Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 31, no. 2 (2014)

The scholar Wang Shen (Huang Jun Cheng) is seduced by a nasty ghost disguised as a woman in Painted Face, a Cantonese opera scripted by Chua Soo Pong and performed by the Nanning Theatre Academy, China

Special Issue on Global Encounters in Southeast Asian Performing Arts

Guest Editor: Matthew Isaac Cohen with the assistance of Kirsten Brockman, Chua Soo Pong, Catherine Diamond, and William Peterson

 From the Editor, iii

Color Insert


Introduction: Global Encounters in Southeast Asian Performing Arts
Matthew Isaac Cohen, 353

Long considered an isolated backwater of global cultural flows, a proud possessor of artistic traditions seemingly immune to international fashions, Southeast Asia is now coming into its own as a cultural powerhouse, refashioning old traditions and taking on new forms and ideas, with connections being rapidly formed between ASEAN member states in anticipation of the region’s Economic Community in 2015. This introduction positions this volume’s articles and the World Symposium on Global Encounters in Southeast Asian Performing Arts, where they were presented, in relation to the region’s cultural shifts. It argues that the critique and subversion of tradition is a sign of its vitality and future viability. A new paradigm is emerging in which Southeast Asian theatre and performance are not being treated as the West’s exotic “Other” or in relation to nation building but as a site drawing interested parties into a conversation regarding both local and global issues..

No More Masterpieces: Tangible Impacts and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bordered Worlds
Kathy Foley, 369

UNESCO since the 1970s has debated the best way to support and preserve cultural heritage forms. Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity were declared from 2001 until 2006, when the new Intangible Cultural Heritage convention replaced that program. Japan provided models and leadership for the masterpieces program. New thinking in museum practice, interest in finding ways to value performing arts as much as geographical or architectural monuments, and hopes for safeguarding and giving communities ownership of genres concerned were involved in the evolution from the masterpieces model to the Intangible Cultural Heritage model. The needs of Southeast Asian groups and their ownership of the process are queried.

Filipino Folk Dance in the Academy:
Embodied Research in the Work of Francesca Reyes Aquino, Sally Ann Ness, and Benildanze

Declan Patrick, 399

This article addresses the work of researchers Francesca Reyes Aquino, Sally Ann Ness, and Benildanze, all of whom use embodied practices to study Filipino folk dance in the academy but with divergent methodologies: Aquino uses ethnography, Ness phenomenology, and Benildanze practice as research. It examines the processes by which dances have moved from functioning rituals to representative artifacts and research tools. These processes reveal a complex and constantly developing relationship between dance practice and the academy.

Seri Wangnaitham’s Phuchanasibtid and the Modernization of Thai Traditional Theatre
Phakamas Jirajarupat, 417

The adaptation of Yākhōp’s (Chote Praephan ‘s) popular novel Phuchanasibtid (Conqueror of Ten Directions) to lakhon phanthang (“theatre of a thousand ways”) by Seri Wangnaitham at the National Theatre was a watershed moment in Thai theatre. This fifty-six-episode production, staged regularly over the period 1986–1994, played a pivotal role in the modernization of Thai theatrical arts, while maintaining the aesthetic values of tradition. The production developed a new audience for Thai dance, drama, and music, and opened the door for the incorporation of popular arts, such as the folk drama likay, into the elite National Theatre.

Buddhism and Thai Comic Performance
Wankwan Polachan, 439

This article on the evolution of Thai comic performance investigates its symbiotic rela-tionship with Buddhist belief in the Middle Way, the nonextreme mode of existence. From the ritualistic comic performance of Buddhist monks to the modern genre of Westernized stand-up comedy, Thais celebrate the value of sanuk (fun) and the achievement of social harmony. However, while older comic forms mock stupidity, inferiority, and vulgarity, the popular stand-up comic Udom Taephanit avoids confrontation and criticism and therefore does not portray the extremes of society needed to fully appreciate the value of the Middle Way.

Looking to the Future: Training a New Generation for Balinese Arja
Bethany J. Collier, 457

Steady changes in Bali’s social, cultural, and political landscapes impact the status of the traditional performing arts, and globalization’s potentially stifling effect on the Balinese arts remains a concern. This article examines how today’s teachers of the operatic dance-drama arja modify traditional pedagogical models as they work with young performers in the context of globalization and change. It considers some of the implications of these technology-based adaptations, explores the teachers’ ideological motivations, and argues that training teenagers to perform this challenging genre is an effective tactic for reinforcing their sense of Balinese identity.

Wayang Hip Hop: Java’s Oldest Performance Tradition Meets Global Youth Culture
Miguel Escobar Varela, 481

Wayang Hip Hop is a group led by dalang Ki Catur “Benyek” Kuncoro that combines Javanese wayang kulit conventions and hip hop music. This article traces the history of the group in relation to key developments in wayang kontemporer, while exploring controversies in its reception. Wayang Hip Hop is analyzed as an important new version of wayang that has garnered substantial attention from young spectators. Five reasons for the appeal of the performance are identified: (1) its complex musical intersections, (2) the radical adaptation of classical wayang stories to address contemporary problems, (3) the extension of the conventions of the gara-gara comic interlude into a full performance, (4) the adaption of Javanese wisdom to new settings, and (5) the adaptability of the production, which can has been presented in very diverse contexts.

