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Women in Asian Performance: Aesthetics and Politics
 9781138917811, 9781138917828, 9781315688800

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
Notes on contributors
Part I Erasure
1 The woman thing: issues and advances for women in Sundanese performance
2 Women in a man’s world: gender and power in Japanese noh theatre
3 “Just like a woman”: female impersonation, gender construction and role playing in Begum Barve
4 Feminist Asian cosmopolitanism in Singapore tango clubs
5 Stars on the rise: the jingju actresses in Republican China
Part II Intervention
6 Between roars and tears: towards the female kathakali
7 “Ruined by several actresses who added pornographic elements”: the popularity of emerging actresses in
Chinese jingju (Beijing opera) and the censorship
of two plays
8 Theatre of Kishida Rio: towards re-signification of “home” for women in Asia
9 Foreign female interventions in traditional Asian arts: Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia
10 An unexpected voice: performance, gender and protecting tradition in Korean mask dance dramas
Part III Reconstruction
11 Rasatrialogue: the politics of the female body in Asian performance
12 Nangiar kuthu: interference, intervention and inheritance
13 Women in British Asian theatre

Citation preview


Women in Asian Performance offers a vital re-assessment of women’s contributions to Asian performance traditions, focusing for the first time on their specific historical, cultural and performative contexts. Arya Madhavan brings together leading scholars from across the globe to make an exciting intervention into current debates around femininity and female representation on stage. This collection looks afresh at the often centuries-old aesthetic theories and acting conventions that have informed ideas of gender in Asian performance. It is divided into three parts: • • •

erasure – the history of the presence and absence of female bodies on Asian stages; intervention – the politics of female intervention into patriarchal performance genres; reconstruction – the strategies and methods adopted by women in redefining their performance practice.

Establishing a radical, culturally specific approach to addressing female performancemaking, Women in Asian Performance is a must-read for scholars and students across Asian Studies and Performance Studies. Arya Madhavan is Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts at the University of Lincoln,

UK, and a practising kutiyattam performer.

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WOMEN IN ASIAN PERFORMANCE Aesthetics and politics

Edited by Arya Madhavan

First published 2017 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2017 selection and editorial matter, Arya Madhavan; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Arya Madhavan to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Names: Madhavan, Arya, editor. Title: Women in Asian performance : aesthetics and politics / [edited by] Arya Madhavan. Description: Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2017. Identifiers: LCCN 2016033830| ISBN 9781138917811 (hardback) | ISBN 9781138917828 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781315688800 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Women in the performing arts—Asia. | Women in the performing arts—Political aspects—Asia. Classification: LCC PN1590.W64 W596 2017 | DDC 791.082/095—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016033830 ISBN: 978-1-138-91781-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-91782-8 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-68880-0 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo and Stone Sans by Florence Production Ltd, Stoodleigh, Devon, UK

I dedicate this book to the fond memories of Margi Sathi, who was my Guru of kutiyattam and a most remarkable actor and person. I will miss you always!

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List of illustrations Notes on contributors Acknowledgements

ix x xiii

Introduction Arya Madhavan





1 The woman thing: issues and advances for women in Sundanese performance Kathy Foley


2 Women in a man’s world: gender and power in Japanese noh theatre Barbara Geilhorn


3 “Just like a woman”: female impersonation, gender construction and role playing in Begum Barve Angelie Multani


4 Feminist Asian cosmopolitanism in Singapore tango clubs Shzr Ee Tan


viii Contents

5 Stars on the rise: the jingju actresses in Republican China Xing Fan



Intervention 6 Between roars and tears: towards the female kathakali Arya Madhavan 7 “Ruined by several actresses who added pornographic elements”: the popularity of emerging actresses in Chinese jingju (Beijing opera) and the censorship of two plays Siyuan Liu

81 83


8 Theatre of Kishida Rio: towards re-signification of “home” for women in Asia Nobuko Anan


9 Foreign female interventions in traditional Asian arts: Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia Margaret Coldiron


10 An unexpected voice: performance, gender and protecting tradition in Korean mask dance dramas CedarBough T. Saeji





11 Rasatrialogue: the politics of the female body in Asian performance Sreenath Nair


12 Nangiar kuthu: interference, intervention and inheritance Diane Daugherty


13 Women in British Asian theatre Graham Ley





Figures 10.1 11.1 12.1

The old grandmother from Gasan Ogwangdae and Bongsan Talchum. The independent entity of individual elements in the performance. Margi Sathi as Yashoda, Krishna’s foster mother, 2001.

168 178

A set programme of Spinning Cotton as performed by Tong Zhiling, Liang Cishan and Ci Shaoquan in 1947.



Table 5.1


Nobuko Anan is Lecturer in the Department of Cultures and Languages at

Birkbeck, University of London, UK. Her areas of expertise are contemporary Japanese performance and visual arts. She has published in these areas in anthologies and journals such as TDR and Theatre Research International. Her recent publications include a monograph, Contemporary Japanese Women’s Theatre and Visual Arts: Performing Girls’ Aesthetics (2016). She received her Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from UCLA. Margaret Coldiron is a specialist in Asian performance and masks. Her publications include Trance and Transformation of the Masked Actor in Japanese Noh and Balinese Dance Drama (2004) and articles in Asian Theatre Journal, New Theatre Quarterly and Women & Performance. She is Deputy Head of the BA World Performance at the University of Essex, UK. Diane Daugherty earned her Ph.D. in New York University’s Department of

Performance Studies, served as President of the Association for Asian Performance, and is Associate Editor of Asian Theatre Journal. She is the recipient of two Fulbright research grants and one from the American Institute of Indian Studies. Her work on aspects of Indian performance has appeared in various journals and collections. Kathy Foley is a Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of California, Santa

Cruz, USA, and editor of the Asian Theatre Journal. She is on the research and publication commissions of UNIMA International, and has specialized in the performing arts of Southeast Asia as a director, dalang (puppetmaster), dancer and researcher. This research was facilitated by a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant in Malaysia, an Asian Cultural Council Grant, a World Wood Foundation Grant and the UCSC Arts Division’s Dean’s Excellence Grant, Arts Research Institute and Committee on Research.



Barbara Geilhorn is a Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester,

UK. She received her Ph.D. with a thesis on professional noh and kyogen performers from the beginnings to the present. Barbara held doctoral scholarships from the German Institute of Japanese Studies Tokyo and the German Research Foundation. Before coming to Manchester she spent two years as a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral research fellow at Waseda University, Tokyo, and worked as a lecturer at Free University Berlin. Publications include: Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (eds), “Fukushima” and the Arts – Negotiating Disaster (2017), and Barbara Geilhorn and Eike Grossmann (eds), Enacting Culture – Historical and Contemporary Contexts of Japanese Theatre (2012). Graham Ley is Emeritus Professor of Drama and Theory at the University of Exeter,

UK. His research interests lie in the areas of ancient Greek theatre, comparative performance theory and British Asian theatre, for which he was the leader of a major research project funded by the AHRC. He is an editor of the series Performance Studies for the University of Exeter Press and joint editor (with Dr Jane Milling) of the Theatre and Performance list for Palgrave. Arya Madhavan specializes in researching and writing on Indian theatre, with

particular reference to kutiyattam. Madhavan completed her Ph.D. from Aberystwyth University, UK, in 2008 and authored Kudiyattam Theatre and the Actor’s Consciousness in 2010. Since 2013, she has been researching women in Asian performance and completed editing a journal special issue on women in Asian theatre for the Asian Theatre Journal (Fall 2015) and Samyukta (an Indian journal of gender studies), on women in Indian theatre ( July 2016). Madhavan is currently co-directing Lincolnshire Diversity in the Arts: Research and Development (a project funded by Arts Council England) and is serving as an Associate Editor for the upcoming Indian Theatre Journal. Angelie Multani wrote her Ph.D. thesis, from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India,

on Indian English theatre of the 1990s. She has edited a collection of essays on the plays of Mahesh Dattani and a critical edition of Dattani’s play Final Solutions. She has published widely on Indian English theatre, as well as several articles on Indian English writing and contemporary literature. She is currently an Associate Professor of Literature in the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Sreenath Nair is Senior Lecturer at the Lincoln School of Performing and Fine Arts, University of Lincoln, UK. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, in 2006 and his publications include Restoration of Breath: Consciousness and Performance (2007) and The Natyasastra and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Dance and Drama (2015). Nair was awarded the Leverhulme Study Abroad Fellowship in 2011 and he is currently co-directing Lincolnshire Diversity in the Arts: Research and Development (a project funded by Arts



Council England). He is the co-convenor of the Asian Performance and Diaspora Working Group (TaPRA) and editor of the upcoming Indian Theatre Journal. CedarBough T. Saeji is currently completing a monograph on Korea’s theatrical heritage. Saeji is a Korea Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, Canada, but wrote the chapter in this volume while a Research Fellow at the Research Institute of Korean Studies, Korea University. Previous publications, primarily focused on cultural heritage policy and the performing arts in the Republic of Korea, have appeared in Asian Theatre Journal, Journal of Korean Studies and Acta Koreana. Saeji has also edited books on Korean screen culture and Korean folk theatre. Siyuan Liu is an Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of British

Columbia, Canada, and former President of Association for Asian Performance. His published books include Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre (2016), Performing Hybridity in Colonial-Modern China (2013), Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900–2000 (co-author, 2014) and The Methuen Drama Anthology of Modern Asian Plays (co-editor, 2014). Shzr Ee Tan is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK,

researching music, media and performance in Sinophone worlds and also in London. Her research touches on phenomena ranging from gender in a cappella and Latin American dance scenes of Singapore, to protest music at London’s demonstrations. Recent scholarly work includes the article “ ‘Uploading’ to Carnegie Hall: The First YouTube Symphony Orchestra” in The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality (2016), an essay (plus co-editorial work) in Gender in Chinese Music (2013), plus a monograph, Beyond ‘Innocence’: Amis Aboriginal Song in Taiwan as an Ecosystem (2012). Xing Fan is Assistant Professor in Asian Theatre and Performance Studies at the

Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. She received her Ph.D. from University of Hawai’i at Ma¯ noa and her MA from the China Academy of Traditional Theatre. Xing’s research interests include theatre and politics in the People’s Republic of China, Chinese dramatic literature, dramatic and performance theory in Asian theatre, and intercultural collaborations.


Women in Asian Performance was completed with the generous support of the University of Lincoln, who provided me with the time and monetary resources to undertake this research. Without both, this book would have taken even longer than now. I thank Professor Mark O’Thomas, the Head of School of Fine and Performing Arts, who believed that the research area of women in Asian performance has lots of potential and has been supportive during the process. I thank Talia Rodgers for her endless patience and prolonged discussions with me, which helped me to conceive the best direction for this book. Thanks also to Kate Edwards for all her help in the final stages of my edit. I cannot sufficiently thank all the contributors to this book who patiently worked on various revisions. Although I was truly looking forward to completing the editing process, I am certain that I will totally miss working with you all. Thanks to all my expert readers, who must remain anonymous for all good reasons. Your valuable opinions really helped the shaping of this book and supported my editing process. Thanks, Mary Padden, for your proofreading, and my aunt, K. M. Rema, for all your support and love. Last but not least, a special thanks to my family, who have always been highly supportive throughout the process. Your kindness and support helped me to be totally stress-free, especially during the final weeks of my edit.

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As I write this introduction to the anthology on Women in Asian Performance, I ask myself: why is it relevant to establish a culturally specific conceptual ground to discuss the place and contributions of women in Asian performances? Would it be too a narrow playing field? I ask again: would such concepts depart from the current theoretical framework of gender studies or add significantly to its already rich and expansive discursive terrain? My initial investigations on women in Asian performances questioned the universal applicability of the contemporary gender theories in addressing “her” place in Asian performances. The questions that I raise here, to me, are deeply political, arising from the need to find a culture-specific approach to the current discourse on gender and theatre. Being a performer of a 2,000-year-old theatre called kutiyattam,1 I am concerned about the limited capacity of Euro-American gender studies to undertake a gender-specific critique of its performance because of the differing cultural and historical contexts. It is also my endeavour to learn to “unlearn” (Spivak, in Danius and Jonnson, 1993, 24–26), in Spivakian terms, so that a new looking glass, which is helpful in contributing a new conceptual position in the current gender discourse, can be identified. This introduction will map some of my initial thoughts in this direction and I will carry them onward and forward in my future writings on the topic.

Unlearning In her criticism of Julia Kristeva’s critical perspectives in On the Women of China, Spivak argues that “a deliberate application of the doctrines of French High ‘Feminism’ to a different situation of political specificity might misfire. If, however, International Feminism is defined within a western European context, the heterogeneity becomes manageable” (1987, 141). Speaking about the monotheistic “Christian Western” (1987, 138) view reflected in Kristeva’s work, Spivak further states that “the splendid, decadent, multiple, oppressive, and more than millennial polytheistic tradition of India has to be written out of the Indo-European picture”


Arya Madhavan

(1987, 140). It is mainly because Kristeva’s viewpoint, as per Spivak, is applicable only to Euro-American contexts. In an interview given to Josette Feral in 1976, Kristeva mentions that China had “a highly developed and complex matrilinear and matrilocal society” (1976, 9) dating as far back as 1000 CE and that the Taoist, anti-Confucian doctrine has survived in the sexual relationships of the Chinese women. At the same time, she concludes, that the Chinese experience is not exportable and cannot be exported . . . [and] . . . what we gain from the Chinese situation is not a blue print for our own future, but only an understanding which should permit us to view our own society and others like it with a more critical eye. (1976, 17) Kristeva’s consideration of the Chinese social model as an “other of the West” (Spivak, 1987, 137), is highly problematic, particularly because feminist cultural theory, by and large, is grounded upon the basic presumption that women are “absent” (or “hidden”) from history. Christine Fauré, in her essay titled “Absent from History”, asks “to what extent does family history provide information about the history of women? To what extent is information gathered in this way relevant” (1981, 75)? While addressing these questions, Fauré, taking examples from European cultural context, mainly French, emphasizes that women are absent from history due to masculine hegemony. Such a generalized assumption of Western feminist theory and its disavowal of any non-Western cultural material – considering Chinese sociocultural models as unexportable and, therefore, assigning them a secondary status – points to a double standard prevalent in contemporary EuroAmerican gender theories. Such reductionism in positioning non-Western cultural contexts for merely delivering a “view [of] our own society and others like it with a more critical eye” only helps to further solidify the historical position of the “other” that the non-Western sociocultural contexts, predominantly, the “east”, has always occupied in orientalist discourse. Kristeva’s reasons for examining the familial and social positions of women in China are unknown, but Spivak’s criticism is emphatically based on her view that “Kristeva seems more concerned with her own identity as a Western woman” (Morton, 2003, 79). She “cautions against the universal claims of Western feminism and emphasizes instead how the specific material conditions, histories and struggles of Third World’ women are often overlooked by western feminism” (2003, 79). It is essentially one-way traffic, and the rest of the world will simply have to appropriate and apply the Western model of gender theories to their individual cultural contexts. Otherwise, Sue-Ellen Case’s first line of her first chapter in her Feminism and Theatre cannot start with a sweepingly generalized claim that “[f]rom a feminist perspective, initial observations about the history of theatre noted the absence of women within the tradition” ([1988] 2008, 5). It is not clear which particular history Case is referring to and she seems to be asserting a position that a heavily Eurocentric Western history is a universally applicable model to “the history of theatre”. I have argued elsewhere that a “critical



study of several Asian performance practices will directly problematise such a claim, because the ‘absence’ of women is often not the case within Asian performance traditions” (Madhavan, 2015, 347). Peggy Phelan, while analysing the feminized movements of an 11-year-old male odissi dancer, Gautam, says that “[m]uch of this reading of Gautam’s dance is indebted to a Western feminist discourse . . . My reading is obviously indebted to feminist re-readings of Freud” (1988, 111). This admission totally disregards the culture specificity of the dance that the young Gautam dances (Phelan admits this herself ) and displaces the questions of historicity of dance training and the historicity of the representation of “woman” in Indian dances. I am not discrediting the validity of Phelan’s perspectives, but raising concerns and pointing out the problematic hegemonic position asserted by the contemporary Euro-American gender theorists. Assessing the history of actresses in English theatres, Katharine Cockin writes that the “actress was invariably objectified and sexualised” (1998, 22), a view that can largely be identified when observing the presence of female bodies on public stages. Similarly, quoting Harold Weber, Elizabeth Howe argues that “[i]n practical terms the freedom women gained to play themselves on stage was, to a large extent, the freedom to play the whore” (Weber, 1986, 152). In the specific Indian context, in almost similar lines as above, female dancing bodies and their allegiance to prostitution in a pre-independence India is a much discussed aspect. Avanti Meduri writes that Rukmini Devi Arundale, who led the reformation of bharata natyam in the early twentieth century was “concerned with female respectability and her innovations were inflected by Victorian morality” (2005, 231). Meduri writes that Devi “did not eschew sringara [erotic love] because sadir [synonymous to prostitution] and sringara were suspicious terms in her times” (2005, 146). Instead, Devi leant more towards devotion – bhakti – in her dance, in her attempt to take dance to “women of good families” (2005, 231). Devi’s approach to bharata natyam is aligned with the Victorian moral codes and influenced by the Christian values surrounding sexuality; accordingly, the expression of sexual desire is a “bad” attribute for women, whereas the expression of devotion is “good” and occupies a moral high ground. Such reading legitimizes the disciplined, institutionalized, domestic women as the “ideal”, and attributes a morally ambiguous position to the female sexual expression onstage. In other words, Devi’s “Victoricising” of bharata natyam results in the “clitoridectomy” of female sexual expression from its repertoire with almost a rhyming quality. It is true that the long history of colonial rule in India has strongly influenced India’s sociocultural and artistic realms to such an extent that it is now almost impossible to even consider whether a divergent vision on the innate connections between prostitution and dance in India ever existed. Reflecting on castrating the expression of erotic love on the bharata natyam stages, Balasaraswati, the celebrated bharata natyam dancer who herself hails from a devadasi family, mentions that some seek to “purify” Bharata Natyam by replacing the traditional lyrics which express sringara with devotional songs . . . [but] there is nothing in Bharata


Arya Madhavan

Natyam that can be purified afresh . . . The sringara we experience in Bharata Natyam is never carnal – never, never . . . it cannot be merely the body’s rapture. (1976, 110) She argues with examples from bharata natyam performance that little difference exists between devotion and the erotic in her dance, since “the dancer who dissolves her identity in rhythm and music makes her body an instrument” (1976) and enjoys pure joy of dancing. For Balasaraswati, various dance numbers in bharata natyam help the dancer to relax her muscles and enable her to express “joy through different moods and emotions” (1976, 113). The erotic, for her, is a path towards devotion and, therefore, the erotic cannot be limited to carnal, reproductive or biological. Binding the erotic and devotion in a single analogical thread is conceptually opposing the carnal eroticism of actress/prostitute, as argued at the beginning of the previous paragraph connecting prostitution and the emergence of the actress in English theatres. Erotic-devotion as a construct, defining the devadasi art practice, suggests a highly complex scenario, also linking it to esoteric practices from the subcontinent. In Balasaraswati’s case, her attempt to bind the erotic with devotion carries a historical and cultural “trace” of the devadasi practice of women dedicating themselves to a temple. Euro-American gender theories will fail to address such a paradox, since the devadasi scenario is conceptually different to other popular models of female asceticism (Christian or Buddhist nuns, for instance) that often restricts and refrains ascetic women from dancing and singing or engaging in any other modalities of merriment. In almost direct contrast to Christian female ascetic life, for instance, devadasis danced and sang and were never socially bound to the standard domestic enterprises of a woman, because they were not restricted by the institution of marriage and the whole lot of social expectations/baggage that came with it. They enjoyed a status outside and beyond the “normality” of marriage, reproduction and sociocultural norms of motherhood. Body, for them, was not a reproductive organ, but an artistic mode for expressing all human experiences, including sexual desires. When I say this, I am aware that problems such as concubinage and prostitution also became linked to the system, but it is widely acknowledged that even women from royal palaces were dedicated as devadasi (Kuntavai, a devadasi and the daughter of a tenth-century CE South Indian King) and that they never occupied the position of palace courtesans. Janet O’Shea states that “[t]hey were also among the only women of their time who were educated and could read and write. Because devadasi families were matrilineal, the family’s wealth was controlled by females: it passed from mother to daughter” (1998, 49–50), emphasizing the position of power devadasis held in pre-independence India. Griselda Pollock and Victoria Turvey-Sauron argue that [w]ith the outlawing of the devadasi system in 1948, the same women who would have been considered auspicious guests at weddings were officially declared to be immoral . . . Western moral code, entirely out of tune with



the complexities of traditional India . . . inform[ed] the general perception of the significant function of the devadasi system. (2007, 143) Pollock and Turvey-Sauron also argue that the legislation in 1948 resulted in several women turning to prostitution because their exclusive right to prioritize arts over domestic chores no longer existed after 1948. The politics of “reading” often chooses to misread the system by isolating it from its historical and cultural milieus; this is highly relevant in the wider reading of devadasi social codes and its links to bharata natyam. If “exporting” of a Chinese social system is problematic for Kristeva, I would argue that the “importing’ of the English, Victorian morality into the reformation of bharata natyam has changed its very character forever and beyond recognition. Such “importing” has resulted not only in a “[mis]understanding” of the Indian sociocultural and artistic contexts, but has become its “blueprint”. Victorian morality has imprinted upon what was once known to be sadir, and transformed it to bharata natyam – the Indian dance. This situation demands unlearning – unlearning to learn alternative concepts, unlearning to decipher a new historical position, and unlearning to relearn a different way of “seeing” the place of women in history. In an interview with Sara Danius and Stefan Jonsson, Spivak expressed the necessity “to ask the question . . . How is it possible to think . . . outside of the monotheist Judeo-Christian tradition and its critique” (1993, 25) in her discourse on unlearning. She understands all her work “as being in a sort of stream of learning how to unlearn and what to unlearn” (1993, 24). I argue that a new thinking outside the Judeo-Christian trajectory is inevitable when considering the history, sociocultural and artistic milieus of women in Asian performances. I do not expect this to be easy by any means and my Englisheducated, post-colonial, Western academic self is revolting and disagreeing to accept my views to such as extent that I even struggle to view differently. I doubt myself if I am apolitical (because I am taught what it means to be political) and I rethink and reaffirm, again and again. Unlearning, therefore, bleeds, and unlearning is a deeply disturbing process. Nonetheless, it is learning to relearn, all at the same time. In this introduction I will contest (and unlearn) the popular claim of female historical “absence”. Since this book is mainly concerned with mapping the conceptual and practical terrain of women’s place in Asian performances, I will examine “absence” from the particular context of performance practice.

Women and Asian stages I am a kutiyattam performer. Kutiyattam – claimed to have existed for 2,000 years – has always been a theatre where both men and women equally performed – men performing male parts; women, female parts. There is no concept or practice of female impersonation in kutiyattam and the actor training does not focus on teaching stock gender specific movements to male and female actors. Because


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kutiyattam is largely reliant on multiple transformational acting, pakarnnattam, by which each actor (male or female) transforms into various characters (male or female) during the course of drama, teaching bold movements for men and gentler movements for women will not work in the specific case of kutiyattam. This displaces Case’s basic presumption that “[i]nscribed in body language, signs of gender can determine the blocking of a scene, by assigning bolder movements to the men and more restricted movements to the women, or by creating poses and positions that exploit the role of women as a sexual object” (1988, 117). That said, however, the kutiyattam repertoire consists of bodily movements that define male and female characteristics, but the point is that such movements are taught equally to both male and female actors. In other words, female actors learn war movements and male actors learn erotic expression in kutiyattam. Therefore, I argue that Case’s basic presumption, largely based on roles of the female actors in Euro-American contemporary theatre stages, will not apply to the specific context of stylized performances in Asian traditional theatres. It is also interesting to note that kutiyattam, in its 2,000 years of performance history, has never castrated women from its stages. Employing pakarnnattam, however, was often used as a tool to erase female bodies from stages. In the kutiyattam version of the seventh-century CE Sanskrit play Ascharyachoodamani (Wondrous Crest Jewel), by Saktibhadra, Sita, at several instances, is represented as a lighted lamp onstage. One such instance is when Hanuman, the monkey messenger for her husband, Rama, talks to Sita by enacting both his and her lines, because the actor can transform into several characters by using pakarnnattam. Sita’s dialogues are “sung” by a nangiar (the female kutiyattam actor), who plays a pair of cymbals onstage. While pakarnnattam offers immense freedom to the actor to “transform” into several characters, it also implies a tendency to erase female characters from the public eye. In the same play, in another act, demon king Ravana is proposing to Sita – the actor who enacts Ravana acts both his and Sita’s part and, again in this scene, Sita’s dialogues are rendered by a nangiar. The result was the eventual receding of female bodies from kutiyattam stages. It was exercised by means of the theatrical convention of pakarnnattam, meaning the erasure was hard to detect and slow in process. Such acts of erasure are more relevant when noting the history of nangiar kuthu, the female solo performance dating back to as far as 898 CE, which emerged from kutiyattam and follows its acting methods and theatrical conventions. Here, the act of erasure is more complex in nature. Nangiar kuthu – which once used to be a fully fledged female theatre, where women enjoyed dedicated stages to exhibit their acting skills and claimed considerable social respectability – later became reduced to a mere temple ritual. Since strong ritualistic elements are inscribed into its performance graph, nangiar kuthu could not fully be eliminated from temples, and instead what happened eventually was the fleshing out of its performative elements and making it unattractive to the audience. The mere functionality of the performance kept it “hidden” from the eyes of female performers of kutiyattam for a very long time. Nangiar kuthu was not even included in the kutiyattam curriculum



in 1965, because its performance manual was thought to have been lost. If the revival of the performance did not happen in 1990s at the hands of Margi Sathi and Usha Nangiar, it would have been totally erased from the Kerala stages. Erasure acts are common in other Asian performances, too. The role in the early history of Japanese kabuki of female dancer Izumo no Okuni, who “introduced a new style of dancing, singing, and acting” (Gabrovska, 2015, 389) in 1603, is widely acknowledged. Galia Todorova Gabrovska summarizes the following about the early historical evolution of Kabuki: Okuni performed disguised as a kabukimono, a slang term for the popular male type of the day. Kabukimono were young men from the fringes of the warrior class . . . who resorted to extraordinary acts or behavior and were characterized by showy, offbeat styles of clothing. The name originates from the verb kabuki, which in the late sixteenth century meant “to lean, to tilt forward” or metaphorically, “to speak or act in an ostentatious, antisocial, eccentric or erotic manner” . . . [Okuni] invented a new skit by imitating kabukimono, the symbol of extravagant masculinity, who literally performed their eccentric maleness on the streets of Kyoto. [But] kabukimono were feared by the common people and were considered to be troublesome by the authorities . . . It could be claimed that [Okuni’s] dance transformed [kabukimono] into a safe symbol of male eroticism. (2015, 389–390) Okuni’s male impersonations were stunning and were juxtaposed to female impersonations by male performers on the same stage. “The male actor, disguised as the ‘courtesan,’ played an entirely supporting role – as in the medieval female performing arts onna sarugaku and onna kusemai” (2015, 391). However, as Gabrovska argues, Okuni’s alleged connection to her lover/husband Sanza, who died “exactly one month before Okuni’s first performance” (2015, 391), is now widely thought to be the co-founder of kabuki. Gabrovska concludes that “the presence of a husband-like figure who taught Okuni her innovative art seems indispensable for patriarchal discourse” (2015, 392). In the same essay, Gabrovska also talks about female engagement in two other Japanese performance forms, onna sarugaku and onna kusemai, as well as an all-female kabuki troupe, onna yakusha (female kabuki actors), which all vanished after the banning of women from stages in 1629. Such is the impact of systematic erasure of women that finding “her” traces in Asian performances now becomes highly relevant. One may find many such examples in several Asian traditions and a detailed description of them is beyond the remit of this introduction. Furthermore, a thorough reassessment of ritual and domestic performances in the region will throw new light on situating the place and contributions of women in Asian performance cultures. Goddess worship, for instance, and associated ritual performances, are practised in several parts of India, Kali rituals in West Bengal and kalampattu (the ritual of creating life-size or larger floral designs and erasing them by dancing on them) being just two examples.


Arya Madhavan

Goddesses are worshipped for attaining knowledge, power, wealth or the spiritual goals, and they are not controlled or manipulated by their god husbands. No such conceptualization exists in heavily patriarchal, Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Jain or Islamic religions, further confusing the monotheistic gender conceptual lens currently applied universally to all cultural contexts.

Erasure As I explained above, a closer study of Asian performances points out a tendency for female erasure that largely differs from “absence” – the popular feminist conceptual position. Here, I propose erasure. Erasure is an alternative theoretical concept, explaining the historical role of women in Asian performances. What one sees in traditional Asian performance contexts, to a certain degree, is the systematic erasure of women, an act aimed at limiting any female involvement in public performances. Absence indicates the non-existence, while erasure signifies a traceable past of “her” presence, a possibility, a hope of existence and a historical “trace”. This is not to state that erasure is the only phenomenon applicable to the Asian performances. Kathakali, noh or jingju, for instance, relied heavily on female impersonation to represent women on stage, a practice that continues/d even in the twenty-first century. If female roles are increasingly being taken over by female actors in jingju, this is not the case for noh or kathakali. Strong resistance from the patriarchal social setup – actors and audiences – restricts the entry of women into heavily male-managed performances such as noh or kathakali. It is fair to say that women were “absent” from their repertoire. The only way women may perform in kathakali is to set up an allfemale kathakali group. On the other hand, from a Southeast Asian context, Indonesian and Cambodian performances always required female “presence” on their stages, and in recent times Cambodian court theatre has worried about the increasing “male” intervention in it, particularly to perform movement-heavy characters. Strong historical female presence is claimed by several ritual performances in Asia that continue even today. In other words, one may find simultaneous “presence”, “absence” and erasure of women in Asian stages. There then arises the issue of class or caste, which might need to be factored in when considering the “visibility” of women in various Asian performances. This somewhat problematizes the established feminist concept of “absent from history”, due to the complexities mentioned in the above paragraphs.

The book The key objectives of this book are to enquire and analyse the sociocultural and historical dimensions of the presence/absence/erasure of female bodies on Asian stages, as well as the politics of female intervention into the patriarchal performance genres; and to reconstruct a range of conceptual and critical narratives on the strategies and methods adopted by women in redefining their performance practice.



The above objectives will inform the concept and structure of the book, which will be divided into three sections dealing with the history, aesthetics, politics and performance practice of Asian women in Asian performances. The three sections of the book are “Erasure”, “Intervention” and “Reconstruction”, derived from the three objectives outlined above. I introduced and explained erasure in the above paragraphs. The first section, “Erasure”, will trace the history of presence, absence and erasure in Asian performances. Five chapters are included in this section. While investigating the issues of spectatorship and female agency in performance, Kathy Foley, in the context of Southeast Asian theatre, seeks to answer how “goddess” and “courtesan” were reconfigured in post-colonial practices and what the rise of more conservative societies in a neoliberal economic era mean for women as actual performers. Barbara Geilhorn’s chapter traces the erased women in contemporary noh as professional or amateur performers, wives to noh actors or part of the audience, and Angelie Multani examines the politics of female impersonation in the Marathi theatre through the prism of Satish Alekar’s play Begum Barve. Like Geilhorn, Xing Fan traces the history of female performers in jingju during the Republican China and Shzr Ee Tan critically examines how women performers in Singapore use different forms of Latin dance to subvert – as well as fulfil – stereotypes of both “Asian” and “Latin” femininity through their performance. The second part is named “Intervention”. The contemporary scenario of traditional Asian performances sees female interventions of various kinds, such as redrawing the erased women – a re-entry into the old track – into performances, and the integration of women into male performance traditions and practices, sometimes against staunch resistance from the patriarchal hegemony that defined its performance codes. Such exciting interventions into the male-authored traditional performances are deeply political and divergent from dominant patriarchal cultural codes. Contemporary performance scenarios in the named Asian regions also witness the brave new feminist, political playwriting and rereading of various performance aesthetics that influenced the subsequent reorganization of the patriarchal stage language. Women increasingly intervene into the hegemonic creative areas such as playwriting, directing, choreographing and designing, contributing new aesthetic sensibilities into Asian performance contexts. Five chapters included in this part critically evaluate various kinds of female interventions in recent history – as actress, playwright/director and managers – all of which are traditionally considered as exclusively male territory. Taking the example of two jingju plays, Siyuan Liu traces the reappearance of actresses in jingju since 1910 that prompted male critical lament of the plays’ “contamination” by the actresses’ so-called suggestive performance, eventually leading to their censorship after 1949. CedarBough T. Saeji and Arya Madhavan talk about the history and politics of female intervention in the Korean mask drama and kathakali respectively. Both chapters look at the ways in which such female interventions unsettle patriarchal social values, which are dearly held by the actors and audience in each cultural setting. If Nobuko Anan critically evaluates the work of Japanese female


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playwright/director Kishida Rio, who belongs to the first generation of female theatre artists, who led their own companies, Margaret Coldiron examines the contributions made by Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia into noh and topeng respectively. Teele, an American, studied noh and is the director of the International Noh Institute. Italian performer Formaggia became a respected professional in Balinese topeng masked dance drama and also transformed the dwindling fortunes of the court art of gambuh. Because these women were foreign, Coldiron argues, and therefore unbound by conventional expectations that hinder Asian women, they were able to assert themselves in ways that local women could not. Asian women have been increasingly reconstructing new performance spaces in the contemporary performance scenes, in and out of their home scenarios for the last several decades, both in terms of reconstructing new aesthetic sensibilities and in radically redefining the centuries-old patriarchal codes. Asian women, away from home and in diaspora contexts, also reorganize existing performance norms, negotiating identities and cultures. Diaspora Asian performers thoroughly negotiate their own performance practice by mediating cultural identities, social milieus, political circumstances defining their home and host countries, often problematizing the very concept of “homehood”. Asian performances vigorously transform its aesthetics under such reconstructions, and the contribution of women to this process is invaluable. Such new reconstructions alter the existing practices of the Asian performances and add new practical approaches to them. Reconstruction of new concepts and terminologies can be derived from the critical reflections and thorough analysis of their practices. The third part, “Reconstruction”, contains three chapters – two relating to nangiar kuthu and one focusing on women in diaspora Asian theatre in Britain. Sreenath Nair looks at how gestural practice in a performance reconstructs and diverts dominant textual meaning in nangiar kuthu to create a distinctive female performance text within the wider context of aesthetic values and performance practice culturally dominated by male actors. His chapter critically validates Margi Sathi’s contribution to nangiar kuthu, focusing on a specific performance convention that she developed. Diane Daugherty’s chapter is based on more than twenty-five years of her fieldwork research investigating female kutiyattam. She examines the contributions of Margi Sathi and Usha Nangiar, who, as she argues, neither reconstructed nor reimagined nangiar kuthu, but used their knowledge of kutiyattam’s expressive vocabulary to imagine and construct nangiar kuthu instead. Graham Ley’s chapter looks at the masculine bias of the early diaspora Asian theatre in Britain, the role of women within it at that stage, and the gradual emergence of women practitioners into what had become a professional possibility sustained by a variety of grant-awarding bodies. He profiles the theatre-making careers of a number of these female professionals, examining their choice of aesthetic and mode of performance, and seeing how they placed themselves in the full range of British Asian theatre and performance in the 1990s and beyond. This book is a humble beginning in tracing the broad and hitherto underrecognized contribution of Asian women in Asian performance practices and



I earnestly believe that this work is a timely necessity, and one that is perhaps long overdue. I present the book hoping that this will be the first of many in the research area of women in Asian performance.

Note 1

Kutiyattam, historically, is a temple performance, performed in temple theatres called kuthampalam. Temples will commission actor families called chakyar and percussion/actress families called nambiar/nangiar to perform Sanskrit plays during certain times in the temple calendar. Similarly, nangiar kuthu, the solo female performance evolved from kutiyattam, is also performed in temple theatres. Kutiyattam training is now offered to wider communities (since 1965) and is widely performed on secular stages, both nationally and internationally.

References Balasaraswati (1978) On Bharata Natyam. Dance Chronicle, 2(2): 106–116. Case, S.-E. (1988 [2008]) Feminism and Theatre. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Cockin, K. (1998) Introduction to Part One, in L. Goodman and J. de Gay (eds), Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 19–24. Danius, S. and Jonsson, S. (1993) An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Boundary, 20(2): 24–50. Fauré, C. (1981) Absent from History. Trans. Lillian S. Robinson. Signs, 7(1): 71–80. Feral, J. (1976) China, Women and the Symbolic: An Interview with Julia Kristeva. Trans. Penny Kritzman. SubStance, 5(13): 9–18. Gabrovska, G. T. (2015) Onna Mono: The “Female Presence” on the Stage of the All-Male Traditional Japanese Theatre. Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 387–415. Howe, E. (1998) Engish Actresses in Social Context: Sex and Violence, in L. Goodman and J. de Gay (eds), Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 60–64. Madhavan, A. (2015) Introduction: Women in Asian Theatre: Conceptual, Political, and Aesthetic Paradigms. Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 345–355. Meduri, A. (2005) Rukmini Devi Arundale, 1904–1986: A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts. New Delhi: Motilal Benarsidass. Morton, S. (2003) Gayathri Chakravorty Spivak. London and New York: Routledge. O’Shea, J. (1988) “Traditional” Indian Dance and the Making of Interpretive Communities. Asian Theatre Journal, (15)1: 45–63. Phelan, P. (1988) Feminist Theory, Poststructuralism, and Performance. TDR, 32(1): 107–127. Pollock, G. and Turvey-Sauron, V. (2007) The Sacred and the Feminine: Imagination and Sexual Difference. London: I. B. Tauris. Spivak, G. C. (1987) In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York and London: Methuen.

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1 THE WOMAN THING Issues and advances for women in Sundanese performance Kathy Foley

This chapter explores gendered genres of West Java. The court/aristocratic dancer (bedaya) of Sunda developed under Javanese influence in the courts of Ciamis and Bandung in West Java’s highlands (Durban Arjo, 1989, 2014) and the ronggeng (village professional dancer/singer-courtesan) were distinct but complementary female artists and both replicate patterns of women in the Southeast Asian performance world.1 The court dancer was under the purview of the aristocratic lord as consort, offspring and palace lady. The village singer dancers appeared both in palace social dances (generally known as tayuban in Javanized areas) and in village/urban dance-song displays where females might be replaced by transvestite males (see Foley, 2015). Such events could include plays – usually a dance opening might be followed by melodramatic story that ended with couple dancing between the courtesan-dancers and the male audience members (Foley, 1989; Spiller, 2010). In these courtesan forms, a male clown often acted as troupe head and had ritual functions. These clowns sometimes burnt incense and did ritual opening mantra. One could argue that in the mind of the local community they were an amalgam, combining ideas of shamanic priest and pimp. In an early period the pattern may have been related to Hindu sects like the Saivite Kalamukas, who had connections with temple dancers in India, a tradition that may have affected Java and its courts (Sutterheim, 1956). The women dancer-singers had artistic careers that flourished while they were youthful, but they customarily retired as they married, or older women might become trainers of younger women and shift to comic roles as beauty faded. Men in West Java, by contrast, were generally prized for dramatic expertise in puppetry (wayang) and mask (topeng) dance (in solo and group performance). While women ideologically could participate in these genres, in practice in the Sundanese highlands women did not do puppetry. They did solo mask dance performance (topeng) as they migrated from the north coast but, over time, generally abandoned


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their masks. In both traditional and contemporary work in West Java, it remains difficult for women to have access to all roles (especially strong male characters) in genres that historically were primarily male – rod puppetry (wayang golek), mask (wayang topeng) and multi-actor unmasked theatre (wayang wong). By contrast, men can rather easily – using puppets, masks or movement patterns that specify gender – play cross-gender, an imbalance in favour of males. A cause for this differentiation comes from the preconceived functions appropriate to each sex. Female forms link to fertility/the fun of the Sundanese rice harvest and courtship. Male forms relate to power and exorcistic potential embodied in a rite called ruwatan (“making safe”; see Foley, 2001), a ritual usually reserved for the oldest male in a performance lineage. This presents a frontier which females cannot cross. Women breach boundaries in secular presentations, but the “sacred” reinforces male gender prerogatives in traditional arts, since maleness and protective potency are aligned. Will these borders maintain or will the whole idea of “cosmic performance”, which puppetry and mask theatre represent in West Java, melt in the globalized digital-technological world? The answer remains unclear. But, in the same way that the Catholic church, by maintaining a male priesthood, aligns sacramental power with maleness, ritual performance in West Java is restricted to the older men, creating a barrier that women have yet to break. This chapter will start with personal experiences. I will point to the contradiction between a gender-neutral performance ideology – which is beyond gender – and contrasts with actuality that, except in modern dance and theatre, in tradition women had the gender-defined space of bedaya (court dancer) or ronggeng. I will conclude my discussion of gender dynamics in Indonesian performances with brief comparisons to other Asian genres.

Personal perspectives on taking up a “male” genre When I turned up in Indonesia in 1978 to research the wayang golek rod puppetry of West Java, I did not realize that gender was an issue. I knew of the presence of some Javanese female dalang (puppetmaster), whose history goes back at least to the legendary Nyi Panjangmas, who in the 1670s is said to have served as a dalang for the forces of Raden Trunojaya in East Java that were fighting against the ruler Amangkurat Agung (1646–77) and his Dutch allies (Cooper, 1994; Sky, 2011). As a student in the USA, I had been part of a class in Berkeley in 1974 that included women students, which inspired I Nyoman Sumandhi to train the first Balinese female dalangs at the high school of performing arts in Denpasar, Bali (Goodlander, 2012). I had even heard that there was one Sundanese woman in the Karawang area of West Java who was a puppeteer. When my dalang friends encouraged me to become a pasinden (Sundanese, female singer [Javanese: pesindhen]) or tukang ibing (Sundanese dancer) – contemporary roles where females were welcome in the arts – I would cite the lady dalang of Karawang. I later learnt that she was unusual – seen as a lesbian with her pasinden as partner – and she was not considered a normative woman.

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As I grew more conversant, I was directed toward the women dalang of Losari near Cirebon (still in West Java but outside the Sundanese area), notably Ibu Sawitri, later my teacher of mask dance. Though I personally only saw her do topeng dance, she had on occasion performed wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) like the men in her family (Sawitri, 1988). I found some Javanese and Balinese women puppeteers when I went to the (once every five years) Pekan Wayang Indonesia (Indonesia Wayang Festival) in 1978, but in Sunda there was little movement in a female direction. The lone female student at the high school of performing arts (in the wayang course that was soon closed down) did not persist to a professional career, and teachers and all other students were male. Female friends from dalang families would sing or dance (usually only in their home village performances) but did not perform puppetry. Most married by 18, the age when their brothers were just emerging as solo puppeteers. Prior to that age the boys would usually only do short kaul (vow) segments in their fathers’ shows to advertise skills in manipulation and humour, allowing the father/teacher a break in their night-long show. With marriage, women in dalang families (except for some topeng cirebon dancers discussed later), would normally stop dancing/singing. Husbands and sons were the musicians, carvers and puppeteers. The women were conversant with these wayang arts, but not performers. To date there are no continuing practising female dalang in Sunda, perhaps because there has not been the ongoing intervention of training puppeteers in the West Java academy, as there has been in Bali and Java. Additionally, there is the persistence of wayang as a largely rural phenomenon in an era where Islamic values have encouraged conservatism, especially outside the city, so most dalang families have not encouraged females to join the practice. The closest, perhaps, was one daughter of my teacher Dalang Abah (Abeng) Sunarya, who in 2014 reported that she had begun, after her children grew up, to teach dance (not puppetry) at a local high school. In selected instances, women from traditional arts families could and do continue to dance and sing if their husbands approve, but more often one finds women participating regularly only if they are widowed/divorced. Puppetry is male. My dalang friends/teachers frankly told me that wayang was too abot (heavy) for a woman. Technique and themes were created by and for male bodies. There was the vocal technique that I learned to roughly emulate, but which was based upon resonances for males with a falsetto head voice for female characters, contrasting with a chest voice to produce deep, guttural demonic cries. Dance movement in wayang wong for strong characters read best when large body size or strength was available. It is arguably easier for men to learn to scale down energy use than it is for females to blow up – the small, internally controlled female gestures could contrast with large and externally scattering male/demon gestures. Upper body strength to hold heavy puppets and full body height in strong dance characters is useful. Themes in the repertoire highlighted “male” concerns and the material presented targeted a primarily male viewership. A wayang plot often pits two groups of male warriors – one more gagah/kasar (strong/rough), and the other more lemes/alus


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(refined/well-bred) – against each other, arguing over a bride/magical power/ kingdom to be won. The male-focused classical structure was articulated to me during lessons at the Sekolah Menengah Karawitan (SMKI [High School of the Arts]) of Bandung, where I studied in the late 1970s (even if the model was not consistently found in contemporary performances). Three battles occur. One is inconclusive in that no one dies (perang gagal); the second, perang kembang (flower battle), represents the coming of age of a male hero who conquers negative forces represented by the defeat of stock ogres; and, finally, comes a perang agung (great war) wherein the hero normally kills the major antagonist. The female was, of course, included. But, aside from those odd plots, where Srikandi and Sumbadra, two beautiful wives of the hero Arjuna, get bored waiting for their husband to return and disguise themselves as males (a story type more normal to book synopses than performance practice), women were largely a plot device. “She” represents the prize in the marriage contest or the kidnapped person needing help. Even when Srikandi and Sumbadra set off disguised as men, they would normally be captured, requiring their husband’s rescue mission. These stories are not about her: “she” triggers male interactions. Narratively, women often functioned as points of exchange/contention between two sets of males (customarily the Mahabharata’s sets of cousins, the Kurawa and Pandawa, with the latter group normally meriting the bride). Women-focused material/issues seemed scant. A lower-class female or Banowati, the wife of a Kurawa hero, could be sexy in love scenes. An upper-class woman could normally watch her marriage contest, give birth, dissuade her man from going off to war or weep on a son’s/husband’s bier. The story was generally about male trauma and triumph, and female pathos was usually there to accent the male heroics. Male focus made sense – the wayang performers and audience were largely men. Women viewers were present for the first hour or two but most of them (some teens excepted) left, putting drowsy toddlers to bed as the all-night performance continued. Men and boys had leisure to watch; women and girls were guarding the house and grabbing sleep before rising at dawn for market, cooking and getting their children ready for school. My teachers, Dalang Abah (Abeng) Sunarya and his sons Ade Kosasih and, Asep Sunandar Sunarya, encouraged me to send them a son. “Kirim naik becak dari Amerika” (“Send him via a rickshaw from America!”), intoned Dalang Asep. A son they could certainly raise to be a splendid dalang.2 Many nights I found myself called upon during the clown scene to sing the popular tune “Warang Pojok” (“The Corner Food Stall”) as a pasinden, no matter how off-key I might be, and I was even sometimes sent a tip when the song was requested – my fan mail from across West Java noted that this particular song was my kostim (speciality). When I would interview women from the families that could in theory move flexibly between wayang and topeng, primarily in the Cirebon area along the north coast, where wayang kulit and not golek was their normal form of puppetry, I found they seldom did wayang. Topeng mask dance from the Cirebon area was their norm – a cycle of four or five masks danced by a single dancer, with a male clown sometimes spelling the soloist. And yet, even as these now elderly women

Issues for women in Sundanese performance


topeng artists remembered their youth, they noted that the host would often want them to dance unmasked and they would break up the mask performances with ronggeng/courtesan style ketuk tilu (“three gong” music for a couple’s dance), partnering male audience members in social dance (Sawitri, 1988). There were advantages for the female performer singer-dancer, especially when youthful. She would be laku (frequently hired), but, unlike her brothers, she seemed to have problems keeping her mask on for topeng or the puppet in front of her in wayang. Why, I wondered, did these women keep getting pushed back toward ronggeng interactions with the audience – toward the singer-dancer’s short sharp shocks of sung poetry and dancing with/for male audience members? Why did males dominate puppetry, the prestigious, tragic and narratively focused genre, while women seemed to focus on dance, song and melodrama, which was, comparatively, considered low class? Is this the male “gaze” which the female performer could never escape? Is this the sexism of aesthetics, which means we may cry over women (melodrama) but deny them political/cultural weight (tragedy)? I have written elsewhere (Foley, 1989) on the wealth of topeng-derived forms in West Java – in topeng banyet and topeng betawi, for example, the mask is part of the history, but has disappeared in performance. The stock response to my interviews on these largely “heritage” arts was approximately, “we used to be a mask dance but we have not used the masks for at least a generation”. Viewers had presumably come to see the lovely young women featured, so the mask was offloaded, the one masked figure that might remain in these ronggeng-derived theatres of Sunda (West Java) was the clown, performed by a male who was often the troupe leader. His mask ( Jantuk) corresponded iconographically to the godclown (Semar) of wayang. So, while ideologically women were included in the topeng/wayang complex – since they might come from families of performers of these genres – in practice men stated that the dalang role in puppetry or dance drama was too challenging for their sisters/daughters/wives. Women who went too far in this direction would likely harm their marriage chances. Women were most likely to be seen dancing or sharing emotionally powerful songs of love or loss: the role of a pasinden in a wayang performance whose singing adds emotional nuance as a soundtrack to the drama. These women might be great stars and in some periods overawe the dalangs – for example, in the 1960s singing from a platform raised over the puppets’ banana log stage (gebog) meant the audience could see her clearly. But female prominence was decried and dalang organizations routinely called for the women to be hidden behind the puppet stage. Because of the singer’s historical links to ronggeng arts, she was (and to an extent is) suspected of impropriety (Durban Arjo, 1989; Sutton, 1984; Spiller, 2010; Weintraub, 2004). However, since independence there have been strong attempts to obscure courtesan connections and thereby raise pasinden status by changing her name (to, e.g., juru kawih or “singing expert” [high-status Sundanese language register]), forbidding women’s dancing during the performance, and so on. By separating voice and the dancing body, it was felt her status could be elevated.


Kathy Foley

The demands of dalangship (music, singing, narrative expertise, puppet manipulation and spiritual power, and captaining the all-male group of musicians) were generally seen as too onerous for a woman. She could of course do it – the girls in a performing arts family absorbed the tradition – but boys were, and are, brought along to performances, and women (except for the wayang female singers, whose sexual mores to the present always remain a bit suspect) were largely left at home. Boys played with puppets and banged on instruments from a young age. Girls, at most, were encouraged – as was I – toward song or dance when performances were in the home village. Even the women from the topeng cirebon dalang families, where girls were taken along to events, had issues sustaining a career over a lifetime. To be a professional performer after marriage demanded a very understanding husband or divorce, since travelling every day to a new performance site and performing long hours each night (9 p.m. to 4 a.m.) put a strain on marriages. In the late 1970s, some of my village informants of topeng cirebon who danced through their life would report going through eight to nineteen husbands (a kind of serial monogamy, as with topeng dancers Ibu Suji and Ibu Dasih of Palimanan, Cirebon, for example). These women generally stopped performing after a marriage, but if/when they wanted to dance again, should they have a disapproving spouse, they would divorce or only return to dance when widowed (in the case of master dancer Ibu Rasinah). Married women who performed in the 1970s usually had an artist-husband, ideally in the same troupe – for example, Idjah Hadijah, an internationally recognized jaipongan pasinden, is married to the puppetmaster Dalang Tjtjep Supriadi.3 In this case, the career of one sustained the other. Yet female singers’ popularity waned with physical attractiveness. With age, respected dalang of the 1970s such as Abah (Abeng) Sunarya would become more revered as spiritually powerful, while physical features mattered less. People would stream to his house to have him bless holy water. My landlord would ask me to count how many times Abah had a certain clown hit opponents in fight scenes – a good number to bet on in the lottery! Older females are given some slack in repartee, and are allowed more sexual innuendo as they age. But, except for a very select number of women who performed topeng cirebon, ageing females in West Java were generally off the stage. As in Western film, youth and sexual potency seemed more essential to the female performer than her male counterpart. I delved deeper into the wayang world and did my first performance, which thousands of villagers came to view. They were unusually silent as I performed (they wanted to hear me speak Sundanese). Everyone waved as I rode my motor scooter home after that first village performance and all the kids rushed out, yelling, “Ibu Dalang” (“Madame Puppeteer”)! The morning after my debut, the judgement came: “Not bad for a woman.” I was expecting “OK, for a foreigner”, since until that time no Westerner, to my knowledge, had undertaken a serious study of the Sundanese wayang golek (though a number of Western women and men have subsequently). I was surprised that my gender, not my ethnicity, was the first thing

Issues for women in Sundanese performance


discussed. I realized that I then had breached a gender line that I had not even initially seen. My Sundanese peers have graciously, over time, accepted me. In the 1990s I purchased a book published in Bandung on dalang lineages and found myself listed (Katy Poley) as an anak murid (student) of my teacher Dalang Otong Rasta, who trained me in wayang golek cepak (telling Amir Hamzah tales). I was welcomed back to Indonesia in 1988 and 1999 with invitations to participate in the allIndonesian Wayang Festival. When wayang was declared a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO in 2003, material developed by Sena Wangi (Secretariat Nasional Pawayangan Indonesia) noted foreigners – women including myself, along with men – as proof of the international reach of this “masterpiece” art (see Sena Wangi, n.d.). In October 2014 ISBI-Bandung (Institut Seni Budaya Indonesia, Indonesian Institute of Arts and Culture) asked me to perform with them at the Smithsonian Freer Gallery (2014) – my English was useful when presenting wayang golek to the Anglophone audience. Still, it is my status as a foreigner that allowed me to breach a gender barrier that only very exceptional Sundanese women have attempted and none has really overcome. The ideology of wayang/topeng as a gender-neutral form is, I argue, contradicted by the actuality, which is gender-restricted.

