Abstracts of AAP 2015 Conference Presentations
Panel I: Asian Theatre Outside of Asia
“Tables Turned: Networks Saved Kue Hing Theatre Company in 1923”
— Rui Zhang, University of British Columbia
Chinese access to Canada was partly obstructed by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and almost fully denied by the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923. Among all Chinese emigrants to Canada, the mostly affected group was the Chinese migrant labors because they were no longer needed after completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Against such an unfavorable environment, Chinese diaspora’s network guaranteed the practice of Cantonese opera in Vancouver offered a counterstory for the existing narrative that either it was impossible for Chinese to enter Canada or Chinese have to forge documents with the help from lawyers to show that they were relatives of certain Canadian citizens. Using Kue Hing Theatre Company as an example, this paper will look into the Cantonese opera network linking Vancouver, Hong Kong, and China to analyze the power dynamics between Chinese theatre company and diplomats and US/Canadian diplomats in the process of gaining access for Chinese performers to cross borders.
“Behind the Butoh: Ohno-inspired pedagogy in Vancouver, BC”
— Eury Colin Chang, University of British Columbia
This article argues that any thorough analysis of Butoh’s unique intercultural performance aesthetic cannot be separated from the experimentation that occurs in the training studio, where artists and teachers cultivate a rich image life that relies heavily upon character development, kinaesthetic impulses, and response to a variety of internal and external stimuli. By documenting the language and imagery used in Jay Hirabayashi’s Butoh Zen Jazz classes over the course of six months, I seek to trace the Ohno-inspired pedagogy of Butoh as it has unfolded in Vancouver, British Columbia. Primary source material (archival programs, interviews, video footage) will augment a performance analysis of recent Kokoro Dance repertoire. The intention of the article is to foster a deeper understanding of how particular Butoh training results in an intercultural performance aesthetic that reveals the nuances of self in relation to natural and social phenomenon.
“Theatre of Nations: Resituating East Asian Traditional Theatre within World Theatre”
— Hyo Jeong Hong, University of Minnesota
This paper attempts to situate “East Asian traditional theatre” as a legitimate object of study in world theatre historiography, but also to historicize nationally-situated theatrical events of the past beyond the broad categorization of “Asian theatre”. As Steve Tillis points out, a dominant history of world theatre homogenizes each Asian nation under the sub-category of “Asian theatre”. I argue that this modern way of history writing might encourage us to exoticize Asian theatre by reducing nations to particular aesthetic characteristics, and/or to universalize Asian theatre through parallel, surface level comparisons among world theatres.
In order to establish an alternative research field, which comprises distinct but ultimately compatible characteristics and understandings of theatre culture, I strategically carve out an “East Asian” theatre region from the Asian continent. I periodize East Asian theatre from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth century as ‘traditional’ theatre. It includes Nanxi, Kunqu and Jingju in China, Pansori and Masked performance in Korea, and Noh, Kabuki, Kyogen, and Bunraku in Japan.
I propose that studying East Asian traditional theatre is meaningful for two major reasons: firstly, scholarship could closely look at the interconnectedness of cultures and the dynamics of cultural transformation through analyzing shared themes of plays and similar theatrical forms strongly tied to a storytelling tradition. Secondly, researching East Asian traditional theatre enables us to reflect upon similar historical trajectories to qualify those theatrical practices as ‘traditional’ theatre and national theatre as an “intangible cultural heritage” both inside and outside of the East Asian region.
Roundtable I: Asian Theatre in Public Schools and in the Community – Strategies and Challenges
Yoshiko Fukushima will present the current conditions of Japanese high school theatre. In Japan, high school theatre has had a long history as a part of the extracurricular clubs at high school. Recently, the former theatre practitioners of the little theatre boom in the 1980s are sponsoring many events in Tokyo to promote high school theatre, such as High School Summit held every year at Hirata Oriza’s Agora Theatre and High School Theatre Criticism Grandprix. The report will look at the theatre practitioner’s efforts to increase the status of Japanese theatre from entertainment to a tool to enhance imagination and thinking power.
David Jortner will present on kamishibai for grade school audiences. Although a minor performance form in Japan’s long theatrical history, kamishibai is becoming revived in communities across the U.S. and Europe as a methodology for the introduction of “Japan” (and sometimes “Asia”) for grade school and pre-school audiences. Drawing on his own experiences as an amateur kamishibaiya in the Pittsburgh area, he will look at the advantages and problems with using this form as a pedagogical tool for these audiences.