Contemporary Wayang Beber in Central Java
Marianna Lis, 505

Wayang beber, picture-storytelling from Java, is one of the oldest forms of Indonesian theatre and a part of the celebration of Javanese rituals in the past. In recent experiments with the form, artists have created two wayang beber contemporary genres/companies, Wayang Beber Kota (Urban Wayang Beber) and Wayang Beber Welingan (Socio-Educational Wayang Beber). These perform a dialogue with the tradition and depart from it, while at the same time presenting wayang beber from a contemporary perspective. The work focuses on social and cultural changes taking place in Indonesia in relation to tangible and intangible heritage.

From Ritual Form to Tourist Attraction: Negotiating the Transformation of Classical Cambodian Dance in a Changing World
Celia Tuchman-Rosta, 524

According to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage website, classical Cambodian dance is a sacred practice that embodies the spiritual essence of the country’s values and traditions. This article asks, What happens when the sacred becomes the profane, the normal, the everyday? It explores how the sacred classical dance form of the past evolved into the entertainment genre it is today. Focusing on the dinner-dance show phenomenon, the author investigates negotiations that are taking place between the preservation and development of the arts in Siem Reap after decades of civil war decimated the artist population. The tourist shows both provide some economic stability for dancers and strip away some sacred aspects of the art form. The article gives insight into how a ritualistic performing art form adapts to changing environments while maintaining social relevance.

To Randai or Not to Randai
Zainal Abd Latiff and Duratul Ain D. Jonathan, 545

Randai, a folk art of the Minangkabau people, flourished as a theatrical form among migrants from West Sumatra in the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan in the 1960s but has nearly died out today. This article concerns efforts to revive interest in randai by the Malaysian government and concerned practitioners, including one of the co-authors, in recent decades. This revival has involved the Malaysianization of the art form.

Dama Orchestra’s Shidaiqu Recontextualized in Theatre
Loo Fung Ying and Loo Fung Chiat, 558

This article examines how Dama Orchestra has recontextualized shidaiqu (时代 曲) in a theatrical setting. Dama Orchestra was originally a Chinese orchestral group in Malaysia that, due to economic crisis, changed its focus from classical music to staging the more popularly demanded shidaiqu. Shidaiqu is a southern Chinese song genre popular from 1920 to 1950 and typically performed in Malaysia during Phor Tor (Hungry Ghost Festival). It has remained popular with mature Chinese Malaysian audiences at ko-tai, pubs, and karaoke bars. By adapting it to a theatrical form in the late 1990s, Dama Orchestra transformed the popular and commercial nature of these songs into an elite musical theatre genre. Performed as a Westernized hybrid theatre, shidaiqu attracted serious music aficionados in Malaysia and was raised from its stigmatized position as genü maichang (sing-song girl entertainment). This article draws on participant observation work to report how Dama musicians re-Sinicized the orchestration of shidaiqu and combined it with theatrical elements to appeal to the diasporic Chinese community of Malaysia.

Whither Rama in the Clear-Cut Forest: Ecodramaturgy in Southeast Asia
Catherine Diamond, 574

Ecodramaturgy is a new concept that foregrounds ecological relationships in theatrical creation and presentation. Some Southeast Asian theatres have taken initial steps to explore this new area, but it is still thematically marginalized even though the region’s natural spaces are under severe threat. This essay attempts to explain why nature and environmental issues are largely absent from the contemporary urban stage. It describes various productions in the region that have addressed nonhuman subjects, as well as analyzing others that have not adopted this approach but suggest the potential to do so. It discusses how modernity—in both its scientific discoveries and its globalized marketing—offers new challenges and opportunities for ecodramaturgical development.


Lighting Spectacles in East and Southeast Asia
John A. Williams, 594

This report shares the author’s twenty-five-year experience of lighting cultural shows, architectural and historical sites, and theatre in East and Southeast Asia.


Frank Hoff (1932–2013)
Cody Poulton, 606

Frank Hoff taught Japanese theatre at the University of Toronto from 1973 to 1996. I took both undergraduate and graduate courses from him, and I remain his student. He whetted my own interest in Japanese theatre, and I discovered that we shared a similar background in what used to be called Classics (now called Greek and Roman studies at my own university). Born in Los Angeles on 31 January 1932, Hoff graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California in 1954 and made his first trip to Japan, from 1954 to 1956, as a lieutenant in the US Navy.


Double Nora by Ueda Kuniyoshi, Mori Mitsuya, and Tsumura Reijirō
reviewed by Yasutaka Maruki, 612


A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture by Barbara Mittler
reviewed by Xing Fan, 617

South Asian Festivals on the Move ed. by Ute Hüsken Axel Michaels
reviewed by David Mason, 620

Dramatic Action in Greek Tragedy and Noh: Reading with and Beyond Aristotle by Mae J. Smethurst
reviewed by Judith Halebsky, 622

Hijikata: Revolt of the Body by Stephen Barber
reviewed by Rosemary Candelario, 625

Supernatural Beings from Japanese Noh Plays of the Fifth Group: Parallel Translations with Running Commentary by Chifumi Shimazaki and Stephen Comee
reviewed by Titanilla Mátrai, 628

Another Stage: Kanze Nobumitsu and the Late Muromachi Noh Theater by Lim Beng Choo
reviewed by Eric C. Rath, 631

Shadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton by Grant Hayter-Menzies
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 635