Theory versus practice Ideologically the puppet and mask genres of West Java are gender-free. These are arts where a solo performer, ideally coming from a family of dalang (traditionally said to descend from the Nine Saints [Wali Songo] who converted the island to Islam in the fifteenth century). The art is a complex form in which figures/masks of a limited set of character types are used by the performer, to represent what are conceptually the different energies of the cosmos. Mask/puppet genres of Southeast Asia are interrelated with the ideas of macro-/microcosmic correlations and theoretically gender, age, class, etc. reside in the mask/puppet character but not the puppeteer. The reason that a solo performer is preferred has to do with this idea that the individual incorporates cosmic “everything-ness”, which one learns to master through the form. A performer who can represent all the energies has a special power that comes via the ideological stretch of the genre. The precise stylizations of voice, demeanour, etc. for each character type are predicated upon using the different body resonators (nasal, throat, cranial, chest) and potential energies in movement of the solo (but customarily male-bodied) performer. Predefined character-type voice, effort-shape and demeanour allow the performer to move quickly from one type to the next – creating the clear, specific character differentiations needed in the story. In West Java these character types are associated with the four directions and the centre (which are thought to make up the cosmic whole), the significant colours (specifically, black, white, red, yellow and many colours), different times of life (birth, adolescence, maturity, death, the midpoint of life), elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether), spaces (mountain, sea, village, rice


Kathy Foley

field, centre) and other groupings which can come in significant multiples (threes, fours/fives, sevens and nine/ten are preferred as symbolically loaded numbers): all these multiples really point back to “one”, which equals eternity/unity/macrocosm and precedes divisions into male–female (see Foley, 1995). Duples – two genders, right and left, day and night, mountain and sea – represent humanity’s micro- (and, by definition, illusionary) thinking. Entities that bridge differences approximate the macrocosmic reality and are more powerful: hermaphrodite as a third gender that subsumes the twoness (i.e., male and female) gives birth to the hermaphrodite godclown Semar of wayang theatre, who may also find a reflection in the genderblurred clown/ritual specialist of the ronggeng theatre genres of West Java.4 Puppet/mask genres embedded in Hindu-Buddhist-Sufist performance practices offer a method that moves both practitioners and viewers past the limitations of reality – associated with the Hindu-Buddhist philosophical ideas of sakala (this world, existing “in time” and therefore passing) and niskala (the unseen world, “beyond time” and therefore eternal) – an idea that we find to the present in Bali. In fifteenthto seventeenth-century Java, these concepts were recalibrated with Islamization to the Sufist ideas of lahir (external/case) and batin (internal/spirit). The unseen and the spiritual are considered outside time and above gender differentiation. The arts, which allow us to see the central narrator (dalang), who, using many puppets or masks breathes life into the different characters, is a model of how god/the divine interpenetrates the world. The performer uses story (most often the Mahabharata) with his performing objects (usually puppets or masks) to demonstrate the different roles. The single performer signals the truth of this indivisible power behind. The ideal performer, the dalang, is therefore all genders and all ages, since all vagaries of sex, age and class are part of the “True Self ” (Sukma Sejati).5 This ideology sits near the substructure of many Indo-Malay Southeast Asian genres (various forms of solo topeng [topeng cirebon, see Ross, 2005, 2009) and topeng pajegan bali (see Emigh, 1996); Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese, Kelatanese (East Malay) wayang; and Thai nang talung (puppetry of Patalung province). It helps to explain the importance of the single narrator that is found in the puppetry/maskwork of this Indo-Malay area. This narrator is also found in dance drama forms in which the dance roles may be given to individual dancers, but a single narrator still directs the story and may continue to deliver the dialogue for all the roles (Foley, 1982). This is due to the concept of a unitary cosmos having a single power behind it. Here I trace the ideas to aspects of popular religion and performance that seemed widespread in Indian religious thought in the seventh to thirteenth centuries and migrated via performance practitioners who morphed religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Islam), changed stories (Ramayana/Mahabharata/Amir Hamzah/Panji/historical tales) and adapted to different patronage systems while keeping constant the idea of theatre based on a system of types and a single narrator/performer who has some sort of sacred power. While the ideology is gender-free, the actual practice usually confines this role to males. The truth of these systems is the androgyne – undifferentiated and whole – who speaks in his all-knowing narrative voice as dalang narrator and divides

Issues for women in Sundanese performance


himself in dialogue into the diverse characters, male and female. But the dalang also has a clown voice, which is both the obverse and complement of his narrative persona: Semar, who is “half male and half female”. He/she is mythically a high god of the universe (Sanghyang Ismaya) who has descended to serve the male hero as servant-guide. This hermaphrodite relates to old patterns in Austronesian culture that saw the male-female as both an aberration and a blessing, perhaps related to the hermaphrodites in old court culture in Java (Sutterheim, 1956) and bissu – transsexual priests in Sulawesi (Cohen, 2005). Yet this androgyne is the male who can become a female, and much less so the female who can become a male. The female who identifies male, while acknowledged as powerful, is problematic: she is there as Premoni (the demonic manifestation of Durga), and perhaps present in the images of the Nini-Nini (old grandmother) or Tembum (a lusty middle-aged matron), but in performance, in drama prior to the twentieth century, such figures are presented by the male dalang in puppetry or by transvestite males with female costumes/masks. It is funny for men to joke about sex or speak in raucous female voices, but when this activity is presented by an actual woman it is considered offensive. Women play the sweet young thing (Emban Geulis or “Sweet Maiden”) and deliver subtle jokes about sexuality, as pasinden do. Female dancers playfully push off men as they try to grab a shoulder or touch a waist. Maintaining feminine behaviour in public limits the female range. While in theory women can become a dalang alongside their brothers, in practice they do not – women are trained to try to be young and beautiful, sexy but not too threatening. The top traditional performer of wayang or topeng genres may be the male who can “do” the female perfectly. The man who acts like a woman transcends and proves his enlightened stature, divinity, and even his ability to deal with the demonic. But the woman who acts the male perfectly is going to meet the final frontier. If she embodies the demon, androgyne or macho clown, she is breaking the final barrier – the sacred. If she does this she must exert power that is both associated with the exorcistic sacred and, by association, the politically hierarchical and powerful male. This goes beyond the traditional female domain of local-homecentered power, which is linked to agricultural rites and fertility – female domains. Perhaps breaking the barrier can be accepted in trance forms, where explosive anger and loud exclamations can be allowed to sacred characters and women transculturally do appropriate the male voice (see Bourguignon, 1968; Lewis, 1971). But simplified categories traditionally allocated to women in mimetic performance (and life) do not customarily allow this expansion.

Breaking the barriers In forms like Japanese noh (Geilhorn, 2008) or Balinese topeng (Palermo, 2008), we see women moving in this century into genres that were previously male, but we also see the male establishments reserving parts of the repertoire (the sacred masks of Okina in noh, Sidha Karya in topeng). Related bans have traditionally limited women’s performances in Hindu temples in India and been part of the


Kathy Foley

explanation as to why women do not do many multi-person performances (women cannot perform during menstrual cycles and hence are unreliable and potentially ritually impure). The ruwatan is reserved for an older male. From an anthropological viewpoint I see that spiritual belief remains a significant barrier to the full exploration for the female performer in theatres such as noh, topeng and wayang golek. Perhaps the sacred is the final frontier. We must question the terrain that bans menstruating women from backstage of the Okina performance, or that forbids a female donning the demonic visage of Sidha Karya in Bali, or from playing the ruwatan story in Sunda. Perhaps until women smash these sacred barriers, such forms will never be fully open to her. We lose “separate but equal” genres where women played all roles in Southeast Asian palace forms (as in current Cambodia royal ballet, Thailand lakhon, or Malaysia mak yong, which have increasingly moved toward gender-straight casting where men play men and women play women). We see fundamentalist Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia put more clothes on the female, and try to forbid cross-gender impersonations (for example, the female playing the male in mak yong or topeng cirebon), which were once normal. And in the same areas we see a push by conservatives to get women dancers off the stage (especially in village environs). These attempts give a diminished field for the female. But, rather than restoring the all-female genres of the past, it would be most useful to put into the hands of women the traditional Southeast Asian tools of liberation through performance – puppets and masks. These tools inculcate a macrocosmic view of the universe that explodes gender and they should allow her (like him) to know the cosmic power beyond twoness.

Glossary Bedhaya ketawang: female court dance of Surakarta, Java with nine women, inspired by Lara Kidul goddess of the South Sea and commemorating her marriage to the monarch Dalang: puppetmaster/storyteller of Indo-Malay area Ketuk tilu: dance and music associated with Sundanese singer-dancer courtesan in West Java. In the late twentieth century it developed into jaipongan popular dance and music that mixes the courtesan singer-dancer tradition of Sunda (West Java) with aspects of disco Main peteri: curing trance and dance performance ritual of Kelantan, Malaysia Mak yong: Kelantanese female dance theatre of Malaysia Pasinden: female singer of puppetry and other genres in Sunda (West Java) Ronggeng: female singer-dancer of Indo-Malay area Ruwatan: “make safe”, an exorcistic ritual performance of Sunda (West Java) Topeng: mask dance of Sunda, Java and Bali Wayang: traditional theatre of Sunda (West Java), Java and Bali, using puppets or based on puppet theatre

Issues for women in Sundanese performance


Notes I wish to acknowledge Arya Madhavan and an anonymous reviewer for their comments in refining this chapter. 1

2 3

4 5

The aristocratic dancers who correspond to the minor wives of the monarch in Java as in the bedhaya ketawang dance of Surakarta, or various srimpi choreographies usually done by female relatives of the Javanese rulers (Brakel-Papenhuyzen, 1992; Hughes-Freeland, 2008; Holt, 1967: 116–121; Tirtaatmadja, 1967), can be compared to female dancers in some of the minor palaces in West Java (Sunda), where the Central Javanese model was emulated, as is reported by Irawati Durban Arjo (1989, 2014). Bali’s legong was perhaps inspired by Javanese dance models (see Davies, 2008; Dibia and Ballinger, 2004: 76) though Bandem and deBoer (1995) trace it to local trance origins of sanhyang dedari. On mainland Southeast Asia the lakhon, female court dance of Thailand (Miettinen, 1992; Rutnin, 1996), and its analogue in Cambodia now known as Royal Cambodian Ballet, has similar features (Cravath, 2007; Nut, 2015; Shapiro, 1994). The female dance theatre of Kelantanese mak yong had a brief sojourn at court in early twentieth-century reports (Ghulam Sawar-Yousef, 1976) and some feel it may relate to forms of female dance found in the seventeenth century in the court of Patani, as is argued by Zukifli Mohamad (2012), but displays features that might identify it with ronggeng as well as female curing/trance genres like main peteri (Hardwick, 2013). When I brought my son, Nathan Foley-Mendelssohn, as a toddler, Asep suggested I just leave him to be raised in Jelekong, the troupe’s home village. Jaipongan is a dance style that derives from Sundanese ronggeng-style performance that was combined with elements of disco and other music/dance by Gugum Gumbira (choreographer), Tatih Saleh (dancer) and Nandang Barmaya (musician/dalang) in the 1970s. It became an Indonesian dance craze in the 1980s and 1990s. As noted, the mask of Semar (with his black and white colouring) is shared with Jantuk, the clown played by the troupe head and ritual specialist in topeng banyet, a ronggengstyle art. In one popular play frequently presented in the 1970s, Semar, as male-female god clown, disguised himself as refined male knight Sukma Sejati to restore justice to an imbalanced world. At the end of the play, he returned to his customary androgynous form.

References Bandem, I. M. and deBoer, F. (1995) Balinese Dance in Transition: Kaja and Kelod, 2nd edition. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Bourguignon, E. (1968) Trance Dance (Dance Perspectives). New York: Dance Perspectives Foundation. Brakel-Papenhuyzen, C. (1992) Classical Javanese Dance. Leiden: KITLV Press. Cohen, M. (2005) Review of I La Galigo by Robert Wilson. Asian Theatre Journal, 22(1): 138–149. Cooper, N. (1994) Sirens of Java. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Cravath, P. (2007) Earth in Flower: The Divine Mystery of the Cambodian Dance Drama. Holmes Beach, FL: DatAsia. Davies, S. (2008) The Origins of Balinese Legong. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. Southeast Asian and Caribbean Language, Geography and Ethnology, 164(2/3): 194–211. Available from www.jstor.org/stable/27868481 [Accessed 30 April 2015]. Dibia, I. W. and Ballinger, R. (2004) Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali. Singapore: Periplus. Durban Arjo, I[rawati] (1989) Women’s Dance among the Sundanese of West Java, Indonesia. Asian Theatre Journal, 6(2): 168–178.


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Durban Arjo, I[rawati] (2014) Preserving Classical Dance in West Java: Preservation and Perpetuation of the Work of Raden Tjetje Somantri. Perspectives on the Performing Arts of West Java Conference, Washington. 4 October, Washington: Smithsonian Institution. Emigh, J. (1996) Masked Performance: The Play of Self and Other in Ritual and Theatre. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Foley, K. (1982) Of Dalang and Dukun, Spirits and Men: Curing and Performance in the Wayang of West Java. Asian Theatre Journal, 1(1): 52–75. Foley, K. (1989) Of Gender and Dance in Southeast Asia: From Goddess to Go-go Girl. Proceedings of the 20th Anniversary CORD Conference. New York: Congress on Research in Dance, pp. 57–62. Foley, K. (1995) My Bodies: The Performer in West Java. In Phillip B. Zarrilli (ed.), Acting (Re)considered. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 168–180. Foley, K. (2001) The Origin of Kala: A Sundanese Wayang Golek Purwa play by Abah Sunarya and Gamelan Giri Harja. Asian Theatre Journal, 18(1): 1–59. Foley, K. (2015) The Ronggeng, the Wayang, the Wali, and Islam: Female or Transvestite Male Dancers-Singers-Performers and Evolving Islam in West Java. [Arya Madhavan, (ed.), Women in Asian Theatre issue] Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 356–384. Freer Galley, Smithsonian Institution (2014) Puppet Theater: Birth of Hanuman, the Monkey General (Wayang Golek): Music, Dance and Theatre from West Java, performed by Kathy Foley (dalang/puppeteer) and ISBI-Bandung (Institut Seni Budaya Bandung) (gamelan music and singing). Available from www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDiH8ktqZu8 [Accessed 2 May 2015]. Geilhorn, B. (2008) Between Self-Empowerment and Discrimination: Women in Noh Today. In Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Christopher Balme (eds), Noh Theatre Transversal. Munich: Iudicium, pp. 106–122. Goodlander, J. (2012) Gender, Power, and Puppets: Two Early Women Dalangs in Bali. Asian Theatre Journal, 29(1): 54–77. Hardwick, P. (2013) Embodying the Divine and the Body Politic: Mak Yong Performance in Rural Kelantan, Malaysia. In Timothy Daniels (ed.), Performance, Popular Culture, and Piety in Muslim Southeast Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 77–104. Holt, C. (1967) Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Hughes-Freeland, F. (2008) Embodied Communities: Dance Traditions and Change in Java. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. Lewis, I. M. (1971) Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. New York and London: Pelican. Miettinen, J. O. (1992) Classical Dance and Theatre in South-East Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press. Mohamad, Z. (2012) Report: The Mak Yong Spiritual Dance Heritage Conference, Performances, and Workshops. Asian Theatre Journal, 29(2): 445– 460. Available from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/asian_theatre_journal/v029/29.2.mohamad.html [Accessed 2 May 2015]. Nut, S. H. (2015) Lokhon luang, the Cambodian Court Theatre: Towards a Decline of Women’s Supremacy? [Arya Madhavan, (ed.) Women in Asian Theatre issue] Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 416–439. Palermo, C. (2008) Crossing Male Boundaries. Confidence Crisis for Bali’s Women Mask Dancers. Inside Indonesia. Available from www.insideindonesia.org/crossing-maleboundaries [Accessed 2 May 2015]. Ross, L. M. (2005) Mask, Gender, and Performance in Indonesia: An Interview with Didik Nini Thowok. Asian Theatre Journal, 22(2): 214–226.

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Ross, L. M. (2009) Journeying, Adaptation, and Translation: Topeng Cirebon at the Margins. Ph.D. thesis, University of California Berkeley. Rutnin, M. (1996) Dance, Drama, and Theatre in Thailand: The Process of Development and Modernization. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. Sawar-Yousof, G. (1976) The Kelantan Mak Yong Dance Theatre: A Study of Performance Structure. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Sawitri (1988) Mask Dance of Losari. [interview] Interviewed by Kathy Foley, 31 July (Bandung). Sena Wangi (n.d.) Sena Wangi: Wayang. Available from http://senawangi.com/index.php? option=com_content&view=article&id=109&Itemid=221&lang=en [Accessed 30 April 2015]. Shapiro, T. (1994) Dance and the Spirit of Cambodia. Ph.D. thesis, Cornell University. Sky (2011) Dalang prempuan ekse meski di tengah masyaraket Skeptic [Female Dalangs Exist but in a Sceptical Society]. Available from www.langitperempuan.com/dalang-perempuan-eksismeski-di-tengah-masyarakat-skeptis, 16 December [Accessed 27 June 2015]. Spiller, H. (2010) Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sutterheim, W. F. (1956) A Thousand Year Old Profession in the Princely Courts on Java. Studies in Indonesian Archeology. Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Royal (Netherlands) Institute for Language, Geography and Ethnology]. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Available from http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-94-0175987-8 [Accessed 28 June 2014]. Sutton, R. A. (1984) Who is the Pasindhen?: Notes on Female Singing in Java. Indonesia, 37: 119–134. Tirtaamidjaja (1967) A Bedaja Ketawang Performance at the Court of Surakarta. Indonesia, 3: 31–61. Weintraub, A. (2004) The Crisis of the Sinden: Gender, Politics and Memory in the Performing Arts of West Java, 1959–1964. Available from www.academia.edu/5049890/ The_Crisis_of_the_Sinden_Gender_Politics_and_Memory_in_the_Performing_Arts_of_ West_Java_1959–1964 [Accessed 2 May 2015].

2 WOMEN IN A MAN’S WORLD Gender and power in Japanese noh theatre Barbara Geilhorn

Introduction Noh is often considered an all-male performing art, although women have never been absent from its history. Over the past century in particular, women have been challenging the notion of an exclusively male domain. According to my own research, nearly 20 per cent of professional performers are female (Geilhorn, 2008, 109–110).1 As a result of their efforts, women have successfully expanded their opportunities to perform. Yet they are still far from being treated as equal partners by their male colleagues. The noh community, which is patriarchal and conservative in nature, has been highly creative in setting out the conditions that allow for the disregard of the female presence, if not for keeping them out of the male domain altogether. While the notion of women seeking access to the stage based on skill, not gender, appears rather conservative in the broader context of Japanese society,2 in noh it is indeed a radical goal. This chapter will explore the significance and contribution of women with regard to the art, and trace their place in contemporary noh as professional or amateur performers, wives to noh actors or part of the audience. Special focus will be placed on noh as a social community in order to scrutinize the mechanisms used to prevent women from being active on various levels, such as the aesthetic discourse, the social structure of the noh community and the training system.3 What strategies for self-empowerment did women develop as countermeasures? What are the assets and drawbacks of female reconstructions of performance texts and codes? And what could be the particular potential of noh performed by women? By exploring the perspectives of women in a male-dominated art, my chapter aims to shed light on negotiations of gender and power in contemporary noh. Since most of the tactics to eradicate women can be traced back to the history of noh, a brief historical overview will furnish the background for a better understanding of the following areas of discussion.

Gender and power in Japanese noh theatre


Symbolic violence in the male domain Women have been performing noh from the very beginning of the genre in the fourteenth century. However, as the term onna sarugaku (“women’s noh”, sarugaku being the pre-modern term for noh)4 indicates, male performers were considered the norm. The issue of the symbolic exclusion that comes with this term will be analyzed at a later point. The systematic elimination of women from public performances did not begin before the Edo period (1600–1868), a time that was characterized by strict conventions and regulations intended to foster social and political stability, including a severe backlash in terms of women’s rights onstage and beyond. While actresses were officially banned from the kabuki stage, the erasure of women from noh was the (not unwelcome) side effect of the harsh struggles regarding influence and reputation inside the noh community in the early seventeenth century.5 I use the term “erasure” (as expounded by Arya Madhavan) in this context to point out that women continued their activities in niches beyond the realm of noh as the official theatre at the shogun’s court (shikigaku). However, the exclusion of women from official history paved the way for the construction of noh as an exclusively male performing art. Moreover, the Edo period shaped an aesthetic discourse that has been used to this day as a tactic to deny women access to a professional career. As the representative art at the shogun’s court, noh constituted not only a productive force in the cultural imaginary of the time, but also a means of cultural and social empowerment for warriors and noh professionals alike. While warriors practised noh, noh was deeply influenced by principles of martial arts, which was also practised by noh actors.6 This homosocial environment forged the notion of noh being genuinely masculine in nature and based on the male performer’s body, which still represents an important obstacle to be overcome by actresses. The erasure of women through noh aesthetics is intimately linked to that on the level of social structure. Interpersonal relations in noh are defined as between one man and another – which generally is a hierarchical one envisioned as a bond between father and son, older and younger brother, teacher and student – thereby symbolically excluding women from its social networks. With the head of the school (iemoto)7 placed at the top of the hierarchy – a position comparable to the pater familias that is likewise endowed with Erbcharisma (hereditary charisma), as Weber (1947, 140–148) calls it – social relations and conduct in noh are modelled on the patriarchic family system (ie seido).8 Yet, the noh community is connected by fictive family and kinship ties (giseiteki na kazokuteki ketsugo¯ ) (Shimazaki and Shimazaki, 2004, 445). Real family relationships may differ significantly from a person’s position in the imagined family tree. However, the idea of genealogical ties among the members of a school promotes social harmony and cooperation inside the group, and also is an effective strategy to legitimize the relegation of women to subordinate and supporting roles as being “natural”, as is likewise the case with the position of every single individual, and to legitimize patriarchic authority as being “natural” as well. This is exactly what Pierre Bourdieu (2001) called “symbolic violence”.


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Beyond the stage, women nevertheless make highly significant contributions to the family business. This includes, but is not limited to, responsibilities such as taking ticket reservations, helping out with stage activities or providing a pleasant atmosphere that facilitates interactions with colleagues, students and audience members. In so doing, the commitment of the wives and daughters paves the way for the stage, training and teaching duties of their male relatives to flow smoothly. And, due to their ability to give birth, women are instrumental in maintaining the family line and handing down the inherited art to the next generation. In the world of noh, which claims continuity for over six centuries, this is of the utmost importance. If there is no male heir, women might also step in to secure succession to the line by marriage or adoption.9 Beyond the professional domain, women play an important role, comprising the majority of amateur performers and audience members. While only a few outstanding actors make a living with stage performances, the tuition fees paid by amateur students usually account for the lion’s share of their income. The fact that noh performers are aware of the significance of amateur practitioners and audiences with regard to the continuity of the art is reflected in the investment of male – and often female – family members in promotional activities, such as holding workshops at schools. Furthermore, teaching amateurs and doing without a stage career can provide women in particular with the opportunity to expand into the men’s world of noh. Initially, the first professional noh actresses established themselves as teachers of female amateurs, taking advantage of women’s growing interest in practising noh as a highly regarded leisure activity at the beginning of the twentieth century.10 However, being called semi-puro (semi-professional) hints at the low social status associated with only teaching amateurs. This is but one example of the most common erasure tactics that women face in noh: being seemingly accepted, but relegated to a marginalized position. Nowadays, when openly misogynistic attitudes are no longer deemed acceptable even in a highly conservative field such as noh, the symbolic violence of masculine domination is expressed by other social practices. Indeed, actresses do teach professionals, but women only. A male amateur might practise with a female teacher, but will switch to a male one as soon as he strives for a professional career, since the low social capital of women in noh might limit his future options.11 The homosocial quality of the noh community strongly affects all aspects of the art, including the training system. Usually, a future noh actor begins training in early childhood, when the father or grandfather imparts the very basic techniques and behavioural rules such as holding the fan or greeting the teacher when lessons start and end. Besides, being taught by male family members sends a clear message about gender roles in noh. However, in early childhood there is hardly any difference between the training for boys and girls. Children make their debut at age 3 or 4 and continue to gain experience on stage in children’s roles (kokata). Girls and boys start to go their separate ways by the time of puberty, when they are considered too old to perform as kokata: while the training for boys grows more intensive and systematic, this age marks the end of practising noh for most of the

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girls, who are not intended to become professionals.12 Generally speaking, girls not only receive less support in resuming their studies, but do not even strive for a career in noh. As a result, the socialization in a noh family is most effective in excluding women from the stage: children are raised with the awareness that noh is an art performed by men. In addition, girls know exactly the obstacles and hardships women face in this male domain. Consequently, the majority of female professionals come from outside the noh community. In many cases, they begin studying noh in their university years to tackle the basics their male colleagues learned in early childhood. Due to these circumstances, women miss about fifteen years of practice, which is a severe handicap in an art form where performers do not reach the peak of their professional career before their late fifties. It appears from the discussion above that noh is run as a family business (iegei). Keeping artistic knowledge in the family is thus of vital importance. Handing down the art from father to son is but one technique to accomplish this. With the development of the patriarchal structure of noh (iemoto seido)13 already mentioned, more sophisticated measures were devised to secure the exclusive rights to the knowledge that is indispensable to practising the art: the custom of “secret transmission” (hiden)14 entails limiting the initiation to highly demanding plays (o¯ narai) to personal and oral instruction (kuden) and requires the permission of the head of the school. Besides selecting performers who are admitted access to the inner circle of professionals, it is an effective tool to construct authority and legitimacy handed down from teacher to student. Although the “secret transmission” was not conceived to exclude female performers, it is used for that purpose when women are denied the permission and instruction needed to dance plays that are considered to be important milestones in the professional life of a noh actor. For example, dancing Do¯ jo¯ ji (The Do¯ jo¯ Temple)15 marks a crucial point in a noh career and is often described as a kind of graduation piece (Tsumura, 1984). Consequently, delays in being able to perform or refusals to let women perform the play at all are effective means of marginalizing female performers. It is only recently that the majority of actresses have been given the permission and access to dance Do¯ jo¯ ji.16 However, this play is still considered taboo for female musicians, which reflects the general trend in noh music to be more resistant towards the inclusion of women. Female professionals have been and continue to be symbolically excluded from the man’s world of noh by their name alone, nowadays being addressed as josei no¯gakushi or joryu¯ no¯gakushi (female noh performer). While both terms imply that the standard actor is male – there is in fact no masculine equivalent such as dansei no¯gakushi (male noh performer)17 – the term joryu¯ no¯gakushi (ryu¯ meaning “artistic style or school”) is more explicit in expressing the idea that women perform a minor variant of the male standard. In daily practice, this notion is mirrored by the prevailing tendency to divide the aesthetics of noh by gender, thereby driving women into the “female corner” that comes with low social capital and evokes connotations of inferiority. For example, when the first twenty-two women were nominated as “Important Intangible Cultural Property” ( Ju¯yo¯ mukei bunkazai


Barbara Geilhorn

so¯ go¯ shitei hojisha)18 in 2004 and thus became formally qualified to appear in the programmes organized by the National Noh Theatre, the theatre did not include them in their regular monthly schedule, instead launching Josei no¯gakushi ni yoru (Performed by Noh Actresses), a new women-only format.19 Generally speaking, the performances call for actors of the same sex to play the leading role in the plays and provide an extra programme series for women, thereby separating performers by gender.20 And, with the exception of rare cases, women are not included in the male chorus ( jiutai).21 The difference in pitch between the male and female voice22 serves as pretext for this practice, however, the voices of both men and women have to adapt over the course of long years of training. Thus, dividing the aesthetics of noh by gender represents an erasure tactic that does not only exclude women on the symbolic level, but is very effective in restricting women from gaining experience onstage and in impeding their development of artistic skills.

. . . and women’s interventions: the case of Uzawa Hisa In this patriarchal and homosocial community, women dancing noh perform a highly political act even today. Some senior actresses, such as Uzawa Hisa (1949–), who will be introduced in more detail, have been successful in developing female networks and creating their own performance spaces to counter the erasure tactics of the male world of noh. Uzawa Hisa, considered to be one of the most accomplished actresses, was born as an only child to Uzawa Masashi (1914–97), an actor belonging to the renowned Tessenkai noh troupe. Although she began dancing noh in early childhood, her father never supported her pursuit of a professional career. However, in 1973, Uzawa Hisa managed to become a member of the noh troupe to which her father belonged. One would assume that being part of a prestigious troupe comes with great advantages, but these communities are particularly hostile towards women. While young men almost automatically get their turn in the chorus and are cast in smaller roles at an early stage of their career, Uzawa Hisa was only permitted to sing in the Tessenkai chorus for the first time in 1999, after being a member of the troupe for twenty-six years (Uzawa, Uchida and Senda, 2000, 10). Nevertheless, her skill and dedication have spurred outstanding actors like Kanze Hisao (1925–78) to provide her with training and support. It is only thanks to her tenacity that she is now part of the regular programmes of the troupe she belongs to. In addition, she organizes performance spaces of her own, such as Uzawa Hisa no kai, once a year. On these occasions she gives young actresses and female musicians, in particular, a chance to gain experience onstage. Uzawa Hisa is deeply committed to expanding the options of women in noh and to promoting the next generation, among them her daughter Uzawa Hikaru (1979–). As a secondgeneration female performer, she represents an exceptional case. Since early childhood, her training and career have been backed by her mother, who attends her regular appearances onstage or helps her gain experience in teaching. After graduating from Tokyo University of Fine Arts (Geijutsu daigaku) and another

Gender and power in Japanese noh theatre


five years of studying with Kanze Tetsunojo¯ (1956–), the present head of the troupe, she is now part of the programme series for the younger generation at Tessenkai. However, Uzawa Hisa and Hikaru are still fighting to be treated with the same respect as their male colleagues. Besides providing performance spaces for female colleagues, Uzawa Hisa is also engaged in developing a more systematic scheme to improve the acceptance of women in noh. A key problem is that many actresses lack training, due to the limited opportunity to gain performance experience. Participating in the chorus is particularly significant, since it is crucial to developing the voice quality that is characteristic for noh. To offer women the chance to receive this essential training, Uzawa Hisa started teaming up with other senior actresses at her school to establish and educate a female chorus in the early 2000s. In 2010, she finally launched a new programme series, Josei jiutai ni yoru (Accompanied by a Female Chorus).23 To my knowledge, this was the first performance ever to have an all-female chorus accompanying a male performer dancing the leading role. The event received a highly encouraging response from the audience and critics and was discussed in leading noh journals. While the conservative No¯gaku Times raised concerns that the problems of a female chorus could not be resolved even by years of intensive training (Murakami, 2010), others, such as Kanze (Kanzekai, 2010) and No¯gaku Ja¯naru (Izumi, 2010), took a cautiously positive view. Nevertheless, they were unanimous in acknowledging the significance of the event. To have actors perform to the accompaniment of an all-female chorus is definitely a clever move by Uzawa Hisa. In so doing, she kills two birds with one stone: on the one hand, she provides women with an important training opportunity they would hardly have otherwise; and on the other, she takes a radical step towards overcoming the common practice of separating performances by gender. Moreover, gaining the support of renowned actors by having them dance in the programme sends out a clear signal and ensures that potential rejection is contained. On the contrary, having women perform to a female chorus not only adds nothing new, but it is a step back, since it confirms existing notions of a “women’s noh” ( joryu¯ no¯)24, thereby widening the perceived gap between a male and female aesthetic. All-female noh thus bears the risk of self-marginalization, although in the short term it can help increase the opportunities women have to appear onstage. In the long run, however, it might rather become a further obstacle to the inclusion of women in noh. Against this background, the female reconstruction of performance texts and codes has to be assessed in a similarly ambivalent way. First, in a classical art such as noh, which claims an allegedly unchanged transmission over centuries, alterations in acting styles or codes can be realized to a very limited degree and by high-ranking performers only. For women, still being in a marginal position, it is wise to firmly stick to the rules and conventions of noh. Second, creating new plays (shinsaku no¯) is certainly a rewarding task and helps the composer better understand the art. However, after first release, shinsaku no¯ are rarely produced again and their impact is very limited, and therefore rewriting performance texts


Barbara Geilhorn

does not offer the potential to further the integration of women.25 Above all, it is the concept of noh as a male art, not the texts, which impedes the careers of female performers. In contrast, in my opinion, the particular potential of noh performed by women lies in adding new dimensions to the interpretation of existing plays based on the individual and gendered experience of actresses. When dancing noh, women can expand the “male gaze” (Mulvey, 1975) of performance texts and their interpretation by a female perspective, thereby adding depth and richness to contemporary noh. For example, Sotoba Komachi shows Ono no Komachi,26 once a renowned poet and beauty famous for her love affairs, as an old homeless woman sitting on a stupa (funerary monument). When reproached for her disrespectful behaviour by monks passing by, she successfully engages in intellectual debate with the two of them. When she finally reveals her identity and reminisces about her former self, she becomes possessed by the vengeful spirit of Fukakusa no Sho¯sho¯, a former rejected lover. The 2006 performance by Uzawa Hisa was particularly impressive because of her unique interpretation of the play, exposing the underlying dimensions of physical violence and sexual abuse in the spirit possession episode.

Conclusion Although there have always been women dancing noh, in the course of its history the notion of noh being based on the male performer’s body became deeply rooted in this homosocial and patriarchal community. Masculine domination has exercised its power by separating the aesthetics by gender and relegating women to positions with little social capital. Although women have been successful in expanding female spaces in noh, the male domain is only now beginning to change. In an institution that has little tolerance for dissent and transformation, women’s intervention is a highly political act. In fact, acting as feminists, women in noh have to distance themselves discursively from feminist thought27 and instead position themselves as “institutional loyalists” in order to reach their goals. In light of this, the situation of women in noh is comparable to that of women in the military, who can be considered “feminists by any other name”, as Katzenstein (1998) has argued. Against this background, Uzawa Hisa’s idea to have a female chorus accompany male performers is a very smart intervention and has the potential to function as a crucial step in overcoming the separation of performers by gender. In the long run, women will only succeed in becoming an integral part of noh if they manage to establish the idea of noh as an art that transcends the limitations of a specific gender.

Glossary Noh: lyrical dance drama that can be traced back to the fourteenth century; developed based on elements of courtly and sacral performances as well as the folk performing arts; plays focus on the narration and reimagination of classical poems and tales rather than presenting dramatic development.

Gender and power in Japanese noh theatre


Shinsaku no¯: non-classical noh plays written in the modern period; since the 1990s, there is an increasing number of shinsaku no¯ composed or arranged by leading noh performers with the aim of developing contemporary forms of noh and reaching new audiences. Iemoto seido: the patriarchal structure and framework of classical Japanese arts such as noh; in the noh community social relations are modelled on the patriarchic family system (ie seido), which is based on the family structure of the former samurai class; the iemoto (head of the school), who is placed at the top of the hierarchy, represents the founder of his school and the unbroken transmission of the art, and is invested with extensive rights related to its practice and practitioners.

Notes 1 Numbers vary considerably between actors and musicians, schools (see note 7) and instruments. While, in 2003, on average more than 20 per cent of actors (shite-kata) were female, with regard to musicians (hayashi-kata), the women’s share was only 10 per cent. Although these data might have changed in detail, the overall scale has most likely remained the same. 2 That said, I would like to point out that, despite legal measures such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Law being passed in 1985, efforts to implement gender equality at the workplace have shown little success and female labour participation rates in Japan are still low compared to other OECD countries (Assmann, 2014). 3 For further details regarding, e.g., statistical data, differences in the situation of women between the various schools or plays considered taboo for women, see Geilhorn (2008, 2011). 4 Onna sarugaku became popular in the Muromachi period (1392–1573). Troupes participated in major events such as fundraisers for rebuilding temples and shrines (kanjinno¯ ) and were invited to perform at the shogun’s palace. For more information on onna sarugaku, see Nose (1938, 1156–1167) and Rath (2001, 99–101). 5 Onna sarugaku was one of various forms of tesarugaku. However, the main difference between sarugaku and tesarugaku is that the latter was not integrated into the medieval guild structure. At the beginning of the Edo period, the precursors of modern noh schools could establish themselves by absorbing former rival troupes. While many male tesarugaku performers joined in order to secure their livelihood, female performers did not have the opportunity to do so (Nose, 1938, 1092–1182, esp. 1092–1094). 6 For a brief compendium on the effects of martial arts on noh, see Scholz-Cionca (2000, 139–146). Omote (1976) explores the topic in a series of six articles. 7 The term “school” (ryu¯ ) refers to the artistic styles of classical Japanese art forms such as noh, ikebana (flower arrangement) or chado¯ (tea ceremony). 8 Originating in the Edo period, the ie seido is based on the family structure of the samurai. Although officially abolished after the Second World War and having lost most of its significance with the spread of the nuclear family, it is still relevant for the organization of certain social groups (Kitano, 1976). 9 A recent example is Yamashina Yaji (1925–), who took responsibility for the family business after Yamashina Nobuhiro (1910–90) died. In 2007, Kanze Yoshihiro (1961–) succeeded him as Yamashina Yaemon (Yamashina, Yamashina and Masuda, 2007). 10 For an in-depth study on women in noh during the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taisho¯ (1912–26) periods, refer to Geilhorn (2015). 11 To my knowledge, Senda Riho¯ (1938–2010), an actress of the Konparu school, is the only woman who taught her son, Tsuji’i Hachiro¯ (1966–), in early childhood. Yet, as



13 14



17 18


20 21

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he began growing up, she asked a male colleague to supervise his training (personal interview on 27 January 2015). Education in the family may be supplemented by studies at Tokyo University of the Arts (To¯kyo¯ geijutsu daigaku). There also is a training programme for the roles of waki (deuteragonist role) and kyo¯gen (interlude in noh or independent farces) and for musicians at the National Noh Theatre (Kokuritsu no¯gakudo¯). Besides the fact that many female students quit their professional careers shortly after graduation because of the lack of future prospects, with very few exceptions these courses do not have the potential to increase the number of female professionals. For further information on the history and current status of these study programmes, see Geilhorn (2011, 49–55). According to Nishiyama Matsunosuke (1982, 1, 530–548), the iemoto system began to take shape in the Kan’ei period (1624–30) and became deeply rooted in Japanese culture during the Bunka-Bunsei (1804–30) years. In addition, the term also refers to secret writings, which, for example, describe the details of certain performance practices, to which only the head of the school has access. Such secret writings played a crucial role in shaping and securing the artistic monopoly position of the precursors of the modern schools of noh in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as Rath (2004) has shown. For further details, see Nishiyama (1982, 1, 15–16) and Morinaga (2005). A young woman was led to the false belief that she was promised to marry a certain priest. Feeling betrayed, she transforms into a snake, chases the priest and burns him while he is hiding under the bell of the Do¯jo¯ temple. The noh play begins with a female dancer (shirabyo¯shi) entering the precincts of the temple on the day the new bell is being hung. Under the pretence of performing a dance for its dedication, she jumps into the bell and tries to burn it. The climax of the play shows the intense struggle between the dancersnake and the priests engaging in prayers to pacify her. While in the Kanze, Komparu and Kongo¯ schools, undertaking the lead role in Do¯jo¯ji mainly depends on the skill of the actress, it has long been considered a taboo in the Ho¯sho¯ school. In spring 2005, at age 68, Uchida Yoshiko was the first actress in that school to dance this play, which is usually performed between the age of 25 and 35. An ¯ shima Kinue (1974–), actress following in her footsteps is yet to appear. Meanwhile, O the only actress of the Kita school, is challenging her male colleagues every time she sets foot onstage. Kano (2001, 32) has made analogous observations for shinpa, which was the first step in the development of modern Japanese theatre. The term translates as “new school”, as compared to kabuki, which is kyu¯ ha or “old school”. According to my personal interviews, the repeated appeals that some senior actresses have made to the Agency of Cultural Affairs (Bunkacho¯) have played a large part in enabling this development. By 2003, 431 noh actors and musicians had been designated as “Important Intangible Cultural Property” on the basis of formal factors: a candidate must have danced selected plays and must perform with a certain frequency. The “Important Intangible Cultural Property” should not be confused with the “Living National Treasure” ( Ju¯ yo¯ mukei bunkazai kakko¯ shitei hojisha), usually shortened as Ningen kokuho¯ , which is the category that acknowledges outstanding artistic accomplishments. The name alone provokes ambivalent feelings. Since 2007, the programme has been held once a year. However, as most of the women allowed to be part of this series are well advanced in years, it remains uncertain how long it will be continued. For further details, see Geilhorn (2008). Although there has been some change during the last decade, this tendency is still evident. When the leading role of a noh play is performed by an actress, the chorus – at least, in most cases – comprises male performers. However, this should not be interpreted as substantiating the integration of women onstage. Since the number of actresses performing on a regular basis is still comparatively low, it is often just not possible to form a chorus consisting only of women.

Gender and power in Japanese noh theatre


22 In noh music, there are neither voice types such as bass or soprano, nor is it based on an absolute pitch fixed by musical notation. In contrast, notation provides relative pitches, and thus the pitch of each performance of a given play varies a little. 23 The first performance was held on 23 February 2010, and a few days later was followed by a panel discussion with well-known noh scholars and critics including Hata Hisashi, Okuyama Keiko, Murakami Ken and Oda Sachiko. 24 The risks involved in all-female noh become particularly apparent when reading a series of seven articles written by Do¯moto Masaki (1992–93), a leading noh critic. Do¯moto argues that the fact that noh was developed for male performers necessitates fundamental adaptations when performed by women. Consequently, he calls for the creation of a new genre, called no¯mai (noh dance), which he describes as a form of dance that is based on noh music and performance texts, but is not noh! Although these ideas may appear to be a single opinion, they can be traced back to the early twentieth century, or even before. 25 To my knowledge, Tsumura Kimiko (1902–74), a pioneer of women in noh, was the only actress who also created new plays. Fumigara (Love Letters, 1951), which is based on the legends of Ono no Komachi (see note 26), has been translated into English by Teele, Teele and Teele (1993, 211–220). For a discussion of Ono no Ukifune, which was written by renowned poetess Baba Akiko (1928–) with the aim to compose a play from a woman’s point of view and at the same time provide a space for noh performed by actresses, see Geilhorn (2008). 26 While much about Ono no Komachi is considered part of her legend, there is little known about this historical figure, who lived in around 825 to 900. In addition to Sotoba Komachi, ¯ mu Komachi, she is the lead character of various noh plays, including Kayoi Komachi, O Sekidera Komachi and So¯shiarai Komachi. 27 This corresponds to my interviews with female noh performers.

References Assmann, S. (2014) Gender Equality in Japan: The Equal Employment Opportunity Law Revisited. Asia-Pacific Journal, 12(44): 2. Available from http://apjjf.org/2014/12/45/ Stephanie-Assmann/4211.html [Accessed 6 June 2015]. Bourdieu, P. (2001) Masculine Domination. Trans. R. Nice. Cambridge: Polity Press. Do¯moto, M. (1992–93) Josei no¯gakushi no shomondai 1–7 [Various Problems Related to Women Performing Noh 1–7]. No¯gaku Times: 486–492. Geilhorn, B. (2008) Between Self-Empowerment and Discrimination – Women in No¯ Today. In S. Scholz-Cionca and C. Balme (eds), No¯ Theatre Transversal. Munich: Iudicium, pp. 106–122. Geilhorn, B. (2011) Weibliche Spielräume – Frauen im japanischen No¯ - und Kyo¯ gen-Theater [Female Spaces – Women in Japanese Noh and Kyo¯gen Theatre]. Munich: iudicium (Monographien aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien 48). Geilhorn, B. (2015) From Private Zashiki to the Public Stage – Female Spaces in Early 20th-Century No¯. Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 440–463. Izumi, R. (2010) No¯hyo¯. Nigatsu sangatsu no no¯. Ume kara sakura e [Noh review. Noh in February and March. From Plum to Cherry Blossoms]. No¯ gaku Ja¯ naru, 59: 6–7. Kano, A. (2001) Acting Like a Woman in Modern Japan: Theatre, Gender and Nationalism. New York: Palgrave. Kanzekai. (ed.) (2010) Josei jiutai ni yoru “Matsukaze” [Matsukaze Accompanied by an AllFemale Chorus]. Kanze (April): 59. Katzenstein, M. F. (1998) Faithful and Fearless: Moving Feminist Protest inside the Church and the Military. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Kitano S. (1976) Ie to do¯zoku no kiso riron [Basic Theories on Family and Clan]. Tokyo: Miraisha.


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Morinaga, M. I. (2005) Secrecy in the Japanese Arts. “Secret Transmission” as a Mode of Knowledge, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Mulvey, L. (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3): 6–18. Murakami, T. (2010) Atto¯teki na kyo¯gen “Buaku” – Nigatsu no no¯ kyo¯gen [A Stunning Buaku – Noh and Kyo¯gen in February]. No¯gaku Times, 697: 2–3. Nishiyama, M. (1982) Iemoto no kenkyu¯. Nishiyama Matsunosuke choshakushu¯ [Studies on the Iemoto System. Nishiyama Matsunosuke’s Collected Writings], 2 vols. Tokyo: Yoshikawa ko¯bunkan. Nose, A. (1938) No¯ gaku genryu¯ ko¯ [Considerations on the Origins of Noh]. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten. Omote, A. (1976) No¯gaku to Budo¯ 1–7 [Noh and Martial Arts 1–7]. Gekkan budo¯ ( January– July): 110–116. Rath, E. C. (2001) Challenging the Old Men: A Brief History of Women in Noh Theatre. Performing Japanese Women. Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 23: 97–111. Rath, E. C. (2004) The Ethos of Noh: Actors and their Art. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Asia Centre. Scholz-Cionca, S. (2000) “Halte den Fächer wie ein Schwert”: Zur Entwicklung der Körpersprache im japanischen No¯ -Theater [Hold the Fan like a Sword: On the Development of Body Language in Japanese Noh Theatre]. In E. Fischer-Lichte and A. Fleig (eds), Körper-Inszenierungen: Präsenz und kultureller Wandel. Tübingen: Attempto, pp. 131–147. Shimazaki, M. and Shimazaki, M. (2004) No¯ gaku shakai no ko¯zo¯ [On the Social Structure of Noh] (Shimazaki Minoru Miyoko chosakushu¯, vol. 10). Tokyo: Reibun shuppan. Teele, R., Teele, N. and Teele, R. (1993) Ono no Komachi: Poems, Stories, Noh Plays. New York: Garland Publishing. Tsumura, R. (1984) Do¯jo¯ji: Preparations for a Second Performance. In Rebecca Teele (ed.), No¯/Kyo¯ gen Masks and Performance. Special issue of Mime Journal: 4–16. Uzawa H., Uchida, Y. and Senda, R. (2000) Josei no¯gakushi genzai mirai katariai. Ato ni tsuzuku michi wo kirihiraku. no¯ ga suki da kara. [Talk on the Present and Future of Female Noh Performers. Opening Up a Path to Follow. Because I Love Noh]. [interview] DEN, 9: 7–13. Weber, M. (1947) Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriss der Sozialökonomik [Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology]. Tübingen: Mohr (P. Siebeck). Yamashina Y., Yamashina, Y. and Masuda, S. (2007) Yamashina Yaemon shu¯mei ni saishite [On the Occasion of the Succession to the Name of Yamashina Yaemon]. Kanze (March): 44–49.