Kirstin Pauka will present on school outreach programs with Indonesian theatre forms Randai and Wayang Listrik for local Hawaii K-12 school audiences. We are developing content to link to sections of the new K-12 Common Core curriculum, create resource packages for teachers, and work closely with our TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) program to address the needs of local teachers and students by providing high quality and up-to-date content on Asian cultures and performing arts.
Panel II: Contemporary Conflicts in Traditional Asian Puppetry
This panel looks at how new forces are reshaping traditional forms of puppetry in India, Thailand, and Malaysia. Artists are responding to new religious, economic, and cultural contexts in their work.
“Reframing Traditional String Puppetry for Bangalore’s Urban Audiences”
— Claudia Orenstein, Hunter College and the Graduate Center at CUNY
This paper looks at the various strategies employed at the Dhaatu International Puppetry Festival and Conference (Bangalore, January 2015) to recast traditional Indian string puppetry as a classical art and to present performances that have grown up in village contexts to Bangalore’s growing urban, middle class audience.
“Puppetry in Political Islam”
— William Condee, Ohio University
Wayang Kulit Siam (a form of shadow puppetry) in the Malaysian state of Kelantan was banned twenty-five years ago by the Islamic Party based on religious objections to perceived Hindu and animist aspects. This paper shows how wayang became one small part—a puppet—in a broader power struggle among political parties entailing “piety trumping” in Islamization.
“Sema Thai Marionette Theatre: Manipulating Tradition in Thailand”
— Jennifer Goodlander, Indiana University
Founded by Nimit Pipithkul, Sema Thai draws from the European tradition of marionettes to create a distinctly Thai art form. Members of the company describe their work as “tradition” and “Thai culture” even as they borrow characters from Pinocchio and use projections and smoke machines. This paper examines how the artists manipulate Thai identity and culture through puppet performance to create a new Thai tradition through their outreach and work in the community.
Panel III: Techniques and Technologies: Constructing Authority and Gender in the 1950s PRC Performance
Gazing out over Tiananmen Square at the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao famously envisioned factory smokestacks crowding the skyline. Premiere Zhou Enlai, in contrast, imagined a grand national theater abutting the Square. The juxtaposition of perspectives at this epic moment might serve as a metaphor for the performing arts during the period of socialist construction in the PRC: theater, dance, and popular entertainments served as central cultural components of a new nation, but also consistently produced tensions with more rigid and programmatic attempts to mold the bodies and lives of that nation’s citizens. Focusing on the first decade of the PRC, this panel aims to unpack the way in which various techniques and technologies of performance—ranging from the embodied conventions of dance and magic shows to the architectures and mechanics of staging—were mobilized in the construction of cultural authority, formal autonomy, and gendered agency. Individual presentations will offer interdisciplinary approaches to these topics and draw on case studies from urban and rural settings alike. Together, the four papers demonstrate the ways in which, even as the stage technically became a site of the state, performers and performances engaged in more nuanced explorations of power, gender, and spatial politics that challenged the socialist industrialization of the arts.
“The Politics of Professional Performance: Shanxi Drama Troupes in the 1950s”
— Brian DeMare, Tulane University
This paper explores the debates over formalism and special effects in professional performance in rural Shanxi. Shanxi’s professional dramatists were keen to use “scientific lighting” and other special effects, making spectacle a source of tension between the propaganda demands of the state and the professional concerns of drama troupes.
“Proletarian Magicians: Gender and Magic Shows in 1950s PRC”
— Tracy Zhang, Queens University
In 1950s Shanghai, self-employed magicians performed in state-subsidized theaters. By examining the work and life experiences of one of the most famous magicians, I demonstrate how the arrangements of bodies and props in magic shows both contradicted and reinforced hierarchical relations between men and women, and between artists and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Smokestacks and Stages: Socialist Theater Construction in the PRC, 1949-1959”
— Tarryn Li-Min Chun, Harvard University
This paper examines the design and building of grand theaters during the first decade of the PRC and the recalibration of art and audiences to suit them. It argues that monumental theater space constituted an important site for the construction and contestation of cultural authority under the new regime.
“(Un)Conventional Feminism: Maoist Heroines and the Embodiment of Gendered Agency in the Great Leap Forward Dance Dramas”
— Emily Wilcox, University of Michigan
Conventional wisdom says that gender distinctiveness was erased in the Mao era. In this paper, I challenge this assumption through an analysis of the portrayals of heroines in major dance dramas of 1958-1959. I argue that the use of conventional gendered embodiments facilitated a politics of feminine agency.
