at defining it usually begin with terms like presence, aura, and style, and culminate in anecdotes about the eccentricities of particular divas in history. But why performance art and the Diva? Isn't a performance artist a kind of anti-diva, someone who deliberately defies or subverts an audience's expectations? While a diva is a virtuoso, with highly developed performative skills, performance artists are sometimes, if somewhat glibly, referred to as "visual artists who can't act".

Just in time for the beginning of the new millennium, the word diva is being re-defined in a way that takes it beyond its connection to the opera. Feminist and queer artists are using the term, with its connections to drag and camp, as a form of empowerment. An example of this new feminist definition of Diva appears on the web-site of the Adventure Divas: "Divas are pro-active women who pursue uncensored potential. A diva challenges tradition, herself, a political power, a mountain....Whatever her passion, she creates her destiny and does so with a healthy dose of humor and a firm commitment to fun."2

In his book A Short History of Opera,3 Donald Grout states that opera represents three aspects of society: power, wealth, and taste. Performance art, on the other hand seeks to question its societal context using such tools as irony, satire, iconoclastic ritual, and transgressive acts. During the Re-Inventing the Diva Festival, different performers will be reconstructing the conventions of performance which have traditionally been defined by theatre and opera.

Carol Sawyer and Sheila James, two artists in this year's Re-inventing the Diva festival, make direct references to opera in their work. Sawyer creates characters who are empowered by their singing voices and wield this power with insightful humor that both deconstructs and celebrates the traditional singer's role. South Asian diva Sheila James plans to re-interpret the famous flower garden duet in the in the opera Lakme by Delibes. Lakme was set in India during British, French and Portuguese colonization, and the duet is sung by the Brahmin princess and her servant. James and Yasmin will sing the roles as business class passenger and stewardess on a British Airways flight underlining the duet's "colonized" history and queer innuendo.

In the gay and lesbian community the term Diva is used to refer to someone who is not afraid to enact their sexuality with verve and pizzazz. Pamela Robertson, in her book Guilty Pleasures4, describes how feminist women and gay men use camp to celebrate and decelebrate aspects of culturally defined femininity and masculinity. For the diva festival, Paul Lang has chosen a program of videos which show how the use of drag is redefining the word diva, bringing the issues at the end of the twentieth century into its connotative realm: identity politics, AIDS, gender politics, pleasure politics, and issues of tolerance and diversity.

As the lesbian magazine Diva offers us an alternative to Cosmo, so does Lori Blondeau's magazine COSMOSQUAW. Blondeau and her collaborator Bradlee Larocque have created a magazine that how asks us: how cosmopolitan is Cosmo? They do this by satirizing its rhetoric and reminding us of the women left out of the magazine. These artists take pleasure in subverting mainstream perceptions of femininity, beauty, and sexual etiquette.

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