3 “JUST LIKE A WOMAN” Female impersonation, gender construction and role playing in Begum Barve Angelie Multani

Summary of the play The play has four male characters onstage and several other characters (mostly women) who are referred to, but who never appear. The play is difficult to summarize, as it does not have a straight narrative plot. The eponymous character Begum Barve is a transvestite, who used to be a female impersonator in secondary roles on the popular Marathi Sangeet Natak or Marathi Musical Theatre in the early half of the twentieth century. He has now fallen on hard times and is in the employ of Shyamrao, a thug who makes him sell incense sticks, perhaps pimps him out and is in an ambiguous relationship with him. Two clerks, Jawdekar and Bawdekar, who live an emotionally sterile life, buy incense sticks from Barve every week. The fantasy lives of these three characters intermingle in a unique way and, believing that Barve is the embodiment of his fantasy lover Nalawadebai from the office, one of the clerks, Jawdekar, “marries” Begum. The entry of Begum into the lives of the two clerks and his transgression of the boundaries set by Shyamrao precipitate an Absurd series of events, where eventually Barve is exposed by Shyamrao in the middle of the celebrations of “his pregnancy”. The play ends with the two clerks returning to their arid lives and Barve being reclaimed by Shyamrao. * * * It may seem strange to enter a discussion on women in Asian performance through a close reading and analysis of a play with an all-male cast and where the title role belongs to a female impersonator. But Begum Barve is an extremely important text that, for precisely these and other reasons, is the ideal site to examine attitudes towards and the representation of women in Indian theatre. In this chapter I propose


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to demonstrate how this text brings together key concepts that are essential to understand the construction of gender and social identity through theatrical performance. First I will summarize a brief history of female impersonation in urban Indian theatre, largely based on the extensive research of Kathryn Hansen. I also examine the construction of ideology and gender through the very nature of performance, also invoking the work of Judith Butler. In the section that is the crux of the chapter, the reading of the text of Begum Barve, I look at the framing of the action of the play through different metatheatrical devices used by the playwright to call attention to the text as not only steeped in, but inseparable from, the overt theatricality it constantly refers to. The discussion is informed by the relationship between theatre and society or theatre and its audiences where “everyday” identities, roles and relationships not only constantly refer back to theatre, but in fact may be said to be formed by it. In the last section I will examine how gender and identity constructions work through a “naturalization” of hierarchies and the ways in which this play questions gender hierarchies despite seemingly supporting them through its use of the female impersonator. Female impersonators have been an integral part of early modern theatre, not just in India or Asia, but all over the world. In India particularly, early modern theatre, comprising largely the genres referred to as the Marathi Sangeet Natak or musical theatre and the Parsi Theatre, both of which flourished in Mumbai in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth (1850–1940) (Hansen, 2001, 59), female impersonators became so well known that they comprised the largest draw to the theatres and were celebrities and role models. Although, as Hansen states, female impersonators are referred to in the earliest scholarly texts of India, both dramaturgical as well as others, and various regional and folk performative forms employ men who assume the roles of women, the practice seems to have died out as a sustained part of the contemporary urban Indian theatre. Men playing the roles of women appear in popular culture such as television comedy shows, or mainstream cinema as caricatures, objects meant to provoke sexual or vulgar comedy and (more rarely) in theatre as interrogations or explorations of certain kinds of roles such as the Hindi adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage (Alekar, 2009). There are, of course, different contexts for different kinds of female impersonators onstage, and a variety of “reasons” proffered for the phenomenon – from the “immorality” of actual female performers to the problems of caste. Hansen traces the history of female impersonators in Bombay, stating that: Theatre pioneers, including playwrights, managers, and company owners, were careful to demarcate their efforts at constructing a new culture of educative leisure in contradistinction to older forms of entertainment . . . For (playwright) “Delta”, immorality lies in the prevalent styles of popular entertainment, the nautch (dances of prostitutes), the folk-drama Bhavai and the shows of itinerant performers such as Mahlaris. It is known that Bhavaiyas and Mahlaris were designated as low-caste primarily because of their

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occupation as hereditary performers, whereas dancing girls were marginalized on account of their violation of normative gender codes. Patronising such performers, although widespread among British and Indian elites as well as ordinary people in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, had become at least somewhat stigmatized by 1850. (2001, 61) Hansen goes on to further analyse and unpack the reasons offered for female impersonation, the most common one being, of course, the fact that there were social taboos against women appearing onstage, that women were already secluded in separate spaces within households and that even professional women (the dancers and singers who had less than respectable reputations) preferred to perform in private parlours and salons, where the encounter with the patron was more controlled and intimate, rather than make spectacles of themselves up on public stages. As Hansen says, this “simplistic notion of substituting men for absent women must be questioned. Even in the ancient period actresses . . . existed side-by-side with female impersonators in theatrical troupes” (Hansen, 2001, 64). One of the interesting products of this “ruse of unavailability” (Hansen, 2001, 64) was to deflect attention from the popularity of female impersonators. Female impersonators like Bal Gandharv from the Marathi Sangeet Natak and Jai Shankar Sundari of the Parsi Theatre achieved unprecedented levels of popularity and recognition. As Hansen points out, these and other female impersonators actually competed against female actresses, and in many cases were preferred to the women, based on the public’s choice about the kind of representations they wished to see and who they wanted to see representing women. Clearly, as Hansen and other critics have pointed out, female impersonation goes beyond constructing female characteristics or the visual construction of the woman – it transgresses those boundaries to similarly construct notions of masculinity: These urban theatres moved away from a burlesque, transgressive mode of female embodiment, often associated with folk practice, to an elaborate code of modesty, propriety, and respectability that identified the New Woman in hetero-normative terms. But equally they positioned the homoerotic gaze towards a refined, transgendered performer who aroused a different kind of desire. (Hansen, 2011, 66) From a socioeconomic context, Anuradha Kapur points out that the Parsi Theatre was a form of early modern theatre in urban India, a form that was “produced very much for the proscenium which instigates codes of seeing that are substantially different from its precedents” (Kapur, 2004, 92). Inseparable from the context of early modernity is the rise in bourgeois sensibility and very specific economic circumstances of capitalism. As Hansen points out in her article “Making Women Visible: Gender and Cross-Dressing in the Parsi Theatre”,


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Central to this process was the redefined position of the spectator within the urban entertainment economy . . . With the rise of the middle-class theatre going public and the increasing size of the female audience, however, impersonation and other aspects of theatrical practice began to address the spectator as a gendered subject . . . In consequence, theatrical cross-dressing in this period went beyond the reification of existing gender boundaries, or the transgression of those boundaries for the purpose of generating laughter . . . cross-dressed performers together with playwrights and directors crafted a new interiority, identifying the ideal woman with inner sensibility and the capacity to suffer. (Hansen, 1999, 128) The key points raised in this quote from Hansen form an important part of the argument and will be referred back to at different points in the discussion. The social world of Begum Barve is a bleak one, heavily predicated on notions absorbed from popular culture (specifically that of the Marathi stage) for normative role models. The metatheatricality of the play is underscored right from the beginning, from the entry of the first character, the sutradhar, literally the “stringpuller”, the main conductor of the action in a traditional theatrical format and the one who acts as an intermediary between the audience and the action onstage. This sutradhar is a completely traditional figure to open a play, as is the invocation that is sung before his entry, “behind the closed curtains. It could be any one of the traditional invocations that are customarily sung before the beginning of a traditional play” (Alekar, 1994, 1). I emphasize that Alekar simultaneously states, through these stage directions, that he wants his play to be initially seen and recognized as one in a traditional format even though the content and structure are both highly political, contemporary and subversive. The sutradhar opens the play by calling out to someone who has disappeared in the wings. He then settles down to directly tell the audience that he is waiting for his sweetheart. This sweetheart is described in stereotypical terms as being a typical woman who makes men wait, teases them and beguiles them with endearing gestures. The line between performance and “reality” in this speech is a little ambiguous, as the sutradhar also refers to the fact that he is onstage and everyone (including the audience) is waiting for the performance to begin: “Just consider this. The invocation was sung. The one who vanishes when it is over had vanished. It was time then for the sutradhar and nati (heroine) to make their entry; the time has now gone, and yet there is no sign of her ladyship” (Alekar, 1994, 1). This is both a deferment of the promised action as well as the first recasting of roles – the sutradhar is now simultaneously character as well as narrator-director. We are also recast in a role, as we become unsure of our status – are we fellow actors/participants in the sutradhar/character’s wait for his beloved, or are we watching a performance which has already begun, despite the actor onstage saying it has not yet begun? One of the most lasting effects of the Western theatre upon contemporary Indian theatre has been the separation between the audience and

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the stage though the “fourth wall”. If the sutradhar can so casually destroy this separation by including the audience in his dramatic world as participants and fellowactors, then we are robbed of the comfortable separation which would allow us to safely comment as disinterested observers. The lines between illusion and reality or between theatre and the everyday world are uncomfortably blurred right from the beginning. None of the characters offer us the security of a stable or fixed identity – the entry of the clerk Bawdekar on his way home from office is questioned by the sutradhar – the sutradhar speaks in a highly exaggerated theatrical language which is completely distinct from the quotidian speech of Bawdekar. The rhetorical and performative flourishes of the sutradhar are gently, but firmly, dismissed by Bawdekar, who seems to know perfectly well who he is, where he is going and what he is waiting for. Both men are waiting for somebody – the sutradhar for his beloved and Bawdekar for his friend Jawdekar, for their daily cup of tea on the way home from office. This apparent clash between the two worlds (the everyday and the theatrical) further signifies the different realities occupied by these two characters on the same stage. As Jawdekar finally arrives, the sutradhar moves to the side of the stage, and the conversation between the two clerks and friends gives us an idea of their daily lives and routines. The semi-Absurd resonances of the play are reinforced here by the lives referred to by them. Both Bawdekar and Jawdekar signify the modern urban alienated man – they work in a government office ruled by an absent but always referred-to authority, who they call “the Boss”. They have fantasies about women whom they work with ( Jawdekar and Nalawadebai) or have met (Bawdekar and the Boss’s daughter Vasudha) and they live every day in the soul-destroying routine whose banality has been revealed by the Theatre of the Absurd and been consciously explored in other modern Indian plays, like Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit.: Jawdekar: . . . with this impossible mug for a face. I wish I didn’t have to look at it. I’m fed up with it. I’m so used to it now that I can shave without a mirror. I can’t part my hair because I’m bald. I give the tailor exact measurements but he still makes my trousers too short. When I go to the temple, my slippers get stolen. (Alekar, 1994, 8) These references in a text so heavily laden with metatheatrical and intertextual references are clearly evocative of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock. It is even hard to distinguish the two friends from each other, save for their fantasy women. The only thing they agree on in this exchange is the fact that they don’t understand the flowery language being spoken by the sutradhar and that they should buy their garlands and incense sticks as they do for their Thursday puja. As the curtain drops on this scene, the sutradhar sings to his beloved – admonishing her for keeping the patrons/audiences waiting, and as the notes of the organ fade away the curtain rises again, in darkness, with a spotlight on a figure


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polishing a lamp: “exceptionally light-complexioned, it is a man’s face, but the gestures are exactly like a woman’s. The face is heavily made up. The hair is long. Across the forehead is a horizontal line of red kumkum (vermilion powder). He is dressed in a white dhoti [loincloth worn by men on their waist] neatly and symmetrically wrapped around both legs” (Alekar, 1994, 10). It is worth emphasizing the function of the curtain here. As Alenka Zupancic reminds us, the curtain serves a specific function in classical theatre: “In classical theatre the curtain is, so to speak, the ‘transcendental condition’ of fiction” (1992, 75). In folk theatre, the half-curtain is crucial for heralding the entry of an important character. It signifies the barrier between illusion and reality, it signifies the theatricality of the performance that is about to begin. “No actor enters the stage without being announced. First the audience get to see his feet or headgear and the curiosity is aroused. Then the actor starts playing with the curtain pulling it down or pulling it upwards and swinging with the curtain. This arouses further curiosity and the audience get ready for a theatrical experience” (Ramamoorthi, n.d.). Putting these two functions of the curtain together, we can see how Begum Barve’s entry as a theatrical character, in more ways than one, is being framed by the simple and ubiquitous function of the theatre curtain. The curtain rising on the spectacle of Barve, the man/woman calls attention to the performativity of Barve – as a throwback to the classical roles of the Sangeet Natak as well as to his/her essential performance of self in the present context of the play. This “figure” who is contextually a response to the sutradhar’s call is a man dressed as a woman. The jarring presence of this man/woman is underscored by the complete lack of effacement of the male characteristics that are prominent in both the physique as well as the clothes. Begum responds to the song sung by the sutradhar – he says it is not vanity that makes him late, but the number of chores he has to do, which immediately helps the audience identify him as one of the subordinate women characters of the theatre company. Begum is seen onstage with two of his most important possessions – a shawl given by the legendary Bal Gandharv himself and an oil lamp which used to be a prop. Through this smoky, shadowy world of poetry and seductive gestures, the lines spoken by Begum describe the life of exploitation that was led by the second rung of actors in theatre companies. The grimy reality behind the lamp-lit illusion of the glamorous stage is a harsh realization for the present audiences. Person (Barve): . . . Believe me, it is these terrible chores that never end. Don’t the chandeliers have to be cleaned before the show starts? It’s only when the chandeliers were lit that we were free to braid our hair. And just as we’d get down to braiding our hair the call would come. And there we were pumping the lamps in time to the beat of the songs. If a lamp went out, there before us stood the sutradhar, the owner of the company. I would say, “Please don’t look at me that way. I feel so afraid.” I could feel the owner’s eyes tracking me down from the darkness in the wings. (Alekar, 1994, 11–12)

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As Begum reminisces about the “glory” days of Marathi Sangeet Natak, the sutradhar now in torn and shabby clothes walks in and slaps him hard across the face. The relationship between the two is ambiguous – we cannot be sure if Shyamrao (as the sutradhar now calls himself ) is only exploiting Begum economically by making him sell incense sticks in exchange for a place to sleep (under the stairs), or if they have a sexual relationship as well. This ambivalence in their relationship conflates and refers to other social relationships – that of a pimp and his prostitute, a gangster/bully and those whom he intimidates and, most discomfortingly, that between an abusive lover/husband and a woman. Shyamrao is clearly under no illusions about Barve’s sex – he makes crude and insulting references to his anatomy, but he is also clear that Begum belongs to him, as much as a horse may belong to a man, a piece of property may belong to the owner and a wife may belong to a husband. Begum speaks the same poetic theatrical language used by the sutradhar – Bawdekar still does not understand, for poetry and romance have no space in his alienated life. In the next scene, where Begum dances to a thumri,1 Shyamrao enters and the associations of the lover/marital relationship between them are strengthened as he refers to him as “Begum” – a term usually used for a wife.2 Shyamrao also simultaneously calls Barve his “property” – the horse he used to own earlier was also called Begum, and demands that he feed him. Begum responds to this much as a traditional and conventional wife is supposed to – he reprimands Shyamrao for gambling, then reassures him that he will provide food. Begum now goes to Bawdekar and Jawdekar to pick up some stale food they had mentioned. The action that follows this is most interesting, as it confirms that it is indeed impossible to look at ideologies of class, gender and identity as fixed or immutable. Plays that call attention to their own performativity and to their status as “theatre” force us as audiences/readers to be aware of the fact that we are watching the performances of roles and to pay attention to their construction. What Amy L. Smith says about Renaissance theatre is equally applicable in this context: “By repeatedly calling attention to theatre as theatre, early modern dramas especially encourage an active engagement with representation as representation” (Smith, 2002–3, 295). Smith focuses on the Induction in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, stating that the frame shows how gender and class are literally performed. Just as the Page in The Taming of the Shrew “moulds” Sly into a Lord through performance, Begum’s entry into Bawdekar’s life moulds him into the ideal lover/ husband by performing his role as Bawdekar’s ideal fantasy woman, Nalawadebai. Begum enters the clerks’ home in his “theatrical costume” “in character”, so to speak: Both of them start at the sudden notes of the organ. Spot on the two. Barve, enveloped in incense smoke, the stole draped over his head and a water pot in his hand. He enters, flustered, and says . . . Barve: No, really, I do protest. If you must throw a pebble, don’t let it hit my hand – and the pot . . . oh dear no, not the pot either! I wouldn’t


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like it if the pot were to break and I was to be drenched. You really are wicked to soak me and then to stare at me in this fashion, laughing. How long can I stand here, wet? What if the other cowherds and maids come? I cannot be so shameless. Do take this pot and put some water on your tender visage. How dreadfully hot it is! (Alekar, 1994, 21–22) This is both a continuation of the previous character he had with Syamrao (in the lines he speaks here, he refers to the mythic and iconic love story of Krishna with the maidens of Brindavan, the subject matter of the genre of thumris he was singing earlier) as well as a reference to the classic love stories and roles of the Marathi Sangeet Natak stage. He taps straight into the fantasies of the clerks, not just as a woman (specifically Nalawadebai from the office) but as a woman bearing a water pot. The clerks fetishize the water available in the office – clearly symbolic of the aridity of their daily lives – and wonder if Nalawadebai would ask the Boss if they could bring the water pot from the office home so that they wouldn’t sweat. When Begum appears with a pot, he is literally the embodiment of their fantasy. In Begum’s own imagination he is Saranganayana – the name of a maid to princess Subhadra in the Sangeet Natak Saubhadra (Annasaheb Kirloskar, 1880). Begum’s role model and ideal is Bal Gandharv, one of the most famous female impersonators on the early modern stage. The shawl he always has was apparently given to him by Bal Gandharv himself, and he always wanted to be in his theatre company. As Madhuri Dixit writes: Given the theatre charisma of Balgandharv (sic), there is no wonder that in the play Barve is devoted to him. His strong yearning to work with him marked by an absence of an opportunity to do so is representative of secondary female impersonators. The strength of his yearning pushes him to fantasy himself not as Nalawadebai . . . but as “Saranganayana” . . . His intriguing, ironic and tragic choice of the name of a secondary character of a maid is symbolic of his subordinate place in the musical theatre. (Dixit, 2013, 31) Bal Gandharv was a role model not only for other female impersonators, but for the middle-class theatre audiences all over Maharashtra. Hansen describes the reach and impact of his popularity: The pleasures of homoerotic spectatorship and transgender performance were linked in the urban theatre with the satisfaction of social and economic privilege. Both Jaishankar and Bal Gandharv became national icons and recipients of the Padma Bhushan.3 The position of their audiences within the burgeoning consumer economy introduced opportunities for the commodification of their images . . . Bal Gandharv also popularized particular styles of wearing the sari and adornments such as wearing garlands of flowers

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in the hair. He brought into vogue the bun, introduced the nose-pin (nath) and promoted the carrying of handkerchiefs. His image radiated such a sense of fashion and prestige that framed photographs of his female roles adorned the drawing rooms of elite homes, appearing on mantles and sideboards throughout Maharashtra. (Hansen, 2001, 71) Bal Gandharv was a fashion icon and a role model for normative notions of womanhood and femininity. The kind of roles favoured for Bal Gandharv (by audience demand) were those of pathos and suffering, thus constructing the ideal woman as a noble, silently suffering and emotionally vulnerable creature. This construct of the ideal Indian woman or Bhartiya Nari remains alive in popular culture till today and feeds into much of the construction of gender roles in the country. Returning to the play, once Bawdekar and Jawdekar accept Begum as the fantasy Nalawadebai, the relationship between Jawdekar and “Nalawadebai” is cemented. He moves in with Jawdekar and “marries” him, and Jawdekar accepts her as a sister/companion. Living out this fantasy life enables Jawdekar to feel fulfilled, and this is expressed in his ability to partake in the theatrical language and metaphors from which he has so far been excluded. The realization of the performative aspects of our everyday lives is heightened by Jawdekar’s understanding of his romance and marriage through theatrical models. Returning home late, he expects to find his “wife” angry with him and looks forward to winning her over with romantic gestures and lines. Similarly, when he wants to inform Jawdekar of the “pregnancy”, he expresses himself through theatrical clichés and euphemisms. The friendship between Bawdekar and Jawdekar, the relationship which was so close that they could barely be distinguished, is threatened by the presence of Begum – despite Begum establishing a separate relationship with Bawdekar, where they are brother/sister, where he is able to “be” Saranganayana, the balance is disturbed by the re-entry of Shyamrao. Now Shyamrao has assumed yet another identity – that of a threatening figure who owns liminal spaces. He represents a shadowy authority figure – the “Boss” – and must use this figure to intimidate Begum, who has transcended the identity of Barve, his property, and therefore can no longer be threatened by Shyamrao alone. Shyamrao, as the “Boss’s man”, informs the two men that only one of them can keep their job – the other will be sacked. This gesture highlights the fluidity of class identity and the importance of improvisation for survival of all the characters onstage. Shyamrao demonstrates this ability to improvise, as he has the power to change the narrative and the roles that others play. Both Bawdekar and Jawdekar get caught up in the roles of husband/lover/ rival that they themselves had initially constructed. They, like Begum, literally become the prisoners of their own imaginations and accept the roles that they had constructed as “natural” and fixed. At the end of the play both Bawdekar and Shyamrao need to break up the relationship between Begum and Jawdekar. This relationship has reached a critical stage with Begum’s “pregnancy”, as the role playing


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and gender construction has reached its logical limit. The male body of Barve can no longer continue to support the inscription of (female) desire, or, to put it another way, the physical reality of body can no longer support the normative expectations of idealized gender constructions. The attack on the “ideal” female body is triggered by economic motivations, rather than social or familial ones. Shyamrao convinces Bawdekar that he is the one who will lose his job, and furthermore that Nawaladebai has been unfaithful to Jawdekar, that the child he is carrying is actually the Boss’s child. To achieve his ends, Bawdekar threatens to “shoot” at the “pregnant” Begum unless Jawdekar writes out his resignation from the office. Shyamrao enters at this point and says that neither of them will lose their jobs. He then interrupts the celebrations to expose Begum and reclaim his property. In this completely sadistic and humiliating disrobing of Begum Barve onstage, Shyamrao demonstrates his ultimate ownership of Begum. The disrobing is both mythic (Draupadi’s humiliation in the royal court in the Hindu epic The Mahabharata) and also horrifically contemporary in a society where women are routinely publicly disrobed and degraded. Almost functioning like a rape, Shyamrao’s “exposure” of the male body of Begum strips away the fantasy and the layers of construction that all have inscribed upon him. Shyamrao: You are pregnant? You? Yoo-hoo-hoo. Did you hear that? Nalawadebai is pregnant. Yoo-hoo-hoo! Look at this dhoti wearing woman. Look at this woman, pregnant without a womb. (Shyamrao pulls off Barve’s dhoti, revealing his knee-length striped drawers.) Show us where you get pregnant from, you bastard! Look, look, look. Take a look at Nalawadebai’s knickerbockers! (Alekar, 1994, 52) The formal ending of the play is quiet. The chaos that was caused by the confusion of mistaking constructions for reality seems to have been contained – Barve (after the “rape” and “abortion” of Begum, I now refer to him as “Barve”) goes back to working for Shyamrao, while the clerks go back to their routines. However, this containment is not quite complete – the chasms created by the transgression of gender and identity categories remain as disturbances. Their newly constructed identities and fantasy lives destroyed, Bawdekar and Jawdekar now fall into the Absurdist non-recognition of Ionesco’s play The Bald Prima Donna (also known as The Bald Soprano, 1950) and start to build their lives and relationships all over again: Jawdekar: Good evening. Bawdekar: Good evening. Your face looks familiar. Am I right in thinking we work in the same office? Jawdekar: I wouldn’t know. I can’t say I’ve noticed you. Why not drop in at my place one of these days – we’ll get to know each other. Bawdekar: Don’t we live in the same place?

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Jawdekar: Can’t say. We’ll have to re-examine everything now. Come. Shall we have a cup of tea? Bawdekar: Yes, let’s. (Alekar, 1994, 53) Shyamrao and Barve return to their life under the stairs, with Shyamrao treating the action as an interlude, where Barve went out to get some food and stayed “forever”. Barve comes back on the stage to thank the audience – the “dear people without whose blessings the curtains would not have gone up. Once that is done and the curtain comes down they’ll at least be free to go home” (Alekar, 1994, 53). The curtains have gone down and the audience are indeed “free” to go home, but is it possible to leave the performance behind entirely? Can we shake off all that we have witnessed as theatre, as “entertainment”? Begum Barve is a female impersonator – that is, a man who dresses and acts like a woman. The physicality of his body remains indubitably masculine – there is absolutely no attempt to disguise it or project it as anything else. The gestures, emotions and character expressed, however, are equally emphatically “female”, or what we have come to recognize as such. This clash of behavioural expectations, this dissonance between the body and the gestures, distances us from the action onstage – it estranges the relationships depicted and forces us to acknowledge (as Judith Butler has emphatically argued in Gender Trouble, 1999) that much of what we accept as “essentially” or “intrinsically” feminine is, in fact, constructed and performed. All the behaviour of Begum Barve – the character of the long-suffering, vulnerable and heroic woman, is actually a character – internalized by Begum Barve to such an extent that he has actually become her. And we see that the “her” that he has become is as constructed, as improvised, as the character onstage. When Begum meets Jawdekar as the embodiment of his fantasy, Begum takes the lead in setting the terms of their relationship. He constructs Jawdekar as a romantic hero to play opposite Begum’s chosen role of the heroine. Similarly, Begum adopts Bawdekar, becoming his “sister”. He also fulfils the ideal fantasy for Shyamrao – being at once his property, his whore and his worker. As these relationships progress, we see the reshaping of gender hierarchies in a theatrically determined vein which highlights the naked exploitation of Barve. Begum Barve could not have been played by a woman. No biological woman would have been able to bear the weight of all the male fantasies in the text – the idealization of each character’s fantasy is possible only because it is clear that Begum Barve is not, and cannot be, a “real” woman. Nonetheless, Begum Barve does break down under the stress of the idealizations, as each projection is a contradiction, a paradox and ultimately unsustainable. The absence of women onstage is the biggest “presence” of gender construction and the most important marker of the patriarchal shaping and construction of gender roles in society. The brutal treatment meted out to Begum Barve by Shyamrao throughout – from the initial pimping out, the beatings, the intimidation to the rape and reclaiming – is chilling.


Angelie Multani

Again, this probably would not have been so obvious as inhumane if Begum Barve was, in fact, played by a woman. Seeing Begum “herself ” as “unnatural”, we recognize Shyamrao’s behaviour as barbaric and ugly rather than being able to sidestep it if it were framed and naturalized by conventional gender hierarchies. The practice of female impersonation as a serious part of contemporary proscenium theatrical performances is no longer common in urban India – perhaps the anxieties of homoeroticism and a lack of desire to seriously question gender categories is too deeply embedded in contemporary society. Interestingly, however, of late there has been a resurgence in female impersonation on television, in standup comic acts such as the popular Comedy Nights with Kapil on a popular Indian TV channel. The female character of Gutthi is played by an actor called Sunil Grover and has proved to be one of the most popular on the show. There are several other such “acts”, none of which are serious or interrogatory; rather, they subscribe to and represent the most vulgar and misogynist kinds of caricatures. The kinds of representation, and indeed the demand for men to play these roles, point to the deep discomfort with the relatively new notions of gender equality and politically correct representations of women that have been voiced in Indian society. Clearly we are unable to give up our conventional ideals and demands of feminine behaviour, and women are shown either as the quintessential Bhartiya Nari described earlier or as caricatures. It is male actors who impersonate women in these crude forms, thus unwittingly bearing out the social truths exposed by Begum Barve, that gender relationships and identities are constructed and performed onstage and in life. To change one, we will have to change our acceptance of the other.

Notes 1 2 3

Semi-classical “love” songs traditionally sung to express a woman’s feeling for a divine love (Krishna) and first performed by courtesans. Earlier, when Shyamrao was beating Begum Barve for not going out to sell the incense sticks, he called him “Barve”. One of the highest civilian honours in India.

References Alekar, S. (1994) Begum Barve. Trans. [from Marathi] Shanta Gokhale. Calcutta: Seagull Books. Alekar, S. (2009) Begum Barve [performance], dir. Amal Allana. New Delhi: Kamani Auditorium. Butler, J. (1999) Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge. Dharwadker, A. (2005) Theatres of Independence. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. Dixit, M. (2013) Begum Barve: Embodiment of Subversive Fantasy. Studies in South Asian Film and Media, 5(1): 25–36. Hansen, K. (1999) Making Women Visible: Gender and Race Cross-Dressing in the Parsi Theatre. Theatre Journal, 51(2): 127–147. Hansen, K. (2001). Theatrical Transvestism in the Parsi, Gujarati and Marathi Theatres (1850–1940). South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 24(1): 59–73.

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Kapur, A. (2004) Impersonation, Narration, Desire, and the Parsi Theatre. In Stuart Blackburn and Vasudha Dalmia (eds), India’s Literary History: Essays on the Nineteenth Century, 1st edition. New Delhi: Permanent Black, pp. 87–118. Ramamoorthi, P. (n.d.) Semiotics of Folk Theatre. Available from www.academia.edu/3501 686/Semiotics_of_Folk_Theatre [Accessed 2 March 2016]. Smith, A. L. (2002–3) Performing Marriage with a Difference: Wooing, Wedding and Bedding in The Taming of the Shrew. Comparative Drama, 36(3–4): 289–320. Zupancic, A. (1992). A Perfect Place to Die: Theatre in Hitchcock’s Films. In Slavoj Žižek (ed.), Everything you Wanted to Know About Lacan but Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock. New York and London: Verso, pp. 73–105.


Tango in Singapore is a niche scene practised among a small community largely populated by highly educated white-collar worker enthusiasts. Of this group, women make up slightly more than half of the membership. Motivations behind their participation are complex and multivalent. This is demonstrated in women’s projections about Latin American and Argentine culture, especially from differently constructed “Asian” female standpoints. Often, ethnic-based essentialisations underline such positions; at the same time, these projections can be transcultural in how women recognise varieties of the “Asian” self in the “Latin” other. These projections in turn intersect with latent performances of class politics along gender lines. For example, the imagined foreign authenticity of Argentine tango form (as opposed to ballroom tango) is frequently seen as adding to the elite cosmopolitan shine of its participants, who also use the same dance platform to present themselves as sexually liberated females. I argue that the physical manipulation of women’s bodies in the dance – by the women themselves, and also by men – reveals approaches to partner dance that challenge as well as reinforce notions about the active/passive sensual body in interface with changing societal mores of Singapore. These in turn fluctuate according to subcultural contexts and politico-economic and cultural agency.

Negotiating plural stereotypes: female, Asian, Latin The relationship between women and dance benefits from study through the lens of eroticism. Angela McRobbie, for example, writes of the social and subcultural positioning of dance in Western literature as feminine, and its corresponding relegation to limited sociopolitical importance. This is intertwined with popular associations of dance with ill-defined “nebulous eroticism”, featuring women being temporarily out of control (1984, 130–161). Phil Jackson (2004), Judith. L.

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Hanna (2006) and Francesca Castaldi (2006) have further highlighted readings of dance as female-enabled experiential performances that seduce the (male) viewer via sensual and sexual physical display. These utterances are deemed responsible for triggering and unleashing “the Dionysian body from the Apollonian constraints of the everyday world” in its appreciators as well as performers ( Jackson, 2004, 6). At the same time, the physically or conceptually bounded nature of these exhibitions has also been noted. Ben Malbon, for example (1999), writes of how dance allows women to flirt and display in a safe space, while Jane Cowan relates to this space as a “bounded sphere of interaction” (1990, 4). Such erotic positioning above of Western dance, when applied to women in the Singapore tango scene, endures a case of double magnification. Argentina, the home of tango, is frequently projected not only as the “West” but also as an extreme version of the “West” by nature of its Latin American geography. The dance itself (as well as other Latin American forms, including salsa) is often seen as a breeding ground for passion and seduction. Indeed, Latin dance around the world is prone to stereotypification as sensual and sexual. Beyond Singapore, Joanna Bosse (2008), Marta Savigliano (1995, 1998), Christine Nielsen and Juan Gabriel Mariotto (2005–6) and Julie Taylor (1987) describe transatlantic and global imaginings of Latin dancers as uninhibited lovers: skimpily clad women with roses tucked into their teeth, snaking their shiny limbs around the rippling bodies of open-shirted, pomaded men. However, against such essentialisations lie paradoxical factors that counter, as well as reinforce, these projections. As Sheila Bock and Katherine Borland write, “discourses of otherness are mapped onto discourses of the body” (2011, 23). First, the embodying as well as viewing/reception of so-called “Latin-ness” in Singapore tango clubs takes place from the basis of often – self-described – Singaporean “Asian” standpoints. What such a standpoint might construe is a further matter of debate. To begin with, Singapore’s politico-economic standing in the heart of Southeast Asia as a globalised and multicultural city-state has rendered its well-heeled and well-travelled English-speaking inhabitants selectively open not just to AngloAmerican mainstream trends but also numerous cultural and media imports from around the world. These are in turn adapted, consumed and remade. This puts any single overriding pronouncement on any specifically “Asian” nature of Singapore’s modernity into questionable territory, not least with the country’s increasingly transnational outlook and reliance on a foreign-populated workforce. By the same token, notions of sexuality in Singapore differ widely across demographics of age and culture. However, self-stereotypes are still frequently invoked throughout different sectors of Singapore’s populace, not least with regard to projections about Asian – specifically, Chinese – sexual conservativism and emotional restraint. In the tango world, these projections are further bisected by understandings of performer-insiders and observer-outsiders to the scene. As to what the scene constitutes is another issue. Ballroom tango arrived in Singapore with the broader social dance scene during the 1950s boom in nightlife entertainment, while Argentine tango is a relatively recent and niche development


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of the 1990s, fuelled by select enthusiasts of Argentina as a travel and cultural destination. At its broadest, one could argue that the Argentine tango world in Singapore encompasses performers (both teachers and students), DJs and observers who meet regularly in classes (practica) and more open, DJ-led events (milonga) to dance and socialise. At a wide estimate based on data from internet community sites, mailing-list subscriptions and class enrolment, membership is close to 2,000. However, a more conservative count puts the figure at nearer to 150–200 in terms of a dedicated core group of middle-class locals and long-term expatriates, with an age range of between 20 and 50. They meet up to seven days a week at various venues across the island, ranging from converted nineteenth-century shophouses to community centres and dance studios that also host classes and performances of other Latin and ballroom dances. Within this smaller scene, I conducted intermittent fieldwork from 2012 to 2015, observing, participating in and interviewing members of the community at beginner’s classes, practica and milonga sessions, and showcase evenings. How tango is ultimately viewed in Singapore becomes a function of where the viewer stakes himself or herself in the scene. Typical outsiders, for example, are non-dancers who construct images of the dance through glimpses of action massmediated through internet viral videos and short clips from films or television variety shows. This is the case, for example, of the 60-something mother of a young female tango enthusiast Chen, who was somewhat puzzled by her daughter’s interest, condoning it as an idiosyncratic exercise of “young people’s passion . . . like our rock and roll days, but even more Westernised and daring, they are quite havoc, they show off a lot in a sexy way, not like in the past, we were more well-behaved, good Asians. The Latin spirit is hot-blooded” (Chen, 2013).1 In the eyes of this retiree, Latin-ness stood its place on the furthest limit – even off the scale – of a culturally stereotyped sociocultural spectrum that put notions of conservative “Asian” mores on one end, and “Western” liberal ideals on the other. Latin culture, understood in its exoticised remediation, was here an extreme version of “Western”. Similarly, interviewee Michelle, a female colleague of Chen in her 30s, felt uncomfortable and occasionally “repulsed” by the sight of “these nerdy Asian men with oily hair trying too hard to be sexy” (Michelle, 2013). She was invited to attend a milonga session but thereafter did not return. To Michelle, the Singaporean men were “better off being natural with more restrained body language. Otherwise they are trying to be someone they’re not. Or maybe they’re gay” (ibid.). She did, however, defend the right of dancers to pursue their interests – “if they were genuine hobbies . . . I guess people try to expose themselves to new things. It’s just not for me. There’s play-acting in the sexy moves which I find artificial. Maybe Chinese men are just bad actors. They should just do the reserved and long-suffering stoic thing instead. I think if I want to let it all out, I’d just go clubbing. It gets to the point faster” (ibid.). What is interesting in Michelle’s broader observations – alongside her slightly more complex projections about Asian inscrutability or stoicism – is that she did

Singapore tango clubs


not have an issue with the display of sexuality and sensuality by the white, nonChinese, male dancers present on the day, explaining that “it’s more natural for them . . . either they were brought up like this or it’s in the blood” (ibid.). Neither did Michelle take issue with the women dancers, who appeared to her to be “steered by the men . . . they’re just at the receiving end of the dance” (ibid.). This lack of commensurability between standards applied to what is acceptable and what is not has to be interpreted according to different intersecting fields of play: onstage and offstage identities (gleaned from the comment on bad acting), race (white/Latin men are seen as naturally sexy), age demographics (young people are deemed more “wild”) and gendered agency (women are seen as passive recipients of men’s partnerleading and consequent foibles). The view from within the scene itself – of active performers and enthusiasts – however, takes a noticeable shift. In the core group of regular dancers, of which Chen is a member, there is often a challenging of stereotypes about Asian conservatism within, paradoxically, another sub-stereotype of Latin American eroticism. Dancers frequently talk about aiming for the “authentic” Argentine spirit of tango, and evoking its troubled history borne of the brothels of Buenos Aires. Frequently, references by dancers are made to the Golden Age of tango, understood as an era of dark passion harking back to Carlos Gardel and Anibal Troilo. Dancers unquestioningly adopt their (ideally Buenos Aires-trained) teachers’ ideals about gender-bifurcated postures for men and women. A premium is placed on the proverbial teasing between a couple comprising a macho straight man who seduces an artful prick-teaser of a deceptively unavailable woman.2 And yet, there are fine gradations to be teased out within subcontexts in the self-proclaimed aspirations towards these “authentic” Argentine ideals (or stereotypes). Janet Wolff ’s assertion that the body can serve the “daunting project of the subversion of its dominant construction and portrayal” comes in useful (1997, 89). The aforementioned Chen, a media analyst in her thirties, for example, speaks of how the dance, for all its passionate “Latin” qualities, portrays a more subtle sentimentality, it’s not cheap-sexy. It’s erotic but in an artistic and nuanced way. . . This really goes back to the history of tango’s shady beginnings in Argentina’s bordellos. These were women of the past with sad stories. It’s all part of the culture of the city, and of tango. It’s a whole lifestyle. It’s a deep thing. (2013) Chen’s comment brings to mind Susan Leigh Foster, who writes about dance in ballet as an “aestheticization of sexual desire”, moving the performer away from the connotations of woman of ill repute to aesthetic utterances of the middle class (1996, 226). Extrapolating further, I also argue that this historical and foreign/ othered valuation of tango has increased its ability to provide the dancers themselves with social mobility as elite, aspirational cosmopolitans. As mentioned, the scene


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in Singapore is largely populated by white-collar workers, including a fair number of expatriate (mostly white) dancers. The price of classes – run by teachers specialising only in the genre, many of whom pride themselves as having trained in Argentina – is sufficiently prohibitive to rule out mass attendance, as is the cost of dancing shoes and appropriate attire (generic clubbing gear is disallowed). The dance itself is deemed more difficult to master than other dance genres, with male dancers admitting that “real results only come after at least one to two years of learning; when you can actually get on the floor and find a woman who will want to dance with you” (Ming, 2014). Within the scene, women I have spoken to see the dance as a platform on which they disprove stereotypes about Asian conservativism or expectations about the public behaviour of women. Frequently, an oft-heard comment is that tango first allows women to break free of the confines of so-called Asian societal mores with regard to the public display of (aestheticised) passion and sensuality, or indeed show evidence that these very limitations are either a relic of the past, or not necessarily part of an “Asian” sexuality, nor of the defined role of a modern woman living in Singapore. Chen, for example, says that tango helped her “open up, get out of my shyness and build my confidence . . . and then I realised it was always there. There’s nothing that I should be afraid to hide” (2013). Here, a feminist reading of the genre can be attempted along the lines of how McRobbie, Linda Tomko and Bock and Borland write of dance as a “tool for female self-fashioning” (Bock and Borland, 2011, 23; see also Tomko, 1999), alongside how Jonathan Skinner describes female ballroom dancers in Belfast as attending evening socials for themselves and not for men (2008). As with the Singaporean women, the Irish dancers make use of the lapse into a different temporal space bounded by the stage or dance floor at night to transgress socially engineered or gendered boundaries of daytime behaviour. Often, at the same time, a transcultural dimension exists in intersection with the contravention of any so-called sexual mores, as described in parallel by Bock and Borland, likening white American dancers learning Latin dance as not necessarily objectifying the other but recognising varieties of the self in the other. Here, they explore “dimensions of the self that remain dormant, unrecognised or delegitimated by dominant identity categories ascribed to them within their own cultures” (2011, 5). In the Singaporean context, women who dance tango are invested in the form for themselves, as a means of sexual, class-based and self-empowerment; their multilayered performances of self here are also private and public transgressions of sociocultural politics. Indeed, the assertion of female agency here counters the opinions of observers beyond the scene like Michelle, who understand the partnerships in tango between men and women to privilege men as the only active performers. In the words of Leslie Gotfrit, the “women are dancing back”, as acts of resistance and disruption (1988, 122). As Ann Cooper Albright also points out, their bodies – alongside male bodies – are not passive sites, but “both objects of the representation as well as subjects of their own experience” (1997, 13).

Singapore tango clubs


Dance dynamics: interaction, choice, agency An important aspect of tango which makes an exclusive focus on women’s performances problematic is that it is a coupled dance form. Here, any consideration of the woman’s aesthetic and socioeconomic or political positioning within the act of dancing, as well as participation in the community at large, has to be considered in terms of interactive dynamics in gender role-playing and also the challenging of these established roles. Savigliano posits that the genre takes place on a “highly competitive stage, ruled by laws of naked seduction” (1998, 105). For one, the tango embrace and the tension that holds it together is prized by many dancers in Singapore as a quintessential element unique to the distinct combined chemistries of each individual couple, evoking the idea that the whole of the dance is greater than the sum of its parts – put together by man and woman. Taylor describes the dance as an occasion where men do not speak verbally, but use minute body gestures and shifting of weight to communicate with and steer their female partners (1998, 12). My own introduction to the dance at the Abrazos club, housed in the second storey of a community centre, involved being told to simply close my eyes and walk blindly, following the insinuations of my partner’s hands on my back and my arms. The experience recalls Rick McGarrey’s observations on the subtle series of male-led manipulations that can trigger a host of equally complicated – and sometimes surprising – responses in his female partner. Elsewhere, Jeffrey Tobin asserts that tango is a dance where men partner with women, and that the primary relationship on the floor is between him and other men who watch the scene (1998, 90). Such male-centred readings of tango do not give full exploration to the points of view and experiences of women. Is the woman only a puppet? And where is her agency in this complex dynamic of partner interaction? What are her experiences, and how do other women look at tango, or at both women and men? Does anyone look at the women? To begin with, even in the limited realm of avenues of response, there is often a wider degree of flexibility than stereotypes about tango dynamics imply. In the words of Sylvia, an accountant in her 40s who has been dancing for four years, it’s always interesting finding out what a new partner is like; there are different kinds of embraces – close ones and open. It’s fun trying out the new chemistry with each person. Like flirting in a safe environment. It’s artistic too – I enjoy being led by many different men, I compare them. The skilled ones can open up the floor for you to do very exciting kicks and twirls. But beginners stick to squares and you can’t improvise. But everyone is learning, so I try to be generous. (Sylvia, 2013) Indeed – as attested by Taylor (1987, 1998) and Savigliano (1995, 1998) – women are not always passive recipients of the game. This is seen not only in their ability to respond differently – via surprise, teasing and movement-based repartee in their


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own gestures after the man’s first serve. Even before one begins traversing the floor, the woman has equal say in choosing one’s partner, acted out in what is referred to as the “authentic” ritual of the cabeceo at the wine tables arranged around the floor. In Singapore, Sylvia explains the meaning of the Argentine term: “You never ask a girl to dance. You have to make eye contact, create that electricity, flirt across the room. But if I don’t like the guy, it’s easy. I just look away, pretend I don’t see him. Or look at the floor. I can always look at another guy too” (2013). Sylvia points out that women form solidarity groups in between the dances, sitting and chatting together to compare notes on men: We know who the better dancers are, or the clumsy ones. Who the sleazebags are, and the ones who don’t shower before coming. The ones who use too much cologne. There’s a blacklist, it’s a small scene. We can always say no! But most of the men are nice. They make an effort. It’s an expensive hobby. We weed the pervs out quite quickly. (2013) Sylvia’s comments suggest that, while women still are at the mercy of the man’s suggestions during the dance itself, they ultimately take on the roles of surveyor across the floor as well as the scene, choosing between the different men that come to pass and the richness and variety of their offerings while maintaining veto rights on partners. More importantly, women can also initiate a dance “without losing face – thanks to the cabeceo. In this way we’ve got more power as women, compared to other social dances” (2013). While it is true in the reverse that men can reject an offering from a woman via the cabeceo, this is often rare. The vesting of sexual agency thus transfers between man and woman in the prelude to, as well as actual, partnership. The ambiguous realm within which women operate can sometimes lead to a surprisingly wide accumulated arsenal of actions they can draw upon. In Singapore, tango classes, where the gender balance tilts slightly in favour of women, women almost always dance with other women at some point on a rotational basis, while the converse is rare. Male instructors almost always use female assistants to demonstrate moves, while female instructors impersonate men – dancing with other women. The latter situation is frequently not read as a deliberate, taboo-breaking queering of tango in performance. Instead, women are seen as operating within the realms of relatively fluid sexualities and genders here, performing in default relegation as “non-male” instead of “explicitly female” or “explicitly male”. As such, female tango dancers in Singapore frequently end up learning both the male and female moves, leading to the building of a broader and balanced repertoire of moves. Part of the excitement for a woman in dancing with a man also lies in anticipating his suggestions on account of her own knowledge of the man’s perspective. Women are given the opportunity to experience and perform a separate category of the self as the other in terms of gender (in occasionally taking on male roles), in addition to the self as the other by ethnicity or culture (in taking on Argentine culture).

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The above finding relates interestingly to my interviews with Singaporean women in questioning of the female gaze. Responses showed that women tended to look more at the couple and their unique embrace as a single unit, or at their interactive chemistry, rather than at either the individual man or woman in isolated operation. It was in questions concerning the experiential dimension of tango that men were compared vis-à-vis women’s first-person perspectives: A had a magic touch that sizzled; B’s embrace was cosy but platonic; C liked funky moves that allowed for witty responses. Men were also subject to unrelenting emasculation by the women – sometimes in jest, sometimes in seriousness: X studied all the steps like a good boy but was too nerdy; Y was self-engrossed and a virtuosic peacock; Z was trying too hard. As far as pronouncements on women were concerned, female observers tended to support each other, praising individuals’ flair, wit or grace in responding. Occasionally, they would put a beginner down gently for their relative stiffness. Clearly, tango for many of these women allowed for what Julia Ericksen has called the active “purchase of intimacy” (2011, 4), empowering them in ways that were still acceptable within overlapping dimensions of bounded spheres. Women were also often invested in tango not just for the social capital that belonging to a cosmopolitan club brought, but also for the potential of meeting different men in a “safe” environment. Many simply wanted the experiences of being “swept of your feet, literally, now and then” in the hands of a good leader (Ting, 2014). One blind spot of my fieldwork methodology is that my own female gender may have helped open doors in conversation with women, but kept men holding back within the verbally circumspect confines of a middle-to-upper class scene. “A gentleman never tells” appears to be a common refrain among men who were asked to discuss the approaches of female dance partners. Most, however, agreed that the learning curve was much harder for men, who had to lead, plan and improvise moves. This was in opposition to women as followers, thus bringing for men “very slow returns at first . . . you have to keep at it for a while before someone will dance with you” (Ming, 2014). In fact, dancer Ming, a marketing manager in his late 20s, relates joining the tango scene for the purposes of meeting “more interesting, cultured and open-minded women”, and admitted that he saw the community as a place to date (albeit, so far, without success). Not surprisingly, following the socially mobilising underpinnings of the genre’s existence in Singapore, there have been a number of known cases where couples of similar economic backgrounds and self-proclaimed cosmopolitan interests have met and paired up through tango. To be sure, the instances and anecdotes above replay old courtship rituals of patriarchal privilege among the middle classes around the world: men bring their capital into the offer of a hand; women accept (or not). This sociopolitically regressive aspect of tango in Singapore makes it not altogether too different from circumstances in any other cosmopolitan city, as Taylor (1987) and Savigliano (1995) have pointed out. A more vital issue to Singapore’s multicultural context lies in local dancers unashamedly claiming cosmopolitanism and liberality of its dance scene,


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paradoxically on the basis of reinforcing paternalistic behaviours in the dance that are practised internationally. These transcultural paradoxes, which emerge in the construction of said “liberal” values in Singaporean tango, will be explored later. For now, the woman has to be led by the man. However, she does not rest on her haunches, but often attains a broader knowledge of the scene in “dancing back” (Gotfrit, 1988), preparing double the work by learning both male and female tango approaches. For some, this is key to predicting and handling moves made by their male partners. For others, it is simply a result of slightly uneven demographics in the scene: in a classroom situation where there are usually more women than men, women often end up dancing with other women. Here, their female performance of maleness is relegated to a default zone of tolerance, rather than an explicitly queered zone.

Intersectional performances: the transcultural and cosmopolitan in “Asian” feminism It is from the broad and potentially rich arena of gender fluidity (and, by extension, cultural fluidity) within which women operate that aspects of tango, specific to subcultural contexts in Singapore, may be gleaned. An example can be found in transcultural attitudes that are often taken with regards to the above-mentioned ritual of the cabaceo, or the mutual non-verbal agreement to dance together. Returning to the dancer Sylvia again, this is given an Asian spin. Enveloped within the ritual where the flow of proverbial electricity between a man and a woman, in the assignations that are made across the dance floor in a presumed “authentic Argentine” or flirty “Latin” manner, there is also a subtle approach that Sylvia calls “Asian” (2013). This is a mutual reading of body language and a corresponding reaction to tiny body movements and gestures insinuated by the tightening of skin around the eyelids, or an imperceptibly raised eyebrow, or the flaring of a nose: “instead of open confrontation, or crudely spelling out things . . . we give people face, allow them to back out graciously. Or sometimes if the woman is initiating we are also protecting our own egos! It’s very Chinese, this approach to hooking up, no one loses face” (2013). Sylvia further reiterates that the dancing itself “can also be very Asian – it’s intimate in a way that makes you read minds without having to state the obvious”. Speech is kept to a minimum and nuanced messages are conveyed through finessed (as opposed to exaggerated) body gestures. Such modes of non-verbal communication described by Sylvia, challenge oftheard tropes about Chinese inscrutability, stoicism or poker-faced restraint. Far from being emotionally embarrassed, dispassionate or restrained, tango dancers in Singapore perform their own congruent version of Chinese identity within a slightly broader Asian identity ensconced once more in yet another – third – aspired Latin identity. This is performed as ritual flirtation, enacted via a complex system of veiled articulations and mutual second-guessing, made through reading precise microphysical cues. The cues provide an even finer and wider calibration of the rich, inner emotional potential and worlds of tango dancers in Singapore.

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Sylvia’s readings of Chinese identities nested in Asian identities wrapped within aspired Latin projections, cached in the performance of the cabaceo, resonate with Shuhei Hosokawa’s (2002, 306) depiction of Japanese subjectivities in the ability of salsa dancers to identify ambiguously both with, as well as against, the Latin other. In other words, the transcultural approach of seeing – not simply oneself in the other (Cuccioletta, 2001–2, 1; Ortiz, 1947), but a version of the self in its claiming of multiple identities – has prevailed. More significantly, this claiming of simultaneous, or situationally interchangeable, identities is acted out not only on the field of cultural difference, but also class and – more specifically in context to this volume on women in performance – gender and sexual difference. An attempt to answer Graham Huggan’s questions as to whether one can explain cultural difference without “mystifying it . . . or privileging the self, or ministering to the needs of the mainstream” (2001, 31–32), may be found in examining the intersectional nature of these utterances and performances. In the case of tango in Singapore, the transcultural identification with Argentina through dance is a function of broader cosmopolitan aspirations that cut across various other fault lines. In class terms, for example, women use the dance as a means of signifying social mobility evoked by mastery of the genre as an art form – as Chen’s anecdote of tango as not “cheap-sexy”, but “subtly erotic” (see above), tellingly demonstrates. Further, tango’s veneer of cosmopolitanism – and its attendant aesthetics of “complexity, virtuosity . . . aesthetic distance control, all couched within the discourse of sophistication” (Bosse, 2007, 27) – also inflect notions of sexual and gender liberation. Here, women tango dancers demonstrate their sexualities in deceptively socially progressive terms (via an aspired cosmopolitanism in the sexual liberation of a projected Asian woman now given a Latin makeover). However, at the same time, this is also regressive in gender-structural terms (via frequent reinforcing of male hegemonies in partner interplay, made in the name of paradoxically embracing “liberal” Western/Latin values). A superficial understanding of the Singaporean dancer here interprets her as equating cosmopolitanism with some nebulous amalgamation of “Western values”. This is perhaps seen in how she can easily ventriloquise as “white” (as opposed to Asian) in situating herself within a doxa of a mainstream non-Latin (i.e., “Western”) culture. She encounters and performs tango from the position of a worldly and educated performer, open to new and different experiences. And yet, the intersectional politics of such a position only go to underscore how her ability to claim “whiteness” (or measure herself up as an equal to it) can only come from an entrenched and postcolonial position of well-travelled, English-educated and high-earning class privilege. Indeed, a further counter-argument can be made for the Singaporean dancer’s transcultural identification with tango, not just in her seeing her self as liminal, or as versions of “Asian” or “Latin”, but also “urbanite transnational”. As mentioned, the scene in Singapore is host to a fair number of upper-/middle-class expatriate men (and a few women) from Europe, the United States and Latin America. Regular showcases by overseas performers are also held, either as touring workshops for


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a special evening, or programmed into annual tango and Latin American dance and music festivals. Singapore-based dancers frequently travel overseas to Argentina, as well as nearer regions in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Korea and Japan, to check out sister scenes, learn the dance or even demonstrate. Deborah Wong writes of how tangos, “which made their way from Argentina to European nightclubs, from there to colonial outposts”, present “a complex emotional landscape” – especially within the borderlands of the diaspora – as a “postcolonial artifact with a new spin” (Wong and Elliott, 1994, 160). In Singapore, the class-enabled empowerment of the dancer to seek and own multiple cultural connections has led to journeys of self-transformation and self-positioning. These have ultimately also led to the recalibration of playing fields: for the Singaporean tango dancer, the doxa of tango now is neither Argentinian nor white, nor Asian, but global, cosmopolitan and transnational. In Singapore, regular visits for exhibition performances of a mixedrace dancer couple based in Shanghai – of Chinese and Ukrainian partnership, for example – are received with barely the batting of an eyelid over issues of ethnic authenticity, but taken for granted as the natural order of the scene. Indeed, tango in Singapore – and also parts of Southeast and East Asia – is transnational rather than simply globalised or glocalised. In academic literature, the challenges that this development puts forward are recognised by Savigliano (1995) and Wong (2004; Wong and Elliott, 1994), among others. Bringing the discussion back to the overarching theme of this collected edition of female contributions to Asian performances, then, a final recapitulation of the intersectionality of tango performance can be made by re-examining the relationship of class and aspirational cosmopolitan dynamics to gender, sexuality and latent performances of Asian feminism. Bock and Borland’s assertion that gender complexifies the embodying of otherness, “since the female body bears the weight of cultural difference to a greater degree than the male body in many representational contexts”, is relevant here (2011, 2–3). Equally significant is Trinh Minh-ha’s assertion that women of colour “have less to do with questions of cultural difference than with a different notion of feminism itself . . . [The movement is] heterogeneous in its beginnings” (Trinh and Parma, 1990, 66; see also Trinh, 1989). Indeed, a return to the making and remaking of women’s sexualities in tango partner dynamics according to notions of degrees of liberalism, measured according to master scales calibrated by “Western” feminist discourses sheds light on the class, cultural and gender-specific contexts of Singaporean women. Trinh would call this “a simultaneous form of appropriation and expropriation”, acknowledging “intercultural enrichment and of interdependency in the fighting-learning process”. Singaporean women speak of rediscovering their latent sensuality through tango as a result of the empowering transgression of cultural difference as well as context that also subsumes the transgression of personal as well as projected cultural (Asian/Chinese) sexual mores. But do they negotiate this journey from the proverbial East to Latin America (imagined as an “extreme” West) by way of the mainstream and master culture of the West? (A grade-school budding geographer and transculturalist might well claim that Latin America could also be approached

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through going the furthest East.) A Singaporean woman’s transcultural take in asserting an “Asian” spin on the Argentinian cabeceo – and, by extension, women’s claiming of initiative in choice of partner as well as the paradoxically active use of non-verbal communication on the floor – suggests that the exercise is not necessarily a choice between one or the other. As Trinh puts it, “[t]he precarious line we walk on is one that allows us to challenge the West as authoritative subject of feminist knowledge, while also resisting the terms of a binarist discourse that would concede feminism to the West all over again” (Trinh and Parma, 1990, 68). Occasionally, this means that the appearance of double standards does not necessarily pose a problem to the construction of sexual mores in Singapore visà-vis Asian, Latin or Western standards, as seen in the contradictory embracing of so-called “liberal” mores in public (but subtle) displays of sexuality geared towards a partner dynamic that reinforces repressive patriarchal stereotypes long existing not only in the West, but also around the world – be it Latin America, Asia or cosmopolitan and urban Singapore. Trinh summarises the situation as a constant making and unmaking of identity. She warns of a single or binarised oppositional approach: The claim of identity is often a strategic claim . . . but if it is essentialised as an end point, a point of “authentic” arrival, then it only narrows the struggle down to a question of alternatives – that is, a perpetuation, albeit with a reversed focus, of the notion of “otherness” as defined by the master, rather than a radical challenge of patriarchal power relations. (Trinh and Parma, 1990, 72) One must realise that for the many different women who dance the tango in Singapore – whether local, expatriate, Singaporean or Asian – this identity is one of multiples. The woman is other, native, a cosmopolitan, privileged as well as unprivileged through the asymmetric demands of gender, age, education, postcoloniality and class. Last of all, she is also a dancer: it is in the deceptive wholeness of her performances that these contradictory attributes come to live, die and be reborn.

Notes 1 2

Some names have been anonymised at the request of interviewees. Taylor (1998), Savigliano (1995) and Nielsen and Mariotto (2005–6) have written extensively on the topic of stock ideas about seduction in tango practice.

References Albright, A. C. (1997) Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. Bock, S. with Katherine Borland (2011) Exotic Identities: Dance, Difference, and SelfFashioning. Journal of Folklore Research, 48(1): 1–36.


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Bosse, J. (2007) Whiteness and the Performance of Race in American Ballroom Dance. Journal of American Folklore, 120(475): 19–47. Bosse, J. (2008) Salsa Dance and the Transformation of Style: An Ethnographic Study of Movement and Meaning in a Cross-Cultural Context. Dance Research Journal, 40(1): 45–64. Castaldi, F. (2006) Choreographies of African identities: Négritude, Dance, and the National Ballet of Senegal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Chen, S. (2013a). Questions on Generation-Divided Views on “Asian” Sexual Mores. [interview] Interviewed by Shzr Ee Tan, 4 July, Singapore. Chen, S. (2013b). Questions on Tango in Singapore. Interview by Shzr Ee Tan, 2 August, Singapore. Cowan, J. (1990) Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Cuccioletta, D. (2001–2) Multiculturalism or Transculturalism: Towards a Cosmopolitan Citizenship. London Journal of Canadian Studies, 17: 1–11. Ericksen, J. (2011) Dance with Me: Ballroom Dancing and the Promise of Instant Intimacy. New York: New York University Press. Foster, S. L. (1996) Choreography and Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Gotfrit, L. (1988) Women Dancing Back: Disruption and the Politics of Pleasure. Journal of Education, 170(3): 122–141. Hanna, J. L. (2006) Dancing for Health: Conquering and Preventing Stress. Lanham, MD: AltaMira. Hosokawa, S. (2002) Salsa No Tiene Fronteras: Orquesta de la Luz and the Globalization of Popular Music. In Lise Waxer (ed.), Situating Salsa: Global Markets and Local Meanings in Latin Popular Music. New York: Routledge, pp. 289–312. Huggan, G. (2001) The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margin. New York: Routledge. Jackson, P. (2004). Inside Clubbing: Sensual Experiments in the Art of Being Human. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers. Malbon, B. (1999) Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality. London: Routledge. McGarrey, R. (2001). Tango and Chaos. Available from www.tangoandchaos.org/chapt_ 1tangochaos/1tc_title.htm [Accessed 1 September 2015]. McRobbie, A. (1984) Dance and Social Fantasy. In Angela McRobbie and Mica Nava (eds), Gender and Generation. London: Macmillan, 130–161. Ming. (2014) Questions on Tango in Singapore. [interview] Interviewed by Shzr Ee Tan, 2 August, Singapore. Nielsen, C. and Mariotto, J. (2005–6) The Tango Metaphor: The Essence of Argentina’s National Identity. International Studies of Management and Organization, 36(4): 8–36. Ortiz, F. (1947) Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. Trans. [from Spanish] Harriet De Onis. New York: Knopf. Savigliano, M. E. (1995) Tango and the Political Economy of Passion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Savigliano, M. E. (1998) From Wallflowers to Femmes Fatales: Tango and the Performance of Passionate Femininity. In William Washabaugh (ed.), The Passion of Music and Dance: Body, Gender and Sexuality. New York: New York University Press, 103–110. Skinner, J. (2008) Women Dancing Back – and Forth: Resistance and Self-Regulation in Belfast Salsa. Dance Research Journal, 40(1): 65–77. Sylvia (2013) Questions on Tango in Singapore. [interview] Interviewed by Shzr Ee Tan, 14 July, Singapore. Taylor, J. (1987) Tango. Cultural Anthropology, 2: 481–493. Taylor, J. (1998) Paper Tangos. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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Ting. (2014) Questions on Tango in Singapore. [interview] Interviewed by Shzr Ee Tan, 2 August, Singapore. Tobin, J. (1998) Tango and the Scandal of Homosocial Desire. In William Washabaugh (ed.), The Passion of Music and Dance: Body, Gender and Sexuality. New York: New York University Press, 79–102. Tomko, L. J. (1999) Dancing Class: Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Divides in American Dance, 1890–1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Trinh, M.-H. (1989) Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Trinh, M.-H. and Parma, P. (1990) Woman, Native, Other. Feminist Review, 36: 65–74. Wolff, J. (1997) Reinstating Corporeality: Feminism and Body Politics. In Jane Desmond (ed.), Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 81–100. Wong, D. (2004) Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music. New York: Routledge. Wong, D. and Elliott, M. (1994) “I want the microphone”: Mass Mediation and Agency in Asian American Popular Music. TDR, 38(3): 152–167.