Panel IV: Politics and Theatre in China and Beyond
“Theatre Made Revolutionary: The Student Theatre and the Youth Culture in Colonial-Modern China”
— Yizhou Huang, Tufts University
This project stems from an interest in the student theatre of the high schools and colleges in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century China and how it was rendered explicitly revolutionary as the conduit of the youth culture. The student theatre under discussion refers to theatrical productions produced mainly by amateurs who were students and not primarily for economic gains, and its origin could be traced back to the English productions of Western classics in Christian colleges in Shanghai in late 1890s.
From the very start, these Western-style productions could be regarded as potentially revolutionary despite their apolitical contents, since they showed a way to reform the traditional Chinese theatre. With the new form becoming popular outside campus and its repertoire expanding to include Chinese plays, the Chinese youth made use of it to express their wish for reform and revolution. Not only did they advocate the reform of traditional Chinese theatre, a move indicative of revolting against traditional Chinese culture, but also they staged revolutionary ideas with this new form.
Focusing on the student theatre in Shanghai at the turn of the twentieth century, this cultural historic study draws from Tani Barlow’s theoretical framework of colonial modernity and intends to examine how the student theatre was made revolutionary by the Chinese youth given the political and social context of colonial-modern China. Studies and relevant archival resources of the Chinese youth culture, Christian schools, and social reforms will be consulted.
“Cantonese Opera in New York City and Its Impact on the Representations of Chinese Characters on the American Stage”
— Esther Kim Lee, University of Maryland
On October 18, 1852, the first Chinese theatrical performance was presented on stage at the American Theater on Sansome Street in San Francisco by the Tong Hook Tong Dramatic Company, a forty-two member Cantonese opera troupe from Guangdong Province. Encouraged by the success in San Francisco, the troupe moved to New York City and made its East Coast debut in May of 1853. Chinese themes had always been popular with the European-American audience in New York City, as they had been in Europe since the eighteenth century. For instance, popular plays such as The Yankees in China (1839), Irishman in China (1842), The Cockney in China (1848), and China, or Tricks Upon Travelers (1841) had entertained New Yorkers with comedic images of Chinese characters (although they were played by white actors in yellowface makeup). This paper examines the reception of Tong Hook Tong Dramatic Company in New York City in comparison to popular American plays about China at the time. The paper explores various ways in which stage makeup, costume, and settings of Cantonese opera subsequently influenced the representation of Chinese characters in American theatre. Plays presented in New York theatres before the introduction of Tong Hook Tong Dramatic Company featured caricatured and imagined Chinese characters that were of lower class, but after the Cantonese opera troupe debuted, Chinese characters were represented with elaborate costumes and makeup in patrician settings. I argue that such shift in representation was a direct result of the troupe’s influence and impact on American theatre.
“Standardization of Guan Yu’s Image on Jingju Stage: An Apotheosis Campaign Between State and Theatre”
— Qiu Yanting, University of British Columbia
Guan Yu(?-220), a general during Three Kingdoms (184-280), was worshiped as the God of War and Wealth in late imperial China. While promoting Guan as the paragon of loyalty, Emperor Yongzheng (1723-1735) of Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) banned the representation of Guan in theatre with an imperial edict at 1717. However, as Guan has been a popular character on stage since Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the audience wouldn’t let go of their power of appreciating the deity on stage. That state level moral indoctrination didn’t serve its purpose well. Guan’s popularity and influence was flourished by kept alive as a hero on stage in popular theatre. The ban was later on lifted by Yongzheng’s son Emperor Qianlong and the standardized image making of Guan on Jingju stage was so successful that even the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) showed her admiration and appreciation in watching plays.
This paper will first give a short review of the history of deity worship and then focus on the relationship between the prohibitions and the development of Guan’s image in Jingju plays, with the standardization of his facial makeup, costume and props, as well as in movement patterns. The image making of Guan on Jingju stage not only represents the power struggle in theatre between the state and the audience, but also gives us a vivid narrative on how the subtle power balance was achieved through a successful theatrical image making that can fulfill the needs of both sides.
