Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 29, no. 1 (2012)

Dancer of the Tongque Stage (Tongque ji) in a 2009 restaging of Sun Yin's choreography in Zhongguo gudianwu style. (Photo: Liu Caiyun, courtesy of the Beijing Dance Academy Han-Tang Program)
Dancer of the Tongque Stage (Tongque ji) in Zhongguo gudianwu style. (Photo: Liu Caiyun, courtesy of Beijing Dance Academy)

From the Editor, v


Female Roles and Engagement of Women in the Classical Sanskrit Theatre Kūṭiyāṭṭam: A Contemporary Theatre Tradition
Coralie Casassas, 1
While kūṭiyāṭṭam has in earlier Western literature often been seen as a static and archaic form, it is at present a contemporary and evolving art in which women have played an important role since the 1970s. Using the performance innovations and audience development strategies of three pioneers of female performance, Kalamandalam Giirja, Margi Sathi, and Usha Nangiar, the way women are helping to shape the genre will be explored.

Coralie Casassas is a French actress and independent scholar with an MA in performing arts (2006) from the University of Besançon, in France, with her thesis on nangyār kūttu. She has studied kūṭiyāṭṭam and nangyār kūttu since October 2004. Her research in performing arts has been supported by the French government and Indian Council for Cultural Relations in India for the years 2006–2008. She has studied at the Kerala Kalamandalam with Kalamandalam Girija, in Rangasri with Margi Sathi, and in Mizhavu kalari with Usha Nangiar. She works in France in modern theatre and also works for the promotion of kūṭiyāṭṭam by way of lecture-demonstrations and workshops.

How Not to Act like a Woman: Gender Ideology and Humor in
West Java, Indonesia

Henry Spiller, 31
In West Java, Indonesia, hosts of hajat (life-cycle event celebrations) hire performing arts troupes to provide entertainment. In addition to typical music and dance acts, one troupe—the Rawit Group—presents a comedy skit called lawakan. This article analyzes one such skit from 1999—just after the fall of President Soeharto’s New Order government. The centerpiece of the skit is a parody of two performing traditions that feature professional female entertainers: pop Sunda (diatonic pop songs in Sundanese language) and wayang golek (rod puppet theatre with accompaniment that includes virtuosic female singing). In both traditions, female performers routinely exaggerate their feminine attributes. This female entertainer, however, is portrayed by a man in comically unconvincing drag. Hilarity ensues as the other comedians urge the drag performer to conform to New Order feminine ideals of appearance and behavior, but s/he confounds them at every turn. In the process, the three men reinforce traditional Sundanese understandings of how the illusion of femininity is actively created through visual means (e.g., artifices of dress) and sonic elements (e.g., singing and speaking styles), and conventions of movement. In the process, they challenge New Order gender policies and point the way toward a return to tried and true Sundanese ideologies of gender.

Henry Spiller’s research focuses on Sundanese music and dance from West Java, Indonesia, especially the complex relationship between drumming and choreography, as well as gender and sexuality issues in the performing arts. His books include Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and Focus: Gamelan Music of Indonesia (Routledge, 2008). Spiller has also authored articles in the Journal of the Society for American Music, Asian Music, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Asian Theatre Journal, World of Music, and Balungan. His current research project examines American representations of Javanese music and dance in the twentieth century. He currently is an associate professor of music (ethnomusicology) at the University of California, Davis, and performs with several gamelan groups.

Gender, Power, and Puppets: Two Early Women Dalangs in Bali
Jennifer Goodlander, 54
About twenty-five years ago many traditional Balinese performing arts that had been considered “male-only” began to be performed by women. These arts included dancing, music, masked drama, and shadow puppetry. Wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry, is one of the most important performance genres in Bali because of its status as ritual and entertainment. This paper examines two of the earliest women puppeteers, or dalangs, within the context of the society and politics, especially the state-sponsored arts academies, surrounding their work in wayang kulit. Even though these women were joined by other female students and performers, the number of women dalangs remains slight and few are choosing this path of performance today.