5 STARS ON THE RISE The jingju actresses in Republican China Xing Fan

Women performers in jingju (Beijing/Peking opera) during the Republican period (1912–49) are often portrayed in a pathetic light as a marginalized group. In June 2013, the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) aired the documentary, Jingju, a state-sponsored project that commemorates jingju joining UNESCO’s list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2010. One of its eight episodes is dedicated to kunling, female performers, during the Republican period. Seven actresses are introduced in some detail: Xue Yanqin (1906–86), Xin Yanqiu (1911–2008), Zhang Eyun (1911–2003), Liu Xikui (1894–1964), Lu Sujuan (1907–38), Yan Huizhu (1919–66) and Meng Xiaodong (1907–77). The documentary acknowledges their talent, popularity and accomplishments, but only as the foundation for a further examination of their tragic life stories: they left stage life for marriage, died during wars, were thrown into jail in the midst of political turmoil and became concubines. The episode ends with Yan Huizhu’s 1949 letter published in the journal Shanghai Feng (Shanghai Fashion): “We are seen as men’s target for pursuit of entertainment. They consume us but look down upon us. People who have lots of time enjoy gossiping about our private lives . . . but give us the harshest critique” (Yan, 1949, 8); it is quoted as the common voice of all female performers in the old time (Kang and Jiang, 2013). While the hardship, dilemmas and challenges that jingju actresses encountered are undeniable, their path during the Republican period was not so straight or simple. Josh Goldstein’s description of female performers’ circumstances by the 1930s – gaining less pay, performing in worse places and entertaining audiences with lower social status – is precise, but is only contextualized in contrast to their male counterparts (Goldstein, 2007, 242–243). From an alternative perspective, Weikun Cheng notes that many actresses in Beijing and Tianjin during the early twentieth century made much more money than working-class and middle-class men (Cheng, 1996, 200).1 The CCTV’s documentary episode on female performers focuses

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predominantly on jingju actresses who achieved fame during the 1920s and the early 1930s, and does not cover emerging actresses other than Yan Huizhu during the last decade of the Republican period. Furthermore, Yan Huizhu’s 1949 letter, an outcry of anger and frustration, can be read as strong evidence of her ability to publicly respond to unfair attacks. Although many actresses during the earlier Republican period may have had similar encounters, Yan’s protest demonstrates a woman performer’s awareness of the necessity to stand up for herself and a confidence in the leverage of visibility in public media at the end of the Republican period. Jingju actresses’ trajectory during Republican China reveals a gradual rise – albeit sometimes uneven – socially, financially and professionally. By the late 1940s, they were no longer on the periphery of this profession. Who were they? And how did they survive in a male-dominant profession? In this chapter, I examine the jingju actresses’ career path in Republican China in two contexts: the rise of dan (female role) in jingju, and the larger picture of social changes. My overall purpose is to present the jingju actresses’ growing visibility at the intersection of societal acceptance, educational innovations, individual effort and audience aesthetics. The majority of these jingju actresses specialized in young and middle-aged female roles,2 and therefore they are the focus of this examination.

Entering a male-dominated arena Men were the creators and performers of jingju before their female counterparts entered this profession publically in the 1890s. The portrayal of female characters, through a system of stylized conventions in song, speech, dance-acting, combat, makeup, costumes, headdress and musical compositions, was refined by generations of male performers. Among the four major role types in jingju, sheng (dignified male), dan (female), jing (larger-than-life male) and chou (comic earthy male), sheng was the dominant role type until the latter nineteenth century. Female audiences’ entrance to public theatre since the early twentieth century – and their passion for beautiful female characters – has been credited as a major push for the rise of dan (Huang, 1995, 327–329; Mei, 1987, 114–115). But equally important were performers’ innovations. Male dan performers established unique acting styles based on their individual vocal and physical qualities, each with consistent characteristics in all major aspects of the stage performance and each with a repertory of new plays and/or new versions of existing plays. Legendary master performers Mei Lanfang (1894–1961), Cheng Yanqiu (1904–58), Xun Huisheng (1900–68) and Shang Xiaoyun (1900–76) were the most popular among their generation of excellent male dan. Their collective title, the Four Great Dan, became well known in 1927–28. Professional jingju actresses appeared in private salon-style performances by female troupes in Shanghai from the late Tongzhi years (1862–74) to the early Guangxu years (1875–1908) in the Qing era. The Meixian Playhouse in Shanghai, opened in 1894, has been credited as the first public venue to host jingju female troupes.


Xing Fan

By 1905, jingju actresses in Shanghai were already known for excellence, not only in female roles but also in larger-than-life male roles, martial male roles, and even as the Monkey King (Ma et al., 1990a, 282). Concurrently, female jingju troupes in Tianjin enjoyed growing popularity. Quickly, actresses from the two cities began touring to “Beijing, northeastern China, Wuhan, and even southeast Asia” (Ma et al., 1990a, 288). In 1912, Tianjin actresses toured to Beijing upon an invitation from Yu Zhenting (1879–1939), a jingju actor and troupe manager; their debut also marked the first public mixed-sex jingju performance in Beijing. By the end of 1912, however, the government had announced a ban on mixed-sex performance, to be enforced from the beginning of 1913 (Zhao, 1928, 68–69). From 1913 to the end of the 1920s, sex-segregated performance was the norm for jingju, and the Southern City Amusement Park (Chengnan Youyiyuan) in Beijing became well known for increasingly popular jingju female troupes.3 Some scholars identify male performers’ jealousy and hostility as the primary reason for sex-segregated performance at this time. Josh Goldstein and Huang Yufu, both quoting personal memoirs and journal articles during the Republican period, argue that some famous male performers felt threatened by the actresses’ popularity in mixed-sex performances in 1912 and, with the jingju performers’ professional organization, Musical Rectification and Educational Society’s support, they proposed to the Capital Police Department that “male and female performing together is injurious to morality, and should be prohibited” (Huang, 1995, 332–333).4 While tension between males, who had been the only gender that owned the profession, and females, who were stepping into an unknown field and therefore could well be taken as intruders, is convincing, the difficult journey that jingju actresses had to take may not have been due solely to their male colleagues’ disapproval.5 A new frame of reference emerges when female performance in male-dominated jingju is viewed as part of the social changes starting from the later years of the Qing era. The appearance of jingju actresses can be seen as one of the many areas in which the transgression of gendered space was being gradually evolved; Paul J. Bailey aptly discusses this development in such fields as education, publication, politics, popular entertainment and medical practices (Bailey, 2012, 24–48). In this context, the Capital Police Department’s ban on mixed-sex performance in jingju coincided with the nationwide backlash by conservative gender discourses against women’s public visibility after the failure of the women’s suffragist movement in 1912. In fact, during the first two decades of the Republican period, mixed-sex performance was a novelty in all performances in China, including Western-style theatre. In 1927, the mixedsex performance in three single-act plays – in English – at the University of Shanghai was announced as a “ground-breaking event since the founding of the university [in 1906]” (Lü, 1927, 155). In the Nankai University in Tianjin, sex-segregated performance in Western-style theatre was the only form until 1929, when the mixedsex production of Strife was presented at the school’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration (“Nankai”, 1929, 116). The permissions granted to commercial mixedsex performance were uneven nationwide, sometimes triggering backlashes. On

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6 June 1928, the mayor of Ningbo (a city on the coastal area, a bit more than 200 kilometres south of Shanghai) granted such permission for the Grand Stage (“Pi”, 1928, 26). On 14 August in the same year, Zhao Yikuan, the head of the Beiping Police Department (Beiping was the name for Beijing during 1928–49), reported to the mayor that Yu Zhenting, the actor and troupe manager who invited the first jingju actresses to Beijing in 1912, had petitioned for permission to present mixedsex performances, with the purpose of “promoting morality and maintaining business”, with a special note that “now it is an age for gender equality, emancipation, and freedom” (Zhao, 1928, 68–69). The permission was finally granted in early 1930. In the national context, however, in 1934 Guangdong, the birthplace of the Republican revolution, in a regressive effort to promote traditional feminine virtues, the provincial government strived to regulate women’s dress and behaviour, efforts that included banning mixed-sex swimming pools, men and women walking side by side in public and movies with a mixed-sex cast (Hou, 1934, 49). In the jingju circle in Beijing, the permission for mixed-sex performance was embraced with enthusiasm. According to Zhang Kai’s incomplete survey published in 1930 and 1931, among the eighteen troupes in Zhang’s statistics, eleven were mixed sex, five were all-male and two were all-female (Zhang, 1930, 228–231; 1931, 181, 195). Jingju actresses also actively took lead roles in mixed-sex performances. Huang Yufu’s statistics of jingju performances in eleven theatres during January to March 1930 prove that, among 380 productions in total, 233 featured actresses as leading performers, eleven had two leads – a male and a female – and male performers led the rest of the 136 productions (Huang, 1995, 334). Although these statistics do not indicate the productions’ position on a bill – those staged towards the end of a day are more important and feature more popular performers – and therefore it is difficult to tell whether actresses frequently played leading roles in the most popular productions, Huang is right that “it evidences how active actresses were on the jingju stage at that time” (Huang, 1995, 334). The popularity of jingju actresses in Tianjin at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of 1930s can be best seen in the public election of the Four Queens (sida huanghou), hosted by the pictorial Beiyang Huabao in 1930. Voters nominated nearly a hundred actresses during the six weeks of the voting period, and the four winners were Hu Bilan (1909–53) (25,534 votes), Meng Lijun (1911–91) (21,767 votes), Xue Yanqin (20,809 votes) and Zhang Eyun (19,131 votes) (“Nüling”, 1930). The large pool of nearly one hundred nominees and the average of 21,810 votes that elected the eventual winners evidenced the enthusiasm held by the audience for the actresses and active interaction between media and popular entertainment. The Four Queens competition took place soon after the collective title Four Great Dan became well known in 1927–28, and therefore indicated the society’s mixed reactions to jingju actresses. On the one hand, the actresses were collectively acknowledged in a way that paralleled the celebration of their male counterparts, and this proved a certain level of acceptance. On the other hand, the fashion of recognition was modelled after that of male performers, and the actresses


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were only competing with themselves: this therefore denoted female performers, to a certain extent, as imitations of male performers.

Learning from male masters The mentality of denoting female performers as imitations of male performers has deep roots in jingju actresses’ training experience, because they, of necessity, pursued professional training and status under male guidance. A common path was to undertake private training under multiple teachers until official acceptance by a master performer. When Yan Huizhu decided to focus on the Mei (Lanfang) style during the early 1930s, she began by studying under three male artists with different specialities: musician Xu Lanyuan (1892–1976), who played the lead melodic instrument for Mei and worked with the master performer on new melody compositions from the 1920s to the 1950s, was the ideal teacher for Mei’s song; performer Zhu Guifang (1891–1944) was Mei’s collaborator-assistant in movement design, and therefore was particularly strong in movement and dance-acting; and performer Yan Lanqiu (1882–1939), who, with the stage name of “nine gusts of wind”, was considered one of the best performers of martial female roles. By the time Mei officially accepted Yan as a disciple in 1943, Yan had already achieved onstage fame for her performance in the Mei style. With a master performer’s guidance, the female disciples further refined their stage art and received valuable insight into the master’s private repertory. The master performer may then introduce and/or permit the actresses to establish an association with other acting styles. On 3 May 1939, master performer Xun Huisheng accepted Tong Zhiling (1922–95) as an official disciple. From the autumn 1939 to the autumn of the following year, Tong lived in Beijing and studied intensively under master Xun, who introduced her to master performer Wang Yaoqing, the teacher of the Four Great Dan. Another disciple of master Xun’s, Zhao Yanxia (1928–) first studied under Zhu Ruxiang (1891–1974), a well-known male dan specializing in young, lively female roles; Zhu also taught refined females and dignified, martial females. On 23 August 1942, Xun accepted Zhao as his official disciple. A year later, with Master Xun’s recommendation, Zhao began studying under Li Lingfeng (1933–?), an acknowledged teacher of refined female roles. Intensive training under these three important teachers provided a solid foundation for the development of Zhao’s well-rounded acting style that maintained the balance of song, speech, dance-acting and combat. In addition to private apprenticeship, acting schools offered an alternative for girls pursuing a profession in jingju acting. During 1916–19, the Chongya She, a girls acting school, trained fifty-seven female performers majoring in jingju and Hebei bangzi (Tian Jiyun, 1999, 1162).6 From 1930 to 1940, the government sponsored the Beijing Indigenous Theatre School (later named the Zhonghua Indigenous Theatre School, hereafter the Zhonghua School), a branch of the National Indigenous Theatre and Music Academy, which started a co-educational system of jingju professional training. Following this practice, the Shandong

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Provincial Art Theatre, officially opened in 1934, and the Shanghai Theatre School, opened in 1939, were both co-educational schools.7 The Zhonghua School exemplified the government’s intention and effort in promoting culture with Chinese origins in a new – modern – way. The school’s educational policy and pedagogical goal was, “On the one hand, to adapt the keban’s [training schools of Chinese indigenous theatre] spirit, and on the other hand, to use the system in European and American conservatories and dramatic schools. Based on the combination of the two, [the goal is] to establish a [new] keban with the advantage of formal education” (Zhang, 1932, 29). In this context, the coeducational system was a major move to nurture students’ self-identification as modern practitioners of a classical performing art. Among its five classes comprising 278 students, the sixty-four who majored in female roles included thirty boys and thirty-four girls (Wang, 1985, 121–125). For Li Yuru (1923–2008), an alumna and a prominent jingju artist throughout her life, the principal’s ( Jiao Juyin) directive held a critical position in her heart: “you are students [with modern, formal education], instead of performers [from the old system]” (Li, 2008, 264). Cheng Yanqiu, one of the Four Great Dan masters, also the Chairman of the Board at the School, particularly emphasized to female students, “after graduation, we do not want you to become concubines” (Zhang, 2006, 36). As part of jingju acting training, the Zhonghua School encouraged students to study multiple styles. For example, upon entering the school, Li Yuru studied refined female roles under Lü Peifang (c. 1895–?), an actor/teacher specializing in the Mei style. In the meantime, she observed master performers Mei Lanfang and Cheng Yanqiu’s (founder of the Cheng style) public performances. Several years later, the principal made further arrangements for her to study young, lively female roles and dignified, martial female roles under Wang Huifang (1891–1952), and she meticulously observed master performers Xun Huisheng (founder of the Xun style) and Yu Lianquan’s (1900–67, founder of the Xiao style) performances. With a solid foundation in three role subcategories – a rare accomplishment for jingju performers – Li became a rising star in Beijing. In the late 1930s, quite a few female students at the Zhonghua School gained popularity onstage, and four young actresses, all with yu (lit. “jade”) in their auspicious given names, won the beautiful collective title of “Four Pieces of Jade”.8 Li Yuru was one of the four. She absorbed master Xun’s acting into her own performance so successfully that she earned the nickname of the “female Xun Huisheng” (Li, 2010b, 86). What was it like to learn how to be a woman onstage from a male master? Commenting on the performer’s sexuality in inheriting the performance of gender in jingju, Li Yuru described her experience as follows. When I was admitted to the school, I was only nine, and naturally never thought about these sophisticated issues. At the time, dan roles were mainly performed by male performers, and I simply followed my male tutors sentence by sentence, gesture by gesture, to learn the dan skills, and finally I learned a large repertoire for the role. When I grew up, I never attempted


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to show my actual femininity on the stage, because jingju did not require me to do so . . . What counts are actors’ excellent skills that convince the audience of whom they act. Think about the costumes we put on. Nobody can really see the actor’s real body shape at all. (Li, 2010a, 94) For female disciples of male masters – especially in the early phases of their career – popularity was often built on successful emulation of their masters’ styles or, even better, a precise grasp of the spirit of the masters’ styles, in the masters’ private repertory. For these female performers, the challenge was not simply to learn to be a woman onstage, but actually to learn to be a particular style of woman onstage. When Yan Huizhu won the title of the “female Mei Lanfang”, Li Yuru the “female Xun Huisheng” and Hou Yulan (1919–76) – Li’s classmate at the Zhonghua School and joining Li as one of the “Four Pieces of Jade” – the “female Cheng Yanqiu”, both the young actresses and their audience took it as high praise, for the women convinced audiences that the male dan masters’ art was embodied perfectly in the female disciples. As Josh Goldstein states, the audiences recognized the male masters as the best onstage women (2007, 237). For these viewers, the actresses – beautiful women who had mastered a uniquely characteristic style established by male masters – offered performances imbued with both novelty and familiarity.

Earning their own space onstage The last decade of the Republican period (from the end of the 1930s to the end of the 1940s) witnessed the flourishing of a younger generation of jingju actresses. They reached stardom and grew rapidly through intensive competition with both male and female peers. Some organized private troupes, starring themselves as the toupai (lead performer). Indeed, Tong Zhiling, leading the Ling Troupe established in 1940, and Zhao Yanxia, with her Yanming Troupe established in 1947, both made it their principle only to serve as the lead performer. Other actresses, such as Yan Huizhu and Li Yuru both had temporary private troupes and served as the lead female collaborator with many male master performers. Rival shows, however, were the most exciting for both audiences and performers. For example, during the 1941 season in Shanghai, the Huanghou Theatre and the Huangjin Theatre respectively featured Tong Zhiling and Yan Huizhu as the lead performer (Zhu, 2010, 45–48). From 29 November 1944 to 25 March 1945, Li Yuru was the lead actress at the Tianchan Theatre,9 rivalling Tong Zhiling at the Huanghou Theatre (Li, 2010b, 84). In a 1946 season in Shanghai, the three competing lead actresses were Wang Yurong (1913–94) at the Huanghou Theatre, Li Yuru at the Tianchan Theatre and Yan Huizhu at the Huangjin Theatre (Zhu, 2010, 71). Light, entertaining productions achieved dazzling commercial success at this time. The most popular include Fang Mianhua (Spinning Cotton), Da Pi Guan (Splitting a Coffin), Dao Hunling (Stealing the Soul Ring), Shiba Che (Eighteen Stretches), Ximi Zhuan (The Legend of Theatre Fans) and Ximi Jiating (A Family of Theatre Fans). Most

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of these productions do not have a set script, but require performers to present a medley of entertainments, often in modern costumes, to attract audiences in any possible fashion. For example, in one version of Spinning Cotton, a businessman Zhang San returns home after being away for three years. At home, his wife is spinning cotton while singing to entertain herself. Zhang San pretends to be a passerby and flirts with her from outside of the gate. At first she does not respond, but Zhang San insists and even throws money in the gate. Zhang’s wife finally decides to let him in (probably for a one-night stand), but only realizes then that it is her husband. In an alternative version, Zhang’s wife has an extramarital affair with a man, who kills Zhang after he returns home (Li, 2009, 144–145). When Tong Zhiling performed it during the second half of the 1940s, the rendition was, to some degree, a demonstration of the actress’s virtuosity, while it also blurred the boundary between stage presentations and reality. For example, in a performance that Mao Ling describes, Zhang’s wife’s entrance speech is no longer, “I am Ms Wang, Zhang San’s wife”, but “I, Tong Zhiling, am married to a man called Liang Cishan [the name of the actor performing Zhang San]” (Mao, 1947a, 15). The new version of Spinning Cotton involved three roles – a couple and the wife’s extramarital lover, and the performers presented a set programme of ten sections (see Table 5.1). At the end, Liang Cishan (the husband) knocks at the door, enters the house and shakes hands with Ci Shaoquan (the lover). Performers would have delivered one or two bonus arias upon audience request (Mao, 1947b, 14).10 Obviously the show is out of the norm: the performers made no real effort to present developed characters, and the ending – with the husband and the lover shaking hands – is truly absurd. This type of entertaining production presented a paradox in 1940s China. On the one hand, productions like Spinning Cotton – together with actresses who staged it – became targets of criticism for being erotic, even salacious. For example, Zhang Guyu states that, Since the new version of Spinning Cotton performed by female performers became popular, some literati who protected the national theatre [jingju] believed that it was dangerous enough to cause damage. Because performers with true acting skills will lose attraction, and any young, fresh female performer – as long as she is good-looking, has the right body shape, and knows how to present herself onstage – will make fame just by singing random songs. (Zhang, 1946, 8) On the other hand, the overwhelming popularity of these entertainments deserves further attention. The record in Shanghai at this time is of six productions of Spinning Cotton – featuring six different casts – being staged on the same evening in six different theatres (Zhu, 2010, 77). In 1948, Tong Zhiling set a record of full houses for ten consecutive days with the double bill of Splitting a Coffin and Spinning Cotton in the Tianchan Theatre, which boasts 3,917 seats (Zhu, 2010, 91–93). It is not so simple as described by some critics, that any good-looking young girl could

Ci Shaoquan (1916–78, as the lover) Tong Zhiling

Liang Cishan Tong Zhiling

Ci Shaoquan

Tong Zhiling and Hebei An aria from Da Deng Dian [Great Reunion in Ci Shaoquan bangzi the Palace] Tong Zhiling popular Two or three love songs songs


6 7






Liang Cishan (1914–?, as the husband) Tong Zhiling

jingju jingyun dagu pingci





A clown actor imitating dignified male and dignified female in one aria

An actress handling the singing techniques of dignified female in the four most popular styles; may include erotic acting

Selling point

An aria in the style of pingci

A tri-part aria of Er Jin Gong [The Second Visit to the Palace] An aria from Kong Cheng Ji [Empty City Stratagem] An aria in the style of jingyun dagu

An actress handling the singing of a dignified female, a larger-than-life male and a dignified male in one aria A clown actor imitating a dignified male’s aria A jingju actress singing a folk storytelling form popular in northern China A jingju clown actor performing a folk storytelling form from southeastern coastal area Two jingju performers singing in a regional theatrical form A jingju actress handling popular songs; may include erotic acting

An actress specializing in young and middle-aged female handling the singing techniques of an old female An aria from Silang Tan Mu [Silang Visits His Mother] A clown actor imitating an old female, probably in a clownish fashion

Aria from Diao Jingui [Fishing a Golden Turtle]

Mei Lanfang’s Feng Huan Chao [Phoenix Returns to Its Nest] Cheng Yanqiu’s Huangshan Lei [Tears on a Barren Mountain] Shang Xiaoyun’s performance in Silang Tan Mu [Silang Visits His Mother] Xun Huisheng’s Huo Xiaoyu (the production is named after the lead female role) Duet aria of Silang Tan Mu [Silang Visits His Mother]

Melodic lines from the Four Great Dan’s repertory:



Tong Zhiling (1922–95, as the wife)






Table 5.1 A set programme of Spinning Cotton as performed by Tong Zhiling, Liang Cishan and Ci Shaoquan in 1947.

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achieve fame by singing some erotic love songs onstage and calling it Spinning Cotton, because these performances were made famous by the most popular jingju actresses, who had already established reputations onstage and who had true acting skills, and recurrent performances of the play only nurtured the actresses’ further popularity. Also, Mao’s description of Tong Zhiling’s Spinning Cotton indicates that her performance covered jingju, jingyun dagu, Hebei bangzi and popular songs. In the jingju sections, she covered multiple role-subcategories, including dignified female, old female, larger-than-life male, dignified male and martial male, if the bonus piece is included. To master all these role-subcategories and specific vocal techniques – some natural voice and others falsetto, and some female and others male – is a challenge, and to successfully transfer among them is a true test for any performer. To a certain extent, the attacks by the literati guardians of the national theatre ( jingju) on Spinning Cotton performed by female performers indicate their – as the inheritor of Chinese classical culture – increased frustration with the Chinese society’s growing exposure to popular songs, Western-style theatre, and movies during the 1930s and the 1940s. Despite the fact that many of these light, entertaining pieces were originally created by men, by emphasizing the frustration that true performers were losing attraction, the criticism conveyed the orthodox concerns and confusions confronting some changes in the performing art as jingju actresses were coping with commercialization. Different from classical repertory, these programmes obviously feature the actress’s sexuality and it can be seen as a double-edged sword; the blurred boundary between stage presentations and reality, a practice used to be the privilege of clowns, is now a common strategy to encourage audience enthusiasm; and jingju, winning the title of the national drama during the 1930s, is now being presented in the medley with other folk storytelling forms and popular songs, and it can be well taken as an evidence of decadence. But it is imperative to note that light, entertaining pieces like Spinning Cotton were only part of intensive, demanding competitions through rival shows. The only performers who succeeded excelled in both classical repertory and multiple styles, and in both orthodox plays and light, medley performance. For example, in the season running from 29 November 1944 to 25 March 1945 (except for a break for Chinese New Year during 5–12 February 1945), Li Yuru performed the lead role in forty-nine productions, and often in more than one production on a single bill. Among these, the majority were from the classical repertory and newly created productions, and the only light entertaining medley performance of Stealing the Soul Ring appeared a mere sixteen times during this season of ninety-nine days (Li, 2010b, 84, 270–277). When staging traditional productions, Tong Zhiling chose to perform in multiple acting styles. On the one hand, she solidified the stage reputation as an inheritor of the Xun style by staging Master Xun’s repertory; on the other hand, she also performed other male dan masters’ repertory. In 1946, Tong opened her season at the Tianchan Theatre with a four-day season premiere, each day featuring a production from one of the Four Great Dan masters’ private repertory: Feng Huan Chao (Phoenix Returns to Its Nest) in the Mei style, Suo Lin Nang (The Treasure Pouch) in the Cheng style, Hong Niang (the play title is named


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after the lead female character) in the Xun style and Han Mingfei (Consort Ming of the Han) in the Shang style (Zhu, 1995, 133–139). In Zhao Yanxia’s case, her programmes for each season, sometime for each evening, offered a balance between civil plays – those featuring song, speech, and dance-acting, and martial plays – and those featuring combat. Also, her civil plays offered a balanced performance of song and dance-acting. In addition, she handled multiple role-types with ease. Zhao often performed in two productions in evening programmes: she might perform Chun Qiu Pei (Romance of Chunfa and Qiulian), featuring refined females’ songs, followed by Xin’an Yi (Xin’an Inn), a well-known play featuring dance-acting and speech of a young, lively female role; sometimes, she first played the female lead role in Yu Tang Chun ( Jade Hall Spring) and then appeared as a young dignified male in Baimen lou (Baimen Hall); if she performed the tragic lead role in Kongque Dongnan Fei (Peacock Flying Southeast), featuring a refined female, then she often undertook the role of an ugly and clownish woman in the second play, Da Xihuang Zhuang (Xihuang Village) (He, 2010, 89–90). During the 1940s, jingju actresses accomplished in a variety of ways that were not possible for their predecessors achieving fame a decade ago. Widely applauded, they were at no disadvantage when in competition with their male colleagues. As audience acknowledged them as female inheritors of prominent acting styles, public media conveyed increasing empathy for the challenges that actresses faced. Alongside rumours and gossip over their private lives, a palpable increasing attention was given to their stage art. Reports at this time also covered the hard journey that jingju actresses had to go through and the unfair treatments they had to cope with. In addition, as Yan Huizhu’s 1949 letter (quoted at the beginning of this chapter) indicates, a jingju actress could get her voice heard through public media. By the end of the 1940s, actresses had proved that they were indispensable on the jingju stage.

Glossary Hebei bangzi: Chinese regional theatrical form that came into being during the early nineteenth century and has been popular in the Yellow River valley Jingju: also known as Beijing/Peking opera – Chinese indigenous theatrical form originating in Beijing during the late eighteenth century, and one of the most popular in China Jingyun dagu: folk storytelling form popular in northern China Pingci: folk storytelling form from the coastal area in southeastern China

Notes I thank Dr Arya Madhavan for her encouragement and support during the composition and revision process. An anonymous reader offered incisive comments and suggestions. Last but not least, I thank Dr Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak for recommending me to write this chapter.

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1 Weikun Cheng’s research examines multiple performances, including lianhualuo, bengbeng, bangzi and jingju. His scholarship covers two actresses who were particularly famous for their jingju acting: Wang Keqin (1891–1925) and Liu Xikui (1894–1964). 2 In jingju, the role type dan includes multiple role-subcategories: laodan (older female), qingyi (refined, dignified female), huadan (young, lively female), wudan (martial female), daomadan (dignified, martial female) and huashan (the combination of qingyi, huadan and daomadan). All subcategories except for laodan may feature young and middle-aged females. 3 The Southern City Amusement Park was a public entertainment sector featuring restaurants, an ice rink, a mini zoo and venues hosting a wide range of performances including, but not limited to, jingju, circus, magic shows, storytelling, films and wenmingxi – a hybridized form embracing jingju, Hebei bangzi and huaju performance. Hebei bangzi is a regional theatrical form popular in northern China, in particular the Yellow River valley. Huaju refers to Western-style theatre. 4 See similar argument in Goldstein (2007, 110–111). 5 Goldstein’s and Huang’s explanation requires further examination for three reasons. First, in the government’s decision to ban mixed-sex performance, the weight given to the Musical Rectification and Educational Society’s proposal is unknown. Second, Wang Yaoqing (1881–1954), identified by Goldstein as one of the famous and jealous actors who initiated the ban, was the very first male master who accepted female disciples in 1927, and this was an open, groundbreaking support of jingju actresses in their professional pursuit. And last, the ban on mixed-sex performance could not really release much of the threat that male performers felt, given that they must have been aware of the power and popularity of female troupes at that time, and therefore must have known that audience could easily follow the actresses to venues hosting all-female troupes. 6 See note 3. 7 The Shandong Provincial Art Theatre, also referred to as the Shandong Provincial Theatre, offered majors in acting and music, and the curriculum not only included jingju but also regional theatre, spoken drama and opera. Available sources do not offer statistics on gender proportion of students, but at least one of their alumnae has been famous: Gao Yuqian (1927–), who specialized in young and middle-aged female roles, later joined the China Jingju Company in the 1950s, and played the role of Granny Li in The Red Lantern, a model jingju during the Cultural Revolution. The Shanghai Theatre School focused on jingju training. In 1939, it accepted 186 students, 148 boys and 38 girls, with the principle of gender-appropriate role-type assignments – men playing men and women playing women (Ma et al., 1990b, 408). Famous alumnae from the Shanghai Theatre School include Gu Zhengqiu (1929–), Zhang Zhengfang (1929–) and Zhang Zhengjuan (later Zhang Meijuan, 1929–95). 8 The four actresses are Hou Yulan (1919–1976), Bai Yuwei (?–2008), Li Yuru (1923– 2008) and Li Yuzhi (1922–97). 9 In this season, the Tianchan Theatre featured three prominent performers: Li Yuru (female), Li Shaochun (1919–75, male) and Ye Shengzhang (1912–66, male). 10 In the performance that Mao describes, Tong performed an additional aria, imitating a martial male’s aria, and Tong and Liang sang an additional love song.

References Bailey, P. J. (2012) Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century China. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Cheng, W. (1996) The Challenge of the Actresses: Female Performers and Cultural Alternatives in Early Twentieth Century Beijing and Tianjin. Modern China, 22(2): 197–233.


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Goldstein, J. (2007) Drama Kings: Players and Publics in the Re-creation of Peking Opera, 1870–1937. Oakland: University of California Press. He, B. (2010) Zi cheng yi pai: Zhao Yanxia [Forming Her Own Style: Zhao Yanxia]. Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe. Hou, F. (1934) Jinzhi kaiying nannü heyan yingpian de wenti [The Issue of Banning Movies with Mixed-Sex Casts]. Shehui Yuebao [Society Monthly], 1(6): 49–50. Huang, Y. (1995) Jingju – guancha zhongguo nüxing diwei bianhua de chuangkou [Jingju: The Window to Observe Changes in Chinese Women’s Social Status]. In Min Jiayin (ed.), Yanggang yu yinrou de bianzou – liangxing guanxi he shehui moshi [Variations between the Masculine and the Feminine: Gender Relations and Social Modes]. Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, pp. 323–340. Kang, J. and Jiang, Y. (dir.) (2013) Jingju [online]. Beijing: CCTV. Available from http://jishi. cntv.cn/special/jingju [Accessed 25 March 2016]. Li, D. (2009) Jinxi [Banned Plays]. Tianjin: Baihua Wenyi Chubanshe. Li, R. (2010a) The Soul of Beijing Opera: Theatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Li, R. (2010b) Jingying touliang de yu: Li Yuru wutai shangxia jiating neiwai [Sparkling and Clear Jade: Li Yuru’s Stage, Family, and Personal Lives]. Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe. Li, Y. (2008) Li Yuru tan xi shuo yi [Li Yuru on Theatre and Acting Techniques]. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe. Lü, R. (1927) Huda nannü heyan [Mixed-Sex Performance in the University of Shanghai]. Zhongguo sheying xuehui huabao [Pictorial of the Chinese Association for Photography], 3(120): 2. Ma, S., et al. (1990a) Zhongguo jingju shi (shang) [History of China’s Jingju (1)]. Beijing: Zhongguo Xiju Chubanshe. Ma, S., et al. (1990b) Zhongguo jingju shi (zhong) [History of China’s Jingju (2)]. Beijing: Zhongguo Xiju Chubanshe. Mao, L. (1947a) Tong Zhiling fang mianhua (shang) [Tong Zhiling Spins Cotton (1)]. Yi si qi huabo [First-Fourth-Seventh Pictorial], 12(3): 15. Mao, L. (1947b) Tong Zhiling fang mianhua (xia) [Tong Zhiling Spins Cotton (2)]. Yi si qi huabo [First-Fourth-Seventh Pictorial], 12(4): 14. Mei, L. (1987) Wutai shenghuo sishi Nian [Forty Years Onstage]. Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe. Nankai Xinjutuan jiang qishi shixing nanü heyan [The New Theatre in the Nankai University will Begin Mixed-Sex Performance] (1929) Xiju yu wenyi [Theatre with Literature and Art], 2(4), 116. Nüling huanghou daxuan zhihou [After the Queen Election of the Female Performers] (1930) Beiyang Huabao [Beiyang Pictorial], 21 June. Pi shangmin Zhang Yingjie chengqing wei Da Wutai zhunyu nanü heyan [Permission to Businessman Zhang Yingjie’s Petition for Mixed-Sex Performance on the Grand Stage] (1928) Ningbo shizheng yuekan [Ningbo Monthly], 1(10): 26. Tian Jiyun (1999) In Liu Fangzheng et al. (eds), Zhongguo xiqu zhi: Beijing Juan (xia) [Chinese Indigenous Theatre Gazetteers: Beijing (2)], 1162. Beijing: Zhongguo ISBN zhongxin. Wang, J. (1985) Huiyi Zhonghua Xiqu Xuexiao [Recollections of the Zhonghua Theatre School], in Zhongguo Renmin Zhengzhi Xieshang Huiyi Beijingshi Weiyuanhui Wenshi Ziliao Yanjiu Weiyuanhui [Cultural-Historical Source Research Committee Attached to the Chinese People Consultative Conference Committee] (ed.), Jingju tan wan iu [Recalling Jingju’s History]. Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, pp. 64–127. Yan, H. (1949) Bie dai youseyanjing kan wo (Do Not Look at Me Through Coloured Lens). Shanghai Feng [Shanghai Fashion], 4: 8.

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Zhang, G. (1946) Cong Fang mianhua dao Xin fang mianhua [From Spinning Cotton to The New Spinning Cotton]. Hai jing [Haijing Weekly], (9)9. Zhang, J. (1932) Ji Zhonghua Xiqu Zhuanke Xuexiao [On the Zhonghua Indigenous Theatre School]. Juxue yuekan [Theatre Studies Monthly], 1(10): 29–50. Zhang, K. (1930) Beiping ge jushe juese diaocha (daixu) [Survey of Theatre Troupes in Beiping (to be continued)]. Xiju yuekan [Theatre Monthly], 3(1): 228–231. Zhang, K. (1931) Beiping ge jushe juese diaocha (daixu) [Survey of Theatre Troupes in Beiping [to be continued]). Xiju yuekan [Theatre Monthly], 3(7): 181, 195. Zhang, Y. (2006) Lingren wangshi: xiegei bu kanxi de ren kan [Performers’ Stories: Written for Those Who do Not go to Theatres]. Changsha: Hunan wenyi chubanshe. Zhao, Y. (1928) Cheng wei cheng qing yingfou jinzhi nannü heyan xiju you [Report on a Petition for Mixed-Sex Performance in Theatre]. Beiping Tebie Shigong’anju Gongbao [Beiping Police Department Bulletin], 1: 68–69. Zhu, J. (1995) Tong Zhiling. Shanghai: Huadong shifan daxue chubanshe. Zhu, J. (2010) Kunling huangzuo: Tong Zhiling [The Queen of Female Performers: Tong Zhiling]. Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe.

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6 BETWEEN ROARS AND TEARS Towards the female kathakali Arya Madhavan

9 August 2014: Tripunithura, Kerala Parvathy Menon, dressed as the demon king Hiranyakasipu, is slowly walking to the stage. Her steps are heavy, her gaze is fixed. When looking at her kathivesham (knife costume),1 one is unable to tell whether it is a man or a woman beneath the heavy costume. I waited till she “roared” (alarcha in Malayalam)2 and it certainly was an impressive roar. The technique of her roar was not far off from a typical male roar either, one of the several criticisms levelled against male impersonations in kathakali at women’s hand. Parvathy Menon is one of the very few women who ventured into the patriarchal performance world of kathakali and she is also one of the two managers of the Trippunithura Kathakali Kendram – Ladies Troupe (Trippunithura Kathakali Centre – Ladies Troupe), the only allfemale kathakali group. This essay critically examines the performance structure of kathakali to determine the gender partialities that it has exercised for the last four centuries. In turn, it will help to ascertain the performance possibilities that kathakali offers to women and weigh the significance of the female intervention into the contemporary kathakali.

In search of the kathakali “woman” I begin this investigation by asking a few questions. What is the position of women – characters and performers – in this tightly codified patriarchal, all-male performance form? What possibilities exist for female interventions in kathakali? What are the structural components of kathakali that influence the nature of such intervention? The earliest known kathakali text (attakkatha in Malayalam, meaning “performed story”) dates back to between 1555 and 1605 (Namboodirippad and Namboothiri, 2007, 46–56). Most of the popular kathakali plays are based on the heroic


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adventures of male characters in the Indian epics, Ramayanam and Mahabharatham as well as Bhagavatham – Krishna’s stories. Phillip Zarrilli states that “[t]raditionally an all-male company of actor-dancers, drawn originally from the ranks of martial practitioners . . . use a highly physical style of performance embodied through years of training to play its many and varied roles” (2000, 4). Namboodirippad and Namboothiri list forty most popular kathakali plays per-formed today, and thirtyseven of them were written between 1555 and 1860. The only popular “modern” kathakali play is Karnasapatham (Karna’s Vow), written by Mali (Madhavan Nair) and first performed in 1966. As Zarrilli states, “most of the distinctive performance techniques and conventions that still characterize kathakali as a regional genre of performance” evolved by the end of eighteenth century (2000, 3). The Kaplingadan School of kathakali, the most significant kathakali style initiated by Kaplingat Namboothiri (1739–89), introduced changes in costume, makeup, acting style, patterns of hand gesture and, most importantly, the performance conventions (Menon, 1957, 37–54; Namboodirippad and Namboothiri, 2007, 83–85). The acting or performance conventions have remained largely unchanged since then, but for the innovations in characterization brought about by the master teacher Pattikkamtodi Ramunni Menon (1881–1949) (Namboodirippad and Namboothiri, 2007, 99–108; Zarrilli, 2000, 28). No major restructuring has taken place in the kathakali performance structure since Ramunni Menon. As a result, the kathakali repertoire today remains structurally conventional, traditional and stubborn in its outlook, and fundamentally patriarchal in every aspect of its performance. More importantly, it resists changes of any sort.

Training opportunities for women What training and performance opportunities are accorded to women by kathakali? In a personal interview, M. P. S. Namboothiri (hereafter referred to as MPS), a master kathakali teacher and scholar, mentioned that Kerala Kalamandalam, the leading kathakali school of Kerala, offers limited opportunities for girls to train as kathakali actors and singers (2014). No institutional rule restrains women from receiving kathakali training at Kalamandalam or elsewhere, and north Indian and non-Indian women undertake kathakali courses from established kathakali institutions of Kerala. While MPS acknowledges that this is a situation that demands serious reconsideration, he notes that there is not sufficient interest from the local women in acquiring kathakali training. Diane Daugherty and Marlene Pitkow speak about the denial of entry to kathakali training of a female student, purely on the basis of her gender. The reason, as they were told, was that “[t]he presence of an Indian woman in class would disrupt the learning process. Training women is not worth the investment because of their brief performing careers” (1991, 148; my italics). One of the practical issues surrounding the admission of girls into Kalamandalam that was highlighted by MPS related to chavutti thirummal, the full-body oil massage offered to students by the teacher. The young boys lie on the floor wearing a piece

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of white cloth to cover their genitals, and their teachers, balancing their weight with the help of ropes suspended from the ceiling, administer massage by standing on them. All the teachers in Kalamandalam are men and the level of physical proximity with the opposite sex involved in chavutti thirummal is socially unacceptable in Kerala. Paradoxically, the women performers being trained in kutiyattam at Kalamandalam or elsewhere do not undergo chavutti thirummal. However, the kutiyattam training involves learning the highly vigorous, choreographed movement clusters such as “the preparation for a war” that closely follows the martial bodily moves. So, is it really necessary for a woman to undergo chavutti thirummal to achieve physical flexibility? Vaidyamadham V. B. Rajeev, a known Ayurveda physician who hails from one of the eight traditional physician families in Kerala, explained to me that there are two fundamental intentions of chavutti thirummal (padaghatam in Ayurveda, the Indian medical system): detoxing the body with oil massage; and muscular flexibility of the body. He stated that “the natural detoxing of the female body takes place every month for a women due to the monthly menstruation. We Ayurveda physicians believe that [menstruation] is strongly beneficial as panchakarma3 for a woman. The female body is naturally flexible and chavutti thirummal will be putting the body through unnecessary strain, in the particular case of women” (Rajeev, 2015). Similar opinions are voiced by the women kathakali performers (Geetha Varma, Parvathy Menon, Suma Varma Raju and Radhika Varma) whom I met at Trippunithura. From their personal experience of being students and performers of kathakali for the last thirty years or more, they argue that the female bodies are naturally more flexible, compared to their male counterparts and, therefore, chavutti thirummal is not a requisite for women kathakali performers (2014). Indeed, further medical research will be highly helpful in proving its usefulness for women in one way or another. However, the Ayurveda medical knowledge, which historically influenced and shaped the kathakali “body”, considers female musculature supple enough and not requiring chavutti thirummal. From an institutional perspective, Kalamandalam cannot offer one of its significant training elements – namely, chavutti thirummal – to female students. This may potentially cause administrative problems in its current pedagogical setting. The institution has not yet considered the non-admittance of female students as a significant social problem requiring a solution, since this issue has not yet been sufficiently challenged and debated. Socially and culturally, female students from a middle-class family background are not encouraged to take up kathakali as their profession due to kathakali’s underlying patriarchal principles. In effect, kathakali will not provide the same professional footing that the popular dance forms such as mohiniyattam extend to a female performer – all this exerts a detrimental impact on the entry of women into kathakali. The immediacy of a woman’s nude body becomes the fundamental tool for the castration of a female body from the male kathakali stages. What about the characters and plots in kathakali? Where does kathakali place the woman in its performance syntax? The repertoire of the forty most popular


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plays in kathakali can be mainly grouped into four, despite one or two plays – such as Nizhalkuthu (The Shadow Play), written by Pannisseri Nanu Pillai (1885–1942) – falling outside any such classifications. These classifications cannot be strictly water-tight, since several plays share the common features of both first and second or first and third categories. The plot structure, characterization, the title of the play and the frequency of the popularly performed scenes within them are the chief considerations behind this exercise. My intention behind this analysis is to place the “woman” within the larger scope of kathakali performances.

Slaughter and war plays Plays falling in this group are vibrant, with technically specific acting segments that are meticulously taught in the studio (kalari). I have grouped twelve plays under this category and their play titles end with the words vadham (killing) or yuddham (war). Some of the plays, such as Narakasuravadham (The Killing of Narakasura) by Karthikathirunal (1724–98), incorporate a uniquely stylistic character entry/acting technique known as ninam (blood) when the demoness Nakratundi enters through the audience covered in fake “blood”. Female characters in such plays, amidst the so-called “manly” engagements of slaughter and war, occupy a relatively insignificant position. Their appearance, if any, will only be token, and often not even that. Kottakkal Sivaraman, the celebrated kathakali female impersonator who revolutionized the treatment of female characters in kathakali, recollects this about the representation of Sita in the play, Toranayuddham (War at the Flagpost) (Kottarakkara Thampuran, 1555–1605): “In the olden days, a small mortar (ural) is placed on the stage to represent Sita. Then came a wooden stool covered with white cloth. I was very sad [to see this]. How could a female character be insulted like this? . . . I once offered to be Sita. And Sivaraman became Sita on that day” (Gita, 2011, 226). This is perhaps the reason for offering lesser importance to training female impersonators during the training process, because their roles are limited; only four female characters4 are systematically taught to the students during their acting-training period. All four of these female characters appear in slaughter plays, three of which were written between 1645 and 1755. Therefore, the fundamental social values and cultural/gender codes defining the female characters in the abovementioned plays were apparently laid down at least 250 years ago. Yet, Kerala is a land of goddess worship. Bhagavathy, the goddess (amma daivam – mother god) and Kali, the powerful epitome of female power and kindness, have never gained entry into the popular kathakali repertoire, in spite of the recurrent image of female power spread across Kerala folk performances. The ritual performance form, mudiyettu, tells the story of the fight between Kali and the demon Darika; the night-long performance of mudiyettu concludes when Kali kills Darika. Hardly any kathakali plays with the goddess as a protagonist are widely performed, despite the existence of plays such as Bhadrakalivijayam (The Victory of Bhadrakali), written by Pannisseri Nanu Pillai (1885–1942). Moreover, staging of the play will demand radical reorganization of the existing female conceptualization in kathakali,

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because the characterization of Bhadrakali will not comfortably fall under the classifications of femininity in kathakali (see below). Neither have I come across any specific kathakali costume that fits the character of a goddess. Here, it is worth mentioning that the goddess of knowledge, Saraswathi, makes a brief appearance in Nalacharitham (The Nala’s Story) (Unnayi Warrior 1675–1755), and her costume was created only in 1967 (Namboothiri, 2015) because it was the first time that she appeared onstage and the scene in which she appears was never a popular one. Still, slaughter and war plays are all about men, and most of the female characters in them only hold a secondary status.

Celebrating manhood – rape as an entertainment I group fourteen plays in this category. Plays that appear in this category celebrate manhood in terms of male victory in war, male sexual exploits, as well as male heroic acts. For instance, the play Kalyanasougandhikam (Flower of Good Fortune), by Kottayathu Thampuran (1645–1716), dramatizes a specific episode from Mahabharatam, when Prince Bheema, who was on his way to collect a sougandhikam flower for his wife Draupadi, meets his half-brother, the monkey god Hanuman. Bheema’s display of his strength and courage, popularly known as souryagunam in kathakali, his description of the forest, vanavarnana, as well as his encounter with Hanuman, are among the highlights of the performance. The scene between Bheema and Draupadi is an equally significant one, but those I mentioned above are more “action-packed” and therefore more attractive. Most of the plays in this category have extensive acting segments known as attam. The male characters can be heroes or antiheroes from the epics, and the plays dramatize everything from winning a heroine to his sexual adventures. Ravanavijayam (Ravana’s Victory), a play by Kareendran (1812–46), celebrates three victories of Ravana, the demon king in Ramayanam. Two of his victories are in battles, and the third one, and the most frequently performed “victory”, is his accomplishment of raping Rambha, the celestial woman. The sexual references are highly explicit throughout the scene and the threat of rape is considered as an entertainment, both by Ravana and the audience. Although the rape itself is not enacted onstage, the actor performs Ravana’s physical responses that follow sex by wiping the sweat off the forehead and the explicit gesturing of his satisfaction from the rape. As a female member of audience, I had always found it wincingly disturbing to sit through the scene because of the level of threat – of a sexual nature – that Ravana presented to Rambha. However, the rape scene in this play is still popular on kathakali stages, because, as I argue, Ravana’s victory of a sexual nature is considered as one of the many ways in which his manhood is celebrated. Now I will examine another rape scene from a slaughter play – Keechakavadham (The Killing of Keechaka) by Irayimman Thambi (1783–1863) – to further explore the representation of manhood in kathakali. The play, highly popular on kathakali stages, elevates the imminent threat of rape as a highly stylized element of entertainment. The central scene in The Killing of Keechaka is Prince Keechaka’s


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appeal for sexual intercourse to a chambermaid – who really is the queen/princess Draupadi in disguise – and her consequent rejection of his request. The musical composition of the highly poetic verses, the orchestra and the skilful choreography of the scene totally diffuse the threat of imminent rape from the scene. At the core of this scene is the comprehensive portrayal of an imaginary bed, which is prepared by Keechaka with extreme care. His actions include: spreading the bedspread, placing the pillows, strewing the freshly plucked fragrant flowers, sprinkling perfume on the bed, himself and the chambermaid, and so on. A highly imaginative actor will spend anywhere between twenty minutes and half an hour enacting the bed. Keechaka’s preparation of the bed is also his preparation towards the anticipated rape, and his actions lead the audience to relate the bed to the imminent rape because a bed is choreographed as a representation of the male consumption of the female body. Keechaka’s corporeal expressions in the bed scene are evidently filled with an overdose of voyeuristic pleasure, by explicitly enacting the chambermaid’s sexual organs through looks and hand gestures. The primary physical indication of rape proceeds the “bed scene” when Keechaka attempts to touch the chambermaid without her consent and chases her around the imaginary bed. (Here, the question may be raised if Keechaka would do the same, had he known that the woman whom he chases is Droupadi, raising a new set of political issues, namely the social class and women’s position within the class structure.) The imaginary bed, an object which objectifies the female sexual body, simultaneously acts as a site of female sexual interrogation as well as that of male sexual pleasure. Therefore, the metaphorical “bed” is a displacement of male sexual pleasure, an act of displacing the female sexual body with the site of its consumption (Butler, 2011). The skilfully choreographed scene aesthetically masquerades the reality of rape as a romantic gesture of a love-struck prince, diffusing the threat of rape. In the Malayalam film Marattam (Masquerade, 1988, originally written as a play by Kavalam Narayana Panicker), directed by G. Aravindan, and loosely based on the actor-character transformation of Keechaka, the lead female character is in love with Keechaka and despises the actor Kelu, who enacts Keechaka. Her husband, on the other hand, hates Keechaka, but likes Kelu. She exclaims, “[H]ow can I ever kill Keechaka with these hands”, suggesting her “devotion” to Keechaka. Keechaka, for her, is the epitome of male beauty and male sensuousness, which further exemplifies the ways in which The Killing of Keechaka diffuses the threat of rape from its performance. Male sexual arrogance (especially that of the highly privileged, upper-caste men of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Kerala) towards the vulnerable women of a lower social status is well reflected in the two rape scenes above. If Rambha is “punished” for exercising her sexual freedom (she was on her way home after spending a night with her lover when stopped by Ravana), the chambermaid, who is a powerless servant lacking voice, is sexually attacked because of her lower position in the social strata. Both women are subjected to male sexual advances, but the political problem of the female sexual interrogation gives way to the aesthetic celebration of manhood in both rape scenes.

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Devotion to the divine man I group ten plays in this category. As suggested by the title, all these plays celebrate the divine men such as Krishna, Vishnu or Siva. The typical storyline has a male protagonist, a devotee of Vishnu or Siva, mostly princes or kings, experiencing some sort of personal dilemma, which is resolved with the blessings of a divine masculine power. It is not uncommon to juxtapose a lustful woman who brings difficulties to the male protagonist, as in the case of Rugmangada Charitham (The Tale of Rugmangada), by Mandavappilli Ittirarichamenon (1745–1805). Mohini, the celestial seductress in this play, demands sexual intercourse with her partner, King Rugmangada, on the day of his fasting and prayer in honour of Vishnu. The king, who had vowed to her never to decline any of her desires, turns down her request. Mohini considers this as a breach of promise (considered as an extremely demeaning gesture by a king) and adamantly states that she will let him complete his worship only if he kills his own son, Dharmangada, while he lies on his mother Sandhyavali’s lap. At the end of a dramatically charged scene, Rugmangada, who flashed his sword to kill his own son, is interrupted and blessed by Vishnu himself, thus relieving him of his misery. Devotion is the dominant emotional state (sthayi) in many of the plays in this group. Female characters are virtually insignificant in many of these plays, and if they are at all significant, they could very well be a seductress. The so-called chaste female characters such as Sandhyavali have little significance in the play, and she has no sung verses either. One significant exception here is the play Kiratam (The Rule of the Jungle), by Irattakulangara Ramavarrier (1725–89), in which Siva and Parvati, his wife, are both disguised as hunters. Parvati has an equal role in this play, perhaps owing to her divine nature. Yet Siva is the supreme God in this play and it is he who is worshipped. Parvati’s blessing is only a bonus. (In a kutiyattam play, the demon king Ravana famously declines to receive any blessings from a woman – goddess Parvati, in this case.)