Panel V: Touring Performers and Tourist Spectators: International Audiences for Japanese Performance
This panel examines three instances of Japanese performances for international audiences in order to investigate two primary questions: 1) how do artists’ international circulation and the construction of international audiences offer alternative sources of history- making and unrecognized performance communities; and 2) how do contemporary performance opportunities offered by tourism and touring structure our knowledge of these (past) performances and prompt new areas of theoretical inquiry. Our panel focuses on three case studies: Kawakami Otojiro’s early twentieth century United States tour, Ito Michio’s 1934 tour to Mexico, and the integration of the Naoshima Onna Bunraku into contemporary art tourism on Naoshima in Japan. Two of these case studies feature touring performers, while the other focuses on performance for tourists. By pairing these, we aim for a richer understanding of how international audiences for Japanese theatre are constructed. The papers reveal how the artists and troupes negotiate tradition and an idea of “Japaneseness” to appeal to international audiences.
“Strange Yet Again: Kawakami Otojiro and the Prsentation of ‘Authentic’ Japanese Theatre in America”
— Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., Loyola Marymount University
This paper examines how Kawakami represented his company as “authentic” Japanese theatre while touring the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Kawakami offered a vision of Japan that he believed was accessible to American audiences while also playing on his novelty as a foreigner. Rather than attempting to counter stereotypes and misinformation, Kawakami embraced them.
“Seeming Japanese: Ito Michio in Mexico”
— Tara Rodman, Northwestern University
This paper looks at the U.S.-based Japanese modern dancer Ito Michio’s 1934 tour to Mexico. Ito’s performances in Mexico extended the geography of modern dance, in particular to the Japanese immigrant community. Rodman focuses on how critics’ reception of Ito’s troupe’s performances in Spanish and Japanese language newspapers revealed divergent views on orientalism and racial ambiguity.
“Puppetry on Art Island: Local Traditions and International Audiences”
— Iyana S. Browne, University of Washington
This paper focuses on the Naoshima Onna Bunraku, an all-female puppetry troupe. Recently, the troupe has been incorporated into the global marketing of Naoshima as a mecca for contemporary art. Browne analyzes how the company repackages tradition and nostalgia to appeal to contemporary globalized audiences while sustaining a local art.
Panel VI: Emerging Scholars Adjudicated Panel
We are pleased to welcome these emerging scholars to AAP
“A Korean Classic on the Chinese Stage: Theatrical Diplomacy and Artistic Innovation in Tale of Chunxiang”
— Anne Rebull, University of Chicago
To international audiences of the mid 1950s, Yueju actress Wang Wenjuan may have been best recognized as Zhu Yingtai, the heroine of The Butterfly Lovers, but to Shanghai audiences, she was known as Chunxiang. A classic melodrama borrowed from the Korean traditional stage, The Tale of Chunxiang inaugurated a theatrical project that bound together artistic innovation with international diplomacy in the waning years of the Korean War. The artistic decisions in adaptation were also inflected by contemporary aesthetic movements at work more largely in xiqu reform, in which the essential characteristics of xiqu, including its basic acting techniques and physical performance language, were under interrogation. The political life of the drama after its popular debut further entangled it in negotiations among regional forms of xiqu for cultural cache at the national level, where these aesthetic innovations took on increased significance through their wider range of impact. How did a Korean play come to be featured on the traditional stage of a Chinese regional opera, and what compromises or changes did adaptation entail? What was at stake for Yueju in undertaking a project of international political significance? In this paper, I explore the history of the adaptation of Tale of Chunxiang, its significance as a project of cultural and artistic hybridization and its importance to the national rise of Yueju. I suggest that the blending of culture, art and politics in Chunxiang situated it at a unique and influential juncture in the history of xiqu arts.
“Chinese Shadow Puppetry’s Changing Apprentice System: Questions of Continuance and a Survey of Remaining Shadow Puppet’s Practitioners in Mainland China 2008-2013”
— Annie Rollins, Concordia University
Chinese shadow puppetry’s fading master-apprentice system poses urgent questions of how best to disseminate the inherited practice onto the next generation. Fleshed out with profiles of current Chinese shadow puppet practitioners, this article surveys the current spectrum of survival scenarios. Questions of continuance will hopefully be answered with increased awareness of the form’s tenuous future and increased efficacy of cultural heritage preservation programs, such as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage project.
“Exploring Intertextuality in Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan: Two Appropriations of Chinese Xiqu Twelve Years Apart”
— Wei Zhang, University of Hawaii at Manoa
My paper focuses on how the Chinese xiqu productions Good Woman/Bad Woman from 2001 and The Good Person of Jiangnan from 2013 have appropriated Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan for the Chinese stage. It aims to identify the major differences between the two and to analyze the reception of each from Chinese social, economic, and political perspectives.