Jennifer Goodlander is an assistant professor of theatre at the University of Kentucky. She completed her PhD in interdisciplinary arts, focusing on theatre and performance studies, at Ohio University in 2010. She has an MFA in asian performance and directing from the University of Hawai‘i. She has trained as a Balinese dalang with I Wayang Tunjung and performs puppets and directs intercultural theatre nationally and internationally.


An Interview with Poile Sengupta
Anita Singh, 78
Poile Sengupta is a writer who since 1993 has made a significant mark in Indian theatre writing of English-language scripts that bring women’s issues to the center of the stage. Childhood sexual abuse was a theme in her first play; themes of mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law conflict and the anger of the dispossessed and disempowered fuel her work, which has been staged by her own company, Theatre Club in Bangalore.

Anita Singh is a professor in the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. She received her doctorate in English from Banaras Hindu University in 1988. Her interests are American drama, Indian English fiction, Indian feminist theatre, and feminist theories. She is widely published as both a critical and a creative writer. Her works include Arthur Miller: A Study of the Doomed Heroes in his Plays (1993), Indian English Novel in the Nineties and After: A Study of the Text and its Context (2004), And the Story Begins: My Ten Short Stories (2007); 1857 and After: Literary Representations (editor; New Delhi: Pencraft International, 2009). She has presented papers in many national and international forums and won the Special Commendation Award in the Muse India Fiction Contest (2008) for her short story “The Wait.”


Gender, Tradition, and Culture in Translation: Reading the Onnagata in English
Frank Episale, 89
A survey of the literature published in English on the practice of the kabuki onnagata is given in relation to readings of contemporary gender theory and issues of female representation in and exclusion from the form. Scholarly cross-cultural readings in Japanese theatre are probed.

Frank Episale is a doctoral candidate in theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center. He holds an MA from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a BFA from NYU. He is currently at work on his dissertation, titled “Theatron/Panopticon: Representing Imprisonment on the US Stage,” and has served as assistant editor of Cinema Journal since 2008.

Is the Onnagata Necessary?
Samuel L. Leiter, 112

Reflections on the Onnagata
James R. Brandon, 122


A Vaishnava Theatrical Performance in Nepal: The Kāttī-pyākhã of Lalitpur City
Gérard Toffin, 126
Every year, during the lunar month of Kārtik (October–November), the Newars of Lalitpur city (Nepal) stage a theatrical play called kāttī-pyākhã. Despite changes over the ages, this performance, which dated back to the seventeenth century, is a relic of ancient medieval Newar theatre. It is mainly Vaishnava in character, though it includes also some Shaivite features and comic interludes. The present article is an ethnographic account of this enduring tradition. It also explores the religious and cultural contact of the play, as well as its aesthetics codes and languages.

Gérard Toffin is a social anthropologist and director of research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Villejuif, France. He has carried out extensive fieldwork among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and has published widely on this Nepalese ethnic group, including the monograph Newar Society: City, Village and Periphery (2007). His research currently focuses on Newar theatrical performances and the anthropology of theatre.

Singing in the Workplace: Salarymen and Amateur Performance
Katrina L. Moore, 164
This paper sheds light on the amateur practitioner, who is essential to the constitution of as a source of revenue for sustaining performers who teach them and as a conduit for the transmission of artistic traditions. Select amateur enthusiasts are important for reinforcing the structure of the iemoto (family head) system in . Drawing on ethnographic research, I examine how the process of learning intertwines with the working life of the salaryman (salaried worker), and how the rigors and pleasures of learning took on a particular meaning in the context of his working life. The analysis focuses on the decades from the aftermath of World War II to the 1990s, the era in which the salarymen featured in this article worked in these companies. It also traces the rise and decline of this form of corporate-sponsored workplace recreation and considers the implications of this decline for the future of .