Lead/equal-role female character plays Only two plays are grouped in this section. The first one is Nala’s Story, the longest kathakali play in four parts. Queen Damayanti, the heroine of the play, occupies an equal role with the hero, King Nala. She is the most popular character among the kathakali female impersonators because she is perhaps the only female character who exerts serious demands on an actor’s skills. Yet, a detailed character analysis of Damayanti is not taught in the kathakali studio. Similarly, Poothanamoksham (Salvation of Poothana), by Aswathithirunal (1756–94), is the only play with a sole female protagonist and, not surprisingly, she is a demoness. Poothana, who sets on a mission to kill the baby Krishna, gets killed at the hands of Krishna’s divine powers. Krishna is the absent male throughout the play and therefore exerts a full presence within it. * * *


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The above classification of the popular kathakali plays well demonstrates that the female characters in three of the four categories hold a secondary position, and the plays treat women merely as a sexual other. Some female characters, like Sita and Sandhyavali, do not even have a voice, in terms of sung verses. Marlene Pitkow groups female characters into three categories: minukku, the idealized heroine; lalita, the disguised double; and kari, the outrageous Ogress. Grouped as a single homogenous category, minukku characters are all women – noble women or a chambermaid. Social status, beauty or characterization do not differentiate their appearance in kathakali by any means. They are just women, mere sexual objects, no matter what. As Pitkow rightly comments, “the minukku characters maintain a quiet and reserved profile, [and] the spectator looks to the male for descriptions of her” (2011, 228). In other words, the kathakali woman is a twice-distilled male fantasy, first by the playwright and then by the male actor onstage. Lalita is the disguise of a demoness. She adopts the minukku appearance, not subjectivity, for an appropriate cover-up, especially when she has to converse with a noble hero or another minukku character. Pitkow states that [w]hen the demoness decides to undertake her mission of sexual depravity and evil, she transforms herself into a lalita, a disguise to hide her characteristically terrifying form. For this purpose she appropriates the appearance and demeanor of the minukku, her dramatic opposite. The lalita is the embodiment of dread, representing the confusion between what she appears to be and is in reality. (2011, 232) In her minukku appearance, her intentions are to trick a noble man or woman or to explicitly address her sexual needs to a man. Lalita transforms into her aggressive self if rejected or confronted by a man. Her sexually overt behaviour may also be punished by her male opponent holding a moral high ground by mutilating her breasts. Her entry in her mutilated form is ninam, as I described above. Kari is “everything that the respectful and self-controlled heroine is not . . . She is an aggressive, dangerous, destructive, as well as low-class and preposterous creature” (2011, 237). Kari, meaning “black”, is a highly derogatory demeanour of a woman and Lalita is kari transformed. This highly problematic gender templates imply that the social reception of womanhood is only extended to the one who is beautiful, chaste and obedient. While most kathakali female characters can be grouped into Pitkow’s three categories, I would argue that the sexually overt celestial women like Urvasi and Rambha cannot be classified under any of these. Their appearance is minukku, but their subjectivity is liminal, holding a space between Lalita and minukku. Four significant scenarios defining the presence of women in kathakali emerge out of the above discussion:

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1 2



There is a sheer absence of any training available for female kathakali performers from the established kathakali centres. The heavily sexist representation of women in kathakali plays deters women from even considering kathakali as their profession. It also diminishes their interest from learning and performing female roles in kathakali. The representation of women is infested by male gaze and patriarchal values of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that is marginally suitable to the women in the twenty-first century. Female characters are often “voiceless” and enjoy minimal presence in kathakali plays.

Women performers in kathakali What are the implications of such a patriarchal structure on the entry of women into kathakali and their choice in terms of characters? It is evident that the current spectrum of female characters in kathakali does not present an exciting picture to the female practitioners, if they prefer to take up female roles. The only female kathakali practitioner with a continuous performance career akin to male masters is Chavara Parukkutty (1943–), who has performed female characters for the last five decades. However, most of the female kathakali practitioners of the Ladies Troupe specialize in performing the male characters. Geetha Varma, one of the long-lasting kathakali practitioners since the 1980s, says that “there is more space and scope for performing a male character than a female character” (Varma and Subhadra, 2014), an opinion that is shared by several female kathakali practitioners. Similarly, Subhadra, a young Master’s student in computer application, comments that she “likes performing all the slaughter plays and the anti-hero male characters (kathivesham) in them” because of the colourful “display of masculinity” in those characters (2014). Indeed, the display of masculinity in all its shades, as I have discussed so far, is key to the kathakali repertoire. The only female character that ever attracted my interest as a young child was Damayanti, the lead female character in The Nala’s Story, the only complex female character that is multilayered and profound in characterization. Geetha Varma states that they “always struggle to get women to perform female characters for their performances” (2014). Radhika Varma, the senior most performer of the Ladies Troupe since its inception in 1975, maintains that her favourite characters are Ravana and King Nala (in The Nala’s Story). She also performs female characters for the Ladies Troupe because of the shortage of women specialized in enacting them (2014). Ravana is the character that she “enjoys very much” (2014), signalling kathakali’s dramatization of the performance techniques of an antihero – the antihero who roars a musical roar, a threatening roar, an inviting roar, an alerting roar and so on. Since kathakali has historically been patriarchal in approach, female kathakali performers appear to respond to the situation by appropriating the most theatrically male characteristic, such as the “roar”, for themselves.


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The politics of roar Roar is one of the very few vocal expressions of the kathakali actor, and a roar is the vocal entry of an antihero, a villain or a demoness. A typical entry of the antihero (kathivesham), villain (beard characters, tadi) and kari characters is signalled by the roar behind the half-curtain (tirasheela) and before the character is revealed through the dramatic “curtain look” (tiranokku).5 Therefore, the actor’s roar precedes the character entry and the roar can signify the intentions of any particular character. According to MPS, “roar is the life of a kathivesham. It is hard to imagine a kathivesham that does not roar” (Namboothiri, 2015). Perhaps the most challenging element of male impersonation at the hands of women is maintaining the technical precision of a roar, and indeed the historical, male resonance in her voice. The audience is socially and culturally conditioned to expect only a male roar and never a female roar. Interestingly, no specific training is offered to the male actors in roaring and they “learn it through their experience of watching and listening” (Namboothiri, 2015). Geetha Varma, while confirming that no specific “roaring” technique was taught to her, recollected that she was instructed by her guru to stay immersed in water up to neck level in the early hours of the morning and to practise her roar. The female impersonators in kathakali, ironically, do not ever need to be concerned about having to maintain the quality of female voice during their performance, because the minukku characters are not designed to vocally express their thoughts. Roar is highly significant in the history of women in kathakali because it established an intrinsic relationship with the performance career of the first-known woman kathakali performer, Kartyayani, in 1719. Her enactment of the monkey king Sugreeva was popular in those days. Bali Othikkan, an illustrious kathakali performer known for his performance of Bali (Sugreeva’s brother), was instructed by a king to enact Bali with Kartyayani’s Sugreeva. Othikkan’s roar was so extremely powerful that Kartyayani fainted onstage when hearing it, never to perform again in her life. So a male roar ended the performance career of the first woman in kathakali (Menon, 1957, 19–20). Sadly, the history of female kathakali starts from a male roar. Roar is a recurrent point of reference in the conversations of female kathakali performers. Many are proud of the vocal quality of their roar. Sreemathy Antharjanam, one of the actors in the inaugural performance of Ladies Troupe in 1975, proudly states that her “roar was really terrific. I have even roared the hunter’s roar along the male performers” (Gita, 2011, 122). Following her performance of the monkey god, Hanuman, in The Flower of Good Fortune, some members of audience followed her backstage when she was preparing to undress her costume. They had wanted confirmation that it was a woman beneath the heavy Hanuman costume and not a man. She is particularly proud of the “male resonance” that she had created in her voice (Antharjanam, 2015). She argues that being male-like was the hallmark of her performance, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s, when it would have been significant to be more male-like in order to gain acceptance among the audience. Interestingly, Antharjanam attempted to follow the set rules of

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kathakali and not to tread in her own path – a female path. This in fact signals the performative capacity of the female performer as more flexible to some extent than that of the male. That said, even the entry of women to kathakali was revolutionary in the 1970s and 1980s, because the very presence of a female body on the male stages sufficiently challenged the fundamental patriarchal performance codes, well established for several centuries. Geetha Varma says this about her performance experience: I acted Dussasana [the villain character in Mahabharatam] for the first time at Thiruvalla Srivallabha temple. Thiruvalla is the land of kathakali enthusiasts. When I was lying for my chutti (the facial pattern of male characters) an old man came [to the green room], looked around and asked, “. . . is this the girl who is acting Dussasana? Would any sound come out of her mouth?” After my curtain look he said that I exceeded his expectations. (Gita, 2011, 129) Suma Varma Raju, an active member of Ladies Troupe who was also performing on the same day at Thiruvalla, considers this as a basic cultural scepticism. In her experience, the enactment of strong, villainous characters by women is always measured against the well-established male benchmark, set by the male performers for several decades. The audience are culturally conditioned to expect male bodies on kathakali stages. Their initial repulsion on seeing a woman back stage and the consequent rejection of her capacities are short-lived, according to Raju, and can be reversed once they watch the women perform those roles. Raju also states that roaring presents experimental opportunities to any performer, male or female, since it is not a structured training element (Raju, 2015). Performers roar differently and therefore the roar of a woman will be a female roar, not a male roar. If the star “roarer” (if I can say so), the late Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, roared remarkably differently to the late Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, then a female “roarer” can also roar her own distinct female roar. It will have its own identity and texture. Onstage, in costume, a Dussasana’s roar by a woman will be her roar and her Dussasana, not a historical and cultural male roar or a male Dussasana. Roar, therefore, becomes a performative signifier – in other words, a performance language that “constructs the individual’s subjectivity in ways which are socially specific” (Weedon, 1987, 21). What roar really offers is a model of masculinity, a male archetype, subjectively similar to the “angry young men” model of postwar British theatre. This masculine model is socially constructed, historically remodelled and culturally transmitted. Therefore, roar is a trace. It is a performative act that re-presents traces of patriarchal presence in its every recurrence. In other words, roar traces the “non-presence of the present” (Miller, 2011, 49). But, the female roar confuses the fundamental patriarchal metanarratives because it does not fit into the established female subjectivity within the sociocultural domain of Kerala. The female roar is a gendered recollection of a trace, a trace without a past. It culminates in establishing a significant feminist trajectory in the male world of kathakali.


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The case study of Sandhyavali Are there any significant innovations by women in kathakali? Radhika Varma observed the reluctance of the audience members in accepting female innovations in kathakali. In our conversation, Geetha Varma recollected a “story of Sandhyavali” from The Tale of King Rugmangada. Geetha Varma was enacting the king Rugmangada in 2001 and a young undergraduate student, Keerthy Ganesh, was performing Sandhyavali, who only enters in the very last scene, when Rugmangada is coerced into killing his son Dharmangada. Sandhyavali, in this highly dramatic scene, is not even expected to act. The actor’s only intention is to serve the purpose of a female body, and listen to Rugmangada without making any gestural responses. What is even more implausible is the sheer denial of any response by Sandhyavali in such a dramatically charged situation, when her husband is about to kill her own son, who rests on her lap. Ganesh mentioned that “usually Rugmangada will be performed by very senior masters and Sandhyavali by a junior actor. No actor will violate his brief out of respect for the master performer” (2015). On that day, Ganesh performed Sandhyavali in such a way that she responded to Rugmangada’s actions through hand gestures. Unlike several Sandhyavalis whom I had watched, she also interacted with Mohini, and gestured if there was an amicable solution to the problem. Full of tears in her eyes, Ganesh turned her face away when Rugmangada flashed his sword to kill Dharmangada, prompting Geetha Varma to engage in a direct dramatic response. Geetha Varma clearly recollects this moment and stated that she became emotionally “exhausted” because of Ganesh’s response. All this sparked the experience of a “real life dilemma” in Geetha Varma (Varma and Subhadra, 2015). After the performance Ganesh was criticized by the male percussionist onstage for expressing her voice that brought Sandhyavali’s character alive, because, according to him, the focus “must” be on Rugmangada and his agonizing fate at the hands of Mohini. I would argue that Sandhyavali’s tears of improvization were criticized because of the newness of the innovation. Ganesh’s Sandhyavali is a highly important case study in assessing the reception for female innovation in kathakali, because the values guiding any improvisation in kathakali are closely guarded by both audience and actors, who all internalize male gaze. However, this example also signals that the actions of Geetha Varma and Ganesh radically challenge the nature of the audience’s perception of the relationship between male and female characters onstage. Men are to be active and women are to be passive – nothing except the sheer passivity of female character is acceptable. At the same time, the two actors, who are female, are able to intervene in the set patriarchal stage norms to elucidate aspects of behaviour which traditional male performance habitus would not make available to the audience. Sandhyavali, who has negated her right to express shock and sorrow at her son’s imminent murder at the hands of her own husband, decides to shed tears in Ganesh’s onstage spontaneous improvization. Ganesh brings out the mother and wife in Sandhyavali that engages with the husband and father in Geetha Varma, changing the texture of characterization and altering the norms of improvization in kathakali. Both women

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co-conceive the scene in a totally unprepared and spontaneous style, which carves a new mode of female intervention in the patriarchal sensibility of kathakali. To sum up, Suma Varma Raju proudly states that Ladies Troupe has successfully achieved its aim of acquiring a female entry into kathakali (2015). Women kathakali performers now receive invitations to perform both male and female roles, with male performers alongside their regular performances with the Ladies Troupe. Radhika Varma’s Rugmangada, Geetha Varma’s Dussasana and Parvathy Menon’s Keechaka have slowly started to find a way to the mainstream, male kathakali. Still, a large proportion of audiences are yet to perceive the skills of a woman in a male role or, indeed, a female role. More importantly, the kathakali training centres in Kerala have to recognize the creative urge of women practitioners and be prepared to change the age-old norms on training female pupils. Kathakali’s superstructure has to change its patriarchal outlooks in order to offer equal footing to both male and female practitioners in its repertory. Until then, the female kathakali will stride somewhere between tears and roars.

Notes 1 2

3 4 5

Literally translated as the “knife costume”, it represents demons as well as cruel/greedy royal men such as King Ravana or Keechaka. Alarcha, literally translated as “roar”, is the characteristic vocal expression of demon male characters or cruel/greedy men (e.g., King Duryodhana) in kathakali. Only Kathi, kari (demoness) and tadi (beard) characters roar in kathakali. None of the chaste female characters or the noble male characters roar onstage. Roar is one of the very few sounds produced by a kathakali actor. It is used to denote the arrogant/cruel nature of a character, sexual promiscuity or the character’s destructive intentions. Panchakarma is a set of five different treatment methods developed by Ayurveda, the Indian medical system. These four female characters are Lalita (the disguise of a demoness into a beautiful woman) in Killing of Kirmeera, Killing of Baka, Killing of Narakasura and Urvasi in Killing of Kalakeya. Curtain look is the highly stylized entry of a demon character, the monkey god Hanuman or the kari character from behind the hand-held half-curtain. The actors roar behind the curtain to signify their character, play with the curtain and reveal their faces or their weapon by lowering the curtain.

References Antharjanam, S. (2015) Life in Kathakali. [telephone interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 17 April. Butler, J. (2011) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge. Daugherty, D. and Pitkow, M. (1991) Who Wears the Skirts in Kathakali? TDR, 35(2): 138–156. Ganesh, K. (2015) Keerthy Ganesh’s Role of Sandhyavali. [telephone interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 27 March. Gita. (2011) Kaliyammamar [Women Performers]. Chengannur: Rainbow Books. Menon, K. P. S. (1957) Kathakalirangam. Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Co Ltd.


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Miller, J. H. (2011) Linguistics and Grammatology. In Sean Gaston and Ian Maclachlan (eds), Readings of Derrida’s “Of Grammatology”. London and New York: Continuum, 47–51. Namboodirippad, K. V. and Namboothiri, M. P. S. (2007) Kathakaliyude Rangapatha Charithram. Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Co Ltd. Namboothiri, M. P. S. (2014) Kottakkal Sivaraman and Women’s Kathakali. [interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 30 July. Namboothiri, M. P. S. (2015) About Kathakali Roar. [telephone Interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 29 April. Pitkow, M. (2011) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Kathakali’s Females and the Men who Play them. In Heidrun Brückner, Hanne de Bruin and Heike Moser (eds), Between Fame and Shame. Performing Women – Women Performers in India. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 223–244. Rajeev, V. B. (2015) (telephone Interview) Chavutti Thirummal. Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 22 April. Raju, S. V. (2015) Women in Kathakali. [Skype interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 30 April. Varma, G. and Subhadra (2014) [interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 8 August. Varma, G. and Subhadra (2015) Keerthi’s Role of Sandhyavali. [telephone interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 31 March. Varma, G., Varma. R., Menon, P. and Raju, S. V. (2014) Women in Kathakali. [interview] Interviewed by Arya Madhavan, 8 August. Weedon, C. (1987) Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Zarrilli, P. B. (2000) Kathakali Dance Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play. London and New York: Routledge.

7 “RUINED BY SEVERAL ACTRESSES WHO ADDED PORNOGRAPHIC ELEMENTS” The popularity of emerging actresses in Chinese jingju (Beijing opera) and the censorship of two plays Siyuan Liu

In May 1957, during a brief thawing period of China’s campaign against classical theatre, Xiao Cuihua (1900–66), one of the best-known jingju (Beijing opera) male stars of huadan (vivacious or coquettish female) who had been forced offstage for five years by puritanical repertoire reform, complained to the official Renmin ribao (People’s Daily) that he had long wanted to restage his plays. His list included what was considered the quintessential “erotic” play Hudie meng (The Butterfly Dream), also known as Da piguan (Cleaving Open the Coffin). The article quoted him as saying that “this play was ruined during the Japanese occupation [1937–45] by several actresses who added pornographic elements and performed it together with Fang mianhua (Spinning Cotton), which were called together as ‘Cleaving and Spinning’ (Pi-Fang) . . . I’d like to perform this play for the leaders and audience to let them judge whether it is erotic display or art” (1957, 2).1 While Xiao was without doubt one of the most severe casualties of post-1949 censorship policies and his thirst for the stage was truly merited, his blame of the actresses for “ruining” The Butterfly Dream nonetheless perpetuated the myth that it was the suggestive performance by actresses that signalled the end of an otherwise “artistic” portrayal of an unfaithful woman by male actors. Indeed, the phrase “Cleaving and Spinning”, a negative term coined in the 1940s in Shanghai, has perpetuated even today as the proverbial shorthand for erotic and degenerative performance on the pre-1949 jingju stage. What, then, in the female portrayal of suggestive dames in jingju was different from that of their male counterparts, who (until the early twentieth century) had dominated the jingju stage? More importantly, what did the audience and critics see in their bodies and performance that facilitated such sharp contrast in their reactions? What does the phenomenon tell us of the battle of the sexes in jingju’s


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performance of femininity in Republican China (1912–49)? And what was the role of theatre managers and their marketing campaigns in creating the phenomenon? To answer these questions, we need to start with a brief performance history of the two plays. The Butterfly Dream depicts the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi, who, upon witnessing a widow fanning the tomb of her recently deceased husband so that she can remarry sooner after the soil is dry, tests his wife Tian’s fidelity by feigning death and returning as a young scholar, who captivates Tian’s heart but falls fatally ill on their wedding night. Told the only cure is the brain of a family member, Tian cleaves open her late husband’s coffin, only to find him rising alive and shaming her to suicide. The play had two performance versions before jingju. One of them is in the classical form kunqu and the other is a more acrobatic version with highly complicated skill displays in qinqiang or bangzi (a Shaanxi Province theatre form), which became the basis for the jingju play that Xiao Cuihua adapted in the 1920s. During the Japanese occupation in 1939, the actress Wu Suqiu (1922–2016), who was based in Beijing like most other jingju stars, including Xiao Cuihua, performed Cleaving Open the Coffin during her tour in Shanghai to great success, which was further elevated by the 19-year-old Tong Zhiling (1922–95) in 1941, also during her tour from Beijing to Shanghai. The success of Wu and Tong made the play a sure path to a full house for actresses, who often opened their tours with the play. Compared to the plot-driven Cleaving Open the Coffin, the other play in the “Cleaving and Spinning” pair that Xiao Cuihua discussed, Spinning Cotton, originated as one scene of a complete play about female infidelity that results in the murder of her husband. Performed as a stand-alone piece, it was a short farcical medley of famous jingju (and occasionally other local opera) arias, storytelling pieces, and folk and popular songs. It tells the story of a travelling silversmith Zhang San, who, upon returning home at night after three years, overhears his wife nursing a baby, spinning cotton and singing a variety of songs. Suspicious, he throws in a piece of silver and pretends to be a neighbour asking the wife to open the door. When she does, the couple banters with each other and then the audience. The piece essentially was a star vehicle for the wife’s performer to show off his/her mimetic skills of a self-determined variety of jingju (and other genres’) female and male singing styles. It was first performed in 1909 by the jingju actor Ma Xiaowu in Beijing to skirt around the ban on full-scale theatrical performance as a result of the death of both Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu in October 1908. While performed over the years by both actors and actresses, it had fallen from regular staging by the late 1930s before a couple of actresses revived it in Beijing, but it truly became sensational through Wu and Tong’s Shanghai tours in 1939 and 1940 respectively. According to a contemporary newspaper report, Suqiu’s Wang was elegant and graceful, and her opening nursery song while holding that baby “Baby, baby, don’t cry” received shouts of “bravo”

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all over the house. Thereafter, every piece would whip up frenzy in the house. Her imitation of the Four Major Dan’s [female roles’] singing reaped thunderous applause because of her extreme fidelity in mimicking their habitual movements. (Xiaochang, 1939, 2) The Four Major Dan refer to the four greatest male performers of female roles, including Mei Lanfang, Shang Xiaoyun, Cheng Yanqiu and Xun Huisheng. In the following year, Tong Zhiling toured Shanghai only as the second lead in support of the laosheng (older civil male) actor Li Shengzao. However, when the tour was at the brink of tanking, she was asked to put on Spinning Cotton. Having never played it before, Tong spent several days learning several famous jingju arias from experienced actors, as well as popular local songs. In the end, Tong’s superior mimetic talent, plus a typical Shanghai repackaging effort together with a fashionable red body-hugging dress qipao, golden high-heel shoes, high-fashion coiffeur and a new spinning wheel decorated with light bulbs, not only saved the play and tour but also made Tong a new star overnight (Zhu, 1995, 64–66). Tong performed mostly jingju arias, including extremely close imitation of the Four Major Dan from the play Si wuhuadong (The True and False Pan Jinlian) (1995, 66). Without doubt, the plays brought the two young stars (both born in 1922) tremendous box-office success in Shanghai and heightened recognition back in Beijing, although it is equally important to recognize that their subsequent long and illustrious careers were sustained by a wide variety of traditional and new plays. Nonetheless, “Cleaving and Spinning” remained the most coveted pieces for them, although Wu took a hiatus from the stage after marriage in 1943. During one sixmonth tour in Shanghai, Tong performed the two plays a combined 149 times (Zhu, 1995, 141). The play became such a sensation that it was elevated from a “little farce” (wanxiao xiaoxi) to the finale (dazhou) of several star-studded charity performances in Beijing, earning Wu Suqiu 50,000 yuan, enough to buy a house (1941, 10). Cleaving Open the Coffin also led to the fad of all-female cross-dressing (fanchuan) performances in Beijing that was extremely popular in 1943 and 1944 (1944a, 8; 1944b, 8). Such high popularity of the young actresses inevitably threatened the dominance of male dan and provoked moralist backlash from (all male) critics, who coined such epithets for Wu and Tong as mianhua dan (cotton dan), Pi-Fang dan (CleavingSpinning dan), or even Fang-Pi dan, which, by switching the order of the two plays, is homonymous with “farting dan” (Su, 1943, 2). The authorities in several major cities censored the plays during and after the Japanese occupation. The first wave came in spring 1944. Shanghai banned these and two other plays also favoured by actresses: Pansi dong (The Cave of the Silken Web), about female demons battling the Monkey King, and Ximi zhuan (Theatre Fans), another imitation medley play. Beijing chose to censor Cleaving Open the Coffin and Theatre Fans on 28 March at the height of Cleaving’s cross-dressing craze, prompting an excited “exclusive” in Liyan Pictorial (1944c, 3) that hailed the ban as “immensely gratifying”


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(1944a, 8). The virtually simultaneous bans in the two jingju centres inevitably affected nandan (male dan) actors such as Xiao Cuihua, who may very well have viewed themselves as the victims of the so-called “gimmicks” by the actresses. Indeed, Xiao was unable to perform Cleaving Open the Coffin in his Shanghai tour because of the ban (Xiaoshu meihua guanzhu, 1944, 17). While automatically released after the Japanese occupation, the two plays were forbidden from performance at least twice in 1946 by authorities in the then-capital Nanjing and the northern city of Tianjin, the third jingju centre, besides Beijing and Shanghai (Sansen, 1946, 8; Shi, 1946, 2; 1946b, 11). As a result of such backlash, the epithet Pi-Fang dawang (King of Cleaving and Spinning) followed Wu and Tong throughout the 1940s. Moreover, as evident in Xiao Cuihua’s 1957 complaint, this shadow dogged them – despite extraordinary achievements over long careers – even after the Communist takeover in 1949. As late as 2008, an otherwise solid scholarly article on the origin of Spinning Cotton still repeated the hearsay, with no sourcing, that Tong “unbuttoned her dress onstage to feed the baby” (Wang, 2008, 77). It is no wonder, then, that Wu still complained in 1990 to a reporter about the “misgivings” of her infamy “that has dogged me till today. At 68, I don’t want to bring it with me to the grave” (Zhou, 1990, 33). Tong felt equally strongly about clearing her name, stressing in her 1995 authorized biography that she staged both plays only after being persuaded by Shanghai theatre managers. She also felt compelled to declare that “one is welcome to search through all theatrical publications [of the time]. Even theatre owners who loved to attract the audience with sensational news and tabloid reporters specialized in stirring up controversy were unable to prefix such terms as libertine, sensuous, carnal, or bawdy in front of Tong Zhiling’s name” (Zhu, 1995, 103). In 1958, when Tong volunteered to play the anti-Japanese heroine Zhao Yiman in the Shanghai Jingju Company, she felt compelled to tell the director Ma Ke: “The old society turned a woman into a ghost; the new society has turned a ghost into a woman. To reach Zhao Yiman from ‘Cleaving and Spinning’, I hope to receive your support and help” (Ma, 2000, 164). The success of Zhao Yiman, a pioneer of revolutionary modern plays that would dominate jingju a decade later, indeed helped to cleanse the stigma of “Cleaving and Spinning”. How, then, do we understand the sharp contrast between the plays’ tremendous popularity among the audience and the equally overwhelming backlash from male critics, the media and the authorities? The answer to the question necessarily starts with the particular circumstances of Shanghai during the Anti-Japanese War (1937–45), as well as the dynamics of the jingju world between Beijing and Shanghai. There was always a division in terms of performance style and audience preference between Beijing – jingju’s birthplace, as well as the base of almost all first-rate actors and a traditionalist audience – and Shanghai, China’s most cosmopolitan city, where the audience were accustomed to flashy and technologically innovative plays and touring stars from Beijing repackaged by theatre managers with extravagant advertisement and clever programming. Of course, this division between the so-called jingpai versus haipai

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(Beijing versus Shanghai styles) was also never a hard division, as there was a great deal of overlap and mutual influence. For example, Mei Lanfang was able to perform very successfully in Shanghai and he also introduced experiments in Beijing. Nevertheless, the division remained and was further accentuated during the war. Because its International Settlement and French Concession controlled by Western powers were not invaded by the Japanese until after Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 – and remained relatively prosperous even afterwards – large numbers of refugees and capital flooded into Shanghai. Often coming from surrounding regions along the Yangtze River, where jingju tradition was relatively weak, this new audience group of both genders was more invested in entertainment than traditional connoisseurs and critics with their memories of previous productions by male performers. This focus on popular entertainment over political messages, conventional moral prohibitions, and literary and performance conventions became the mainstream in the entertainment world in wartime Shanghai, where many authoritative cultural figures had either retreated with the Chinese government to the southwest interior, temporarily retired or remained in Beijing. Coupled with intense Japanese persecution of politically sensitive messages, this political and moral vacuum created an enormous boom of popular entertainment, a turning away from political and enlightenment messages – such as the Four Major Dan’s patriotic or rebellious heroines – of the previous decade towards everyday melodrama. This combination of audience demand for, and calculated feeding of, comfort food on the one hand, and the relaxed moral prohibitions and institutional memory on the other, largely underscored the rise of the so-called “Cleaving and Spinning” phenomenon. On top of this wartime environment, these two plays also epitomized the battle of the sexes in jingju between emerging actresses and the still largely dominant nandan actors. Actresses were absent in the early phase of jingju that emerged in the late 1700s, since they had been barred from the stage in the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). They re-emerged in the late nineteenth century in all-female troupes in the international concession area in Shanghai away from Chinese jurisdiction. The first permanent theatre Meixian Chayuan (Beautiful Fairies Teahouse) opened in 1894 and the star actresses, such as Bi Yunxia, Lin Daiyu and Lu Jufen, performed Spinning Cotton among other plays. When Bi moved to Beijing in 1913, she changed the play title to the more elegant Luowei niang (The Weaving Lady) in order to evade censorship. A report in the same year described the performance of Spinning Cotton by Lu Jufen as “rich and colourful”, in contrast to the light elegance of Lin Daiyu. Lu played three different instruments to accompany her singing of mostly popular songs. When her husband finally enters the house, “their bantering was highly enjoyable and the audience’s applause was loud and long” (Tianwu, 1913, 51). In the early 1920s, the play was performed by both male and female performers in Shanghai. The actor Furongcao (Zhao Tongshan) had trained (originally for the male laosheng role) and performed in Beijing before settling in Shanghai. Consequently, his Spinning Cotton imitated both jingju female and male arias,


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although he only performed it occasionally (Guoyi, 1940, 33). By contrast, the play largely contributed to the actress Zhang Wenyan’s rise to stardom, known as Prince Refine and Amorousness (Wenyan qinwang, playing on her given name): “Every time she performed the play, the whole town would come out to see it . . . Wenyan was at the height of her prime and was known for her charming magnetism as each song would intoxicate countless viewers” (Xiaochang, 1939, 2). While the play became a rarity for a decade afterwards, the actor Liu Xiaoheng performed it in the late 1930s before Wu and Tong’s arrival. Liu’s performance was known for an added drumming scene from the famous laosheng play Jigu ma Cao (Scolding Cao Cao While Beating the Drum), which, as one critic acknowledged, seemed “quite discordant with the play’s plot” (1937, 34). One way to understand the contrast between the sensational success of the actresses and the much more modest popularity of Furongcao and Liu is to consider their posed photos of Spinning Cotton in roughly contemporary pairs of Furongcao (1922) and Zhang Wenyan (1924), and then Liu Xiaoheng (1936) and Wu Suqiu (1942) (1922, 51; 1924, 1; 1936, 1; 1942, 1). The roughly contemporary comparison between the two pairs of actors and actresses provides a telling clue to the actresses’ visual appeal. In the photos, Zhang Wenyan’s youthful vitality playing the organ in an elegant and well-tailored blouse and skirt, in addition to natural hairstyle, forms a sharp contrast to Furongcao’s contrived performance of feminine signs that include a spinning wheel, shiny (and somewhat gaudy) blouse and trousers, a centrally parted wig, a handkerchief tucked at the side of the blouse and crossed feet. The same is true of Liu Xiaoheng’s costume and demeanour. While updated to the 1936 fashion of a one-piece white dress with buttoned long sleeves and pointed pumps, his pose was nevertheless steeped in the tradition of performing feminine signs by holding long, braided black hair and looking coyly toward the reader through the reflection of a mirror in a semi-covered pose. This contrived posture sharply contrasts with Wu Suqiu’s unabashedly fashionable coiffeur and well-tailored qipao with bare arms and natural smile. This impression is corroborated by a report of Tong’s Spinning Cotton in which she “wore a red silk qipao and golden pumps with light makeup. She was a graceful beauty with a slender figure”, which was accentuated by her northern build that was extraordinarily tall for the southern Shanghai (Rui, 1940, 15; Zhu, 1995, 65). Such visual contrast in the contemporary-costume play of Spinning Cotton between the actresses’ natural appearance and the actors’ art of concealing and evocative feminine signs is reminiscent of an earlier battle in modern Japanese theatre shingeki (new drama) where the dominance of female impersonators onnagata was finally shattered in 1914, when two star actresses, Kawakami Sadayakko and Matsui Sumako, separately staged Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. According to Ayako Kano, it was the play’s climactic “Dance of the Seven Veils”, when Salomé stripped the veils one after another to reveal the beauty of her body, that finally won the battle for actresses: “It was by showing their bodies that women proved they were better than onnagata for performing the role of women” (Kano, 2001, 225). In this sense,

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while Wu and Tong’s appearance in Shanghai did not settle the gender argument as Kawakami and Matsui did for shingeki in 1914, they undoubtedly won the popular contest with their refreshingly natural appearance and performance over the nandan’s contrived performance of femininity. Of course, it also helped that both were extraordinary actresses in the art of mimesis who had been well trained in Beijing, which allowed them to win the aural – on top of visual – battle of imitation. While the audience controlled the programming with their collective purchasing power, theatre critics insisted on comparing the supposed erotic displays by Wu and Tong to what they believed to be the exemplary performance of fallen heroines by the male star Xiao Cuihua, as evidenced in the following 1948 description of Xiao’s performance in the climactic scene of Cleaving Open the Coffin: “Holding a cleaver, wearing dishevelled hair and the expression of vehement struggle between desire and reason, he jumped and fell with exquisite skills wearing the qiao [a pair of stilts simulating bound feet]. While Tong Zhiling and Wu Suqiu only relied on erotic display, Xiao Cuihua displayed particular exquisiteness in his body and face. I believe this is art” (Huang, 1984, 171). The critic here identifies two reasons behind Xiao’s superior performance: his physical movement (the body) and facial expressions (the face). This is a representative view of Xiao’s unmatched command of this group of plays that focused on the desire and transgression of married women or widows. Such plays usually included two highlight scenes, the display of desire (sichun – literally “spring daydreaming”) and the killing, of either their husband or themselves, as punishment for their transgression. The first scene is usually a long and subtle solo miming performance in which the heroine reveals unrequited desire, often with the help of simple props such as a handkerchief or a couple of mice. The latter scene is usually designed for the display of the performer’s acrobatic skills. In the climax of Cleaving Open the Coffin, for example, when the wife Tian sees Zhuangzi rising from the opened coffin, the most skilful performer would execute a qiangbei – a leap backward from a table, followed by a somersault and turn when close to landing on the floor. A less skilful actor would substitute it with a pigu zuozi – a leap from the table and falling on the buttocks with two legs crossed. An even less trained actor could only step down from the table with the help of a stool (Zhu, 2011). Furthermore, the actors of Xiao’s generation were well trained in the skill of wearing the qiao while performing the dance, followed by the leap and then rolling with the their back on the floor with two twisting legs in the air for another difficult skill display known as shuanglong jiaozhu (two dragons twisting around a pillar). Extremely hard to master, the qiao nonetheless served to enhance both the difficulty and aesthetic appeal of the dance and acrobatics. As an actor trained in Beijing’s legendary all-male Fuliancheng School, which produced most of the great jingju actors in the first half of the twentieth century, Xiao Cuihua was well known for his performance, which was both difficult and genuinely adherent to the conventions of previous generations. His qiao skill was such that he could balance the pair of them inside a bracelet while standing deadly still in the play Shi yuzhuo (Picking up the Jade Bracelet).


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By contrast, both Tong and Wu had dropped out of the first mixed-gender jingju school Zhonghua Xiqu Xuexiao (The Chinese Theatre School). While they both took private lessons from some of the biggest jingju stars in female roles, they were nonetheless not proficient in strict physical training that would not only have taught them qiao skills but also the strict rules and physical memory of conformity to traditional conventions. In terms of jingju’s division of role categories, huadan (literally “flower female”) is between the singing-centric qingyi (black robe), the serious role of female virtues, and the farcical poladan (shrewish female, often performed by male chou actors) where exaggeration is the norm. The performance conventions for huadan extend from dance and acrobatics to eye movement, facial expressions and hand gestures, all of which needed long and strict training to prevent the slippage into explicit suggestiveness. Here again, Xiao Cuihua became the golden standard against whom the actresses were compared. His ease of flow and roundedness in stage walk and dance that “completely adheres to old forms and abstains from the popular trend of wilful alteration” (Shu, 1922, 4) was considered the epitome of a good huadan performance, which was lacking in Wu and Tong. The male critics’ final argument, which is similar to those used to oppose actresses in other Asian performance genres such as kabuki, is that through a combination of close observation and artistic transformation a man can be more capable of performing ideal womanhood. For Xiao Cuihua, this translates to an observation that “his every gesture, smile, even his random talk and facial expression, were all distilled and copied from women’s daily life, which is to say that he not only grasped the average women’s language and movement habits but also the mental world of the private female life” (Wu, 2006, 49). Looking back at her surprising rise to stardom, largely propelled by these two plays, in her authorized biography, Tong did plead inexperience in the lack of appropriateness in her performance while vehemently denying such innuendo that she “gave it her all” (hunshen xieshu) and employed “exciting special features” ( jingcai tese): “While Zhiling was certainly beguiling on stage, there was nothing obscene or lewd. On the other hand, she was after all young and immature in her skills, touching the erotica even as she tried to avoid it; this resulted from her lack of artistic attainment” (Zhu, 1995, 102). Such supposed erotica included “her bold expressions in ‘one of a kind’ portrayal of a young and married woman in her sexual prime who is ‘unaccustomed to sleeping alone’ and ‘waving with a lustful heart’ ” (Wang, 1944, 41). One example comes from Spinning Cotton: “It was said that when Tong Zhiling delivered the entrance line ‘My husband is not home and I miss him day and night’, her flirtatious look was certain to bring down the house” (Zhu, 1995, 103). The irony here is that, while Tong’s look might indeed seem inviting and over the bounds for a huadan due to her inexperience, ultimately this entrance look as the coquettish woman was exactly the moment in which Xiao shined. For Xiao, this was an extremely important theatrical device to communicate with the audience and capture them in his spell from the start, as the following review makes clear, about his delivery of the initial self-introductory line in the

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play Shuangding ji (Two Nails), another husband-killing play about a woman murdering her husband by hammering a nail into his skull: He entered wearing a moon white shirt, sat on stage, his eyes beaming out, announcing: “I am Ba Suliang.” With this one line, the noisy house immediately quieted down. In the words of some fans, when Xiao Cuihua’s eyes beamed around, from stage right to stage left, in all four corners, everyone felt as if Xiao Cuihua was looking at them. There is no match for such star power among actors today. (Huang, 1984, 170–171) While it might certainly be true that Tong’s look was less refined and more suggestive than Xiao’s, they were after all both playing adulterous characters expressing their otherwise suppressed desire. Therefore, their erotic look was much more suited in the situation because of the characterization. There is also genre difference between the farcical Spinning Cotton and the serious plays of Cleaving Open the Coffin and Two Nails, where uproarious laughter in the former is just as appropriate as quieting down the house in the latter. Of course, this critical distrust of Wu and Tong, coupled with equally overwhelming craze from their fans, does point to the function of the actresses’ gender in soliciting such diabolically contrasting views. Here, the view of one of Wu Suqiu’s male co-actors seems illuminating: “Spinning Cotton is really easy to act since it has no plot and does not make much sense, but it always gets full house. That’s all because they want to see her real self ” (Xuanwushi Zhuren, 1940, 6). Here the last phrase the actor used was lushan zhen miannu, literally “the real face of Mount Lu”, a common phrase referring to an authentic and clear image behind a shroud of misty fog. This could certainly mean the actress’s natural makeup and body in the arm-baring and body-hugging qipao instead of the loose-fitting and shape-covering costume for male actors. Furthermore, this “real self ” could also mean the breadth of the actress’s singing skills, and her ability to imitate many styles with extraordinary fidelity, as there were indeed actresses who were booed for not being able to respond to audience requests (1939, 13). On the other hand, while male gaze was certainly an important reason behind the rise of female jingju stars such as Tong and Wu, there is evidence that female spectators in wartime Shanghai were just as numerous as their male counterparts and central to the emergence of female stars from popular novels to the all-female theatre form of yueju (Zhejiang opera) ( Jiang, 2009, 2010). Therefore, the discrepancy between traditionalist connoisseurs and critics, who insisted that only Xiao Cuihua’s strict adherence to jingju conventional performance of adulterous women could be considered art, and the mass wartime Shanghai spectators uninitiated in, and therefore uninhibited by, such conventions – which in itself grew out of the existing Shanghai style of jingju spectatorship and marketing – was as much the result of male gaze as democratization of spectatorship or, depending on one’s point of view, dilution of connoisseurship.


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Still another factor in the relationship between the actresses and the rise and censorship of these plays is the role of theatre managers and their promotional tactics. As previously discussed, it was largely the Shanghai managers who initialized Wu and Tong’s performance of the plays. In 1946, before her return tour to Shanghai after the war, Tong published an article titled “Shuoshuo wo buchang ‘Fang mianhua’ de liyou” (“Why I Will Not Perform Spinning Cotton”), explaining she had welcomed its censorship because it had freed her to demonstrate her wide repertoire that had been largely unseen by Shanghai audiences because of the dominance of “Cleaving and Spinning”. She then noted that, because the ban had been released, “for fear the theatre will again program the play, I have told them: ‘I will not perform Spinning Cotton this time’ ” (Tong, 1946, 8), a decision she also informed the media (1946c, 4; 1946d, 13). However, while the theatre managers kept their agreement to stay away from both plays for the initial engagement, they inevitably asked her to stage them when attendance dropped after her tour was extended. When this happened after her initial half-month engagement in November 1946 in Nanjing, the national capital at the time, the theatre put up an advertisement for the two plays, prompting the art authorities to send her warnings that ultimately stopped the performance (1946a, 5; Shi, 1946, 2). In Shanghai, she was able to perform three months without Spinning Cotton, but ultimately agreed to its programming when “the house dwindled from full to half empty” (Shoutou, 1946, 10). The long tour duration seems to be a key factor, because Tong also survived a successful tour without the two plays in Tianjin in 1947 (1947, 6), but to maintain full house beyond three months in any city was apparently a tall order that could only be sustained by Spinning Cotton, which further underscores the pure financial calculation of its programming. This relentless pursuit of commercial interest on behalf of the theatre management also included sensational advertising that may have significantly contributed to the lasting notoriety of supposed “pornographic” performance, as one article bemoaned after the Beijing censorship in 1944: Would it not be extreme injustice if government intervention occurred because of too much overly exaggerated anomalies, feats of strength, disorder, and spirits or if the advertisement writers recklessly flaunt their literary flourish by including erotic expressions when there was none in performance? One example is the phrase “sporting the phoenix” [making love]. When did the performers ever “sport the phoenix”? Another is “Lustful Little Tian” whereas that day’s actress for Tian [in Cleaving Open the Coffin] Li Yuru did not reveal any lustfulness [fengsao]. (Shanzhai Zhuren, 1944, 7) Such blatant marketing exaggeration may very well have contributed to the licentious reputation of the plays and their consequent censorship after 1949, which ultimately doomed Xiao Cuihua’s career as the most celebrated performer of these

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roles. For Wu and Tong, as well as other jingju actresses, while they generally thrived on the post-1949 stage, in part as a result of the abolition of nandan training, their natural gender vitality was nevertheless blunted by the new government’s censorship of Cleaving Open the Coffin, Spinning Cotton and similar plays. In this sense, the post-1949 ban on supposedly suggestive content and performance under the aegis of gender equality and respect for women has only served to further the stigma and impede a reconsideration of the complicated performance history of “Cleaving and Spinning” that resulted in their stigma in the first place. In a way, what the so-called “Cleaving and Spinning” phenomenon reveals is the repeated attempts – by the media, critics and authorities – to suppress female bodies on jingju stages by accusing them of sexualizing their gestures. These tactics were employed as direct political tools to control women’s performance in popular jingju to the extent that the women were willing to acknowledge their lack of training and skills to steer clear of the sexualized image painted upon them. At the same time, such suppression was in high contrast to the audience interest in watching the “real” women vis-à-vis the “ideal” women performed by nandan, which adds another layer of intrigue in reassessing the relationship between the emergence of the actresses and the established aesthetics of nandan. As such, the phenomenon offers a revealing study of the entanglement between gender performance, audience democratization and political censorship in modern China.

Glossary Dan: female roles in traditional Chinese theatre Four Major Dan: four greatest male performers of female roles in jingju Huadan: “flower dan”, vivacious or coquettish female in jingju; emphasis on acting Jingju: Beijing opera Kunqu: traditional Chinese theatrical form from the Ming Dynasty Laosheng: older male in jingju Nandan: male actor of females roles in jingju Onnagata: male actor of female roles in Japanese theatre Qiao: a pair of wooden stilts used in jingju chiefly before 1949 to simulate bound feet Qingyi: “black robe”, serious female in jingju; focuses on singing Qinqiang: local opera form of the western Shaanxi Province and surrounding regions Qipao: a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress Shingeki: “new drama”, modern Japanese theatre

Note Newspaper articles without bylines are listed with publication year and page number in the text. In the References, these articles are listed under “Anonymous” followed by year of publication.


Siyuan Liu

References Anonymous (1922) Furongcao zhi Yefang mianhua [Fucongcai in Spinning Cotton at Night]. Xinsheng [New Voice], 7: 51. Anonymous (1924) Nüling Zhang Wenyan zhi Fang mianhua [Spinning Cotton by Actress Zhang Wenyan). Shehui zhi hua [Flowers of Society], 1(17): 1. Anonymous (1936) Nanfang sida mingdan zhiyi Liu Xiaoheng Fang mianhua juzhao [Photo of One of Four Southern Major Dan Liu Xiaoheng in Spinning Cotton]. Banyue jukan [Theatre Bimonthly], 6: 1. Anonymous (1937) Furongcao yishan Fang mianhua; Li Xiaoheng changci jia Ye shenchen [Furongcao Was Also Good at Spinning Cotton; Liu Xiaoheng Added Deep Night]. Ying yu xi [Screen and Drama Weekly], 27: 34. Anonymous (1939) Furongcao yu Jiang Yunxia Fang mianhua [Fu Rongcao and Jiang Yunxia performing Spinning Cotton). Shidai [Time], initial issue: 13. Anonymous (1941) Ming kunling fangwen ji (4) Wu Suqiu [Interviews of Famous Actresses (4) Wu Suqiu]. Liyan huakan [Liyan Pictorial], 141: 8–11. Anonymous (1942) Wu Suqiu zhuanye [Wu Shuqiu Special Page]. Banyue xiju, 3(12): 1. Anonymous (1944a) Beizai Yan Huizhu Tong Zhiling: Ximi zhuan Hudie meng jinyan [Tragedy for Yan Huizhu and Tong Zhiling: Theatre Fans and The Butterfly Dream Censored]. Liyan huakan [Liyan Pictorial], 288: 8. Anonymous (1944b) Kun Hudie meng jishi [All-Female The Butterfly Dream]. Liyan huakan [Liyan Pictorial], 288: 8. Anonymous (1944c) Shifu ling jinyan [City Ordinance Bans Plays]. Shenbao [Shanghai News], 6 May, 3. Anonymous (1946a) Da piguan wuren lingjiao [Nobody Wants Cleaving Open the Coffin]. Kuaihuo lin [The Delightful Forest], 41: 5. Anonymous (1946b) Tianjin jinyan Fang mianhua: shehui ju zhang peng dingzi [Tianjin Bans Spinning Cotton: Social Bureau Chief Embarrassed]. Jinghua [China Weekly] New 8: 11. Anonymous (1946c) Tong Zhiling buyan Fang mianhua [Tong Zhiling Will Not Perform Spinning Cotton]. Haiguang [Hai Kwang Weekly], 31: 4. Anonymous (1946d) Tong Zhiling fashi buchang Fang mianhua [Tong Zhiling Swears She Will not Perform Spinning Cotton]. Shanghai youyi [Shanghai Entertainment], 1: 13. Anonymous (1947) Tong Zhiling Tianjin buyan Pi-Fang xi [Tong Zhiling Does Not Perform Cleaving and Spinning in Tianjin]. Shanghai tan [The Bund], new 17: 6. Anonymous (1957) Xiao Cuihua shuo: Woyao changxi! Beijing shi wenhua ju jing zhizhi buli [Xiao Cuihua said: I Want to Perform! Beijing Municipal Cultural Bureau has Ignored Him]. Renmin ribao [People’s Daily], 14 May, 2. Guoyi (1940) Shiyun shi juhua: Fang mianhua jinxi zhi yanzhe [Theatrical Ruminations from Poetry and Cloud Studio: Present and Past Performers of Spinning Cotton). Shanghai shenghuo [Shanghai Guide], 4(9): 33. Huang, S. (1984) Huang Shang lunju zawen [Huang Shang’s Essays on Theatre]. Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe. Jiang, J. (2009) Nüxing, diyuxing, xiandaixing – yueju de Shanghai chuanqi [Female, Regional Characteristics and Modernity – Shanghai Legend of Shaoxing Opera]. Shilin [Historical Review], 5: 40–50. Jiang, J. (2010) Xingbie, yule yu zhanzheng: zhanshi de Shanghai yueju [Gender, Entertainment and War: Shaoxing Opera in Wartime Shanghai]. In Jin Jiang (ed.), Yuyue dazhong: minguo Shanghai nüxing wenhua jiedu [Performing Women in Republican Shanghai]. Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe, pp. 229–254.

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Kano, A. (2001) Acting Like a Woman in Modern Japan: Theater, Gender, and Nationalism. New York: Palgrave. Ma, K. (2000) Ma Ke huiyi [Ma Ke’s Memoir]. Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe. Rui, H. (1940) Zhongqiu xi guan Tong Zhiling Xin fang mianhua [Watching Tong Zhiling’s New Spinning Cotton on the Eve of the Moon Festival]. Baihe hua [The Lily], 9: 15–16. Sansen (1946) Nanjing Fang mianhua, chuancha xin xuetou, Tong Zhiling tonghen Han Fuqu [Spinning Cotton in Nanjing with New Gimmick: Tong Zhiling Hates Han Fuqu]. Shanghai tan [The Bund], 20: 8. Shanzhai Zhuren (1944) Guanyu Hudie meng Ximi zhuan beijin zhi ganyan (xia) [Thoughts on the Censorship of The Butterfly Dream and Theatre Fans (2)]. Liyan huakan [Liyan Pictorial], 291: 7. Shi, J. (1946) Yulun gongji Wenyunhui jinggao: Tong Zhiling bugan yan Pi-Fang [Attacked by Media, Warned by Cultural Movement Committee, Tong Zhiling Dares Not Perform Cleaving and Weaving]. Xin Shanghai [New Shanghai Weekly], 41: 2. Shoutou (1946) Tong Zhiling chongyan Fang mianhua [Tong Zhiling Resumes Performing Spinning Cotton]. Fengguang [Fung Kwang Weekly], 25): 10. Shu, S. (ed.) (1922) Xiao Cuihua. Shanghai: Shengsheng meishu gongsi. Su, S. (1943) Fang-Pi shuo [On Spinning and Cleaving]. Xiju chunqiu [Annals of Theatre], 27: 2. Tianwu (1913) Lu Jufen Xiao Asi heyan Fang mianhua [Lu Jufen and Xiao Asi Perform Spinning Cotton]. Gechang xinyue [New Moon of the Stage], 1: 50–51. Tong, Z. (1946) Shuoshuo wo buchang Fang mianhua de liyou [Why I Will Not Perform Spinning Cotton]. Shanghai youyi [Shanghai Entertainment], 2: 8. Wang, D. (2008) Quwei Qingmo Fang mianhua dianying zhi paishe [Rebutting the Making of the Film Spinning Cotton in late Qing Dynasty]. Dangdai dianying [Contemporary Cinema], 7: 76–80. Wang, Y. (1944) Tong Zhiling yu Pi-fang [Tong Zhiling and Cleaving and Spinning] Qianqiu [Varieties], 1(1): 37–44. Wu, X. (2006) Wu Xiaoru xiqu suibi ji bubian [Wu Xiaoru’s Essays on Traditional Chinese Theatre, vol. 2]. Tianjin: Tianjin guji chubanshe. Xiaochang (1939) Fang mianhua bushu Zhang Wenyan [Her Spinning Cotton Will Not Lose to Zhang Wenyan]. Wu Suqiu tekan [Wu Suqiu Special], 2. Xiaoshu Meihua Guanzhu (1944) Fengsao Xiao Tianshi de beiai: Hudie meng yibei jinyan yi! (xu) [The Sorrow of the Coquettish Little Tian: The Butterfly Dream is also banned! (2)]. Sanliujiu huabao [369 Pictorial], 26(11): 17. Xuanwushi Zhuren (1940) Jinmen suoxie: neihang zhi guanyu Fang mianhua [Anecdotes from Tianjin: Insiders’ View of Spinning Cotton]. Shiri xiju [Theatre in Ten Days], 2(29): 6. Zhou, D. (1990) Wu Suqiu de xinyuan [Wu Suqiu’s Wishes]. Zhongguo xiju [Chinese Theatre], 11: 33–34. Zhu, H. (2011) [interview] Interviewed by Siyuan Liu, 25 May. Zhu, J. (1995) Tong Zhiling. Shanghai: Huadong Shifan Daxue chubanshe.