In comparing these productions, I find an intertextual relationship between Brecht’s play and Chinese xiqu, revealed on three levels: the strong influence of Chinese xiqu and philosophy on Brecht’s political and aesthetical theory; Brecht’s influence on Chinese theatrical productions; and the changes of social ideology in the appropriation of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan. Through this examination, I intend to unfold the transformation of regional theatre, faced with the social ambivalence between modernization and localization.
These two appropriations demonstrate that Chinese regional theatre has attempted to revive and reinvent itself in different ways to accommodate itself to changes in the audience and the xiqu market. Hence, adapting Western theatre stories into the Chinese context while maintaining a traditional performance style was a popular practice after the 1980s. Since 2000, the appropriation of Western plays, in terms of both their texts and their performance styles, has been the dominant tendency. In my view, the two xiqu appropriations provide good examples for this tendency.
Panel VII: Negotiating Tradition(s)
“Teenagers, Technology, Tradition: Managing Identity in Balinese Arja”
— Bethany J. Collier, Bucknell University
One of the hallmarks of traditional Balinese performance is its complex intertwining of sound, movement, and narrative, often within a single artistic form. Featuring a nearly seamless relationship between music, dance, and theatre, the operatic dance-drama arja has long been a popular form of entertainment for local audiences. Unlike many other traditional Balinese genres, where male artists dominate the performance sphere, a typical arja cast is composed of mostly female performers. While audience interest in arja has fluctuated over time in response to a range of historical and cultural developments, the past decade has seen a particularly notable resurgence in the development of new youth arja (remaja) groups.
Compared to other kinds of youth and children’s performing ensembles in contemporary Bali, today’s arja remaja groups face a set of unique challenges. While some of these relate specifically to the complex nature of arja’s conventions, this paper focuses on the ways that traditional Balinese gender ideals and customary practices (adat) influence these groups’ formation, development, and sustainability. As I will show, in some cases, arja performance further binds girls and women to traditional gender norms. In other circumstances, however, contextualized performance experiences and a modernized pedagogical process can effectively impact women’s capacity to reshape dominant discourses on tradition, identity, and the female body. Integrating perspectives from new ethnographic research with established theories on gender and the body, this paper examines some of the challenges that today’s teachers face when training young girls for arja performance.
“Re-valuing Heritage: UNESCO’s List of Masterpieces and Dialogues between Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Kunqu”
— Alex Gomar, Shanghai Theatre Academy
UNESCO’s inscription of kunqu as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is the single most important event in the history of kunqu in post-kaifang China. An examination of the effect of the List in China indicates that many of the criticisms of the List by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett have proved true: the inscription hugely increased the value of the opera form as a source of national prestige by fitting kunqu into a framework of cultural hierarchy, thereby giving it greater benefit for the purposes of the central government, a fact proven by the focus of the government not on safeguarding (the express aim of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention), but more on continued applications to representative lists. As a result of kunqu’s new prestige as a ‘masterpiece’, the subsequent radical and widespread change in perceptions of kunqu have changed its audience types and also increased its market value. These processes have all in turn affected the continuing dialogue between tradition and innovation within the kunqu world, and the greater input by the government has sent the development of kunqu in an otherwise improbable split-trajectory, whereby state-sponsored troupes and independent production companies are fulfilling very different roles, producing very different performances. Furthermore, the negotiation between tradition and innovation is indirectly placing the responsibility for the future of kunqu more firmly into the hands of practitioners and fans. This is particularly evident in the success of the Zhang Jun Kunqu Art Centre, China’s only private kunqu production company, whose survival and prominence owes much to the impact of UNESCO’s List of Masterpieces, and is able to push kunqu in new directions.
“Shortcuts along The Way? Negotiating Traditional Japanese Training for Foreigners”
— Jonah Salz, Ryukoku University
The lifetime, one-on-one, “stealing the secrets” methods of masters and disciples many Asian dance and theatre forms have recently been disrupted by modern classroom and foreign interventions. Institutionalized special training programs for aspiring professionals, such as at the National Theatre in Japan, weekly culture center lessons, or short-term overseas workshops at theatres or universities, traditional methods of teaching have had to adapt to changing student competencies, time-frames, and funding.
Traditional Theatre Training is a three-week intensive program in Japanese noh, kyogen, and nihonbuyo training held in Kyoto since 1984. Attracting over three hundred participants, both foreign and (since 1990) Japanese, of a wide spectrum of skills and interest—actors, directors, designers, dancers, opera singers, and historians), T.T.T. has proved a launching pad and refueling station for many scholars and artists pursuing both traditional and fusion arts. This paper introduces the philosophy and practical aspects of organizing this program for over thirty years, and explores some key aspects of the program: “intensive”, “group”, “intercultural” and “authentic.” As program director since the beginning summers, I will assess outcomes using student evaluations and selective interviews with participants and teachers. I will here explore how this intensive summer program experience has affected both disciples and masters in their everyday theatre and teaching practice.
