Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 32, no. 2 (2015)

From the Editor, v

Special Issue Section: Women in Asian Theatre

Introduction: Women in Asian Theatre: Conceptual, Political, and Aesthetic Paradigms
Arya Madhavan, 34532.2.tuan_fig01f

A conference titled Women in Asian Theatre was held at the University of Lincoln in September 2013, and papers from that gathering form the core of this issue. The rationale in organizing the conference was to explore differences across Asia and note that theories from Western feminists do not necessarily transfer to Asian models. This conference was a first step toward mapping histories of the female in Asian theatre, and this is a line of inquiry that deserves more attention.

Special Issue Articles

The Ronggeng, the Wayang, the Wali, and Islam: Female or Transvestite Male Dancers-Singers-Performers and Evolving Islam in West Java
Kathy Foley, 356

This article discusses the relationship of Islam, female performance, wayang/topeng, and transvestite practices in the performing arts of West Java, giving a very brief overview of three periods: the mytho-historic moment of the wali (saints), who used arts, including ronggeng (female-style singing-dancing) as a tool of conversion; the colonial era, when the palaces that were fonts of religious wisdom and colonial resistance became major centers that hired and influenced ronggeng arts, which dispersed through the Sundanese area of West Java, further developing genres like tayuban (dance parties of the aristocracy) and ketuk tilu (Sundanese popular dance performance); and the contemporary period, when the art has been devalued, noting that anti-pornography legislation enacted in 2008 is, in part, aimed at eliminating remnants of these long-existing female-singer-dancer and transvestite male performance practices, which are mentioned in literature of the colonial period and linked in oral histories with the advent of Islam. Through changing assumptions about ronggeng and the arts we see shifts in attitudes toward performance, sexuality, and religious discourse in local Islam.

Onna Mono: The “Female Presence” on the Stage of the All-Male Traditional Japanese Theatre
Galia Todorova Gabrovska, 387

As is well known, traditional Japanese theatre has been customarily a male domain, with women physically absent for the most part. The representative classical genres: , kyōgen, kabuki, and bunraku are performed only by men. The aim of this article is to look for and map a trajectory of the “female presence” on this predominantly all-male public stage, by exploring a phenomenon that has been largely overlooked: female versions of the popular all-male performing arts since medieval times, including reworking stories of the most prominent masculine heroes in kabuki. It could be argued that this practice did have a lasting presence in Japanese popular culture well into the twentieth century. I have come to denote this type of female-centered performances within the androcentric traditional Japanese theatre discourse as onna mono (おんなもの “female things”)—an expression that I would like to propose here as a general term inclusive of all related art forms.

Lokhon Luang, the Cambodian Court Theatre: Toward a Decline of Women’s Supremacy?
Suppya Hélène Nut, 416

This article examines the evolution of Cambodian court theatre, lokhon luang, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day through three prominent patronesses, Queen Khun Than, Queen Sisowath Kossomak, and Princess Norodom Buppha Devi. It aims to question the authority of female artists who dominated all fields, from dancers and singers to instrumentalists, upon male artists, who had been introduced in the early twentieth century.

From Private Zashiki to the Public Stage: Female Spaces in Early Twentieth-Century
Barbara Geilhorn, 440

This article discusses the situation of women in , focusing on the early twentieth century as a crucial period for the advancement of women. At that time, the reconstruction of gender relations assumed a central position in the debates on modernization, and the first actresses in modern theatre (shingeki) developed into ambivalent icons of the “new woman” (atarashii onna). In , following the dramatic rise in the number of female amateurs and the resultant need for female instructors, leading critics and performers engaged in two-sided debates on the role of women. The main points at issue still persist in contemporary debates. This essay offers a compendium of historical information on the key question of female participation in , which has been researched very little up to now, and discusses contemporary discourses on gender in . By analyzing the situation of women in its sociopolitical context and taking into account the debates on performing gender on stage that were taking place in all genres of performing arts at that time, it adds a new dimension to the existing research.

Women in Balinese Topeng: Voices, Reflections, and Interactions
Margaret Coldiron, Carmencita Palermo, Tiffany Strawson, 464

This article charts the increasing involvement of women performers in Balinese topeng (mask dance) and emerged from discussions and emails among the authors. Following an overview explaining women’s traditional absence from this form and noting the pioneering women who have been at the forefront of change, the authors discuss how, as non-Balinese female performers and researchers, they discovered that they shared many similar stories, curiosities, and challenges relating to their training and experiences. Their insights provide a detailed picture of some important issues for women in Asian theatre.

Women in Indian Puppetry: Negotiating Traditional Roles and New Possibilities
Claudia Orenstein, 493

As new possibilities open up to women in India’s changing economy, women puppeteers are transforming the face of both traditional and contemporary forms of Indian puppetry. An investigation into the work of several prominent women puppeteers, from rural and urban settings, shows the range of challenges these women artists face as well as the important contributions they are making to grow and sustain India’s puppetry arts.