8 THEATRE OF KISHIDA RIO Towards re-signification of “home” for women in Asia Nobuko Anan

Introduction Kishida Rio (1946–2003)1 was an unusual female playwright/director in Japan. Starting her career in 1973 as a mentee and collaborator of Terayama Shu¯ji (1935–83), a leading artist in postwar Japanese theatre, she was often called, flatteringly or derogatorily, as a “female version of Terayama Shu¯ji”. Her poetic language, unrealistic mise-en-scène and theatrical aesthetics, inspired by traditional Japanese imageries with an avant-garde twist (as in Japanese butoh), were similar to Terayama’s. However, unlike Terayama, who was influenced by Artaud and rejected narrative structures in his artistic work, Kishida wove stories into her creations, the stories of women whose voices were historically unheard in Japan and a larger context of Asia. She established her own companies – Kai gekijo¯ (Kai Theatre) in 1977 and Kishida Rio jimusho (Kishida Rio Office) in 1981 – and belongs to the first generation of women theatre artists who started to lead their own companies in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. These artists include Kisaragi Koharu (1956–2000), Watanabe Eri (1955–), Nagai Ai (1951–) and the members of the all-female theatre collective Aoi tori (Blue Bird) (established in 1974). This period also witnessed the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in Japan, but unlike their Western counterparts Japanese women’s theatre was not part of it. These artists were not concerned with feminism—with the exception of Kishida. Although she did not work with the liberationists (for unknown reasons), she deliberately wrote about women’s suffering in patriarchal society. This chapter explores “home” in Kishida’s plays, focusing on Ito jigoku (Thread Hell) (1984) and Tsui no sumika, kari no yado: Kawashima Yoshiko den (Final Home, Temporary Lodging: The Life of Kawashima Yoshiko) (1988). Both these plays are set in wartime. Thread Hell is set in 1939, during the Fifteen-Year War starting from the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and ending with Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War in 1945. Final Home, Temporary Lodging deals with the same period but also

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up to the immediate postwar years. In the global competition of the imperial powers, Japan annexed Taiwan in 1895 and Korea in 1910 and was further trying to expand its territory to establish the daito¯ a kyo¯ eiken (The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere). Both plays critique the status of women in relation to “home” as conceptualised in the imperial/colonial discourse. Imperial Japan operated on the ie (home/family) system as a family state with the Emperor as its patriarch, and the invasion and colonisation of its neighbouring countries were to expand its national “household”. A woman from a middle-class family was expected to serve as a ryo¯ sai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) in each household as a miniature of the national household, and her role was to reproduce and nurture Japanese citizens or, symbolically, the Emperor’s children. Thread Hell portrays a vision of home delinked from the nation, and Final Home, Temporary Lodging critiques Japanese “household” in the Asian context.

Thread Hell – de-linking home from nation Thread Hell critiques two forms of women’s oppression under the imperial/colonial regime. First, women were the main workers in the spinning industry, which supported Japan’s colonial project by helping it to increase foreign-currency holdings. They were from poor families, working long hours in extremely harsh conditions and on low wages. Second, the “good wives, wise mothers” ideology divided women into two groups: those qualified as such and those not. Lowerclass women belonged to the latter, and they included prostitutes. Unlike the premodern period, sex workers came to be stigmatised and marginalised as threats to middle-class families in the process of nation-building. And yet, prostitution was not banned (until the postwar period in 1958). It was legally monitored by the government as “necessary vice” (Muta, 2002, 134–135).2 “Good wives, wise mothers” were exploited as reproducers, but those disqualified as such were exploited in a different way – as sex objects. Thread Hell is set in a fictional place, “[t]he Kameido Silk Mill, a division of the Tokyo Muslim and Silk Thread Corporation” (Kishida, 1984, 175), but it is perhaps modelled on the Kameido Silk Mill of the actual company, To¯yo¯ Muslim. In the play, the Kameido Silk Mill, also called the Thread-and-Yarn Store, manifests the two forms of women’s oppression; it functions as a silk mill during daytime and a brothel at night. In reality, female factory workers were not prostitutes and they did not always succumb to the abuse; they actually organised strikes to improve their working conditions (Mackie, 2003, 75–76; Silverberg, 2006, 63–65). Therefore, the Thread-and-Yarn Store is Kishida’s imaginative creation to expose the experiences of the women at the bottom of the social hierarchy. It is a place for women who are outside of the idealised “home/family” of Japan. Although it is referred to as “home” by the male recruiters (1984, 178–179) and “a nation called home” (1984, 218)3 by its male owner, it is rather a “profane” home against which “sacred” family-state Japan is defined. This “profane” home exhibits the mechanism of female exploitation concealed in the idealised, “sacred”


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home, Japan. At the Thread-and-Yarn Store, women as “failures” are abused by the male characters, whose names evoke thread; the recruiters are named Tegusu (meaning “gut”), Himo (“string”) and Mizuhiki (“paper string”), and the store owner Nawa (“rope”). They manipulate the women as if they were their puppets. In some scenes of the play, the male characters actually control the women as puppets by using threads for enhancing theatrical effects. In this “home”, the women, called the Silk-Reeling Women, are bound by men by the thread they themselves are forced to spin. The story begins when the female protagonist named Mayu (meaning “cocoon”) meets the recruiters on a street. She has no memories. All she knows is that she wants to go “[t]o the place where people go when they’re hungry, cold and sleepy” (1984, 178). She says this place is “warm and bright, where it smells of food” and there are “people and sleeping mats” (1984, 178). The recruiters identify such a place as “home” and give her the direction to a “home . . . called the Threadand-Yarn Store” (1984, 179). For Mayu, “home” is associated with comfort, but the Thread-and-Yarn Store is not such a place. Probably being aware of this discrepancy, recruiters might be trying to trick her into the “profane” home. Home is also typically associated with mother for Mayu. As the story progresses, she recalls that she was looking for her mother: “I was reminded of something. At the place called home, there is Mother” (1984, 196). She eventually meets her mother Ame4 at the store, but this is the place where the women offer not maternal comfort to their family members but manual and sexual labour to men. Ame is one of these women who failed to be good mothers. While the Thread-and-Yarn Store is not a typical home that Mayu expected, it becomes clear that she has never had any experience of home. Ame did not provide a good home for Mayu; she left home without fulfilling her role as a “wise mother” (and perhaps as a “good wife” as well, although her relationship with her husband is not mentioned in the play). Indeed, Ame is quite “unmotherly”: not only did she leave her family but also she killed Mayu’s lover. Mayu believes that Ame was romantically involved with him and yet killed him for a reason unknown to Mayu. She blames Ame for being her competitor in the (hetero)sexual economy, while, in her view, Ame should be serving as her role model as a guardian angel of the home/family as a miniature of the Japanese nation. This suggests that Mayu has internalised the masculinist and nationalist gender ideology. It turns out that the actual reason why Mayu was searching for Ame is to avenge her by killing her. However, Ame hints that she did all these to remove what could restrict Mayu in many ways, as Ame says she left home to turn Mayu into “a cipher” and “[j]ust a zero” (1984, 214). Ame’s murder of Mayu’s lover seems to be out of her wish to free her daughter from possible miseries caused by her relationship with a man. In this play, men as women’s romantic partners do not appear. They only exist as the oppressor, such as the owner and the recruiters of the Thread-and-Yarn Store. (Again, Ame’s husband, and hence Mayu’s father, is not even mentioned, as he is probably just another example of the oppressor.) Ame’s wish to liberate Mayu from

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the conventional gender constraints is also found in the reason why she brought the family tree with her when she left home: “I wanted to be the last person to keep that worthless family tree alive” (1984, 214). She explains: “When you draw a family tree, you inscribe it only with mother. My mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s . . . no matter how many generations you trace back, you see only mothers’ faces” and there is “[n]othing but a long worn-out thread of blood connecting you to generations upon generations. And behind the blood, there’s always a faceless father” (1984, 215–216). In reality, it is uncommon for a lower-class family to have a family tree and, moreover, fathers should also be represented. Kishida uses the model of a family tree with a “faceless father” as a theatrical tool to expose the patriarchy reigning over the family-state, Japan, and to highlight the genealogy of women’s suffering. A “faceless father” creates a horrifying image of, not an individual patriarch, but the patriarchal nationalist system, which operates as a performative force and oppresses women. Ame wished to cut the “thread of blood” tightly gripped by such a “faceless father” that would hamper Mayu’s autonomy, while Mayu stays ignorant of Ame’s intentions. While only mothers are on a family tree in this play, Ame explains that they do not have family registers. The Japanese government officially registers its citizens as being related to a representative of their family (only male representatives before the end of the Second World War), and this was the basis of the modern home/family system. Each family was seen as a smaller version of the family of Japan, and the membership of one was simultaneously the membership of the other. Some changes were made to the family registration system after the Second World War, but even now a copy of the family register serves as an official document to prove one’s Japanese citizenship. Normally, mothers have family registers, so Kishida invented the “mothers without family registers” to highlight not only the marginalisation of women like the Silk-Reeling Women in Japanese society but also the secondary status of the middle-class, “good wives, wise mothers”. They contributed to the “sacred” home of Japan as reproducers and educators, but they were not “citizens” in the same sense that men were; women had neither suffrage nor the conscription duty.5 Marginalised in the official governmental system, the Silk-Reeling Women are portrayed as those who communicate their experiences and knowledge through performance, reminiscent of the colonised in the Americas in Diana Taylor’s theorisation of archive and repertoire. She elaborates on the tension between “the archive of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., texts, documents, buildings, bones) and the so-called ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/knowledge (i.e., spoken language, dance, sports, ritual)” (2003, 19) and delineates the ways in which the colonial powers in the Americas legitimised the archive and relegated the repertoire to a manifestation of heterodoxy in their efforts to establish their rule. The SilkReeling Women, without family registers, have no official place in Japanese society, but, like the colonised in the Americas, they carve out a space where they can share their experiences and memories with each other through performance. For example, they recall their happy memories by reciting a poem about them:


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Kiri: Ume: Ame: Kiri: Matsu, Ume: Ame: Kiri: Ume: Ame: Matsu, Kiri:


The summer wind the wind flickering Flickering, swayingly, the wind the summer wind No, dozing the sun My skin loosening Ume and Ame: Flickeringly, dozingly, flicker-dozingly My bones unraveling Yes, wrinkles melting The summer wind the wind summer the summer wind It’s warm the wind Dreamingly quiet. Ume and Kiri: Yes summer the summer wind quiet (Putting her tongue out and tasting the wind.) It’s sweet, the taste of the wind is thick and sweet, and it smells, a faint taste of straw. (Putting her tongue out and tasting the wind.) It’s like the taste of shady spot where I doze off. The summer wind whooshes into my belly and makes me drowsy.

... Matsu: In this way, when the wind is soft. Ume, Ame and Kiri: Eh? Matsu: It reminds me of bygone days. Ume, Ame and Kiri: Eh? Yes. Kiri: What was summer like? Matsu: Summer was filled with polka-dots. Ume: The summer wind snapping Ame: Popping open on my skin Matsu: Polka dots. Kiri: The wind, the dozing summer wind Ume: Summoning the heat Ame: Dropping Kiri: Polka dots. (1984, 187) They also grieve over their miseries as prostitutes by reciting a poem: Matsu: Ume: Ame: Kiri: ... Kiri: Matsu: Ume:

More amorous than the springtime wind, Even more amorous than the summer wind, Far more amorous than the winter wind, When I open my body to the autumn wind, The autumn wind runs through my body. Whiffing and whistling, Whiffing and whistling,

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Ame: Whiffing and whistling, Kiri: Whiffing and whistling Matsu: A hundred men, scurrying like deserting soldiers, Ume, Ame and Kiri: Whistling, whistling, Ume: Run through my body. Matsu, Ame and Kiri: Whistling, whistling, Ame: Although I hover in the corner of an alley, warming my body in a small patch of sunlight Matsu, Ume and Kiri: When the autumn wind whistles, my body becomes cold. Matsu: The cold wind, Ume: Whistling, Ame: The freezing wind, Kiri: Whistling, Matsu: An old woman’s hair is tousled in the amorous wind, Ume: Tangled, Ame: Knotted, Kiri : Swirled, Matsu: Unraveled before she knows, Ume: Thinning out, Ame: Falling out, Kiri: Gone. Matsu: When you notice – gray hairs. Ume: When you touch – wrinkles. Ame: When you feel – bones. Kiri: When you look – dust. All four: Whoosh. (A heavy sigh.) (1984, 197–198) Their collective remembrance of happy days is very sensuous, and this sensuousness is different from the sexualised gaze cast to them by their male clients or Japanese society. The women’s sensuous happiness, as well as their miseries, is not recognised in the archival governmental system. Storing and sharing their memories and experiences, both warm and harsh ones, in the form of repertoire, the women create and strengthen their bond. The Silk-Reeling Women even start to use their performance to collectively challenge the exploitation at the Thread-and-Yarn Store. For example, they are required to tell their clients their life stories fabricated by the recruiters to evoke sympathies, but they twist these stories by turning them into ominous ones, for example, about murdering men. Importantly, the women begin to show their defiance when Mayu arrives at the store. Even though Mayu’s original purpose was to kill Ame, as will be discussed soon, Mayu at one point comes to the realisation that she has internalised masculinist and nationalist ideology. This eventually results in her challenge to the male owner of the store; she becomes part of the collective


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challenge of the Silk-Reeling Women. While Mayu and the other women do not meet (except for Mayu and Ame) almost until the end of the play, they are portrayed as sensuously connected to each other beyond the conscious level as ones who share the goal of overthrowing the male tyranny. For example, the Silk-Reeling Women “feel” the arrival of Mayu without being told, and they even indirectly save her when she is in trouble, urged without knowing why. In addition, Mayu detects Ame through her smell. While the association of femininity with senses is clichéd, Kishida uses this strategic essentialism6 to create women’s solidarity outside of the masculinist archival paradigm. In the actual performance of this play inspired by angura aesthetics,7 male actors’ performance also exhibits strong presence and, therefore, the dichotomy of archive and repertoire only exists within the play text. After her confrontation with Ame, Mayu kills her. More precisely, Mayu is manipulated by the nationalist and masculinist ideology to kill Ame and, in order to visualise this, the murder scene is performed with Mayu as Nawa’s puppet. Nawa appears after Ame’s line cited above, “[B]ehind the blood, there’s always a faceless father” (1984, 216), and literally pulls the string attached to Mayu and has her kill Ame. The scene thus symbolises the violence of masculinist and nationalist ideology which urges a daughter to punish her mother for being a “failure”. The store recruits women who are not qualified as the paragon of the state-sanctioned womanhood, and in this sense it may seem as though Nawa did not represent the state. However, he is actually complicit with the state; women like the Silk-Reeling Women will not cease to exist as long as the category of “good wives, wise mothers” persists. The store is dependent on the home/family state of Japan. However, the same scene also depicts a revelation brought to Mayu. After being treated as a puppet, she realises that her murder of Ame was caused by her internalisation of the state-sanctioned womanhood. What Mayu needs to terminate is not her mother; she needs to cut the thread pulled by men to control women. With this revelation, she challenges Nawa, the equivalent to the Emperor in this “profane” home. Her challenge is encouraged by the power of repertoire: first by the lingering smell of Ame evoking her presence even after her tangible body is terminated, and second by the poem recited by the Silk-Reeling Women. They appear in the scene as if to protect the dead body of Ame and recite the poem about their hardship. Mayu declares to Nawa: “[T]he Mothers order me. They tell me to cut the thread. To blind the faceless one who is right behind me manipulating the string” (1984, 217–218). Her fight with Nawa is also performed by using a string. As she pulls it, he is suspended in the air, symbolising that he is now forced out of his “nation called home” (1984, 218) into limbo. In her challenge to Nawa, the Silk-Reeling Women stand with her. Although Mayu laments that she has cut “the bonds of love” with her mother “without knowing grief ” (1984, 219), she is now bonded with other women and mothers in the store. In the last scene of Thread Hell, an alternative “home” is presented. With the Silk-Reeling Women, Mayu spins the spinning wheel at the Thread-and-Yarn Store, but it is no longer the place of female exploitation conducted in the name of the nation. As Mayu’s name (“cocoon”) suggests, it is a place where women

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spin the threads in order to protect themselves so that they can live their own lives. To this home, they are expecting a newcomer. As specified by Kishida in the script, the newcomer is played by the same actor who played the role of Ame (1984, 220) and, therefore, the murdered mother symbolically returns. To the other women, Mayu says, “Now that each of us is her own master, let’s not leave her out in the cold” (1984, 220). In this home, women’s “bonds of love” are resurrected. However, it is not where women as a unified group live. As Mayu says, each woman is her own master and therefore each of them lives according to her own agency. They have created solidarity from their experiences at the store, but these are not the only determinants of their selves. This new home is not where the members are bonded by the coherent identity but where, in Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s words, “the familiarity and sense of affection and commitment lay in shared collective analysis of social injustice, as well as a vision of radical transformation” (2003, 128). In her discussion of the play, Ikeuchi Yasuko writes that this ending is “too utopic”, as the play is set in 1939, just a few years before the Pacific War started (2008, 196–197). However, this setting does not have to be taken literally in this allegorical play. Kishida’s purpose seems to have been not only to critique the wartime mentalities in 1939 but also their continuation in the postwar period. She saw the emperor system, which was not abolished even after Japan lost the war, as deeply linked to the continuing oppression of women; she says in her interview with theatre scholar Tonooka Naomi that the purpose of her work in the 1980s was “to kill the Father named the Emperor” to restore female autonomy (1997, 90). The postwar constitution deprives the Emperor of political authority and yet defines him as the “symbol” of Japan. This ambiguity allows the emperor worship to survive, as demonstrated in the former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro¯’s praise in 2000 of Japan as god’s country with the Emperor at its centre. In this context, women continue to be seen as “child-bearing machines” as stated by the former Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, Yanagisawa Hakuo, in 2007. These examples show that the re-signified home in Thread Hell has not been realised even in postwar Japanese society. In this sense, the ending of Thread Hell provides what Jill Dolan calls “utopian performatives” which “make palpable an affective vision of how the world might be better” (2005, 6).

Final Home, Temporary Lodging: Japanese patriarchy in Asia Thread Hell re-signifies Japan’s imperial/colonial conception of home within the context of Japan, but Final Home, Temporary Lodging considers it in the context of Asia. Kishida’s theme in the later stage of her career was Japanese patriarchy in Asia, as she says in a round-table discussion for a journal, Theatre Arts: In my critique of the Emperor System, I have been writing about “murdering the Emperor, murdering the Emperor, and murdering the Emperor”. The way I challenged the Emperor System in the 1980s was from a Japanese


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woman’s perspective. But in the 1990s, South Korea and various countries in Southeast Asia came inside of myself. Now, I’m making works, wondering, “As a Japanese, am I responsible for the war crimes committed to the people in these countries? Or am I not?” (2001, 11) Her 1988 play, Final Home, Temporary Lodging, bridges her work in the 1980s and the 1990s and onwards. The protagonist is a real-life figure, Kawashima Yoshiko (1907–48). Despite her Japanese name, she was originally a princess in the Qing dynasty in China. In 1915, when she was a child, she was “given” by her father Prince Su to a Japanese man, Kawashima Naniwa, whom the Prince appointed as a negotiator with the Japanese government. The purpose was to build a close relationship between the Prince and Naniwa. It is often said that Yoshiko served the Japanese government as a spy, but the truth is unknown. The play blends her biographical information provided by a writer, Kamisaka Fuyuko, and fictional elements and ends with Yoshiko’s execution by the Chinese government as a national traitor after the Second World War. She was identified as a Chinese even though she was adopted into a Japanese family. China, which was her original “home”, claimed her citizenship in order to demonstrate that she actually had no “home” in China. Japan also did not provide her with a “home”, even though she spent almost her entire life there. China and Japan were both temporary homes for her. Yoshiko’s vagrancy seems to be caused by her diasporic status on the one hand, but the play, like Thread Hell, also questions the equation of home with a nation, as shown in Yoshiko’s conversations with another character: Wanrong: Yoshiko: Wanrong: Yoshiko: Wanrong: Yoshiko:

Are you Japanese? . . . . . . No. Chinese? . . . . . . No. Then, where is your country? My mother’s womb. (Kishida, 2002b, 23)

Yoshiko rejects being associated with any nation, ethnicity and citizenship, usually linked with the concept of “home”. Moreover, in relation to these, she also challenges the stable gender binary. Historically, Kawashima Yoshiko is well known as a “beauty in drag”. It was public knowledge that she was a woman, but she started frequently to wear male attire and employ a male speech style at the age of 17. According to Kamisaka’s biography, some suspected that this was because she was raped by her adopted father Naniwa (2000, 65–67), and Kishida portrays Yoshiko’s male performance as a way to detract his sexual desire. Moreover, Kishida sees his sexual desire as a manifestation of Japan’s colonial mentalities. In this play, male characters embody the classical binary of masculinising themselves while

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feminising and sexualising the invaded/colonised. The pleasure they experience in controlling and even murdering the Chinese is compared to the pleasure of “ejaculation” by Yoshiko (2002b, 20, 43–44). The sexual nature of the colonial violence is most explicitly demonstrated in the following lines of the male characters. Nanima:

War is a kind of forceful act, and its aim is to force our will onto the Other. Amakasu: There’re wars. Yes, there’re wars. Tanaka: Romance is a kind of forceful act, and its aim is to force our will onto the Other. Kogata: There’re women. Yes, there’re women. (2002b, 47) After these lines, which declare that wars and romances are equivalent, the lines of Naniwa follow: “In the photograph in which Yoshiko was naked, I saw her two lovely, just-budding breasts, typical to virgins” (2002b, 47). This suggests that he raped Yoshiko in the same way that Japan invaded or colonised its neighbouring Asian countries, including China. In order to reject the feminised status of the invaded, Yoshiko performs a man. Thus, by unsettling her country of origin, ethnicity, citizenship, as well as gender, she resists the dichotomous framework of Japan/invader/male and Chinese/invaded/female. Nonetheless, although Yoshiko tries to be freed from any category, her death demonstrates that it is ultimately impossible. Identified as Chinese, she was tried in a Chinese court as a national traitor who served the Japanese government. In order to evade execution, she desperately tries to prove her Japanese citizenship, even though she originally dissociated herself with it. However, it turns out that she has not been registered in the Kawashima family, meaning that she has no proof of her Japanese citizenship. It is not known why she was not registered as Naniwa’s daughter (Kamisaka, 2000, 22–23, 27–28), but in this play Naniwa says that it was due to his jealousy towards her biological father Prince Su. Naniwa envies his “royal blood” (2002b, 89), which subdues him and he has avenged this by raping Yoshiko and not registering her in his family. He could not bear the fact that Prince Su was in a higher status than he, even though, as a Chinese, the Prince was supposed to be in the lower status than Naniwa in the ethnic hierarchy constructed by Japanese patriarchy. As if to reinforce this hierarchy, Naniwa has inscribed a “Chinese” status into Yoshiko, a surrogate of Prince Su, by treating her as the sexualised/feminised invaded and not allowing her to be a Japanese citizen and hence a member of the Japanese national household. In the play, Yoshiko’s tragedy is contrasted to the fate of another real-life figure, who has the same first name and a similar background to her. It is a historical fact that an actress, Yamaguchi Yoshiko, also known as Li Xianglan, was prosecuted as a national traitor by the Chinese government for her appearance in Japanese war propaganda films such as Shina no yoru (China Nights) (1940). During wartime, she was promoted as an ethnic Chinese fluent in Japanese and served as a “model


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Chinese” embodying Japan’s colonial fantasy. However, she was actually a Japanese citizen, and a copy of her family register saved her life. In the play, Kishida stages a court scene in which these two women were tried together. In the scene, Yamaguchi Yoshiko denies all the facts, such as her involvement in the propaganda film, claiming, “Li Xianglan was Chinese, but I am Japanese” (2002b, 71). While the prosecutors examine her family register, she proudly explains the family register system. As the prosecutors say, although the family register is just “an extremely thin piece of paper” with “almost illegible letters” and “cheap-looking stamps on it” (2002b, 73), it is an official, archival document, and as such it demonstrates the Japanese government’s authoritative power to prove Yamaguchi Yoshiko’s citizenship. Through the contrasts of two Yoshikos, Kishida may be suggesting that ethnicity and citizenship are virtually treated as the same in Japan; Japan is not willing to be a home for the non-ethnic Japanese. Also, importantly, the play highlights the difficulty in dissociation of home and nation for Kawashima Yoshiko and, therefore, “utopian performatives” presented in Thread Hell are absent here. Yoshiko’s life suggests that there are those who cannot even exist without the protection from a nation as one’s “home”. While the Silk-Reeling Women could create their own re-signified “home”, Yoshiko could not. This is in part because the real-world historical basis for Yoshiko’s life constrains her ability to create a utopic space, unlike the fictional world of Thread Hell. However, these limitations are not just due to the constraints of history, but also dependent on her ethnicity. Considering that Yoshiko’s predicament was portrayed to have been caused by her ethnic status within the Japanese Empire, might the re-signified home in Thread Hell be a luxury only for ethnically Japanese women? Even though their new “home” is not supposed to be based on the coherent identity, might the Japanese ethnicity be the unnoticed prerequisite? If so, how could we re-signify the Japanese imperial/colonial “home” in the Asian context? Kishida embarked on these questions in her subsequent work.

Conclusion After Final Home, Temporary Lodging, Kishida started her collaborations with artists from different parts of Asia to further examine Japanese patriarchy in Asia. Among these, her work with Ong Keng Sen from Singapore is most well-known (but mainly as Ong’s productions). Ironically, her intra-Asian collaborative productions with large budgets did not have the edge that her earlier works demonstrated, probably due to the lesser degree of control she possessed in the creation processes. For example, Kishida’s and Ong’s Lear (1997), with performers from six countries ( Japan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia), intended to problematise patriarchy in Asia (Hata, 1997, 15; Ong, 1997, 5), but I would argue that it was not successful for several reasons.8 I do not have space to discuss them in detail, so I will touch on just one point. Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, it is about Older Daughter’s revolt against her father Old Man. Older Daughter is performed by a Chinese actor and Old Man by a Japanese actor, thereby staging a revolt of the former

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invaded against the invader. However, the actual performance contradicted the purpose of the play, which was to question the power relationship in Asia. The performers from different fields such as traditional and contemporary theatre, dance and music entertained the audience with their skills, but Japanese noh and Chinese opera, represented by the two main roles, somewhat subordinated other artistic forms. The Japanese actor and the Chinese actor appeared onstage more frequently and they also received prestige as the main roles. In addition, in this production funded by the Japan Foundation, the Japanese actor played the title role. Nonetheless, while Kishida’s intercultural work did not always fulfil her intentions, she was undeniably one of the few feminist/political playwrights in Japan, and the significance of her work should not be overlooked. Before she died, in 2003, she planned to collaborate with Kisaragi Koharu on a play about the so-called ju¯ gun ianfu (“comfort women”), women in various parts of Asia exploited as sex slaves by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War (Ikeuchi, 2001, 163). One of the first generation of female theatre practitioners who had their own companies, Kisaragi, unlike Kishida, did not initially integrate feminist perspectives in her work. However, her experiences in the international conferences where Asian women’s theatre was not a main concern motivated her to inaugurate the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre in 1992, with Kishida as a member. The conference met in several places in Asia ( Japan in 1992 and 2001, the Philippines in 2000, India in 2002 and China in 2005). It was the site where Kisaragi developed her feminist awareness and postcolonial perspectives, but before the third conference in 2001 she died of illness in 2000. Kishida took over the directorship but shortly after that she also died, in 2003. After Kishida’s death, female playwright/director Nagai Ai served as director, but the conference did not continue after 2005, due to Japanese female artists’ overall lack of interest in the topic.9 Thus, the majority of the first generation of female theatre artists did not see their works beyond the national border. However, the younger generations are different. Playwright/director/performer Hitsujiya Shirotama (1967–) and choreographer/dancer/playwright/director Yanaihara Mikuni (1970–) resumed the conference, renamed as the Asian Women Performing Arts Collective in 2012. In August 2015 as part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Niigata Prefecture in Japan, they staged collaborative pieces about women, family and home, with artists from Malaysia, Leow Puay Tin and Minstrel Kuik, and held a symposium about the collaboration. Hitsujiya actually worked with Kishida and was acquainted with Kisaragi. Here, the genealogy of Japanese female theatre artists who situate their works in a broader Asian context continues.

Glossary Daito¯a kyo¯eiken (The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere): a group of nations in various parts of Asia (e.g., China, Mongolia, Thailand) that the Empire of Japan hoped to unify into a single zone by liberating them from Western imperialism.


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Ryo¯sai kenbo (“good wife, wise mother”): the ideal role of women, to be wives who support their husbands and mothers who provide a good education to their children, the future citizens of Japan; this concept was popularised at the end of the nineteenth century as part of the modernisation of Japan, and during the Second World War, it took a more nationalist tone, where raising children was part of the war effort to create soldiers to support the Empire.

Notes 1 In this chapter, I follow the Japanese name order, the family name before the given name. 2 All the Japanese materials cited in this chapter are translated into English by myself, except for the citations from Thread Hell. 3 I quote from the English translation of the play (Kishida, 2002a) by Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei and Tonooka Naomi, but the phrase “a nation called home” is my translation of the original Japanese phrase ie to iu na no kuni. Sorgenfrei and Tonooka translate this as “the realm called house and home”, but “kuni” in Japanese means “nation”. My literal translation conveys the link between the concepts of nation and home more fully. 4 The Silk-Reeling Women’s names are from hanafuda game cards, each of which symbolises a thing from nature. For example, Ame means “rain”. Traditionally, prostitutes’ business names came from hanafuda (Ikeuchi, 2008, 191). 5 By making this point, I do not mean that the right to fight for the nation should be extended to women. As many other feminists in Japan, I question the validity of the military in Japan. For details, see my monograph Contemporary Japanese Women’s Theatre and Visual Arts: Performing Girls’ Aesthetics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 6 The phrase, coined by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, designates “a strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interests” (1987, 205). 7 Angura (meaning “underground”) theatre emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to dominant realist theatre, and as such it puts significance to theatricality rather than to text. 8 For detailed discussion, see my Ph.D. dissertation, “Playing with America: Parody and Mimesis in Contemporary Japanese Women’s Performance” (University of California, Los Angeles, 2009). 9 From my email exchange with Tonooka Naomi, who was involved in the conference, on 12 August 2014 (Tonooka, 2014).

References Dolan, J. (2005) Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Hata, Y. (1997) Creating Lear. In Lear. Japan: Japan Foundation, pp. 15–18. Ikeuchi, Y. (2001) Aru ishitsubutsu, mikan no purojekuto: Kisaragi Koharu san kara no okurimono [A Lost Item, Unfinished Project: A Gift from Kisaragi Koharu]. In Ko¯jin Nishido¯, Naomi Tonooka, Hiroshi Watanabe and Kazuyuki Kajiya (eds), Kisaragi Koharu wa hiroba datta: rokuju¯ nin ga kataru Kisaragi Koharu [Kisaragi Koharu Was an Open Space: Sixty Memoirs of Kisaragi Koharu]. Tokyo: Shinjuku Shuppan, pp. 161–163. Ikeuchi, Y. (2008) Joyu¯ no tanjo¯ to shu¯en: pafo¯ mansu to jenda¯ [Birth and Death of Actresses: Performance and Gender]. Tokyo: Heibonsha. Kamisaka, F. (2000) Onna tachi ga keiken shita koto: sho¯ wa joseishi sanbu saku [What Women Experienced: Three Women in the Sho¯ wa History]. Tokyo: Chu¯o¯ Ko¯ron Shinsha. Kishida, R. (1984) Ito jigoku [Thread Hell]. Tokyo: Shuppan Shinsha.

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Kishida, R. (1997) Mumei no josei tachi e mukete [Toward Nameless Women]. Theatre Arts, 7, 89–92. Kishida, R. (2001) Engeki ni totte “tenno¯sei” to wa nani ka? [What is “the Emperor System” to Theatre?] Theatre Arts, 13(3): 31. Kishida, R. (2002a) Ito jigoku [Thread Hell]. Trans. [from Japanese] Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei and Tonooka Naomi. In Japan Playwrights Association (ed.), Half a Century of Japanese Theater. Tokyo: Kinokuniya, pp. 160–221. Kishida, R. (2002b) Tsui no sumika, kari no yado: Kawashima Yoshiko den [Final Home, Temporary Lodging: The Life of Kawashima Yoshiko]. Tokyo: Jiritsu Shobo¯. Mackie, V. C. (2003) Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment, and Sexuality. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Mohanty, C. T. (2003) Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. Muta, K. (2002) Senryaku to shite no kazoku: kindai nihon no kokumin kokka keisei to josei [Family as a Strategy: Women and Formation of a Nation-State in Modern Japan], 2nd edition. Tokyo: Shin’yo¯sha. Ong, K. S. (1997) Linking Night and Day. In Lear. Japan: Japan Foundation, p. 5. Silverberg, M. (2006) Erotic, Grotesque, Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Spivak, G. C. (1987) In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. London: Methuen. Taylor, D. (2003) The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. Tonooka, N. (2014) Ajia josei engeki kaigi ni tsuite [About the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre]. [email] Sent to Nobuko Anan, 12 August.

9 FOREIGN FEMALE INTERVENTIONS IN TRADITIONAL ASIAN ARTS Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia Margaret Coldiron

The powerful patriarchal forces that discourage or erase female participation in traditional Asian performing arts were disrupted in the late twentieth century by some bold and passionate female artists who came from Europe and the USA to devote themselves to the study and performance of forms that were, allegedly, exclusively male. To focus on the work of Western artists in a book on women in Asian performance may seem inappropriate, even colonialist, but it is important to acknowledge that, especially in traditional arts, cultural expectations and taboos have been problematic for Asian female performers. On the other hand, women from outside Asian culture often occupy a privileged position and are granted greater freedom to pursue their interests. This chapter will use the work of two such “pioneers” as case studies to examine the ways that foreign female theatre artists, unbound by conventional expectations that might hinder Asian women, have asserted themselves in ways that local women might not. It will also consider whether these interventions have helped to change attitudes and create more opportunities for Asian female performers. One question that might arise at the outset is why Western women would seek to enter the doubly foreign world of an Asian theatre tradition performed by members of the opposite sex. Certainly neither of these artists set out to break gender or cultural barriers, nor were they driven to find some unique approach to an exotic form. On the contrary, both have asserted that these arts “found” them. Of course, this didn’t happen by chance; rather, a particular set of historical and cultural circumstances came together to make these encounters possible. One element was the shift in geopolitical focus among Western nations after the Second World War from Europe to Asia, prompted by revolution in China, postcolonial tumult in South and Southeast Asia and the cautious cultural and political transition underway in postwar Japan. Moreover, the 1960s and 1970s were years that saw political, social and cultural upheaval in Europe and the USA, with protests against

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the Vietnam War, the rise of Women’s liberation and the growth of jet travel and mass tourism. All of these factors led young European and American women to travel to far-distant Asia as “cultural tourists”. Once there, they discovered that the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of ancient forms of theatrical performance held a powerful fascination. Rebecca Teele (1949–) travelled from the United States to Japan to study noh ( Japanese masked dance-drama) and now teaches and performs as a fully fledged noh professional and is director of the International Noh Institute in Kyoto. Cristina Formaggia (1945–2008), from Italy, became a respected performer of Balinese topeng masked dance-drama, transformed the dwindling fortunes of the court art, gambuh, and created the first all-female troupe to perform topeng. Neither of these women was breaking new ground – other women, even other foreign women, had trained and performed in these arts, but their work was often disregarded both inside and outside the tradition, and they remained on the periphery. However, the unstinting devotion of these two remarkable women as advocates for genres that were seen by many as moribund relics of a feudal past helped to reinvigorate and promote these important traditional forms for both domestic and foreign audiences and practitioners. Japanese noh and Balinese topeng and gambuh are dance-drama genres that developed as ritual and court arts that came to be reserved exclusively for male performers, in spite of historical evidence of female performers in each. The reasons given for women being excluded are both aesthetic (especially relating to the perceived “weakness” of the female voice) and spiritual, because of women’s supposed “impurity”, which might “pollute” these nominally secular, yet functionally quasi-religious forms. While these judgements have been used to discourage local female aspirants, foreign female interlopers were undeterred. They were enthusiastic about the arts and, enjoying the privileged position of guests, they may at first have been unaware of the social taboos that could inhibit their participation. It was fortunate that both Teele and Formaggia found teachers who were keen to share their work and had no resistance to training foreign female students. In the beginning, it is unlikely that any of those involved imagined how far it would go.

Cristina Formaggia After the upheavals of 1968, Cristina Formaggia, like many of her generation, began to seek to redefine her life. She left her job working for an American marketing company and moved into feminist and activist circles, co-founding a communitybased co-op restaurant (Palermo, 2015). In the mid-1970s, dissatisfied with life in Europe, she sold her possessions and travelled overland to India. There she investigated the women painters of Mithila, lived among the Kalash tribe of northern Pakistan and studied kathakali in Kerala with Guru Gopinath, an innovative performer and teacher who promoted the training of women in that traditionally male art. She arrived in Bali in 1983, fired by Artaud’s 1931 essay “On the Balinese


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Theatre” and keen to learn more about Balinese performance (Ballinger, 2008). She began to train with I Madé Djimat in the village of Batuan in Gianyar Regency of south-central Bali, in the wake of a number of young artists from the West who, like her, were looking for compelling, visceral forms of performance embedded in a complex culture that could engage on both a physical and a spiritual level. I Madé Djimat (1948–) was already a renowned dancer who had performed abroad, collaborated with Eugenio Barba and had a number of Western students, many of them female. They all began by learning baris, a warrior dance that encompasses the fundamental tropes of strong male characters in Balinese dance drama genres. Baris Tunggal, a secular solo dance derived from the ritual Baris Gedé performed at temple ceremonies, is a complex and demanding choreography often taught as the first dance to help students grasp the basis of the movement vocabulary for the male style. Formaggia went on to study the characters of topeng masked dance-drama, beginning with Topeng Keras, the strong prime minister; Topeng Tua, the old man; and Topeng Dalem, the refined King, which became her favourite. Although physically demanding, these are in some ways the easiest dancedrama roles for a foreigner to learn, because they use full-face masks that do not speak. However, because the choreography is not fixed and it is the dancer who must “lead” the gamelan orchestra, the performer must become one with the music that is particular to each character and become one with the mask in order to bring it to life. Topeng is traditionally performed by men, and the masks are almost exclusively male (apart from a rarely performed princess mask and comic masks for an ugly spinster character). Uninterested in female dances of the modern secular repertoire, Formaggia’s interest was focused upon the sacred and ceremonial performance forms (Formaggia, 1997, 2). Formaggia began to perform topeng in temple ceremonies with her teacher, and as she became more proficient as a dancer she was also learning the language1 and becoming more deeply immersed in the culture, though arguably more as an observer than a participant. The Balinese traditionally live communally, in family compounds with many generations living together at close quarters. There is a strong emphasis on family life, the importance of children and the physical and spiritual interdependence within the family and within the community. Nonetheless, Formaggia retained her independence, living alone in her own small house and maintaining a kind of critical distance – a part of the culture and yet apart from it. As her skill developed, she became fully accepted as a topeng performer in her own right, using both full-face and speaking masks, and eventually performed with other dancers, separately from Djimat. Soon Formaggia became interested in gambuh, a court dance-drama that can be traced back to the seventeenth century and is thought to be connected to an older dance-drama of the fourteenth-century Javanese Majapahit court, known as raket (Ballinger, 2010, 8; Bandem and de Boer, 1978, 115–116). Gambuh is regarded as the foundation of all later developments of Balinese dance, as de Zoete and Spies famously observed in the 1930s: “There broods over Balinese dance an

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia


ancient ancestral shade; every dance-form, one is often told, is ultimately derived from Gamboeh; all dance technique originates in its movements, all scales and melodies from its peculiar gamelan” (de Zoete and Spies, 1938, 138). Gambuh dramas are based primarily on stories from the Malat, an epic of the life and loves of Prince Panji.2 The performance requires a large cast and a special orchestra comprised of distinctive metre-long flutes, spike fiddle as well as gongs, chimes, metallophones and drums. It proceeds through a fixed order of scenes, beginning with an overture, followed by the long solo dance of the condong (ladyin-waiting), the entrance of the princess and her entourage, and a scene between the princess and the condong in which the former bewails her separation from Panji. When they depart, there follows the separate entrance of the refined prince and his entourage and, after this, perhaps an hour or more after the opening of the piece, the story begins to emerge. The drama begins in earnest with the entrance of the strong foreign king and his minister, a rough character known as prabangsa, and it ends with a series of fights between the parties of Panji and the strong king. The high-ranking characters speak in a form of Old Javanese known as Kawi, which is translated into ordinary Balinese by their servants, the condong, Panji’s attendant Semar and the prabangsa (Bandem and de Boer, 1995, 32–41). The refined characters, especially Panji, speak in a high falsetto. It is a stately, secular spectacle created for royal entertainment and ostentation: The courtly culture of pre-colonial Bali was a culture ruled by an ethic of war and romance. The princes of Bali’s many kingdoms liked to have themselves presented as handsome lovers and fighters, warriors who ruled through the love of their subjects and the fear of their enemies . . . Gambuh dance-drama, Bali’s ancient heritage, is the realisation of the romance of its princes. (Vickers, n.d., 19) Accounts from the nineteenth century indicate that a gambuh troupe might have consisted of up to a hundred participants, including performers, musicians and stagehands, providing a spectacular demonstration of royal wealth and power (Vickers, n.d., 22). In its heyday it is said that most of the royal courts of Bali maintained gambuh troupes, but by 1973 researchers found just eleven active troupes (Bandem and de Boer, 1978, 126).3 Without royal courts to sponsor the huge number of performers required, it is not surprising that gambuh performances should dwindle, especially when more dynamic, modern genres, like the secular dances and the popular Balinese opera (arja), could provide more immediate and accessible entertainment for audiences. Ballinger explains: After Indonesia gained its independence in 1949 and power shifted to the central government and away from the regions and villages, wealth too was redistributed and the palaces could no longer afford to support large


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performing art troupes. Gambuh not only lost it patrons; it lost its context. Its function as a vehicle to glorify the monarchy, make visible the proper demeanour for courtiers and offer morality tales of noble princes and princesses, great and good warriors, was no more. Outside of the court context, the philosophy behind the stories, language, characters, movement styles, costumes and headdresses had little relevance. So, although gambuh has remained alive as a temple offering, its meaning as a performance genre has eroded with the demise of the royal courts. (2010: 17) In spite of this, gambuh was still actively performed by groups based in Batuan. In fact, local rivalries and political and caste disputes meant that from the single troupe that had been well established since colonial times, four separate gambuh groups had developed.4 Although there was some overlap in membership, all four groups were active in the 1990s. While training in the genre, Formaggia became concerned about the fragility of the tradition and its future because of the rapid pace of cultural change in Bali, so she committed herself to preserving and disseminating this ancient, unique form: “It is somehow disintegrating, the traditions in Bali. So the sacred is being deteriorated. That is why I am involved in this project and I created this project of the gambuh to preserve the art and to preserve gambuh because it is the root of any art form – even topeng. Everything comes from gambuh” (Formaggia, 1997). In 1992, she brought together a group of performers, scholars and researchers (Balinese and Western) who shared her interest and concern, and from this core group created the “Gambuh Preservation Project”. Initially funded by the local Wianta Foundation,5 the project’s ambitious vision required more substantial financial support, so she sought and won two Ford Foundation “revitalization” grants for 1993–94 and again for 1994–96 (Ballinger, 2010, 19–20). The non-profit organisation that emerged aimed to preserve and document “all aspects of Gambuh, its historical, literary, esoteric, musical and theatrical data” (Formaggia, 1995, 6–7). At first the project hoped to document practice in several villages where there were active performing groups, but this proved too difficult and expensive, so Formaggia concentrated on gambuh in Batuan.6 The Ford Foundation funding was not just for documentation, but also for revitalisation, which meant finding some way to bring new life to the form. This would require performers and experienced teachers who could instil in a new generation a real proficiency in, and dedication to, the traditional art of gambuh. More importantly, the project would have to develop an audience for the revitalised form, so Formaggia set about creating a new gambuh troupe that would be committed to the principles of the project and carry on its work. To avoid favouring any particular group in this fiercely competitive community, she sought to bring together the best performers from all the local groups to be part of Gambuh Pura Desa Adat Batuan (Gambuh of Batuan Municipal Temple): “Rather than being organized around caste distinction, or private group rivalries, the new group is associated with the village’s main temple and is open to dancers and musicians from all layers of Balinese society” (Formaggia, 1995, 7).

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia


At first there was great enthusiasm for the project; Formaggia worked with the experienced performers and teachers to “revive the old way, [removing] what was contaminating from other forms” (Formaggia, quoted in Ballinger, 2010, 24). Young dancers and musicians were apprenticed to old masters working one-to-one in traditional fashion to develop new performers steeped in the old style. By 1993 the company began to give twice-monthly performances in the Pura Desa, which local people could watch for free and tourists (brought from the nearby tourist centre of Ubud) paid an admission fee that helped to subsidise the work. Formaggia herself often performed with the group, usually in the refined role of Prince Panji. That a woman, and a foreign woman at that, should be accepted as a performer of this revered, semi-divine male figure seems extraordinary. It is a tribute to Formaggia’s diligence and skill that she could master not only the demanding, complex dance style (more measured, graceful and musically precise than that required for topeng) but also the Kawi language and the peculiar falsetto vocal technique, contrasting sharply with the deep, guttural voice required for the comic speaking masks in topeng. However, she had been watching performances and studying with Djimat (highly regarded for his refinement in the role of Panji) and was known for her meticulous attention to detail in dance technique. Moreover, her build was perfect for the character: In these performances it was not necessary, according to dancers, for the social roles of the performers to have had any relationship to their gambuh roles. It was quite acceptable, in theory, for a king to play Pañji’s servant Semar and a commoner prince Pañji. What was more important was that a person looked the part. Pañji was always someone young and handsome of slim build, Prabangsa a performer of sturdy build, for example. (Vickers, n.d., 48) Formaggia’s petite but powerful body, her experience with male characters of topeng and her skill as a dancer all contributed to her success in the role and earned the respect of fellow performers. Certainly in post-independence Indonesia, women taking the roles of refined male characters is not altogether unusual, but Panji, while apparently a secular character, is held in particular awe. In some circumstances he is even regarded as divine.7 In many communities in north Bali, gambuh is performed only by men because it is regarded as immensely sacred. Women are considered impure because of their capacity for menstruation, and this deeply held conviction affects many areas of religious, artistic and personal life for Balinese women (Palermo, 2009, 49–51). Although there is political and cultural discourse that apparently promotes the notion of equality between the sexes, it actually serves to reinforce traditional gender roles and inhibits innovation, especially in the area of performing arts, which is so deeply interwoven with religious practice: Balinese women face the daily task of accommodating their many domestic, employment and social responsibilities, while at the same time conforming


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to the family-based ideological framework that came to define the roles and responsibilities of women during the New Order period. New Order gender ideology demanded that men and women play different roles, roles that were depicted as complementary and equal. Over more than three decades, domestic and family duties and roles were redefined as important national social programs and women came to be depicted primarily as mothers and as wives. In Bali, the gendered ideology of the nation-state found an echo and was bolstered by parallels with Balinese patriarchal cultural and social institutions. (Creese, 2004, 10) This often deters Balinese women from taking on roles or genres considered religiously or politically significant, since it is perceived as “inappropriate” to do so. Although female, Formaggia’s outsider status may have given her privileges that Balinese female performers would not have been granted. Another factor contributing to her acceptance may have been her status in the project. She held a position of considerable power in the organisation, since it was she who had acquired the funding for the project and oversaw the administration of these funds. Did the financial and administrative power she wielded make it easier for her to be accepted as a performer in the central male role? This is certainly likely. Formaggia’s relationship with the ensemble was not an easy one; when the old masters disagreed about movement technique, text or musical matters, it was often Formaggia who took the final decisions, and this was resented – not so much because she was a woman, but because she was an outsider (Ballinger, 2010, 24). Her outspoken assertiveness would certainly not have been seen as acceptable behaviour for a Balinese woman: “A woman is expected to behave following a certain etika [ethics], she has to be polite, gentle, refined in accordance with kodrat, the predefined behaviour proper to a woman, and those who do not follow these unspoken rules are considered not normal” (Palermo, 2009, 14). Thus, it may be argued that being foreign allowed Formaggia greater freedom of action, and allowed her to dominate a forum comprised of mostly senior male artists in a way that simply would not have been permissible had she been Balinese. In spite of difficulties, and because of Cristina’s assertiveness and persistence, the project had many successes: video documentation was made of performances in Batuan and elsewhere; a commercial DVD recording was made by the Gambuh Pura Desa company in 1994 and is sold in bookshops in Bali and at performances in Batuan. In addition, a comprehensive two-volume study, with details of repertoire, musical notation and historical and social context, was published by Lontar Press (in Indonesian) in 2000.8 Perhaps inevitably, disagreements and rivalries drove many of the original members of the company away, the old masters died or returned to their own performing groups, but a core group remained. Because of Cristina’s untiring efforts at promotion, the Gambuh Preservation Project attracted interest from Eugenio Barba and his International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA). The troupe appeared at ISTA conferences and workshops in Italy, Denmark and Spain and

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collaborated with Barba on Odin Teatret’s Ur-Hamlet from 2004 onwards. This international recognition of the gambuh as an important and endangered performance form has undoubtedly helped to sustain the work of the Gambuh Pura Desa ensemble. Yet, although the group continues its regular, twice-monthly performances in Batuan and claims to have a company of thirty to forty, the performances are poorly attended and have failed to create a great revival of interest either from locals or tourists (Ballinger, 2010, 26–27). In 1998, Formaggia turned her interest to creating an all-female topeng troupe to provide a forum where the concerns and interests of Balinese women might be aired within the realm of traditional performance: Traditionally, topeng dance dramas are performed only by men and accompanied by an all-male gamelan. Even the characters are almost exclusively male and there is little in the drama for Balinese women to relate to. What is important to us is to give Balinese women an opportunity to speak out about their own experiences as women in a form which is recognizable to all members of society – a society which is patriarchal and male-dominated. (Formaggia, 2003a) The group consisted of three dancers, Formaggia herself, along with Ni Nyoman Candri and Cokorda Istri Agung, who are both well-known, successful performers of the popular Balinese sung drama arja. The gamelan was led by Desak Nyoman Suarti, founder of an all-female gamelan group in Pengosekan. The very name of the group, Topeng Shakti (the term Shakti, implying female power), was an assertion of “equal rights for women”: According to the tantric tradition, the female energy, shakti, is inseparable from the male, spirit. Because shakti is the life force of the male element, the life force of Siva, the male cannot exist without shakti. From the philosophical point of view the woman is a spiritually superior creature, the energy through which life is possible. (Palermo, 2009, 57) The group performed at the 2000 Bali Arts Festival and as part of the Magdalena Project in 2001 at Transit III: Women’s International Theatre Festival held at Barba’s Odin Teatret in Hostleboro, Denmark. In 2003–4, the group toured to Europe again, this time with considerable financial support and the endorsement of the Department of Culture, performing at the Maison des Cultures in Paris, and again at Transit IV in Denmark. Although Topeng Shakti helped to open doors for Balinese female performance of topeng, as Palermo and Diamond (2008) have noted, there is still a great deal of reticence on the part of Balinese women to assert themselves as fully equal to male performers and don the sacred mask of Sidha Karya, the character who “completes the ceremony” in ritual topeng performance. In 1997, Formaggia said firmly:


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I have never dared to touch it. In order to be able to dance in a ceremony, you should go through a certain number of ceremonial, ritual purifications, which are called mawinten. For a foreigner to participate in the sacred ceremonies and dance, you know, you become a sort of priest . . . So you must join the religion, otherwise what is the meaning to play within a ceremony if you don’t belong to the religion? (Formaggia, 1997) Formaggia lived in Bali for more than twenty years and participated at the deepest levels of the culture. She performed, taught and promoted Balinese traditional performance to the rest of the world, but remained an outsider, which gave her independence and power. In June 2008, bringing the Gambuh Pura Desa to perform with Odin Teatret in The Marriage of Medea, she fell ill shortly after arrival and was taken to hospital. Returning to Italy to recuperate, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died on 19 July 2008. The work Cristina Formaggia did to promote traditional and women’s performance still reverberates, and she did much to inspire Balinese female performers, but whether her work really challenged the forces of patriarchy remains to be seen. The all-female Topeng Shakti did not survive her passing, though Ni Nyoman Candri continues to perform male roles in topeng and other genres. The group’s co-founder, Desak Suarti, went on to create another all-female group, Luh Luwih, which successfully staged wayang wong dance-drama (based on the Ramayana) at the Bali Arts Festival in 2002, and an all-female kecak performance that still gives weekly tourist performances in Ubud (though with men taking the roles of narrator and main protagonist). Nonetheless, women’s kecak is a cultural oddity, viewed with condescension by members of the arts establishment. In an article for Inside Indonesia, Rucina Ballinger articulated a central issue for female performers who would contest the patriarchal norms in Bali: One of the most challenging things about being in an all-women’s troupe is the quest to find women’s voice – what we want to say to our audience. Most dance-dramas in Bali are performed by men and the concerns addressed are largely men’s. As women and men live in separate worlds to a great degree in Bali, this discriminates against women audience members. In Luh Luwih’s performances, women talk about women’s issues. This is not to say it is a feminist message, but at least it is beginning to embrace the concerns of women’s lives. (Ballinger, 2005) Female performance in traditionally male genres remains a novelty and even skilled and experienced Balinese female performers “seem unenthusiastic, even reluctant” to pursue this confrontation with traditional expectations (Palermo, 2009, 20). However, foreign females, like Carmencita Palermo and fellow topeng performer Tiffany Strawson, are pushing forward with attempts to create a new tradition of topeng masked dance-drama, with female mask characters, performed

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia


by women, though they are based outside Bali, in the UK and Australia.9 It appears that the impulse towards women performing in traditional male genres in Bali is still driven by foreign females.