“Contested Memories: Repurposed Histories in Contemporary Vietnamese Classical Opera in Vietnam and the Diaspora”
— Kim Nguyen Tran, University of California, Los Angeles
Hát bội is a genre of Vietnamese classical opera that uses elaborate make-up, costumes, and symbolic conventions of gesture. With origins that can be traced as far back as the 11th century, hát bội still maintains a lively presence in contemporary Vietnamese society (hát bội performances are inextricably tied to lunar calendar festivals) and in the diasporic community of Little Saigon in Southern California. This paper examines the ways in which contemporary hát bội performances have retold and repurposed Vietnamese historical events in contested ways both by state-sponsored hát bội troupes in Vietnam and by the strongly anti-communist diasporic community of Little Saigon. I argue that hát bội performances are an example of what Marita Sturken calls “technologies of memory” – the images, representations, artistic practices, and narrative techniques used to produce and give meaning to memory. In my analysis of hát bội performances, I draw from Diana Taylor’s “scenario” paradigm of performance as an act of transfer that is formulaic and repeatable yet not an exact copy, thus allowing for reversal, parody, and multiple levels of interpretation. Due Vietnam’s civil war, a long period of imperialism from China, French colonization, American occupation, and the communist revolution, official histories surrounding Vietnam’s tumultuous past do not always align with personal and collective memories. This paper presentation examines hát bội performance as a space where official histories and collective memories are interpreted and given meaning in contested ways.
Panel VIII: Japanese Theatre Challenging Context and Tradition
“Human Art Center Iida Shigemi’s Transformation from e-dance to Mikusa no Mitakara”
— Yoshiko Fukushima, University of Hawaii at Hilo
Iida Shigemi, born in Suwa in the ancient city of Nagano Prefecture, Japan, in 1967, is a dancer, choreographer, and theater director. At the age of 20, he quit Kyoto University and became an assistant to the butoh dancer Ohono Kazuo. Since 1998, he has begun dancing a solo dance performance. In 2009, he formed his performance group “e-dance” and staged many successful dance pieces as choreographer both in Japan and in Europe. This paper introduces Iida’s July 2011 e-dance production, the documentary dance theatre piece In the Middle of the Spring Wind, a Small Town (Harukaze no naka chiisana machi). It is a collaboration work created in Sendai a few months after the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami and Earthquake, together with the young survivors from the Tohoku areas. The paper explores how Iida’s encounter of the traumatic experiences of the natural disaster has helped generate his current monumental documentary dance theatre project, the Mikusano Mitakura – the Japanese Ancient Magic to Live Joyfully. The Mikusano Mitakara, which has been presented in fourteen countries worldwide, is the audience-participation workshop style performance. All participants of the workshop experience the three treasures lost in ancient Japan by sharing Shamanic magic to live joyfully everyday. Based on the author’s own experience to participate in the March 2015 workshop held in Big Island, Hawaii, the paper identifies the goals of Iida’s unique experimental performance, which ties the origin of dance with the ancient ritual and helps deepen Iida’s own understanding of the butoh created by Ohno Kazuo.
“Turning Point: Compassion in Japanese Cinema”
— Linda C. Ehrlich, Case Western Reserve University
In this presentation, I explore ways traditional Asian theatrical dance forms are seamlessly integrated into a realistic cinematic tale. I will argue that the non-Hollywood nature of Noh and Bharat Natyam offer film directors an opportunity to experiment with new narrative structures.
In Ozu Yasujirō’s Late Spring (Banshun, Japan, 1949) and Jean Renoir’s The River ((Le flueve, J India/France, 1951), dance occupies a pivotal moment when the story turns. By “turning” I am referring to the way the extended dance sequences about 2/3 through these films move the stories in a new direction (or at the very least make explicit what has been lurking below the surface). In the 1949 black/white film, an extended sequence from the Noh play Kakitsubata underscores the protagonist Noriko’s sense of jealousy. In the 1951 color film, an extended Bharat Natyam sequence intertwines the Krishna/Radha myth with the story of two contemporary sweethearts as told by an adolescent girl through her journal.
Unlike the Hollywood musical where dance is often used merely for punctuation or elaborate visual display, these two dance sequences provide crucial diegetic information. They reflect the female gaze at the point of turning.