Katrina L. Moore, PhD is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of New South Wales. Her research addresses the transmission of cultural traditions in Japan. She has published articles on senior citizens’ practice of drama, retirement, and marital relationships in later life.

Chinese Chuanqi Opera in English: Directing The West Wing with Modern Music
Grant Shen, 183
Part of a lab theatre experiment, this chuanqi opera production was an attempt to revive audience experience of the golden age of Chinese xiqu through text parallelism and music parallelism. Text parallelism requires the matching translation of the lingual features of a chuanqi text into its English double; such features include colloquial lexis, dense rhyming, language parallelism, and a measure of compensation in the adoptive language for the lost tonal patterns of the original. Music parallelism mimics the Ming China practice of employing music contemporary to the audience and composing the libretto to existing popular melodies.

Grant Shen (PhD, University of Hawai‘i) is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of Elite Theatre in Ming China: 1368–1644 (London: Routledge, 2005). His articles have appeared in Shakespeare Studies, Asian Theatre Journal, The Drama Review, Xinhua wenzhai (China’s Digest), and other journals. He is grateful to the editor and an anonymous reader of ATJ, whose critiques have helped improve this paper significantly.


Han-Tang Zhongguo Gudianwu and the Problem of Chineseness
in Contemporary Chinese Dance: Sixty Years of Creation
and Controversy

Emily Wilcox, 206
In 1979, after twenty-one years of political reeducation, Chinese classical dance professor Sun Ying (孙颖, 1929–2009) returned to the Beijing Dance Academy to instigate reform in the field of Zhonguo gudianwu, the official national dance form of the People’s Republic of China. In creating the Han-Tang style of Zhongguo gudianwu, Sun challenged accepted notions of Chineseness within the field, especially the idea that Chinese indigenous theater, or xiqu, should serve as the primary foundation for a distinctively Chinese national body aesthetic. While Sun’s alternative vision of Chineseness produced extensive controversy, this controversy is not antithetical to the historical aims and assumptions of Zhongguo gudianwu. Since the founding of the field in the early 1950s, practitioners of Zhongguo gudianwu have treated Chineseness as a subject for creative invention, interpretation, and debate; therefore, Sun’s work is not a post-Mao phenomenon but rather an extension of the art and politics of the Mao period.

Emily Wilcox is a visiting assistant professor of Chinese at the College of William and Mary and a postdoctoral research fellow in performance studies at the Shanghai Theater Academy. In 2008–2009, Emily conducted fieldwork at the Beijing Dance Academy, where she received professional-level training in Zhongguo gudianwu, Chinese folk and ethnic dance, international-style ballroom dance, and dance history and theory. Emily’s doctoral dissertation, titled The Dialectics of Virtuosity: Dance in the People’s Republic of China 1949–2009, was completed at the University of California, Berkeley, in May 2011.

Negotiating Class, Taste, and Culture via the Arts Scene in Singapore: Postcolonial or Cosmopolitan Global?
Melissa Wansin Wong, 233
The state of selected theatre productions in Singapore reflects the complexity of the nationstate’s identity as both a postcolonial entity and a cosmopolitan city situating itself as a major player in the global economy. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theories on symbolic violence and the interexchangeability of different forms of capital, this paper demonstrates how class, taste, and cultural consumption both reflect and are reflected by the nation’s positioning in the neo-liberal milieu.

Melissa Wong is an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she is pursuing her doctorate in theatre. A teaching fellow at Baruch College, CUNY, she is also chair of the Graduate Students Committee on the board of Performance Studies International. Her research interests include human rights and performance in Asia, and issues of embodiment and subjectivity.

A Personal Sorrow: Cải lương and the Politics of North and
South Vietnam

Khai Thu Nguyen, 255
The over-amplification of the Vietnamese “reformed opera” cải lương and a critique of its “excessive” nature facilitated the Vietnamese Communist Party’s erasure of southern culture and rebuilding of a unified new socialist state at the end of the Vietnam-American war. While cải lương became a metonymy for southern culture and terrain by marking the south as a “melodramatic” space in need of purification, a reformed cải lương was also used by the communist state to call abject and feminized citizens home in the creation of a new, unified nation.