Women in Revolutionary Theatre: IPTA, Labor, and Performance
Prarthana Purkayastha, 518

This essay examines the ways in which theatre and dance offer possibilities to reassess the Indian nation-state’s historical failure to recognize women’s labor or grant women equal access to civil liberty. It also explores how performance allows for the emergence of women as empowered subjects in South Asia, in spite of the structural limitations of both colonial and anticolonial thought. By analyzing the contribution of women to both Gandhian and communist forms of nationalism, this essay questions previously established scholarship on the binaries of inner/outer or domestic/public within gendered Indian nationalism, and argues for a crucial third domain, that of women’s embodied resistance, which negotiated conservative and progressive notions of femininity through the body. The activism of women in the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and their autobiographical narratives are privileged to reflect on the complex interrelationship between nationalism, embodiment, women’s unrecognized labor, and women’s agency.

Pritham Chakravarthy: Performing Aravanis’ Life Stories
Kristen Rudisill, 536

Aravanis (transsexuals or transgenders) experience a moment called nirvanam (transcendence), when they are surgically transformed from woman-in-a-man’s-body to woman. Pritham Chakravarthy, an assistant professor of dramaturgy and film history at the Ramanaidu Film Institute in Hyderabad, presents the life of an aravani, culminating in this moment, in her 2001 one-woman play Nirvanam (Trancendence). This article is an exploration of that play and its performance and reception both within the aravani community itself and for broader audiences. It is based on extensive interviews with Chakravarthy herself as well as Monteiro and Jayasankar’s 2007 film Our Family, and my personal experiences as an audience member at some of Chakravarthy’s applied theatre performances. She developed Nirvanam at the request of the aravani community, and many of them have been actively involved through interviews and critiques of performances. Through her sharing of life stories in performance, Chakravarthy emphasizes women’s agency, choice, and power in an Indian context to inspire hope and recognition instead of despair, she is able to transform narratives that may be both traumatic and quotidian into stories to which caste-privileged, educated, middle-class intellectuals can relate. Her work grapples with the politics of representation and issues of the body as she attempts to expand both her own and her audiences’ points of understanding and experience as well as to benefit in some way the communities she is representing.

Taiwanese Jingju Performances Featuring Women’s Writing: Meng Xiaodong and The Ghostdom River
Iris H. Tuan, 556

This essay examines the ways in which two Taiwanese women playwrights used jingjuin their recent works. Wang An-Chi’s Meng Xiaodong featured actress Wei Hai-Ming (魏海敏) telling the autobiography of the eponymous twentieth-century actress. Wu Ming-Lun’s The Ghostdom River adapted the traditional story of Yin Yang River, exploring the female character’s complex personal situation. These projects demonstrate the significant contributions made by the two women playwrights to the twenty-first-century jingju.

Special Issue Performance Reviews

Sohn Jin-chaek, director, A Fairy in the Wall
reviewed by Alyssa Kim, 566

Iqbal Khan, director, Much Ado About Nothing
Reviewed by Sita Thomas, 570

Regular Issue Materials

Masks of Sumatra
Karen Kartomi Thomas, 575

Emerging Scholar Paper

Not-Feminism: A Discourse on the Politics of a Term in Modern Indian Theatre
K. Frances Lieder, 598


Twenty Years of Suasana: Producing Malay Dance-Drama
Zukifli Mohamad, 619

Founder of the Field

Rulan Chao Pian 卞赵如兰 (1922–2013)
Emily E. Wilcox, 636



Faye Yuan Kleeman, In Transit: The Formation of the Colonial East Asian Cultural Sphere
reviewed by Emily E. Wilcox, 648

Eng-Beng Lim, Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias
reviewed by Craig Latrell, 652

Diana Yeh, The Happy Hsiungs: Performing China and the Struggle for Modernity
reviewed by Wei Feng, 655


Rossella Ferrari, Pop Goes the Avant-Garde: Experimental Theatre in Contemporary China
reviewed by Tarryn Li-Min Chun, 659

Editors C. T. Hsia, Wai-Yee Li, and George Kao, The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama
reviewed by David Rolston, 663


Stanleigh H. Jones, The Bunraku Puppet Theatre of Japan: Honor, Vengeance, and love in four Plays of the 18th and 19th Centuries
reviewed by Sarah Johnson, 672


Rustom Bharucha, Terror and Performance
reviewed by Prateek, 681

Sudipto Chatterjee, The Colonial Staged: Theatre in Colonial Calcutta
reviewed by Kristen Rudisill, 683

Ketu H. Katrak, Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 686

Jisha Menon, The Performance of Nationalism: India, Pakistan, and the Memory of Partition
reviewed by K. Frances Lieder, 687

Anna Morcom, llicit Worlds of Indian Dance: Cultures of Exclusion
reviewed by Claire Pamment, 689

Translator, Sreenath Nair, The Natyasastra and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Dance and Drama
Janaki Sasidharan, 692

Prarthana Purkayastha, Indian Modern Dance, Feminism, and Transnationalism
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 695

Translator, Rakesh Solomon, Globalization, Nationalism and the Text of Kichaka-Vadha: The First English Translation of the Marathi Anticolonial Classic, with a Historical Analysis of Theatre in British India
reviewed by Kedar A. Kulkarni, 698

Katherine C. Zubko, Dancing Bodies of Devotion: Fluid Gestures in Bharata Natyam
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 702

Rachmi Diyah Larasati, The Dance that Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia
reviewed by Kathy Foley, 707

Editors Jennifer Lindsay and Maya H. T. Liem, Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian, 1950–1965
reviewed by Jennifer Goodlander, 707

Books Received, 712