“Ninagawa’s Hamlet in Taiwan: Intercultural Representation”
— Iris Hsin-chun Tuan, National Chiao Tung University
Representing by Japanese indelible scene in the Meiji period, Japanese Director Yukio Ninagawa (1935-) is invited to stage Hamlet (premiere March 26, 2015, Taipei) in the National Theater in Taiwan. Ninagawa’s Hamlet is performed in Japanese with Chinese subtitles. Faithfully presenting the whole lines of the play written by William Shakespeare, Ninagawa’s Hamlet opens with the stage set designed by Setsu Asakura showing Ninagawa’s idea of setting the background in the Meiji period to tribute to the era when Hamlet was first put on stage in Japan. I explore the Japanese flavor and argue both authentic Japanese cultural roots and western + Asian intercultural impact in this production. In the play-within-the-play-within-the-play, Ninagawa represents “the Mouse Trap” scene by performing the simulation murder twice—one by the mime without arousing Claudius’ attention while he flirts with Gertrude, and the other by Shingeki, spoken drama in the spectacular beautiful Meiji Royal court costumes and elegant movement in mise-en-scène. The Claudius’ confession scene fills with Japanese sadist torture style. The actress playing Ophelia sings Japanese songs to express her insanity with sadness. “Who are you?” as Ninagawa asks to embrace the whole of the contemporary Japan in performing Hamlet, filtered with the western source influence such as the last fighting scene by Hamlet and Laertes, and Japanese target culture as the representation of Fortinbras, Ninagawa’s Hamlet might be a fusion of intercultural performance.
Panel IX: Founding Mothers in Asian Theatre Studies
Organized by Kathy Foley, University of California, Santa Cruz
This panel examines the life histories and contributions of some of the leading pioneers in the field of Asian theatre.
— Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei, University of California, Los Angeles
— Kathy Foley, University of California, Santa Cruz
— Cobina Gillitt, Purchase College, SUNY
Panel X: Difficult Memories: Radical Practices of Longing in Contemporary Asian Performance
How have playwrights, directors and performing artists treated issues of personal trauma? How have artists used live performance to explore tragic events in their community or nation? How do absence, longing and personal suffering manifest in the body of a performer? Five artist/educator/researchers discuss a variety of performances in Asia that deal with recollection, trauma, and difficult memories. Specific paper topics include: Avant-garde Japanese playwright Kishida Rio’s exploration of women’s recreated life stories in her masterpiece Thread Hell; the difficult memories left by butoh women Furukawa Anzu and Ashikawa Yoko; director Lin Zhaohua’s production of Hamlet confronting the Tian’anmen Square crisis; the connections of J-Horror, playwright/director Sakate Yôji, and the Tokyo Subway Sarin attack; and the influence of the horrors of WWII on the bodies of the creators of butoh.
“Life Stories of Delicious Violence: The Use of Memory in Kishida Rio’s Thread Hell”
— Colleen Lanki, University of Fraser Valley/ TomoeArts
Kishida Rio was, in her own words, “the only female playwright in the first generation of the Japanese avant-garde.” Her masterwork, Itojigoku (Thread Hell) deals with twelve women who have forgotten their histories – either by accident or design. A young woman arrives holding a “knotted cord of memory” which becomes a catalyst for the recollection, or re-creation, of these women’s life stories – stories of murder, brutality, fetish, and passion. This paper looks at the way trauma, memory, and the rebuilding of personal history plays out in both the script and productions of the play.
“On the Edge with Lin Zhaohua’s Provacative Hamlet in Beijing: ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t’”
— Bettina Entell, University of Hawaii at Manoa/ Show and Tell Films
Director Lin Zhaohua, a major creative force in Chinese Spoken Drama, is renowned for his pioneering experimental work. In exploring how Spoken Drama / Huaju directors dealt with the memories and trauma of Tian’anmen, I focus on Lin’s underground production of Hamlet in 1990. This study examines both stylistic and thematic elements, illuminating directorial concept and production mise-en-scene.
“June Fourth” brought the exploration in Huaju during the 1980s to an abrupt halt. The aftermath of the crackdown was an especially gloomy period for the State Theatre Huaju repertoire. What is extraordinary about Lin’s avant-garde Hamlet is the daring and provocative subject matter and artistic form at a time when the bloodshed, tear gas, and martial law of “June Fourth” were still fresh in the memories of Beijingers.