Khai Thu Nguyen received her PhD in the Program in Performance Studies at University of California, Berkeley, and is the James R. Gray Lecturer in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. She has been supported by Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research Abroad and the UC Pacific-Rim Research Program Fellowships for research on Vietnamese theatre.

Everyday Flamboyancy in Chennai’s Sabha Theatre
Kristen Rudisill, 276
This paper analyze the 1977 Tamil-language Honeymoon Couple, written by Crazy Mohan for comedian Kathadi Ramamurthy, as a typical play that illustrates the basic content as well as structural and aesthetic characteristics of the sabha theatre genre. This work exhibits the major traits that in my analysis constitute the genre: patronage by sabhas, with their middle-class, usually Brahmin, audience base; a central theme concerning marriage alliances and/or married life; scripted witty dialogue with a thin plot and one-liner jokes, often including language jokes that code-switch between Tamil and English; a socially conservative message; and an “amateur aesthetic” that involves minimal sets, costumes, and lighting, and two-hour evening or weekend matinee performances. The reading of Kathadi Ramamurthy’s Honeymoon Couple illustrates the flamboyant quotidian nature of the pure comedy plays that focus on fast-paced dialogue filled with jokes, puns, and allusions, and works from that humor to a deeper understanding of middle-class Tamil Brahmin culture.

Kristen Rudisill is an assistant professor in the Department of Popular Culture and affiliated faculty with the Asian Studies Program at Bowling Green State University. She earned her PhD in Asian studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently working on a book manuscript about the sabha theatre in Chennai as well as a book of translations of sabha plays. Her new project concerns Tamil film dance competitions.


Chushyeoyo, by Cheonha Jeil Tal and Good Pan, by Ta’ak Project
reviewed by CedarBough T. Saeji, 291

Kutiyattam Festival (Kutiyattam Mahotsavam). Centre for Kutiyattam
reviewed by Amy Trompetter, 302


Franesca R. Sborgi Lawson, The Narrative Arts of Tianjin: Between Music and Language
reviewed by Ashley Thorpe, 305

Ruru Li, The Soul of Beijing Opera: Theatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World
reviewed by Guanda Wu, 308

Tian Yuan Tan, Songs of Contentment and Transgression:
Discharged Officials and Literati Communities in Sixteenth-Century North China

reviewed by Catherine Swatek, 310

Henry Spiller, Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java
reviewed by Matthew Isaac Cohen, 313

Ron Jenkins, Rua Bineda in Bali: Counterfeit Justice in the Trial of Nyoman Gunarsa
reviewed by Jennifer Goodlander, 316

Felicia Katz-Harris, Inside the Puppet Box: Performance Collection of Wayang Kulit at The Museum of International Folk Art
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 319

Sondra Fraleigh, Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy
reviewed by Zack Fuller, 321

William P. Malm, An Anthology of Nagauta
reviewed by Howard K. Asao, 324

M. Cody Poulton, A Beggar’s Art: Scripting Modernity in Japanese Drama, 1900–1930
reviewed by David Jortner, 325

Beth Osnes, The Shadow Puppet Theatre of Malaysia: A Study of Wayang Kulit with Performance Scripts and Puppet Designs
reviewed by Jennifer Goodlander, 327

Theodore S. Gonzalves, The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 330

Yutian Wong, Choreographing Asian America
reviewed by Randy Barbara Kaplan, 332

Nicola Savarese, trans. by Richard Fowler, updated and ed. by Vicki Ann Cremona, Eurasian Theatre: Dance and Performance between East and West from Classical Antiquity to the Present
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 335

Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender, ed. The Columbia Anthology of Chinese and Folk and Popular Literature, 337

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