Rebecca Teele Teele was born in Michigan after her missionary family had been driven out of China by the revolution. Her father was a distinguished scholar of comparative medieval literature whose astonishing facility for languages10 led him from learning Celtic languages for the study of Arthurian texts, to learning Chinese to contribute to the war effort as a Navy translator. When it became apparent that the family would not be able to return to China, he embarked on studies in Japanese that took his family to Kobe, where he taught at Kwansei Gakuin University from 1950 to 1960. Professor Teele studied noh chant and dance, and often took his young family to see performances of the classical Japanese arts. The family returned to the United States and settled in Texas, where Professor Teele helped to establish East Asian language studies and a Centre for Asian Studies at the University of Texas, while producing translations and essays on Chinese and Japanese drama. Rebecca Teele went to Bennington, a small, private, liberal arts college in Vermont, where music, dance and drama form an important part of the curriculum. Upon graduation in 1971, she returned to Japan, settling in Kyoto to study classical Japanese theatre: I was exposed to Noh at an early age and I was very interested in theatre . . . In college I wanted to pursue a career in theatre and I was also very much interested in transformation and theatre, spirituality and theatre, and Western theatre didn’t offer that to me where I was. My mind went back to earlier experiences and my roots, my early experiences with theatre and I decided I needed to come back and have a look at what Japanese theatre had to offer. So I came back and saw in Noh, reading the texts, the different forms and conventions that select different themes, themes of meditation . . . I found very fascinating. I decided I wanted to explore what it really was after my childhood experiences, which were dream-like in my mind. (Teele, 1997) She attended performances at many different theatres and began to study noh mask carving, first with a female mask maker Taniguchi Akiko and then with Kitazawa Ichinen. She became particularly interested in performances of the Kongô School11 and met someone who suggested she study with Udaka Michishige, who is both a mask carver and a leading actor. This is unusual in noh, because mask making and performing are generally thought of as distinct (though related) arts, and few performers are also carvers. Udaka is unusual in other ways as well: he was not born into a professional noh family, but began studies at 13 as a livein apprentice of Kongô Iwao II, iemoto (Grand Master) of the Kongô school.12


Margaret Coldiron

Perhaps his sense of being an outsider has driven him to achieve considerable success as a leading noh actor, and both of his sons have followed him into the profession. Udaka’s training in Tendai Buddhism,13 his use of meditation in both carving and performance, and his interest in the mystical aspects of noh, set him apart from many of his contemporaries. For Rebecca Teele, another outsider with interests in spirituality and theatre, Udaka was the ideal teacher: I reached a certain point with the mask carving that I felt I needed to know more about performance to know about what the actors did with the mask. So this introduction to a teacher of the school which I found the most interesting and whose collection of masks and costumes had the widest range of possibilities was fortuitous. (Teele, 1997) After she had been carving and studying noh chant for some months, Udaka suggested that Teele would understand more about the form if she performed in a full noh play. Because of his own experience, Udaka was aware that if the carver has a visceral understanding of performing in a mask, and the performer an equally visceral comprehension of the process of drawing the shape and spirit of the mask from the wood, each experience will inform the other: “There’s a whole different kind of body awareness and sense for expression that you get when you realize what the rigors, the demands of the mask are” (Teele, 1997). Four years after beginning her studies, Teele appeared for the first time as a shite (leading actor) in the sixteenth-century noh play Hagoromo (The Feather Robe). In 1980 she became licensed as a certified instructor of noh and in 1996 she became the first non-Japanese to be admitted to the Nôgakukyôkai, the professional association of noh performers, and took the professional name Ogamo.14 This extraordinary achievement did not come easily: There was a dissenting voice within the Kongoh school, a senior actor who did not think the membership of a foreign woman was justifiable. The nô association felt it could not accept someone who was not unanimously recommended by their own school and so rejected my application. The second time, after some backroom lobbying by my teacher, my application passed. (Teele, 2003b, 72–73) Interestingly, it was her foreignness, rather than her gender, that was the greatest obstacle because, despite the widely held view that noh is a male-only preserve, women have been accepted as noh professionals since 1948 (Rath, 2001, 97; Teele, 2003b, 69). Moreover, there is evidence of female noh performance from the genre’s earliest history, when Mia Sadafumi and her troupe performed for the Shogun in 1432 (Teele, 2003b, 68). It has even been postulated that noh’s progenitor, Kan’ami (1333–84), father of Zeami and founder of the Kanze school, was taught by a woman called Otozuro Gozen, of the Kaga women’s kusemai troupe in Nara

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia


(Rath, 2001, 98). Women were banned from the Japanese stage in the Tokugawa era (1629–1868), but female amateur performances are documented during that period (Rath, 2001, 103–104). Many were courtesans and amateurs, but some, like miko priestesses, “were highly respected professionals . . . considered on an equal footing with their male counterparts” (Rath, 2004, 148; Teele, 2003b, 68). With the decline of the traditional Samurai arts during the Meiji period (1868–1912), the study of noh began to be promoted for “the physical and cultural education of young women”, who became eager students, and some, like Tsumura Kimiko, became recognised professionals (Rath, 2001, 106). Currently women have a vital role in the noh world because around 75 per cent of amateur noh performers are female and constitute an essential source of income for noh professionals, whose primary source of earnings is giving lessons, rather than performances. Perhaps more importantly, amateurs also make up the great majority of audiences for noh performances (Aoki, 2014; Thorpe, 2012) There are now over 200 female noh professionals, yet they still encounter prejudice: Michiko Kageyama, 55, a veteran actress of the Hosho school of noh, complained of being forbidden to touch a bell that serves as a central prop in the play “Dojo-ji” – because she is a woman. And then there is 79-yearold Reiko Adachi of the Kanze school, who describes establishments that would not allow women to touch or wear certain noh costumes – so, effectively, preventing them from performing. (Prideaux, 2004) As in Bali, the prejudice against noh women performers is posited on religious grounds, and women are forbidden to perform the role of Okina, a ritual performance fundamental to noh and regarded as sacred. Performers of the role are required to undergo preparatory austerities including sexual abstinence, fasting, meditation and bekka – separate fire – “to avoid sharing any kind of a fire source with a woman for cooking or heating bath water for fear that the fire itself, and by extension its user, might become contaminated with female impurities” (Rath, 2001, 103). This and other exclusions on religious grounds are based more on custom and rumour, rather than any documented stricture: [M]any of the most time-honored traditions of exclusion, such as those pertaining to Okina, have a history which postdates women’s involvement in noh: women performed Okina centuries before the creation of traditions excluding them. Therefore, for noh to become more receptive to women’s participation, its traditions will have to be reevaluated and placed in their proper historical context. Unfortunately, the people who determine noh’s traditions are the senior, male leaders of the profession – the performers of Okina – who have the most invested in maintaining their monopoly over who defines noh’s seminal conventions. (Rath, 2001, 108)


Margaret Coldiron

Thus, although women are allowed to perform professionally, their opportunities are limited. Teele believes that “it’s an ingrained cultural aversion, or reluctance, to see women in an art form which is felt to be for men and to have an aesthetic which is inherently masculine” (Teele, 2015). So what are the problems with women in noh? First, objections are raised to the female voice, considered to be either too weak or the wrong pitch for noh chant, but this is much disputed and there is considerable anecdotal evidence to the contrary (Aoki, 2014; Morice, 2013; Teele, 2003a, 2015; Thorpe, 2012). Another perceived problem is the perception that masks and costumes created for men simply won’t look right on women, but this argument, too, does not bear scrutiny, and Teele points out that “as we see men get physically larger we can clearly see that costumes must be made larger for them to be able to be dressed in them properly. When women wear masks and costumes which are purposefully scaled to their physical traits/size, then I think this particular problem is taken care of ” (Teele, 2015). Nevertheless, female noh performers are treated differently, young female professionals are not given as many opportunities to perform as are their male counterparts; women are discouraged or prevented from performing hitamen (unmasked) roles because their faces are obviously female, or strong roles of gods and demons because they are physically strenuous, or even powerful female roles because they might be “too realistic” (Teele, 2003b, 73). Fortunately, female noh professionals continue to challenge these entrenched views and seem gradually to be making progress. Teele’s interest in noh transcends narrow concern with her own career; she has always been “interested in acting as a kind of a bridge or a conduit to bring an understanding between cultures” (Teele, 1997). For this her insider/outsider status provides some advantages. In 1984, she and Udaka joined forces with Jonah Salz,15 another American who came to Japan with an interest in traditional theatre, to set up an intensive summer training programme for foreigners, Traditional Theatre Training (TTT). Teele and Udaka covered noh training, while Salz worked with Shigeyama Sennojô (1923–2010) on kyogen training. However, because of fundamental differences of approach between Udaka and Shigeyama, this collaboration broke up after just two years and Teele and Udaka set up their own group to specialise in noh training for foreign students, the International Noh Institute (INI) (Pellecchia, 2012, 184). Today the organisation has representatives in Kyoto, Milan, Vancouver and São Paulo, where disciples of Udaka Michishige provide workshops, training and occasionally give performances. All the INI representatives return frequently to Japan to for further training and to perform, and all of them are women: Monique Arnaud and Cristina Picelli in Milan, Lee Strothers in Vancouver and Angela Mayumi Nagai in São Paulo. Teele sees the role of INI to “make available and easily accessible the approach and standards of Noh and the culture of Noh that we learn from Udaka-sensei”, but doesn’t feel that the organisation has had any impact on the larger noh world (Teele, 2015). Diego Pellecchia, a longtime student of Udaka and now Junior Director of INI, is more optimistic:

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia


I think that it has helped draw attention of the Japanese to Noh, following a typical pattern of the Japanese realising the importance of their culture through the eyes of the other . . . I think that the real discussion on the internationalisation of Noh will reach its peak in 30 years or so, when the current young actors, many of whom had more exposure to the “international factor” through language study, pop culture, Internet, etc. will be in charge. (Pellecchia, 2015) There are other foreign noh practitioners of Teele’s generation who also teach and promote noh theatre in Japan and abroad, notably Richard Emmert of the Kita school whose Theatre Nogaku creates English-language noh plays and conducts workshops and intensive courses in Japan, the United States and Britain. Teele, however, is more of a traditionalist and sees her role as a “standard-bearer or witness” whose presence on the scene provides an example for women and foreigners who are interested in this often closed and secretive world. Now less physically able to perform because of joint problems, she works backstage and engages in scholarship, translating plays, creating programme notes and background materials and responding to questions about noh history, theory and practice.

Conclusion Both Cristina Formaggia and Rebecca Teele proved themselves as performers in traditionally male arts, and provide very public models that demonstrate women’s ability. Moreover, their foreign connections have allowed them to promote and preserve these endangered genres, raising their status both inside and outside the culture. Formaggia was more explicit in her promotion of female performance, but both stand as examples for other women to follow. Their success is partly due to their dedication, but also because they were unhindered by husbands, children and household responsibilities, which are the expected norm for Asian women. Of course, there are a number of other significant foreign female practitioners of traditional Asian performing arts – for example, Hanne de Bruin, from the Netherlands, co-director of Kattakaiku Sangam in Tamil Nadu; and Emiko Susilo from California, who co-directs Gamelan Çudamani in Pengosekan, Bali. However, these and many other foreign women working in Asian performance genres are married to local artists and, it may be argued, their acceptance comes in some part as a result of their association with already established native artists. What distinguishes Formaggia and Teele is their independence and, perhaps, their innate conservatism. Neither sought to undermine or disrupt tradition, but instead aimed to faithfully preserve these traditional arts. In spite of obstacles, and perhaps because of their foreignness, they were able to penetrate these exclusive, seemingly impenetrable worlds, barred to women because of their alleged “impurity”, and stand as examples for women inside the culture of what can be achieved.


Margaret Coldiron

Glossary gamelan: An orchestra of gongs and metallophones that accompanies Balinese and Javanese dance and dance-drama. iemoto: The leader of a “school” of noh actors (see “noh schools” below). Since its medieval beginnings, noh has been an accomplishment passed down through families and evolved into a profession. Thus, the position of Iemoto is generally hereditary and assumed by the senior member of the presiding family of a given school. New Order: Refers to the period of the second Indonesian president, Suharto, who held power after the coup of 1966 until 1998. The Suharto government sought to bring unity to the diverse archipelago of Indonesia through the doctrine of pancasilia, or five principles promoting a distinctive Indonesian national character devoted to traditional values. noh schools: There are five main “schools” for shite, the leading actors of noh, the youngest being the Kita school established in the eighteenth century; the others, Kanze, Komparu, Hosho and Kongô, date back to the fourteenth century. Each school has its own nuances of technique and philosophy, and, although this is perhaps less apparent to the uninitiated observer, it is a matter of particular significance for connoisseurs. There are separate schools for waki, the unmasked supporting actors, and for the hayashi, the onstage musicians who play drums and flute that accompany noh performances.

Notes 1 This is no small accomplishment, because Balinese has three linguistically distinct levels, and the language level spoken depends upon both the caste of the speaker and the caste of the person addressed. Thus, a low-caste person addressing a member of a higher caste must address them in alus, high Balinese, but will be spoken to in rendah, low Balinese; before caste has been determined, both parties will speak in middle Balinese. In a typical topéng performance, all three levels of Balinese are spoken, as well as Kawi (a form of Old Javanese based on Sanskrit), modern Indonesian and often English or other European or Asian languages depending upon who is in the audience. 2 The Panji stories (known in Thailand as Inao) are a source for literature and drama throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. 3 In 2010 Ballinger found that there were only nine troupes still active, and some of these performed only very occasionally, perhaps once a year, for important temple ceremonies (Ballinger, 2010, 8). 4 Gambuh Triwangsa (high-caste gambuh), Sanggar Pusaka Budaya (Djimat’s troupe), Sekah Mayasari (a community-based troupe led by renowned dancer and teacher I Nyoman Kakul) and, in 1985, this group spawned yet another troupe (Nyoman Kakul and Sons) specifically to provide performances for tourists (Ballinger, 2010, 10–11). 5 The foundation, based in Bali’s capital Denpasar, was founded in 1991 by the Balinese artist I Madé Wianta “to encourage creativity and innovation to promote research, education and development in the field of art and cultur and also to preserve endangered Balinese art forms” (http://madewianta.com/wianta-foundation.html). 6 This decision was and remains controversial. The material disseminated by the project (and internationally by Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret) implies that “authentic” gambuh is preserved only by the project’s company in Batuan, in spite of the fact that there are

Rebecca Teele and Cristina Formaggia





11 12


14 15


other, very active gambuh troupes elsewhere on the island, with different but equally “authentic” performing styles. Researching gambuh in the north Balinese village of Padang Aji in 2010, I was taken to see a Panji shrine in a local temple where, legend has it, a glowing headdress for Panji once appeared. This was taken as a sign that gambuh should form part of the temple anniversary celebrations and a shrine was created in the temple to commemorate the event. Both the character and the annual performance are regarded as sacred. Vickers (n.p.) presents a very interesting discussion of the complex mystical associations of the character and his attendants (Formaggia, 2000, 66–69). The DVD recording was made of a performance of Tebek Jaran (“The Stabbing of the Horse”) and features some of the old masters who are now dead; this is a significant historical document. A CD recording of “Music of the Gambuh Theatre” was produced by Vital Records in California but is now out of print. On her death in 2008, Cristina Formaggia left her extensive library of documentary materials on Balinese performance to the Odin Teatret archive, where it is available to international researchers. Rucina Ballinger, a Balinese resident for over thirty years, created a contemporary comedy ensemble in the wake of the Bali bombings in 2002. Grup Gedebong Goyang is made up of four middle-aged, expatriate, Balinese-speaking white women who perform songs and sketches about social and political issues and has been remarkably successful. It may be that these foreign females, in a non-traditional genre, could prove a more effective catalyst for the voices of Balinese women. “After Latin and French in high school, he studied German as well as Anglo-Saxon and Middle English in college, also learning Italian, Middle High German and Old Norse on his own. In graduate school he improved his knowledge of French and added Old Irish and Old Welsh” (Palomé et al., n.d.: 1). See glossary entry for “noh schools”. Noh scholar and researcher Diego Pellecchia points out: “recent research has revealed that the Udaka clan, originally from Matsuyama, had been serving the local Matsudaira lords as Noh performers from 1712 until the start of the Meiji period, when the family disbanded and members of the family moved to Kyoto” (Pellecchia, 2012, 182). A school of Mahayana Buddhism important in Japan because of its view that all the teachings of Buddha can be “unified in one perfect and comprehensive system” (Hazama, 1987, 101) which can encompass, for example, the native Japanese Shinto belief system in the sacredness of all things (kami), Tendai also embraces esoteric practices of using mudras and mantras as part of meditational practice. According to Singer (2011), this is “a play on words, since ‘kamo’ means duck, and a ‘teal’ is a small dabbling duck”. Salz is a theatre director, scholar and performer of kyogen. He is artistic director of NOHO, a theatre company that uses techniques of traditional Japanese theatre doing productions of European plays, especially Yeats, Beckett and Shakespeare.

Bibliography Aoki, R. (2014) Women and Noh: The Historical Development of Japanese Noh Theatre as a Masculine Art. Ph.D. thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Ballinger, R. (2005) Woman Power. Inside Indonesia, 83 ( July–September): 7–8. Available from: www.insideindonesia.org/woman-power [Accessed 15 June 2015]. Ballinger, R. (2008) Balinese Gambuh Loses its Guardian Mother. Jakarta Post, 31 July. Available from: www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/07/31/balinese-039gambuh039loses-its-guardian-mother.html [Accessed 7 June 2015]. Ballinger, R. (2010) Gambuh Report Final Edit (Compiled for the Ford Foundation). [email] Sent to M. Coldiron, 1 June.


Margaret Coldiron

Bandem, I. M. and de Boer, F. (1978) Gambuh: A Classical Balinese Dance-Drama. Asian Music, 10(1): 115–127. Bandem, I. M. and de Boer, F. (1995) Balinese Dance in Transition: Kaja and Kelod. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bandem, S. W. and Suarti, D. N. (1998) Dance and Music in Village Temples: Tradition and Change in Bali. Open Page 3: Theatre–Women–Politics, 96–99. [online] Available from: www.themagdalenaproject.org/sites/default/files/OP3_Desak.pdf [Accessed 18 May 2015]. Coldiron, M., Palermo, C. and Strawson, T. (2015) Women in Balinese Topeng: Voices, Reflections, Interactions. Asian Theatre Journal, 32(2): 463–491. Creese, H. (2004) Reading the Bali Post: Women and Representation in Post-Suharto Bali. Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, 10 (August). Available from: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue10/creese.html [Accessed 15 May 2015]. Davies, J. (2007) The Audience are Stones. In Marc Maufort and David O’Donnell (eds), Performing Aotearoa: New Zealand Theatre and Drama in an Age of Transition. Brussels: PIE Peter Lang, pp. 391–403. De Zoete, B. and Spies, W. (1938) Dance and Drama in Bali. London: Faber. Diamond, C. (2008) Fire in the Banana’s Belly: Bali’s Female Performers Essay the Masculine Arts. Asian Theatre Journal, 25(2): 231–271. Dibia, I. W. and Ballinger, R. (2004) Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali. Singapore: Periplus. Formaggia, M. C. (1995) Gambuh: The Ancient Dance Drama of Bali. [sleevenotes] Puri Campuan, Ubud-Bali Indonesia: Gambuh Preservation Project. Formaggia, M. C. (1997) Topeng Sidha Karya [interview] Interviewed by Margaret Coldiron, 5 April, Ubud, Bali. Formaggia, M. C. (ed.) (2000) Gambuh: Drama Tari Bali. Jakarta: Yayasan Lontar. Formaggia, M. C. (2003a) Listserve posting, Bali Arts and Culture News (BACN), at yahoo. com, 31 January. Formaggia, M. C. (2003b) Ni Nyoman Candri: The Hero Disguised as Servant. Open Page 8: Theatre–Women–Character, 77–79. Available from: www.themagdalenaproject.org/sites/ default/files/OP8_NiCandri.pdf [Accessed 18 May 2015]. Hatley, B. (2005) More Voices. Women and Marginalised Groups Seize New Opportunities in the Arts. Inside Indonesia, 83. Available from: www.insideindonesia.org/more-voices [Accessed 15 June 2015]. Hazama, J. (1987). The Characteristics of Japanese Tendai. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 14 (2–3): 101–112. International Noh Institute website: https://internationalnohinstitute.wordpress.com [Accessed 7 July 2015]. Moore, K. L. (2014) The Joy of Noh: Embodied Learning and Discipline in Urban Japan. Albany: State University of New York Press. Morice, B. (2013) Interview: Ryoko Aoki. Tokyo: Time Out, 6 August. Available from: www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/7686/Interview-Ryoko-Aoki [Accessed 17 April 2015]. Newsweek Staff (2009) Should Women Be Allowed in Japan’s Noh Theater? Newsweek, 16 October. Available from: http://europe.newsweek.com/should-women-be-allowedjapans-noh-theater-80973?rm=eu [Accessed 20 April 2015]. Palermo, C. (2009) Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, 19. Available from: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue19/palermo.htm#t2 [Accessed 5 April 2015]. Palomé, E. C., Jayzayery, M. A. and Faurot, J. (n.d.) In Memoriam: Roy E. Teele (Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the University of Texas at Austin). [pdf] Available from:

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www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/51518709/roy-e-teele-the-university-of-texasat-austin/2 [Accessed 1 June 2015]. Pellecchia, D. (2011) The International Noh Institute of Milan: Transmission of Ethics and Ethics of Transmission in a Transnational Context. In Stanca Scholz-Ciocnca and Andreas Regelsberger (eds), Japanese Theatre Transcultural: German and Italian Intertwinings. Munich: Iudicium Verlag, pp. 32–50. Pellecchia, D. (2012). The International Noh Institute: A Historical Premise. Aesthetics and Ethics in the Reception of Noh Theatre in the West. https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/ publications/the-international-noh-institute-of-milan-transmission-of-ethics-and-ethicsof-transmission-in-a-transcultural-contex(c7116404–900e-42e6-bcc6-4e87d20a2273). html. Ph.D. thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London. Pellecchia, D. (2015) Questions on Women in Noh. [email] Sent to M. Coldiron, 5 April. Prideaux, E. (2004) Women in Noh. Japan Times. [online] Available from: www.japantimes.co. jp/life/2004/04/11/to-be-sorted/women-in-noh/#.VTSzm1xoBMY [Accessed 20 April 2015]. Rath, E. C. (2001) Challenging the Old Men: A Brief History of Women in Noh Theater. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 12(1): 97–111. Rath, E. C. (2004) The Ethos of Noh: Actors and Their Art. Harvard East Asian Monographs 232 Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Asia Center. Singer, J. (2011) American Woman Pours Herself into Noh. Japan Times, 18 June. [online] Available from: www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2011/06/18/general/american-womanpours-self-into-noh/#.VX3yJGBoBMY [Accessed 1 June 2015]. Suzumura, Y. (2013) Players, Performances and the Existence of Women’s Noh: Focusing on the Articles Run in the Japanese General Newspapers. Hosei University Repository. [pdf] Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/10114/8173 [Accessed 15 March 2015]. Teele, R. (ed.) (1984) Nô/Kyôgen Masks in Performance. Mime Journal, 10. Claremont, CA: Pomona College. Teele, R. (1997) Questions on Noh. [interview] Interviewed by Margaret Coldiron, 4 June, Kyoto. Teele, R. (1998) Further Questions on Noh. [interview] Interviewed by Margaret Coldiron, 31 October, Nagoya. Teele, R. (2003a) Tomoe. Open Page 8: Theatre–Women–Character, 34–40 Available from: www.themagdalenaproject.org/sites/default/files/OP8_RebeccaTeele.pdf [Accessed 11 July 2015]. Teele, R. (2003b) Women in Nô Today in Theatre East and West Revisited, Mime Journal 2002/2003. Claremont, CA: Claremont Colleges, pp. 67–79. Teele, R. (2015) Questions on Women in Noh. [email] Sent to Margaret Coldiron, 10 May. Thorpe, A. (2012) Richard Emmert: The World of Japanese Classical Noh – A Social View. [online] Asian Performing Arts Forum Report. Available from: https://asianperformingartsforum. wordpress.com/past-events/375-2/ [Accessed 8 July 2015]. Turner, J. (1997) Prospero’s Floating Island: ISTA 1995. Asian Theatre Journal, 14(1): 120–125. Varley, J. (1999) Ni Wayan Sekariani and Cristina Wistari: Beauty Behind a Mask. Open Page 4: Theatre–Women–Trespass [pdf]. Available from: www.themagdalenaproject.org/ sites/default/files/OP4_Wistari.pdf [Accessed 15 May 2015]. Vickers, A. (n.p) Gambuh [personal communication] Sent to M. Coldiron, 6 April 2010.

10 AN UNEXPECTED VOICE Performance, gender and protecting tradition in Korean mask dance dramas1 CedarBough T. Saeji

Introduction The Republic of Korea has a rich tradition of mask dance dramas. Each of the dramas combines story, dance motions, masks and live music as outlined in previous publications on the mask dance dramas, their history, and their meaning.2 Unlike some of the arts presented at the court by government slaves, in private by courtesans called gisaeng, or within the context of shamanic ritual, every character in the mask dramas – including sexy young shamans, old grandmothers, and midwives – was originally performed by men. The Neo-Confucian culture of the Joseon Dynasty placed a high value on propriety, which generally limited performance by women to special, private events. Consequently, women did not appear in mask dance dramas, which were performed in the madang (village festival site). The only known exception is the mask dance drama group Bongsan Talchum. At the very end of the Joseon Dynasty, this drama was performed as a market stage show and is reported to have included a beautiful gisaeng in the role of Sadang, a character who sings with the mask perched on top of her head (Seo, 1988, 28). This added an extra draw for the show – a beautiful and musically trained songstress. The mask dance dramas that are still performed were mostly developed during the late Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). The Republic of Korea’s practice of certifying and safeguarding, and to some extent subsidizing, the intangible cultural heritage of the nation extends back to the 1962 munhwajae bohobeop (Cultural Property Protection Law). This law, the second in the world to actively protect intangible heritage, emphasizes pedagogical transmission and demonstration of traditional skills. The mask dance dramas, along with other Korean arts, were researched and in some cases largely reconstructed amid conflicting interests and tense negotiations to serve

Korean mask dance dramas


as representative “authentic” heritage (Hangukminsokhaksuldancheyeonhapoi, 2010; Howard, 2006; Jeong, 2008; Yang, 2003; Yim, 2003). Today they are protected either as jungyo muhyeong munhwajae (important intangible cultural properties) or as si/do muhyeong munhwajae (regional intangible cultural properties). My observations and ethnographic research have focused on the nationally certified mask dance drama groups such as Bongsan Talchum (from Hwanghae Province in presentday North Korea), Songpa Sandae Noli and Yangju Byeolsandae (from the Seoul area), Hahoe Byeolsin’gut Talnoli (from North Gyeongsang Province), Goseong Ogwangdae (from the south coast) and Dongnae Yayu (from the Busan area), which illustrate this chapter. All are principally comedies – they include lively music, danceractors in masks and were traditionally performed at festivities marking turning points in the agricultural year. When a mask dance drama is certified for inclusion on the list of protected culture, the wonhyeong (archetypal form) of the mask dance drama is fixed. From that day forward, the mask dance dramas are to be performed without any substantial alteration from this supposedly authoritative version, an idea critiqued by Yang Jongsung (2003), Keith Howard (2006), Jeong Sujin (2010) and others. Tensions ebb and flow in different arts due to issues such as improper wonhyeong revealed by subsequent research (Howard, 2012; Yang, 2004), and artists/groups who resist controlling efforts by officials at the Cultural Heritage Administration (Yang, 2003). At the time of certification (1964–80), a few mask dance drama groups included women. In an atmosphere of near-extinction of these traditional performances, willing female participants were welcomed by some groups, although then (as now) women mostly performed non-speaking, fully clothed female characters. In the Republic of Korea in 2015, the ways women are – and are not – involved in mask dance drama reveals intersecting issues of traditionalism, national representation, authenticity, gender and women’s empowerment. Furthermore, there is dissonance between the sexism considered acceptable in pre-modern society and contemporary government support for what could be seen as disempowerment of women in the contemporary world. Here I sketch the changing role of women in mask dance dramas and ask what the implications of this change are for the future of the Korean mask dance dramas. In this chapter I seek to answer several questions about the participation of women. How have Korean women conformed to or resisted the cultural expectations and social norms that have created a barrier between them and participation in mask dance dramas? How has this changed over time? What do contemporary mask dance drama performers think about the participation of women in performance? How does the participation of women challenge notions of authenticity in Korea’s nationally protected cultural heritage?

Changing roles for women in Korean society With the exception of courtesans, female performers in pre-modern Korea were of low social standing. As Korea modernized, men lost their position of primacy


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in public performance, both within Korean tradition and increasingly in Western and hybrid forms (Atkins, 2010; Killick, 2010; Maliangkay, 2007). The last century witnessed a drastic shift in Korean women’s performance participation. However, just as other scholars have noted the enduring connections between class, status, gender and roles in the performing arts elsewhere (Doss-Quinby et al., 2001; La Rue, 1997; Najera-Ramírez, 2002; Silverman, 1996, 2012; Van Nieuwkerk, 1995), Korea has held to some traditional ideas about what roles women can engage in onstage. There are three main reasons why women have entered the ranks of mask dance drama performers. First, the participation of women in the mask dance dramas increased during the pro-democratization struggle. The minjung munhwa undong (Minjung Cultural Movement) in the 1970s and 1980s reunited ordinary Koreans with their traditions, particularly traditions like the mask dance dramas which showed resistance to authority figures. Because the satirical elements in the mask dance dramas resonated with the fight against authoritarianism, university students and others were (for a time) attracted to learning mask dance dramas as a display of nationalism and a reconnection with their roots. Some of them also utilized the dramas in protest, later transitioning to a new hybrid drama form, madanggeuk, to more explicitly express their political ideals (Kim, 1997; Yang, 1988). These cultural movements inspired groups and performances that included men and women. Some of those performers, both men and women, wanted to continue the activity they enjoyed and later joined heritage troupes. Other women began learning as bored housewives seeking for a meaningful hobby (Baker, 1995). Those who did not lose interest form the core group of women, mostly in their fifties, involved in mask dance dramas today. A second reason why women currently do – and will continue to – perform mask dance drama is because the dramas are taught in the educational system. In a search for income, members of each group are teaching in schools and afterschool programmes, inspiring some young people to continue learning. Although groups may primarily seek to attract young male members, classes cannot be confined to only one gender if a school is co-educational. Although mask dance drama study in university is still not that common, all the younger women (mainly in their twenties) in mask dance drama groups that I have spoken with began dancing through after-school programmes several years before auditioning for their university arts programmes. Today, women who have attended university programmes of traditional music, dance or yeonhui (folk theatre) carve out spaces for full-time artistic performance. When such dedicated performers seek a place in official mask dance dramas groups, it becomes even more difficult to justify the lack of roles for women.3 The single most important reason more women perform today, however, is that mask dance drama groups are under tremendous pressure to ensure pedagogical transmission. This has continually brought women into groups because the genre is relatively unpopular compared to traditions such as pansori (epic story-songs) and sanjo (solo instrumental music). Often no performers are recruited for more than

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a year, and the average age of performers in every group is rapidly advancing. Young performers must overcome multiple obstacles, not least changing interests and financial hurdles, in order to continue, which has pushed most younger performers to become full-time professional artists, or to quit performing.4 Even though every group hopes to recruit younger, energetic men to continue the traditions, sometimes they must take advantage of any performer that they can rely on. The evolution towards a greater role for women in performance mirrors the situation in many parts of the world, where traditional ideas of propriety and gendered spheres of activity in society created obstacles to women’s performance. These days, senior teachers’ attitudes towards women performers of traditionally male arts are softening worldwide. In the early 1990s, Barbara Thornbury found that, in Japan, another country where the government works to protect tradition, “females can take roles that heretofore have been restricted to males” (1994, 220). Carol Silverman, documenting the cultural politics of Balkan Romani music and dance, also found that women are increasingly able to negotiate traditional ideas of honour and perform in public what was once confined to private women’s spaces (2012).

Barriers to women’s participation Many mask dance drama characters, including most female characters, communicate through mime and dance, with no spoken lines. Only men typically viewed the mask dance dramas – women and girls were not part of a normal audience. The absence of women in either the cast or the audience freed the performers to create content that was not culturally acceptable for a mixed audience. The barriers to women’s participation in mask dance dramas are reinforced by the essentialized beliefs about gender that continue to be a major factor in Korean society, so that this examination of mask dance dramas also serves as an observation of gender negotiation in contemporary Korean society. In the Korean mask dramas, rather than showing a level of awe and respect for the female body and its reproductive powers,5 the presence of female characters is part of the male-centred humour, what Chan E. Park has called the “patriarchal imagination” (2012, 123). Common female characters include a concubine, a grandmother and a shaman. These roles are often crass and direct rather than elegant or captivating, and they engage in public urination, grooming, sexual acts and childbirth, depending on the drama. During the Joseon Dynasty, watching such acts was highly amusing, as long as men played every role. These bawdy, earthy folk dramas provide two challenges to women who may want to participate: the embarrassment involved in some of the actions; and the revealing nature of some costumes. Old grandmothers, midwives and procuresses are typically bare from just below the breasts to below the belly button, not unusual in late Joseon society. Although the grandmother is considered unattractive (as revealed by her dark and spotted mask), she and the midwife both use the eongdeongichum (butt dance), a side-to-side exaggerated hip sway, as their primary mode of locomotion around the stage. Any performer can act lewdly, fully dressed or not.


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Goseong Ogwangdae mask dance drama’s Hwang Jong-uk is the group’s office manager and ranked jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo.6 When the government set up their cultural safeguarding measures, they established a ranking system for teachers and learners of the arts – Hwang’s rank is the second highest, usually attained after at least thirty years. This rank is usually held by about five people per mask dance drama, depending on the government-appointed committee that oversees rank examinations, testing knowledge and performative skills. I interviewed Hwang about the gender issues in mask performances. He explained: In the Joseon Dynasty women couldn’t even watch mask dance dramas, particularly yangban, or really any woman above the lowest class. The mask dance drama had such strong gender roles, [and because] they were performed at night, it would have been difficult for women to be wandering around and see them. With the exception of the character of Aesadang, women couldn’t be mask dance drama performers during the Joseon Dynasty. Other than women who were selling their bodies, we can clearly say they weren’t part of mask dance dramas. (Hwang, 2015) Dongnae Yayu performer Baek Jeonggang, an isuja (the third-highest-ranked type of performer), discussed the transition from all-male teams to the inclusion of women in the mask dance dramas: Because men were the leaders of society, men did women’s roles, and women couldn’t act at all. Men put on women’s clothes, and used women’s gestures – yet now that in our country we have gradually instituted civil rights, women of skill and ability have emerged and some of them like the mask dance dramas. They asked, “why do men have to act the women’s roles?” and now many women come out to practice. (Baek, 2015) However, even when included, women are relegated to women’s roles and groups adjust costumes if a woman performs certain roles. When women act in the role of the old grandmother, they either change the dress to cover more of the body, or they use a flesh-coloured leotard under their costume. The exposed skin, however, is often incorporated into jokes, either in dialogue or in action, and in these cases men continue to perform the role, arguing against the changes to the story that would result from making the costume more modest. The old grandmother in Goseong Ogwangdae, for example, performs a belly-dance by sucking and protruding “her” belly rhythmically, to the delight of the audience. In mask dance drama, performers are often pushed towards parts that physically “match” their bodies, and this means that men with large bellies are encouraged to play the parts of women with exposed bellies. The Yangju Byeolsandae drama’s director and isuja Kim Sunok told me, “Men are still doing the part of the procuress, because her belly sticks out as she

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dances. This is a serious problem for women to do the role, although it would be good for women to perform and we often practice it. Yu Gyeongseong used to do that role, he had a forty-four-inch waist. Forty-four inches!” (Kim S. O., 2015). I asked Hwang Jong-uk about women performing racy content and he explained: In the case of Goseong Ogwangdae our grandmother’s actions are rather well-mannered, but Tongyeong Ogwangdae and other places like that are different, they are really explicit. Dramas like Yangju Byeolsandae are really extreme, so viewing is restricted to adults [if everything is performed]. There are too many extremely sensual actions and it’s really difficult for women to perform. In [Goseong Ogwangdae] women don’t perform the grandmother or the concubine. Dongnae Yayu has women perform the grandmother, so does Gangnyeong Talchum. That’s a little strange. It’s not correct. The concubine could be done by a woman without problem, but not grandmother because it’s a speaking role. (Hwang, 2015) Grandmother, the only female character that has lines in most dramas, is the chief point of tension. While in groups like Bongsan Talchum, with a history of strong female leadership, she has long been performed by women, in other groups female artists still struggle for this starring role. A woman’s voice from behind the grandmother’s mask can be justified but, for others, women speaking the lines of male characters is taking things too far. This raises the question of why certain changes to the dramas, like women in speaking roles, are not acceptable (to some people), while other changes are considered merely a matter of adjusting to contemporary conditions (Figure 10.1).7


The old grandmother from Gasan Ogwangdae and Bongsan Talchum


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Dance, or participation in certain types of dance can have implications for a woman’s reputation (Silverman, 2012; Van Nieuwkerk, 1995). Therefore, it is unsurprising that in many mask dance dramas sexual scenes have been toned down through the years in tandem with an increase in female audience members and performers. In many mask dance dramas the sexual content is now allusive, rather than explicit. For example, in a Songpa Sandae Noli sex scene, the playboy Chwibali dances with the young woman Somu through a series of synchronous movements. Seated, legs outstretched and feet touching, they hold hands, pulling back and forth regularly on one side and then the other. Next, the couple jumps up and down in unison facing the audience, with arms locked around each other’s waists and hips touching. A few minutes later, Somu is experiencing morning sickness. In most cases, the children in the audience may not realize what is going on in this drama or even in Bongsan Talchum drama – after the grandmother is reunited with her husband (Yeonggam), Yeonggam lies prostrate on the ground, with his folded fan erect above his groin. His wife (who is wearing a hanbok dress) straddles his body and jumps up and down, pausing for an extra jump above the erect fan – the allusion clear to adult audience members. In addition, dialogue may sail over the heads of younger audience members. In Yangju Byeolsandae, after the old grandmother has died and her children (Dogki and his sister) and husband (Sinhalabi) are gathered at the body, the following dialogue occurs: Dokgi’s Sister: Well, I’ve checked the pulse all over her body. Sinhalabi: Yes. Dokgi’s Sister: Her whole body is dead. She is dead. But . . . Sinhalabi: She is dead. Dokgi: But the place in which father used to struggle to make sister and me is still alive. Sinhalabi: What? What is still alive? I have to feel it. Let me feel it! Dokgi: It is still alive. Why are you in such a rush to feel it? I have to feel it first. Sinhalabi: Well, are you going to feel it? Dokgi: I felt it. It is still alive. Sinhalabi: You! Damn you! Dokgi: If you still want to struggle with it, you go ahead. It’s all right, even in front of us.8 Beyond the revealing costumes and sexualized actions and dialogue, an additional barrier to women’s participation is the various ways that the function of humour is enhanced when men play women’s roles. Those characters with an exposed midsection, and those with covered bodies, express femininity in drastically different ways. The men who perform fully clothed roles can fool the audience into thinking that they are women. Many interviewees asserted that when the face beneath the mask is revealed, the audience is entranced and impressed by the skill of the

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man who could fool them through body language and movement that was feminine, but not exaggerated. Hwang expressed a typical viewpoint: If a man performs, after the performance when he takes off the mask, it’s more interesting. People think it’s a woman under the mask, so it’s a surprise when you take the mask off. First, mask dance drama has to be humorous. When men express femininity the interest and comedy is enhanced, the dramas are more . . . frank. Through this [cross-gender acting] there is more humour. If women play women’s roles – can they expose their bellies? We cannot see their bare skin. Also when women act like women, it’s just . . . like that, the same as the story. (Hwang, 2015) To Hwang, women acting like women is less impressive, less of a skill, than if men act like women. Freeing up gender in mask dance dramas cannot be accomplished by arguing that everyone is performing gender identity in everyday life. We need to consider Hwang’s generationally typical ideas within the context of the authenticity that is expected of nationally registered items of cultural heritage. Women playing women does change the drama, as when a woman in the part of the old monk no longer appears to be a lascivious seducer of a young woman, but rather just two women dancing prettily together. Unsurprisingly, some groups make it hard for women to join. For example, Hahoe Byeolsin’gut Talnoli has only one woman in their drama’s preservation association. Yet the region has branded itself with images of the masks, and holds a large, successful annual mask dance drama festival headlined by the Hahoe group, a group that teaches extensively in local schools. As gender equality advances in Korea, is it tenable to tell the many young women learning the drama that they will only ever be able to participate from outside the official preservation association? Groups actively recruit young men, but often with little success. Could it be time to let women perform in men’s roles? As Hwang Jong-uk tells me: I don’t think that women can show [perform] manhood in an interesting way. Personally, I think that Goseong Ogwangdae members should be men. But I can’t forbid women from being involved. Just imagine women performing Malddugi [the horse groomsman] – that wouldn’t work. Even if a woman performs Madangsoe [a male house servant], the character changes, so why not make it a female character, such as Hyangdan [a female house servant]? (Hwang, 2015) Here Hwang points out that if changes are accepted, a male character such as Madangsoe could be replaced with the female equivalent, Hyangdan. For Hwang this change would make a woman performing the role more natural than if she was embodying a male character. This is closely connected to a deep-seated belief that women cannot fool an audience into believing they are really men.


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The case of Yangju Byeolsandae: a long history of women’s participation Yangju Byeolsandae is an example of a group which included women early on, partially due to involving young women in learning activities. In an interview with director and isuja Kim Sunok, she explained how she and several other young women, also from Yangju (a small town north of Seoul), had been organized into their own independent performance group in the early and mid-1960s. She described that exciting time of performing as a middle-schooler. She was Chwibali, the playboy, a key role. At that time the children’s troupe practised every day in a tiny room without missing a single rehearsal. Kim explained that Korean audiences were not very interested in traditional arts, so they often performed for the American military bases (Kim S. O., 2015). According to Kim, the children’s team actually performed more than the adult team at this time, and when they grew up, in the late 1960s, the two teams were merged – bringing a large number of young women into the group, including Kim and her younger sister (who is now a jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo for the group): “At that time there were adults performing, but there weren’t many people learning, so when the kids grew up it was natural for them to start performing together [with the official group].” With this sort of early start, they naturally included a large number of female performers, with women taking over the performance of almost all the female characters. Kim explained, “We were the first group to have women performing, from 1961, 62 – after us, Bongsan Talchum was listed [as cultural heritage], and they had Yang Soeun performing, so the Cultural Heritage Administration had to accept women’s performance” (Kim S. O., 2015).9 Kim Sunok (2015) explained that in Yangju Byeolsandae women sometimes perform male roles without speaking lines, including starring roles like that of the old monk. “Right, there are so many women these days. However, if they speak, the audience will find it so awkward that a yangban gentleman has a woman’s voice. It’s not easy to change expectations based on knowledge of our traditional arts.”

The case of Dongnae Yayu: women for transmission Having observed that Dongnae Yayu has more female members than many, I visited the preservation association director of the Dongnae Yayu mask dance drama in Busan. I guessed that Director Jeong Yeongbae (a jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo) had been under intense pressure from within the group to include women in more roles. He explained: Women’s power has increased [in society], and in Dongnae Yayu we do not believe that only men can do the mask dance drama. Women have been doing women’s parts such as the bride and grandmother for a long time already. Now there has almost been a generational replacement. Women here are enthusiastic enough to take the roles traditionally taken by us, the men. Many women members of our group are waiting for a chance to perform.

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Now in Dongnae Yayu, women are now performing Mundungi [the leper], even though truthfully it should be a man’s role with rough masculine style, but they take that role anyway. But that’s our difficulty right now, because we can’t just tell them to stop performing that role so that men will do it. There are many women and they don’t have any other roles, so below each of them there is a line of people waiting to perform. I don’t have a successor, there is no next-Yeonggam [the old husband], because that role cannot be taken by women. ( Jeong, 2015) Jeong smiled throughout our interview, but the impression I received was one of deep worry. He questioned the power of the accompanying music (since many of the drummers are now women), the increasingly feminized dance motions and the lack of young male performers. So we have a disconnect, women enjoy doing mask dance drama, but I’m worried about the invisible damage this is causing to the mask dance dramas. Truly, the women involved are doing well. If they come and start, they see it to the end. I heard that Andong Hahoe [Hahoe Byeolsin’gut Talnoli] is not even receiving women as members, will that save their group? I don’t know. If even one musician [is a woman], then women can be admitted into any role. ( Jeong, 2015) Jeong understood that tradition was constantly changing, and that holding to the wonhyeong was unrealistic.10 His manner demonstrated great respect for women’s performance capability, but he was clearly worried that other groups with stricter attitudes towards gender may be making a better choice for the safeguarding of tradition. Isuja Baek Jeonggang, who was also present for the interview, added his thoughts about change: “In the madang anyone could comfortably dance – you or me, no matter, it was just a nolipan [fun activity]. But now from this nolipan origin a stage art has arisen. The dance gets more pretty, more beautiful, small changes are made until the dance is increasingly pretty” (2015). Baek raises the issue of the shift in performance aesthetics from relatively spontaneous and improvisatory fun to staged national heritage. Dramas once performed twice a year are now led by artists with many decades of commitment to dozens of rehearsals and performances per year. The codification caused by the wonhyeong and the polishing impact of increased frequency has had a deep impact on the mask dance dramas, even before factoring in essentializing ideas about the softer, gentler, more graceful motions of women.

The future of women in Korean mask dance dramas In 2015, it seems that another shift may be in motion for women’s performance in Korean mask dance dramas. Specifically, it seems that others share my growing


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awareness that women are appearing in an ever wider array of roles, and a specific effort to reverse this change is under way. I first learned of this from one of the women I have grown close to, a mask dance drama participant with more than thirty years of experience whom I have often observed dancing in women’s roles and occasionally in non-speaking men’s roles. She confided in me that even these common women’s roles were going to be performed by men in the future. At a performance approximately two months later, I observed this erosion of women’s participation. Although the number of women members of that group had not changed, men were performing two roles I had only seen embodied by women for the previous ten years. These essentializing attitudes towards men and women in performance is not the only possible approach. In Indonesia, mask dance drama is commonly performed by either women or men, without correspondence between the role and the dancer’s body. Henry Spiller (2010), Felicia Hughes-Freeland (2008) and Christina Sunardi (2015), among others, have found that audiences and professionals “recognized that male style dance was not necessarily best when performed by a male, and female style dance was not necessarily best when performed by a female” (Sunardi, 2015, 13). This allows female performers the freedom to embody any role, without being seen as inauthentic to the performance. Within Korea there are genres where gender is not essentialized – for example, pansori, epic story songs where singers voice both male and female characters making all performances “cross gender vocalization” (Park, 1998, 63).11 In Korean mask dance dramas, however, the more roles women take, the more I hear accusations of lost authenticity. The recent, renewed challenge to the participation of women, and indeed the fight for a performative foothold that has characterized the past fifty years, has continually foregrounded the performer’s gender over embodiment of the character. When women are permitted to perform – in the role of a woman – they are not only limited by the more constrained movement vocabulary of most female characters, but their ability to portray a woman is even accorded less respect because it is seen as natural capability rather than skill. Scholars such as Judith Butler, on the other hand, have long argued that gender is constructed through the way we discuss gender identity and the assumptions we hold about what it is to be a woman (or man), a process that embeds gender concepts within political and cultural processes (1990, 3). This gender identity is then performed. For example, Kim Yeongsuk, an isuja for Songpa Sandae Noli, seems to have internalized sexist ideas about women’s participation. In fact, she told me that women cannot perform in men’s roles because their dance motions were not powerful enough, that they were physically incapable of the challenges of the motions (Kim Y. S., 2015). Therefore, despite the increased gender equality in Korea, where a woman is head of state, the field of mask dance drama performance can be seen as a site of stubborn adherence to gender dichotomies that constrain women. Some women do think of it this way, and many become frustrated, yet most long-term female participants remain in the arts because women’s criticisms of gender imbalance and

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inequity are cast as a lack of commitment to the preservation of tradition. For example, later in my conversation with Kim Yeongsuk, she explained that trying to keep others from performing “her” role did not make sense when considering needs of the group, including the need to train younger performers. She and the other women at Songpa Sandae Noli have each performed all of the key women’s roles, and now that the group has renewed interest in seeing men performing the women’s roles, she is willing to give them a chance. “Let’s try it, and see how it looks, how the audience reacts. I cannot claim to be the best performer” (2015), she explained. Kim, fully committed to the group, has chosen to portray the situation as one of collectively searching for excellence in performance. Fortunately, the next generation seems less inclined to force female performers to sacrifice themselves for the perceived authenticity of performance. For example, Goseong Ogwangdae isuja An Daecheon, a full-time professional performer of traditional music and mask dance drama, remarked, “I don’t think it’s even right to say a woman cannot do the role, rather we should follow the performer’s character. If the personality matches the role, I don’t think it makes a difference if it’s a man or woman performing. That’s all!” (2015).

Conclusion During my examination of women’s entry into the ranks of performers I found a collision of mask dance drama meaning and aesthetics, authenticity in heritage preservation, and beliefs governing gender. Attitudes towards performance by women expose a web of dualities, inconsistencies and internal contradictions at play in the traditional performance realm. Women bring enthusiasm and consistency, yet not all involved are willing to agree that women have a right to perform on an equal footing with the men. Challenges to women’s performance go far beyond sexism and body politics into the deeper meanings of the dramas, and of what it means to safeguard traditional heritage. Women’s involvement in mask dance dramas, and the vast difference in their degree of involvement in different locales, highlights the importance of performance contexts, history and personalities in determining women’s roles. Just as Candida Jaquez sees Mexican mariachi music as a context for working through some of the issues with traditional gender roles in a “comparatively non-threatening environment” (2002, 174), I believe that discussions about women’s equality and role in society are occurring in the lowerstakes environment of Korean mask dance drama preservation. It is my hope that, through discussing the current discourse governing women’s participation in the mask dance drama tradition of Korea I can clarify the interplay of gender and tradition. The space for participation by women is expanding and contracting at the same time, but overall monolithic constructions of gender roles cannot be sustained in the mask dance dramas, particularly if each preservation association wants to foster a large, dynamic group of potential successors to these performances of Korean heritage. As many mask dance dramas struggle to keep performing and to attract participants, the politics of women’s participation will


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substantially shape the future of the dramas. Despite the preservationist forces, the dramas will continue to evolve and change, and groups are gradually moving beyond strict limitations on women’s participation.

Glossary Isuja: third-ranked performer/artist Jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo: second-ranked performer/artist, a master teacher Madang: outdoor performance space, with the audience on all sides of the performance Muhyeong munhwajae: intangible cultural property or heritage item

Notes 1 I would like to thank the kind performers who I interviewed for this chapter; their names appear in the text. In addition, I am grateful for the valuable assistance of Yoo Minhyung, Bak Najeong and Jung Hoijung. Discussion with Leticia Isabel Soto and Logan Clark brought me to appropriate theoretical readings. Two anonymous reviewers and the volume editor, Arya Madhavan, gave useful feedback. Finally I would like to thank Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein for her clarifying and excellent editing. Any remaining mistakes are mine. Part of the research for this chapter was carried out with support of the Asian Cultural Council, the UCLA International Studies Institute and the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. 2 The authoritative Korean text on mask dance dramas is by Yi Duhyeon (1964). For an English overview, see Saeji (2012), as well as the National Gugak Center’s book on Korean Folk Theatre, or yeonhui, which is available in both PDF and printed formats (available to download from http://tinyurl.com/zospzqz; accessed on 9 May 2015). 3 This echoes the situation of other gender-coded performances around the world. See, for example, Leonor Xochitl Pérez’s experiences as a female mariachi (2002). 4 The theme of professionalization is one that I explore extensively in my upcoming monograph on mask dance dramas (publication expected in 2018). 5 Compare Christina Sunardi’s (2015) discussion of the power of femaleness in Javanese theatre and dance. 6 Jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo is the second-highest rank within the system for intangible cultural heritage preservation overseen by the Cultural Heritage Administration. Someone at this rank has usually been actively involved for over thirty years. The government oversees the examination to advance to this rank, which tests both knowledge and performative skills. Most groups have about five people at this rank, and only one or two at the rank above, national human treasure (boyuja). Meanwhile, the rank of isuja (experienced performer) is much more common, with as many as twenty or twenty-five isuja in each mask dance preservation association. 7 For example, explicit dialogue and actions may be skipped or performed, depending on the expected audience and the group itself. 8 From the translation by Cho Oh-Kon (1988, 104). Note that this dialogue is somewhat tame – more appropriate for an academic book chapter. 9 This has also been addressed briefly in Janelli and Yim (2013). 10 Jeong Sujin (2010) discusses how Korean folklore studies reveal a romantic approach to the existence of an authentic original form, or wonhyeong. 11 There are differences in how men and women perform pansori (Mueller, 2015). However, the participation of both men and women is welcomed.