Hamlet was performed in the Little Rehearsal Hall at the Beijing Film Academy, by invitation only, thus circumventing “performance license” requirements. Lin used an eclectic mix of realistic and anti-illusionistic techniques. Three actors shared the roles of Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius, switching continually and without transition, as they confronted the chaos around them. As Lin reflected, “Hamlet is one of us. The thoughts torturing him might also torture us. The choices confronting him might also confront us. ‘To be or not to be’ is a philosophical proposition. The choices may be profound or trivial, but you still must make a choice.” In the wake of the horrors of Tian’anmen Square, and, in fact, twenty-five years later, Lin’s words remain particularly poignant.
“3/20, 9/11 and 3/11: Japanese Cultural Responses to National Trauma”
— Kevin Wetmore, Loyola Marymount University
The Aum Shinrikyo attack on 3/20/95 and the Shinsai event and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 3/11/11 received different theatrical responses. This paper considers the theatrical and cinematic responses to both events as national traumas of very different natures in comparison to 9/11.
Panel XI: Writing/Creating Modern Theatre
“Scholar and Executioner: Translating a Modern View on the Late Qing”
— Whit Emerson, Indiana University
This paper will be a critical introduction to the new English translation of Scholar and Executioner (秀才与刽子手 xiu cai yu gui zi shou) by Chinese playwright Huang Weiruo. The paper will cover the production history, critical and public reception, and translation of this popular play by one of China’s leading playwrights. In contrast to Meng Jinghui’s more lighthearted experimental style, Scholar and Executioner’s darkly comedic elements make it stand out among modern Chinese plays by critiquing the ironic and capricious nature of the late Qing dynasty. The play integrates modern puppetry with song and dance to tell the compelling story of three characters that have their lives changed by an imperial decree in the name of progress. The pains of “modernization” these characters experience resonate with every person in China for the last twenty years as rapid economic growth has killed off many traditional industries. As one of the co- translators of this play, I will offer insight into the experimental methods of translating Mandarin prose and verse into English. The difficulties of finding common cultural touchstones for both Mandarin and English cultures will be discussed and a survey of modern Chinese drama will be presented, allowing Scholar and Executioner find its unique space as one of the only dark comedies in contemporary Chinese theatre.
“Intercultural Theatre Groups of Japan and the History of International Performance Collaboration in Tokyo”
— Jon Reimer, UCSD/UC-Irvine Joint PhD Program
Domestic theatre groups produce foreign language theatre productions in Japan each year. However, little information has been published chronicling work done with foreign residents of Japan and the influence that their presence has had on the theatrical archive of the country. One group comprised of foreign and Japanese nationals putting on such productions, Tokyo International Players, claims to be “the oldest running English language theatre company in Japan, since 1896.” The company produces four main stage productions each year, bringing in roughly 5,000 attendees and the equivalent of almost $1 million; they also produce several small-scale shows, two youth theatre productions, educational workshops, and other events that generate significant income each year. There is in fact an entire network of theatre practitioners and groups similar to Tokyo International Players that constantly produce foreign language or mixed language productions in Tokyo. Despite an abundance of intercultural theatre, there continues to be a lack of documentation of these groups and the theatre they produce. Therefore, introducing these various groups, their histories, and their niche positions within the theatre community of Japan using direct interviews with past and present members of organizations and available documentation will support their historical relevance toward expanding the archival perspective of what is considered “Japanese theatre.”
“Indian Women Playwrights Speak Out”
— Shirley Huston-Findley, The College of Wooster
Using a feminist lens this paper examines the relationship between how the work of contemporary female playwrights in India is gendered based on their distance from partition and the ways in which they have conformed to and/or resisted culturally inscribed gender identities. In other words, as India moves toward greater globalization, where outside influences such as capitalism and global media are rapidly altering Indian culture, I ask to what degree are female playwrights’ voices affected based on their opposition to or acceptance of the social construction of gender? To answer that question, I traveled for 4 months throughout India conducting 29 interviews of Indian women playwrights living or working in and around Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chandigarh, and Pondicherry. The interviewees included women ranging in age from 28-70. Their inspiring conversations provided ample evidence regarding the gendering of voice, as well as class/caste, identities. In addition a rather interesting fissure between the elder/experienced and younger/emerging playwrights emerged, indicating a major shift taking place within the profession particularly for women. Finally, the data also revealed equally interesting information about the state of the profession for women, including but not limited to the following: the absence of training (even at the National School of Drama), lack of legal support regarding copyright, no funding, no developed audience, the challenges of a multi-language culture, and the tension between public and private space for women writers of dramatic texts.