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References An, D. C. (2015) Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 14 January. Atkins, E. T. (2010) Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910–1945. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Baek, J. G. (2015). Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 8 January. Baker, D. (1995) The Resurrection of Rural Tradition in Modern Urban Korea: The Case of Songpa Sandae Nori. Korean Studies in Canada, 3: 25–37. Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. Cho, O. K. (1988) Traditional Korean Theatre. Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities Press. Doss-Quinby, E., Grimbert, J. T., Pfeffer, W. and Aubrey, E. (2001) Songs of the Women Trouveres. New Haven: Yale University Press. Hangukminsokhaksuldancheyeonhapoi [Korean Academic Folklore Society] (2010) Minsokhakgwa minjokmunhwaui jeoncheseong [Identity in Folklore and Ethnic Culture]. Seoul: Minsokwon. Howard, K. (2006) Perspectives on Korean Music: Intangible Cultural Properties as Icons of Identity. Aldershot: Ashgate. Howard, K. (2012) Authenticity and Authority: Conflicting Agendas in the Preservation of Music and Dance at Korea’s State Sacrificial Rituals. In Keith Howard (ed.), Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, pp. 113–139. Hughes-Freeland, F. (2008) Embodied Communities: Dance Traditions and Change in Java. New York: Berghahn Books. Hwang, J. U. (2015). Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 9 January. Janelli, R. and Yim, D. H. (2013) Safeguarding Intangible Heritage: The Role of Folklore Scholarship in the Republic of Korea. Anais do Museu Historico Nacional [Proceedings of the National History Museum], 45: 69–79. Jaquez, C. F. (2002) Meeting La Cantate through Verse, Song, and Performance. In Norma Elia Cantu and Olga Najera-Ramírez (eds), Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 167–182. Jeong, S. J. (2008) Muhyeong munhwajaeui tansaeng [The Birth of Korea’s Intangible Cultural Heritage]. Seoul: Yeoksabipyeongsa. Jeong, S. J. (2010) Wonhyeongronui minsokhakjeok jeonyu: Hanguk minsokhakui haechewa jeonmang [Folkloristic Appropriation of Wonhyeong: Revisiting Korean Folklore]. Bigyo minsok hak [Comparative Folklore Studies], 42: 271–305. Jeong, Y. B. (2015) Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 8 January. Killick, A. (2010) In Search of Korean Traditional Opera: Discourses of Ch’angguk. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. Kim, K. O. (1997) The Role of Madanggu˘k in Contemporary Korea’s Popular Culture Movement. Korea Journal, 37(3): 5–21. Kim, S. O. (2015) Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 28 January. Kim, Y. S. (2015) Questions on Women’s Participation. [interview] Interviewed by CedarBough Saeji, 18 April.


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La Rue, H. (1997) Music, Literature and Etiquette: Musical Insturments and Social Identity from Castiglione to Austen. In Martin Stokes (ed.), Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg Publishers, pp. 189–205. Maliangkay, R. (2007) Their Master’s Voice: Korean Traditional Music SPs under Japanese Colonial Rule. World of Music, 49(3): 53–74. Mueller, R. (2015) Performing Age, Class, and Gender in Korean Pansori. Asian Musicology, 25: 7–29. Najera-Ramírez, O. (2002) Mounting Traditions: The Origin and Evolution of La Escaramuza Chazza. In Norma Elia Cantu and Olga Najera-Ramírez (eds), Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 205–223. Park, C. E. (1998) Playful Reconstruction of Gender in Pansori Storytelling. Korean Studies, 22: 62–81. Park, C. E. (2012) Flow and Irony: Locating Literary Modernity in Hahn Moo-Sook’s Restrospective Gazes. Korean Studies, 36: 123–144. Pérez, L. X. (2002) Transgressing the Taboo: A Chicana’s Voice in the Mariachi World. In Norma Elia Cantu and Olga Najera-Ramírez (eds), Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 143–165. Saeji, C. T. (2012) The Bawdy, Brawling, Boisterous World of Korean Mask Dance Dramas. Cross Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, 4: 146–168. Seo, Y. H. (1988) Hwanghaedo talnoli [Mask Dance Dramas of Hwanghae Province]. Seoul: Yeolhwadang. Silverman, C. (1996) Music and Power: Gender and Performance among Roma (Gypsies) of Skopje, Macedonia. World of Music, 38(1): 63–76. Silverman, C. (2012) Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spiller, H. (2010) Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sunardi, C. (2015) Stunning Males and Powerful Females: Gender and Tradition in East Javanese Dance. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Thornbury, B. E. (1994) The Cultural Properties Protection Law and Japan’s Folk Performing Arts. Asian Folklore Studies, 53(2): 211–225. Van Nieuwkerk, K. (1995) A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press. Yang, J. S. (1988) Madanggeuk: The Rejuventation of Mask Dance Drama Festivals as Sources of Social Criticism. MA thesis, Indiana University. Yang, J. S. (2003) Cultural Protection Policy in Korea: Intangible Cultural Properties and Living Naitonal Treasures. Seoul: Jinmoondang. Yang, J. S. (2004) Gangnyeong talchum jaryojip: Juseok yeonhuibon mit muyongjeok jjaimsae [Gangnyeong Mask Dance-Drama Data: Annotated Script and Structure of the Dance]. Seoul: Minsokwon. Yi, D. H. (1964) Hangukui talchum [Korean Mask Dance-Dramas]. Seoul: Iljisa. Yim, H. S. (2003) The Emergence and Change of Cultural Policy in South Korea. Seoul: JinHan.



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11 RASATRIALOGUE The politics of the female body in Asian performance Sreenath Nair

The dialectical relationship between the text and performance has been a perennial point of debate in theatre and performance studies. For example, gestural elements are considered as one of the foundational principles of epic theatre practice. Similarly, Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” (1989) rests entirely upon the body and the somatic imageries of the performer. From a gender perspective, feminist scholars and theatre practitioners have argued that gender, like text, is constructed by the dominant ideologies pervasive in a society in its cultural, linguistic and historical contexts. Any discussion of the interconnectivity between the text and performance, therefore, will certainly foreground the performer’s body as the central locus of negotiations. The text unfolds and physically transforms its structure and meaning when the performer rereads it in a performative context through gestural interventions that include acts, gestures, movements, speech, tonal articulations, visual elements of the body and objects in a performance. As a result, the very involvement of the gestural elements in the process of performance-making allow a reconfiguration of the text, dissolving its dominant ideologies and reiterating its cultural and political meanings. It is, therefore, clear that the performer’s gestural intervention is a political act that problematizes the linguistic authority that constitutes the text. From a feminist point of view, the text is a masculine property (Butler, 1988; Kristeva, 1980) in which female bodies are represented, objectified and sexualized. In order to challenge this gender bias Butler introduces a new term, expressive acts (1988, 519–531; Price, 1990, 322–331), as an ideologically accurate way to resist and reverse the gender inscriptions in cultural and artistic practices. Placing the term in opposition to performative, Butler argues that expressive is non-logocentric and a corporeal field of cultural play. Extending this argument and asserting a phenomenological critical position of lived experience of the body, I maintain in this chapter that gender identities can be challenged and textual meanings


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reversed through gestural reconstruction, without rewriting the masculine text. As a performative act, gestural reconstruction subverts the masculine dominance in the text through improvisation, the unscripted and unwarranted in performance that uses kinetic and temporal properties of the body to reiterate the political discourse. If the text remains largely as a masculine construct, where exactly could one find a place to subvert its meaning without rewriting it – inside or outside the text? What would the methodology of practice be that enables this gestural subversion of meaning? How does improvisation as an unauthorized category of performance destabilize the textual authenticity and its inscribed gender meanings in order to reverse the female subject position? It is imperative to summarize Butler’s theoretical position and the concept of the expressive act in order to further examine these questions.

Expressive versus performative In the course of making an argument on gender and performativity, Judith Butler questions the fixed notions of gender identity, arguing that the gender “reality” is created through social performances (1999, 421). Butler offers a systematic reassessment of the use of the term performativity in the context of the cultural construction of gender, suggesting that “the body is not a self-identical or merely factic materiality; it is a materiality that bears meaning . . . and the manner of its bearing is fundamentally dramatic” (1988, 521). By dramatic, Butler means to suggest that the body is simply not a matter, but a constantly evolving material possibility that is historically located, but at the same time having the faculty of doing, dramatizing and “reproducing” a historical situation. The gendered body, in this sense, carries double meaning: the body that is the bearer of culturally specific meaning (non-referential), and the body that performs or enacts meanings (intentional and performative). As Butler further postulates, “there is no ‘essence’ that gender expresses, or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires” (1988, 522). Thus, gender is not a fact, but various acts of gender create the idea of it and without those acts there is no gender: gender is a performance, in this sense. Without any doubt, Butler clarifies the importance of individual acts and practices involved in the process of enacting and reproducing the cultural meanings of gender. Nevertheless, Butler seems to be equally sceptical about the notion that gender is entirely a social construct and, therefore, a performative act. Drawing on a theatre-based analogy, Butler argues that “the act that one does . . . is an act which has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act, which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actor who makes use of it” (1988, 526). But, equally, it is the individual actor who performs to reproduce the act as “reality” once again. The gendered bodies, similar to actors, act their parts in a culturally restricted corporeal space between the text and their interpretation within the confines of already existing directives (1988, 526). According to Butler, this repetition is at once a re-enactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established. Butler resists the notion of the

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body as a “passively scripted cultural code”, arguing that “the actors are always already on the stage, within the terms of performance” (1988, 526) for the script to be enacted in various ways. Extending her arguments, Butler further demonstrates that there is an apparent distinction between performance and life. In theatre, one can see an act as “just an act” and “only a play”. Any attempt to erase the borderline between “performance” and “real” in a performance will immediately put the distinction back into action: the performance cannot be seen as “real” because it is mediated by artistic conventions and perceived by the audience that make them different in nature and purpose. In other words, a performance always remains as “performance” due to artistic conventions attached to it. The rage and anger one may experience in a performance can have an entirely different meaning in a street or in a bus. The latter can be dangerous, because there is no theatrical convention involved in it to delimit the “real” and “imaginary” in the course of these actions. In contrast, Schechner argues that performativity “is everywhere in life, from ordinary gestures to macrodramas” (2004, 326), that large-scale social actions that Victor Turner calls as “social drama”. Peggy Phelan, in a similar vogue, confutes Schechner’s notion that the power of performance will invent the “real”, as she further argues: “it is to say that it cannot be arrested, seen or seized . . . performance’s inability to be captured or documented within the re-enactments promised by the copy is part of what makes it, per force, face the impossibility of seizing the Real” (1993, 192). Butler, in this discussion, maintains a clear departure from Schechner, arguing that the act in a performance is not contrasted with the real, but constitutes a reality that is “new” and mediated through conventions (1988, 527). This “new” reality, according to Butler, is expressive acts. In addition, relating the dispute with gender and performativity, Butler continues to say that if gender attributes and acts are performative, they rely on the various ways in which the body shows or produces cultural signification; there is no pre-existing identity by which the act might be measured (1988, 528). This means that there is no true or false, real or distorted act or identity of gender and, therefore, the feminist postulation of a “true” gender identity against the masculine construct seems to be “revealed as a regulatory fiction” (1988, 528). Thus, gender is an act of performance that enacts its own “psychological interiority”, which is socially shared and historically constituted. This means that one’s knowledge of gender is publically regulated and that the individual performs through performative acts to stabilize the “popular imagination” of the female in a culture. Performative, in this sense, is a modality and a process through which gender is expressed. Gender is not “passively scripted on the body and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic or the overwhelming history of patriarchy” (1988, 531). Instead, it is an innovative affair and a corporeal field of cultural play. Indeed, it is scripted and regulated publicly, and resists any improvisatory reworking of the text. Although Butler’s metaphoric description of the “text” and the “actor”, to a great extent, unravels the dialectical relationship between gender and its cultural meanings, what is missing in her theory is an adequate explanation of improvisation as an emancipatory tool that


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problematizes and liberates masculine affirmation of female gender roles. When Butler says that one can perform the same text in a number of ways without contesting its rules, what role does improvisation play in the re-enactment and reexperiencing of gender roles? Can improvisation be an act of liberation for the one who performs the role in a masculine text? In what ways can a performer use improvisation to challenge and reverse the gender bias attributed to female characterization in the play? What is the methodology of practice to use improvisation as a political device to alter textual meanings and what “spatiality” does the act of improvisation occupy in this “process”, inside or outside the text? In order to further address these questions, I will examine improvisation as a performative act to demonstrate how performance subverts gender meanings within the masculine text. I take examples from traditional Asian performance theory and practice as a marginalized cultural location.

Improvisation: a Pan-Asian perspective Improvisation, in Asian theatres, is one of the foundational principles of aesthetic discourse, training methods and performance practice. Robert Benedetti, while analyzing the skilful acting of Chinese ballet, observes that the Chinese performer not only masters the various skills of singing, dancing, acrobatics, mime and acting, but also “synthesizes these skills into a single, organically, whole mode of performance” (1973, 465). Regardless of the generic differences of the performance forms and their geographical locations, whether it is Japanese noh or kabuki, Indian kathakali or kutiyattam, or Balinese dance, skilful learning of corporeal techniques and their meaningful application into various performance contexts that make the Asian performer a “total performer”. Hu Zhiyu (1227–92), a scholar during the Yuan dynasty, developed a theory of Jiumei (nine beauties) that explains the nine essential qualities of a good performer (Chunfang-Fei, 2002, 35), namely: 1) master the body movements to a high level of perfection; 2) cultivate a graceful, demure disposition and stay away from the vulgar; 3) use intelligence and sensitivity to observe the affairs of the world; 4) speak with eloquence; 5) sing with a voice as clear and round as dropping pearls; 6) employ expressive gestures; 7) maintain appropriate volume and tempo, keep the rendering fresh all the time; 8) revitalize words, emotions and deeds all the time, never feel tired; 9) Gain new insights from the text, create novel expressions and make the performance unpredictable (2002, 35–36). Jiumei suggests that a good performer is one who possesses various skills that make each moment of her performance “expressive” and “unpredictable”. The transformation of mere physical techniques into aesthetic experience, of beauty and delight, therefore, is a central concern of Chinese performance discourse and practice. Taking another example, Zeami (1363–1443), a medieval Japanese theorist, in his influential aesthetic discourse on noh, Fu¯ shikaden (Teachings on Style and the Flower), introduces the metaphorical concept of hana (flower) to address the element of the “unpredictable” in noh acting. Hana stands for “the profound and mysterious sense of beauty” in acting, and according to Zeami yugen (grace), kufu¯

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(the actor’s technique) and fu¯ tei (appearance) are other principles in performance that enable the audience to experience the “flower” in acting (Amano, 2011, 532). While discussing the role of an old man, Zeami further explains the ways in which these connections work in a performance. The actor uses a range of bodily skills and techniques (kuf u¯) to portray an old man who is bent over at the waist and lame in the knees. These are descriptive external similarities of an old man that do not impress the audience because it is too familiar for them. Even when playing the role of an old man, the actor constantly maintains a substantial level of strength, physical appearance (fu¯tei) and grace (yugen) to make the performance visually engaging and performatively dynamic. The actor’s physical beauty and skills, according to Zeami, when interweaving with the gestural expressions and the emotional responses of the audience, the flower, the delight and unpredictability of acting, arise in a performance in the audience’s mind. Zeami repeatedly emphasizes the audience involvement that constitutes the beauty and performative experience, and the metaphoric explanation of the flower in his theory stands for this interpersonal relationship between the actor and the audience. The performance, in this sense, brings harmony between body and mind, perception and interpretation, expression and emotion. Both the actor and the audience cross personal, cultural and historic boundaries in the performance, in the course of the performance, constantly engaging with spontaneity and imagination. Past and present dissolve, the self and other defuse and dream and reality unite in the performing body (mi) (2011, 545). For Zeami, the entire performative process of the “expressive” gesture and “unpredictable” experience is invested in the actor’s imagination and improvisation. “Expressive” and “unpredictable” are recurrent themes emerging in Chinese and Japanese performance theories, directly contributing to the actor’s improvisatory practice and creative work. Imagination and spontaneity, therefore, become the fundamental operative tools for Chinese and Japanese actors. In order to develop the arguments, in the next section I will discuss the performative implications of these terms in Indian rasa theory.

Rasa: technique as knowledge Imagination and improvisation shape some of the key debates in Indian performance discourse presented in the Natyasastra and practised across many and heterogeneous theatre forms in the subcontinent. The principles of rasa theory retain two conceptual entities that are bipolar and sharply dissimilar in nature and direction: 1


Audience-led aesthetic discourse: placing the audience at the centre of the discourse, insisting that the “real” performance will only take place in the mind of the audience, where the entire meaning of it unfolds through the participatory engagement of the audience with the performance. Actor-led performance practice: offering a micro-corporeal training approach to the actor to train the body with all its possibilities, the eyes, the face, the hands, the feet and breathing, all trained in a minute and detailed fashion to


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make the body capable of creating performative illusions/illuminations on its own without depending much on scenography and technology. Objects, things, places and people are re-imagined and re-presented in and through the body. The spectatorial ambivalence of the shared imagination between the actor and the spectator creates a visually stimulating performance. As Ayyappa Paniker has observed in the context of acting in kutiyattam, the actor, by “the power of her imagination, visualises, fantasises, creates senses or situations” (2015, 177), encouraging the spectator to follow every movement of the actor’s eyes, hands and feet in order to mutually create the experience of the performance. Where does the performance take place and what is the nature of spatiality emerging from this implicit mutual relationship between the performer and the spectator? The audience engagement with the performance and their experience of it, in this sense, are not a “reality” constructed outside of the performance, but it is the mutual performative interaction between the audience and the actor that makes the performance available for both parties. The performance, therefore, takes place only in this “togetherness” through a shared space of imagination that encloses the performer and the spectator in a performative situation. As I discussed elsewhere, the body becomes an instrument in the hands of the performer, in this process, and the knowledge is transmitted through the practical mastery of the practice of the body (Nair, 2015, 4). The performing body remembers and repeats all limb movements and the gestural practices as trained and restored in the body in order to engage the audience. Imagination, therefore, is a pivotal ingredient for the performer and spectator alike, the dynamics of which operates in the actor’s improvisation. Citing from the Natyasastra, Arya Madhavan observes that, according to Bharata, “when the actor acts with appropriate makeup and a well-trained physical apparatus, the actor becomes like a King, and the King, like an actor . . . The King has his natural kingliness and the actor has his enacted kingliness. But, the actor’s kingliness is more effective because it is copied and reproduced” (2015, 194). It is clear in this example that the process of “copying” and “reproducing” the gestural apparatus of the “role” involves a great deal of imagination and improvisation to make the acting “expressive” and “unpredictable”. The enacted kingliness has nothing natural in it, and the actor has to creatively “recreate” the “likeness” of the King in the gestural apparatus she uses to portray the King. It is all about imagination and improvisation to assure the audience that it is “real”. It is only this performative pretension that engages the audience more effectively. The body of a performance, thus, is constitutive of an interlocking mechanism that combines two performative acts: the explicit bodily act of techniques; and the implicit act of meaning making through the application of the former set of actions. In short, the theory of rasa is about this “process” of technique becoming the performative knowledge. In the following section, I will examine how the application of the rasatrialogue, an improvisatory technique, informs the feminist deconstruction of male text in nangiar kuthu, the female performance form of kutiyattam.

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Rasatrialogue: gestural reconstruction in nangiar kuthu Nangiar kuthu as a female performance exists within the wider patriarchal framework of aesthetic theories presented in the Natyasastra and the performance practice of kutiyattam developed under the masculine domains of cultural practices in Kerala society. According to Heike Moser, women traditionally remained as “voice” on the kutiyattam stage, since their roles were minimal and were limited to rendering Sanskrit verses from offstage for male performers (2011, 179). When it comes to performance, female roles were considerably restricted to sitting on a stool and gesturing only with their hands without any elaborate performances onstage like their male counterparts. Usha Nangiar, an eminent performer of nangiar kuthu, uncovers the masculine values underlying the performance practice, saying that the elimination of female characters from the performance seems to be prevalent in kutiyattam repertoire (2003, 60), since most of the popular plays either do not have prominent female characters or significantly nullify their stage presence when preparing the performance text, attaprakaram, written by male actor-teachers.1 What is equally or more important are the stage conventions that encouraged the elimination of female from the stage such as “hearing and acting” (kettattam) in which a male performer can imagine the presence of any character, including a female character, on the stage by listening to her voice and repeating verbally what has been heard before he himself responds to it through elaborate acting (Casassas, 2012). Moreover, in a similar fashion, in the fifth and sixth acts of Ascharyachoodamani (The Wondrous Crest Jewel), a renowned kutiyattam play, the female protagonist is presented as a lighted oil lamp (Nangiar, 2003, 75). According to Arya Madhavan, male impersonation of female roles through the technique of one actor playing multiple roles (pakarnattam) historically emerged in the kutiyattam stage as another patriarchal device to eliminate women from the kutiyattam stage (2010, 133). On the one hand, it is a unique technique of improvisation that creates room for actors to play multiple roles without any costume change or to elaborate what is not in the text through highlighting and foregrounding the subtext. On the other hand, it is a masculine stage device that eliminates women from the stage through the same subtextual elaboration, meaning that the male performer playing a female role onstage through improvisation will create a “false” impression of feminine presence on the stage for the audience to relish the aesthetic experience without any discontinuity or “lack” in the narrative. The male performer uses a range of bodily skills and improvisatory techniques to perform multiple roles, male and female, without any costume change. Nevertheless, regardless of the artistic skills associated with the acting techniques, the device of one actor playing multiple roles remained as a “dangerous” masculine device on the kutiyattam stage that, until recent years, systematically and perpetually kept female actors out of sight of the audience. In the following ways, Margi Sathi (1965–2015) revolutionized the kutiyattam stage, through a range of textual and performative approaches that significantly reversed the masculine discourse in acting on the classical Indian stage: writing new


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plays with female protagonists; rewriting existing male-authored performance texts by foregrounding female characters, giving them more opportunity to be performed onstage; recreating traditional acting techniques and recontextualizing them within the female-authored performance text to generate new meanings; and reconstructing the gestural sequences in the performance without changing the masculine text in order to reverse the male-affirmed female gender roles. In pursuit of a radical revival of female roles, in all her choreographies – Sree Ramacharitham [The Story of Lord Rama], 1999), Kannaki Charitham [The Story of Kannaki] (2002) and Sitayanam [Sita’s Journey] (2008) – Sathi experimented with new ideas that, according to K. G. Paulose (2003), notable historian of the art form, attributed new dimensions to make traditional theatre contemporary. Sathi used an improvisatory mode throughout her creations, especially, the technique of one actor playing multiple roles, in order to rewrite masculine texts through performative means. I would argue that her introduction of rasatrialogue (bhavathraya), the application of a tripartite facial expression, remains as the outstanding contribution of Sathi’s entire artistic career. In her choreography entitled Salvation of Poothana (1990), Sathi performed the role of demoness Poothana, who was commissioned by King Kamsa to kill infant Krishna due to Kamsa’s constant fear that, one day, he would be killed by Krishna. Presented to be a beautiful woman, Poothana went in search of Krishna with a clear plan – kill the baby by feeding him from her poisoned breast. Poothana found the boy alone in the house while his mother was engaged in domestic chores outside. Poothana approached the boy and fed him from her breast, but in the end, instead of her killing the boy, she was killed by little Krishna with his magical powers. The original story comes from a Hindu religious text (Bhagavatha Stories) in which Krishna was portrayed as a victorious male God, while Poothana remained as an evil character with brutal actions. The traditional stage adaptation of the story in nangiar kuthu, written by male performers, maintains the same female role without any change in Poothana’s characterization. Here’s an example sequence, from the play text collected by P. K. Narayanan Nambiar: Poothana, when she has entered in the house of Yashoda, sees that little Krishna is lying down entertaining himself. Poothana approaches the boy and feeds him from her poisoned breast. [Here a Sanskrit verse sung by the musician]. Then Poothana enacts the way Krishna drinks the milk and then shows how he becomes furious and beats Poothana’s breasts. He continues this for some time in order to kill Poothana. [Here another Sanskrit verse sung by the musician.] Then Poothana, in severe pain reveals her demoness self and dies breaking her nerves and with a painful cry. [Here another Sanskrit verse sung by the musician.] Then the actress shows that this is the way Poothana is killed by Krishna. Then she concludes that although Lord Krishna is little, he does not seem to have had any difficulty in taking the life of a Demoness. (1984, 33–34; my translation)2

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The enactment of the story clearly depicts that the victory of little Krishna and Poothana’s role in the play is only to highlight Krishna’s victory over her. The female character remains shallow and two-dimensional throughout the performance. When Sathi choreographed the performance in 1990, she reworked Poothana’s character entirely, adding her own performance text to the improvisatory sequence as follows: Poothana reached Yashoda’s house unseen by anybody. She suddenly saw a ray of light and saw Krishna lying down in the middle of it . . . (thinks) This boy is kindling motherly love in me. How can I kill him? (sad) No, I cannot. I am going back. (determined and turns back and stops) (thinks). If I do not go back without killing this boy, Kamsa will kill me. What should I do? [thinks] (show the rasatrialogue – sadness, thinking about own destiny, happiness when sees Krishna and anger towards Kamsa).3 Sanskrit verses in the play text are transformed into performative actions in the performance text as gestural sequences that are connected with the character’s inner thoughts, which, in turn, reflects on the subsequent performative responses of the performer. Each gestural moment in the performance – showing happiness while seeing little Krishna or being sad when thinking of King Kamsa, for instance – develops into an interconnected thought pattern of the character, making her actions more psychologically justifiable and performatively logical. As the performance progresses, the chain of thoughts and actions further develop into certain dramatic inner conflicts in Poothana’s characterization. In this way, Margi Sathi carefully reinterprets the evil character Poothana as a loving mother by integrating a range of improvisatory devices, including the rasatrialogue. The enactment of the rasatrialogue makes Poothana a well-defined character with deep emotional conflicts. On the one hand, she becomes a mother and feels tender love towards little Krishna. On the other hand, she is commissioned to kill the baby. She will be killed if she does not kill Krishna. Falling in between the unfathomable depth of strong and contradictory feelings of evilness and tenderness, Poothana went through a moral agony and is faced with an existential dilemma that makes the character tragic, and a victim of her own destiny. As an acting technique, the rasatrialogue allows the performer to show three different emotions – usually, love, sadness and anger – consecutively to demonstrate the inner conflicts of the character. Employing the technique, in Sathi’s performance, the inner world of Poothana becomes prominent, performatively visible and subject to unresolvable dramatic conflicts. The victory of Lord Krishna, in this way, becomes dramatically less important and performatively less attractive due to the gestural reconstruction of Poothana’s acts in the performance.

Expressive acts in improvisation Improvisation in kutiyattam unfolds at three performative levels: play text, performance text and expressive acts. The play text remains as the starting point


Sreenath Nair

of the actor’s journey through improvisation and the performance text will be created when the actor interprets a character or elaborates on a dramatic situation or the subtext of the play. As a performer, it is Margi Sathi’s interpretation of the character Poothana that creates the performance text, as we see in the example above. There is a strong presence of the performer standing in and negotiating between two apparently different worlds – the world of logos and the world of gestures – that transforms the play text into a performance text through a series of performative acts. In a way, the performance text is also scripted and made available as the template for multiple performances. Margi Sathi used the same performance text to train her students and they all used the same template to create their own individual performances. The levels and variations of improvisation in kutiyattam remains relentless and unrestricted, spontaneous and instantaneous. When an improvisatory moment is scripted, it is apparent that it will no longer be improvisation due to the linguistic fixation of the performative acts. However, improvisation in kutiyattam negates these performative fixations through expressive acts that are unscripted and unwarranted in the performance (Figure 11.1). Expressive acts are gestural sequences that link different parts of the performance text, emotively, to develop performance narratives. For example, in each moment of conflicts and decision-making, the actress develops a series of gestures and


The diagram shows the independent entity of individual elements in the performance. Text, performance text and expressive acts exist independently in the performative discourse, but at the same time they influence and inform each other as an interlocking system of gestural mechanism in a performance.

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emotional expressions in order to connect these situations, logically, in the performance narrative. Between the situations in the performance text – such as “How can I kill him? (sad)” and “No, I cannot” or “I am going back”, “(determined and turns back and stops)” and “(thinks)” – the actor undergoes a range of emotions, mediated by movements and gestural utterances that link these moments logically into the performance narrative in relation to the interpretation of the role.4 When Poothana sees “the baby sleeping”, the actress shows “the baby sleeping”, and then she shows that the baby wakes up and sees Poothana approaching him. The actor’s transformation of characters from Poothana to Krishna and vice versa are unscripted and unwarranted, both in the play text and the performance text. Similarly, when Poothana takes the decision to kill the baby, she shows that she is sad, and also, when she picks him up and feeds, she goes through conflicting emotions, such as motherly love and sadness thinking that she is soon going to kill the baby. These gestural moments that are unscripted, are, as I call them, expressive acts that arise when the template of the performance text is enacted. These expressive acts are momentary, instantaneous and unregulated and, therefore, the actor can elaborate or cut them short according to her performance skills and imagination. Expressive acts are improvisatory moments, which take place within the performance text that generate meanings and convey emotions within the phenomenological parameters of the performance. The body constitutes the performance experience through expressive acts (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, 1964, 1968). The world and the body are not two separate entities for Merleau-Ponty and, as he argues, “once a body–world relationship is recognised, there is a ramification of my body and a ramification of the world and a correspondence between its inside and my outside, between my inside and its outside” (1968, 136). Thus, the performer’s body constantly intermingles with the play text and performance text and moves inside and outside in order to create the expressive acts that connect them with the emotional world of the character that is portrayed. In turn, it is the re-enactment of the performance text through expressive acts that reinvent the character through radically different interpretations. The lived body of the performer, in this sense, becomes the medium through which the world of performance arises and the performative experience is expressed and shared (Zarrilli, 2004, 655). Margi Sathi does not attempt to rewrite the play text in its entirety to reverse the masculine affirmation of feminine gender. Rather, she creates a performance text in which she reconstructs the linguistic signifiers, including verses, into gestural re-enactment. Finally, in the performance, these gestural signifiers are then reconfigured into expressive acts that generate and communicate performative meanings. In Sathi’s experiment, the masculine text remains the same as the performance text and it is the expressive acts that reverse the gender bias of the text. Therefore, the rasatrialogue, as an expressive act, has reiterated and reversed gender meaning of the male text in the performance.


Sreenath Nair

Improvisation as a political act Rasatrialogue, as an acting technique, is masculine, which is found in the traditional kutiyattam performance enacted by male performers. In Mantrankam (The Secret Art), supposedly the oldest play in the kutiyattam repertoire, the male character Vasanthaka, the Minister of Udayana, the King who is in exile, performs the rasatrialogue when he thinks about his master. Similarly, another play that uses the same acting technique is The Wondrous Crest Jewel. According to Margi Sathi, the rasatrialogue as an acting device is already known to kutiyattam, but the application of the technique in both plays is less significant, and in addition they were rarely performed (Sathi, 2014). However, when Margi Sathi makes use of the same technique to reinterpret Poothana – a character in nangiar kuthu, traditionally portrayed as evil – the effort of this renovation becomes a political act. Sathi has neither rewritten the masculine text nor invented a new acting technique to reverse the gender meaning attached to the character. She recontextualizes an acting technique and re-performs it within the same structured space of masculine textuality. As a result, the rasatrialogue as an expressive act and as an “unstructured” element in the performance text unsettles and reverses the masculine order of performative acts. In a close observation, in the light of Foucault’s discourse (1972, 229–232), there are four principles at work in the gestural reconstruction of enactment in Sathi’s experiment: 1) restoring a masculine text into a reversal act of the rasatrialogue that questions the uninterrupted flow of signifiers in the masculine text, meaning that the story of little Krishna seems to be impossible to perform in the same traditional way, the moment the female performer holds a subjective position within the text; 2) bringing a performative ambivalence that generates a discontinuity in the flow of signifiers, meaning that the traditional narrative of Poothana cannot be performed in the same way that needs a restructuring of events in order to achieve the goal; 3) generating a new material through imaginary interaction with the text and the role, while maintaining specificity in each decision to continue a performative regularity between the improvised events and the narrative of the text, meaning that any improvised material for Poothana should establish a relationship with other parts of the narrative; and 4) working with the exteriority of the performance, meaning that the discourse of gender reversal should be established through a physical device that puts the discourse in practice, the rasatrialogue as an improvisatory technique changes the masculine gender meaning, for instance, in this context. Alongside the performative discourse already in place, Sathi further employs four specific principles in creating the performance text – namely, interpretation, spontaneity, expression and gestural reconstruction – as methodologies of practice. During each moment of improvisation during the performance, Sathi interprets the text and her role in radically different ways. It is the female performer who reinvents motherhood and its deep emotional confluence in Poothana through reinterpreting the text and her role. It radically reverses the masculine meaning of gender in the play. Improvisation offers constantly evolving interpretative

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possibilities that demand the performer’s physical and mental spontaneity as a creative force of expression. It is the spontaneous nature of the improvisation that allows the emergence of powerful expressive acts in a performance that is entangled with the goals and intentions of the performer. Gestures and techniques, the entire physical regime of the performer, interact with the imaginary at each moment of the actor’s spontaneous gestural reconstruction of the text to capture new ways of seeing and experiencing the performance. The rasatrialogue, as an improvisatory device of gestural reconstruction, creates a montage effect of three different emotions – love, sadness and anger – during the performance that attributes an intersubjective dimension in the actor’s interpretation of the role: the emotional conflicts that Poothana experiences reconstitute a subjective interiority to the character, through improvisations, which was absent traditionally due to masculine construction of the role. The actor does not speak during her improvisation, and the expressive acts remain as non-verbal gestural utterance throughout. It is through the gestures that she reinvents the character and speaks for the role. In this way, it is not the language, but the body, that asserts the speaking “I” position as a reversal of logocentric order. The female body remains as a site of political conflicts and performative resolutions, at the same time, where improvisation as “unstructured” expressive acts defuse and redefine the phallocentric cultural assumptions within the cultural domain of masculine textuality.

Notes 1




The highly stylized and codified classical performance structure of kutiyattam only takes single acts from the play to be performed. The actor’s elaborate subtextual exploration of the play will extent the performance for several days. For more detail, see Madhavan (2010). Salvation of Poothana is part of the first nangiar kuthu text, Lord Krishna’s Stories, thought to have been written by the tenth-century CE king Kulasekhara. Nambiar families inherited the text, and women from the Nambiar cast, Nangiars, performed it in temples as part of their religious rite. Any original text that exists in kutiyattam or nangiar kuthu is a male text and women’s contribution to the writing process was unheard of in kutiyattam until recently. Unpublished performance text written by Sathi, collected from Arya Madhavan. This is the exact translation of the writing style used in the kutiyattam performance manuals. A typical performance manual is the combination of emotional suggestions, characters’ inner monologues and suggestions on movement/performance conventions. The sentences do not observe the regular rules of grammar or syntax. I cite the performance examples from Arya Madhavan’s 2010 performance of Salvation of Poothana and her interpretation of Sathi’s performance text. In this way, each actor can create a range of expressive gestures within the performance text.

References Amano, Y. (2011) “Flower” as Performing Body in No¯h Theatre. Asian Theatre Journal, 28(2): 529–548. Artaud, A. (1989) The Theatre and its Double. London: Calder.


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Barba, E. (1999) A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer. London and New York: Routledge. Benedetti, R. (1973) What We Need to Learn from the Asian Actor. Educational Theatre Journal, 25(4): 463–467. Butler, J. (1988) Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4): 519–531. Butler, J. (1999) Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions. In Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick (eds), Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 416–422. Casassas, C. (2012) Female Roles and Engagement of Women in the Classical Sanskrit Theatre Ku¯t.iya¯ t.t.am: A Contemporary Theatre Tradition. Asian Theatre Journal, 29(1): 1–30. Chunfang Fei, F. (2002) Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance from Confucius to the Present. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Foucault, M. (1972) The Archeology of Knowledge & The Discourse of Language. Trans. [from French] A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books. Kristeva, J. (1980) Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York: Columbia University Press. Madhavan, A. (2010) Kudiyattam Theatre and Actor’s Consciousness. New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi. Madhavan, A. (2015) Actor’s Imagination: Kutiyattam and the Natyasastra. In Sreenath Nair (ed.), The “Natyasastra” and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Drama and Dance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 182–195. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) The Primacy of Perception. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Moser, H. (2011) How Ku¯t.iya¯ t.t.am Became ku¯t.iya¯ t.t.am, Acting Together or: The Changing Role of Female Performers in the Nan. n. ya¯r-Ku¯ttu Tradition of Kerala. In Heidrun Brückner, Hanne de Bruin and Heike Moser (eds), Between Fame and Shame. Performing Women – Women Performers in India. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 169–188. Nair, S. (2015) Introduction. In Sreenath Nair (ed.), The “Natyasastra” and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Drama and Dance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 3–15. Nambiar, P. K. N. (1984) Srikrishna Charitham Nangiarammakuthu [A Nangiar’s “Playing” of Lord Krishna’s Story]. Trichur: National Book Stall. Nangiar, U. (2003) Abhinetri [The Actress]. Mumbai: Keli. Paniker, A. (2015) The Aesthetics of Kutiyattam. In Sreenath Nair (ed.), The “Natyasastra” and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Drama and Dance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 175–181. Paulose, K. G. (2003) Improvisations in Ancient Theatre. Tripunitura: International Centre for Kutiyattam. Phelan, P. (1993) Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London and New York: Routledge. Price, D. (1990) The Politics of the Body: Pina Bausch’s “Tanztheater”. Theatre Journal, 42(3): 322–331. Sathi, M. (2014) About Rasa Trialogue. [interview] Interviewed by Sreenath Nair. 25 July. Schechner, R. (2004) Performance Theory. London and New York: Routledge. Zarrilli, P. (2004) Towards a Phenomenological Model of the Actor’s Embodied Modes of Experience. Theatre Journal, 56(4): 653–666.

12 NANGIAR KUTHU Interference, intervention and inheritance Diane Daugherty

Contemporary nangiar kuthu, a solo female storytelling performance with a centuriesold heritage, compels one to watch. You shift only occasionally, even though you are sitting on the most uncomfortable plastic chair in the world and sweltering. This chapter offers an ethnographic study of nangiar kuthu, and in it I trace its evolution from an obscure temple-theatre genre to an important female genre in the current Indian theatre scene. It attempts to bring together data that I collected on women who perform nangiar kuthu during more than thirty years of continuous fieldwork. The chapter is descriptive in nature, since it documents female artists who engaged, or are engaging, in keeping this performance form alive. Preserved in theatres on the compounds of temples in Kerala, South India, kutiyattam is a regional variant of the classical Sanskrit dramatic tradition. In nangiar kuthu, a sub-genre of kutiyattam, one actress tells the story of the god, Krishna, by blending a codified sign language system of the hands, face, and eyes with movement and mime. Performance of the 217 verses of Srikrishnacharitham Nangyarammakkoothu (A Nangiar’s “Playing” of Lord Krishna’s Story – hereafter Lord Krishna’s Story) (Nambiar, 1984) is a tour de force. There are opportunities to include all of the set pieces of kutiyattam – from dressing a lady to preparing for war. The character, Kalpalatika (a maid/friend of Subhadra, Krishna’s sister), is almost always on hold, appearing only at the beginning and end of the storytelling. By changing her position onstage, assuming a different stance, and/or adjusting her costume, the actress plays multiple roles. The performer is an omniscient narrator who describes and then acts out what she described. She describes and becomes the described. One minute she is the demon, Alambusa, kidnapping Subhadra by pulling her hair. Repositioning her body she is Subhadra, in pain, because someone is dragging her by her hair. She recreates demons, divinities, soldiers, sweethearts, animals, even inanimate objects. Characters, objects, and situations travel in, out, and through her body one after the other.


Diane Daugherty

Her performance is assisted by male percussionists positioned upstage centre. Two female vocalists/musicians, seated stage right, chant the verse after the performer has acted it, and, throughout the performance, mark the beat by striking a small pair of cymbals. Based on more than a quarter-century of investigating female kutiyattam, this chapter divides into three parts. The first analyzes the sociological interference which diminished temple-based nangiar kuthu. Indeed the form was so deteriorated that when the arts enthusiast D. Appukuttan Nair (1924–94) first saw nangiar kuthu he pronounced it “irretrievable” (Aiyar, 1992). Ironically, Appukuttan Nair was instrumental in nangiar kuthu’s revival. The second section reports the intervention made by two nangiar kuthu performers, Margi Sathi (1965–2015) and Usha Nangiar (1969–). The two women neither reconstructed nor reinvented nangiar kuthu. They used their knowledge of kutiyattam’s acting technique to imagine nangiar kuthu, bringing it alive onstage once again. The final section focuses on both established and emerging artists who inherited a revitalized nangiar kuthu.

The preservers I met L. S. Rajagopalan (1922–2008) – hereafter LSR – on 10 June 1988. He had recently sold his pharmaceutical business and had free time to share his deep knowledge of kutiyattam, translate during interviews, render material written in Malayalam or Sanskrit into English, connect me with key people, refer me to important documents, and, most importantly, encourage me to engage with the performance. He treated me as a member of his family and became my calling card to meeting the families who still exercised their right to conduct nangiar kuthu in temples. Over the centuries, families of actors (chakyars) and actresses and musicians (nangiars and nambiars) had been granted land in exchange for conducting performances that propitiated the deity of a particular temple. The performing families got a hefty share of the produce from this land, cultivated by tenants. In addition, the sponsor of each year’s performance made prescribed payments of money and cloth to the performers. Temple-centred feudal Kerala was held in place by special glue: the matrilineal joint-family system (marumakkathyam). The matrilineal castes, which included royal families, temple-serving castes (kutiyattam performers) and Nairs (nobles and warriors) traced inheritance through the female line. Children became members of their mother’s family, not that of their biological father. Men and women lived in their mother’s home throughout their lives. Women had conjugal alliances (sanbandham) with men of their own caste or higher. Anthropologists, both Indian and foreign, have described this relationship as “visiting husbands” because men ordinarily arrived after the evening meal and left before breakfast. The matrilineal system facilitated women’s (nangiars’) participation as actresses, musicians, and singers for kutiyattam and its allied forms. As members of an extended family whose caste job was performance, girls were involved from their childhood,

Interference, intervention and inheritance


learning by observation and receiving training from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. When nangiars travelled to a temple, where they would often stay for an extended period of time, they were chaperoned by their uncles, brothers, and cousins. Men of the family group played a large jar-shaped copper drum (mizhavu), arranged the stage decoration, made headgear from natural materials, and applied the actors’ often elaborate facial decoration. The security which feudal matrilineal kinship provided a nangiar did not just erode. In 1933, the British colonial government passed the Madras Marumakkathyam Act, allowing for the “division and partition of the matrilineal family unit” in northern Kerala (Arunima, 2003, 2). The reverberations of this interference were felt throughout the other two political units of Kerala at the time: the kingdoms of Cochin (central Kerala) and Travancore (southern Kerala). The final act abolishing matrilineal kinship in Kerala State was passed by the Kerala Legislature in 1976. Breakup of the performers’ matrilineal households led to members subdividing the responsibility to present temple performances of nangiar kuthu and women leaving their natal home to live with their spouses. On 29 June 1988, LSR and I travelled to Puthuyedathu Madhom (family residence) to meet 73-year-old Kunju Kutty Nangiaramma (1915–91). She had been raised within the matrilineal setup. At puberty she had been initiated into her lineage when her uncle tied a gold charm (tali) around her neck. Before that, at age 10, she had her debut temple performance of nangiar kuthu which stretched over two days. On the first day she performed the purappad (entry) of Kalpalatika.1 On the second day she covered the opening verses of Lord Krishna’s Story.2 Kunju Kutty learned all of the verses for nangiar kuthu, but the first thirty-five are “essential and she knows those very well” (Nangariamma, 1988).3 Formerly, the family performance in Thiruvilwamala temple lasted for twelve days. That was reduced to seven; then it was cut back to three. Kunju Kutty fit her performance into the shortened time period by “reducing the elaboration” of the first thirty-five verses, but the “choreography for the purappad (entry) could not be cut” (1998). Because it was used for a nangiar’s debut performance, the verses sung in praise of various deities and the movement patterns of the entry were passed from generation to generation of nangiar kuthu performers. Like her grandmother and mother, Kunju Kutty continued to perform into her senior years. At some point the family had divided into three branches with each branch being responsible, in turn, for conducting nangiar kuthu at Thiruvilwamala temple. Kunju Kutty had been teaching nangiar kuthu to a girl from one of the other branches and this year 15-year-old Veena had given her debut performance. LSR and I returned several weeks later and the family recreated, in their home, the performance Veena had given in the temple. Veena lacked confidence, but with Kunju Kutty chanting and playing the cymbals encouragingly, the recent initiate executed basic elements of the nangiar kuthu entry piece. I visited the Puthuyedathu compound again on 16 February 1993.4 Kunju Kutty had passed away. Veena had married and was living with her husband’s family. Kunju Kutty’s granddaughter, Devi, was due to give her debut performance later


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that month. The family was hesitant when I asked if Devi could recreate her temple debut performance so I could video it. “You’ve already seen our performance,” they said. “I didn’t have a video camera in 1988,” I explained (Puthuyedathu family, 1993). We fixed 4 July for the documentation. I understood their reluctance to recreate the debut performance when Devi and another teenage girl turned up during school holidays (April–May) in Thiruvananthapuram. They were there to take instruction from Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar (1928–2009), the guru at Margi, an institution founded by a group of arts connoisseurs that included D. Appukuttan Nair. Come 4 July, on the stage in her home, Devi nervously demonstrated the little she had learned. In 1993, I interviewed and videoed three senior women who were continuing to fulfil their family’s commitment to present nangiar kuthu as ritual propitiation of a temple’s deity. With one exception, it did not seem that anyone from her family would continue after she retired. The exception was Saraswathy Nangiaramma, who continued to fulfil her matrilineal obligation to perform in Chottanikkara temple. With her husband Damodaran playing the mizhavu (drum), they also continued to fulfil his family obligation to offer nangiar kuthu in Kuzhur temple. When I documented Saraswathy and Damodaran’s performance on 19 May 1993, Indira (Saraswathy’s niece) showed up to play the cymbals. Indira had brought her daughter Aparna, who was in the fifth standard in school (UK Year 6) to recite the verses. (In her temple performances Saraswathy recited the verses herself.) Seated throughout on a stool, Saraswathy showed the hand gestures (mudras). Her head was dropped because she was not trained to display facial expressions – the essence of modern nangiar kuthu performance. Indira told me that she wanted Aparna to train so that she could fulfil the family (Muringamangalam) obligation at Chottanikkara. Indeed, that came to pass. On 22 February 2015, Dr Aparna Nangiar and I discussed her great-aunt and great-uncle who, we agreed, “didn’t know much” about nangiar kuthu performance or its accompaniment on the mizhavu (Nangiar, A., 2015a). Aparna told me she goes to Chottanikkara and Kuzhur each year, as well as giving full-blown performances of nangiar kuthu in the Thrissur Vadakkunnathan (Shiva) temple (Nangiar, A., 2015b).5

The imaginers Nangiar kuthu survived the breakdown of the socioeconomic arrangement that had underpinned its performance and moved to a new level.6 In 1984, a watershed event occurred. P. K. Narayanan Nambiar (1927–) (hereafter Nambiar) published an acting manual for nangiar kuthu (Nambiar, 1984).7 Nambiar did not compose the acting manual. He edited manuals inscribed on palm leaves from the collections of his mother’s and wife’s families. I have held those palm leaves in my hands. Nambiar’s daughter, Jayanti, told me her father intended the publication as a resource for nambiar-nangiar families to use should they wish to reinstate their temple-based performances. He never dreamed the impact it would have on the revival of the form as a concert performance.

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Two female performers, Margi Sathi and Usha Nangiar, imagined choreography for the entire acting manual, beginning in the late 1980s and through to the mid1990s.8 They have several things in common. First, they had both been trained like a man, meaning neither of their gurus – Painkulam Rama Chakyar (1910–80) at Kerala Kalamandalam (Sathi) and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar (1917–2008) of Irinjalakuda (Usha) – initially trained them any differently than they trained the boys with whom they shared classrooms. The goal of both gurus was to train the girls to take female roles in plays. Second, when the two women tackled the acting manual for nangiar kuthu, they both had committed mentors who made suggestions and corrections: D. Appukuttan Nair for Sathi and Ammunnar Madhava Chakyar for Usha. And, finally, both have the gift of dramatic imaginations, which enable them to draw ever more deeply on the kutiyattam acting idiom and reimagine their performances. Sathi joined Kerala Kalamandalam (then Kerala Arts Academy) in 1976 and trained in kutiyattam for eight years. In 1988, D. Appukuttan Nair invited Sathi to join Margi, an institution in Thiruvananthapuram, founded to preserve Kerala’s classical arts. Nambiar had given Sathi a copy of his book because he used her picture in it. Looking through the book, Sathi came across a verse describing Krishna’s entry into Vrindavana (verse 80) and recognized it as one that Painkulam Rama Chakyar had taught her. Verse 80 is the only verse of Lord Krishna’s Story for which Painkulam Rama Chakyar taught a choreographic pattern. Sathi had to use her training and her dramatic imagination to choreograph the rest. She performed “Entry into Vrindavana” at a festival in Delhi in1988. Several years ago Sathi confessed to me that initially she did not “really know what Nangiar kuthu was, but I told Appukuttan Nair I would like to learn to perform it and he agreed” (Daugherty, 2011, 159). Appukuttan Nair suggested she begin by dividing the text into episodes. In 1988, Sathi acted the episode “Ugrasena’s Marriage” (the first three verses of the acting manual) in Thiruvananthapuram’s Soorya performing arts festival. Nambiar’s manual contains 217 verses. Each is accompanied by a basic explication that gives hints as to how the verse might be enacted. His 1984 publication also contains detailed guidance for acting verses 2 and 3. I think it is safe to conjecture that these two verses were elaborated in the palm-leaf acting manuals that Nambiar collated for publication because, traditionally, on the second day of a girl’s debut performance, she had to act the first few verses of the text for nangiar kuthu, Lord Krishna’s Story (Figure 12.1). In order to work up later episodes for which the published manual for nangiar kuthu provided sometimes sparse suggestions, Sathi consulted outside texts such as the Bhagavatam, which describes the life and times of Lord Krishna. She then wrote her own acting manual for each episode, drawing on Nambiar’s book, but also bringing in details for elaborate acting from other sources. A turning point came in 1991, when weekly programmes were instituted in Margi, with one programme a month devoted to nangiar kuthu. Her work with Appukuttan Nair picked up pace.


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Margi Sathi as Yashoda, Krishna’s foster mother, 2001.

Photo credit: Shibu Lal

Sathi clearly remembers the development of the episode, describing the childhood pranks of Krishna (Srikrishnaleela). Appukuttan Nair presented her with twelve pages of details for “Krishna’s Pranks” from outside sources. She thought, “How am I going to act all this? Literature is very nice, but how do you act it?” (Sathi, 2015a). Sathi was able to draw on her kutiyattam training to filter Appukuttan Nair’s research and translate selected portions into performance. She became famous for this episode. The episode most frequently requested by sponsors is Putanamoksham (Putana’s Salvation). Putana is a demoness whom Krishna’s evil uncle, Kamsa, sends to kill him. At first Sathi followed the acting suggestions in Nambiar’s manual. In it, Putana attempts to kill the infant Krishna by smearing poison on her breast and feeding him. Before entering Krishna’s bedroom, Putana does test runs of her poisoned breast at several houses in the neighbourhood and is elated when parents wail upon discovery of their dead infant. As time went by, Sathi abandoned the acting manual’s suggestions for performance and eliminated the test runs. Putana, the verse says, is a child-killer. Sathi decided to establish Putana’s identity by vividly portraying

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the demoness’s cruelty (Sathi, 2015b). She shows Putana breaking a baby’s neck and ripping a baby’s head off. In her doctoral dissertation, Leah Lowthorp describes her reaction to this choreography: The violence onstage was palpable and made me wince . . . Though the demoness set out to murder children, the sheer brutality depicted . . . onstage was almost too much for me. While visiting Ammannur gurukulam the following week, a drummer there asked me what I had thought of the performance. I gave an honest answer, saying that I found it an interesting interpretation, but I preferred a gentler depiction of the scene. He quickly rose to Devaki [Sathi] teacher’s defense, “Well I really like it, because she is a demoness and that is how she is supposed to act. It is different than all of the others. I find those a bit boring.” (Lowthorp, 2013, 125–126) Another example of Sathi’s honing her performance of Putana’s Salvation is her use of a kutiyattam technique called bhavathrayam (showing three emotions in quick succession). Continually drawing from outside sources to expand upon the suggestions for acting in Nambiar’s manual, Sathi turned to the Bhagavatam, which describes a conflicted Putana who hesitates to kill Krishna. She feels sorrowful realizing that she must kill Krishna; she is angry at Kamsa for giving her the order; and she feels a mother’s love for Krishna. While other artists show Putana’s multiple emotions, Sathi is the only one to use bhavathrayam to act it (Nair, 2013, and Chapter 11 in this volume). Not only did Sathi continually reimagine her performances of Lord Krishna’s Story, she also compiled verses and published two performance manuals for solo female kutiyattam acting: Sriramacharitham (Lord Rama’s Story) in 1999 and Kannakicharitham (Kannaki’s Story) in 2002. Sathi described to Bhawani Cheerath the role that Appukuttan Nair played in her initial imagining of nangiar kuthu performance: Beginning with that solitary book by P. K. Narayanan Nambiar Asan as the guide, we built up, bit by bit, attaprakarams [acting manuals] for “Sreekrishna Leela”, “Poothanamoksham” and “Kamsavadam” in Nangiarkoothu. Appukkuttan Nair Sir sat with me all through the process. My first introduction to writing these manuals would not ever have taken off but for Appukuttan Nair Sir . . . holding my hand and leading me like a guide into the complexities of the art. (Cheerath, 2013) Usha Nangiar had a different experience in her first contact with nangiar kuthu, as she was working not with an ardent appreciator of kutiyattam, but with her guru, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar (hereafter Ammannur). Ammannur was the last of a triumvirate of twentieth-century male kutiyattam greats. (The other two


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were Mani Madhava Chakyar [1899–1990], Nambiar’s father, and Sathi’s guru, Painkulam Rama Chakyar.) In 1989, with LSR’s help, I commissioned a performance by Usha Nangiar in the theatre on the grounds of the Thrissur Vadakkunnathan (Shiva) Temple, where the Ammannur family has the right/obligation to perform kutiyattam. In 1988, I had a bee in my bonnet. I wanted to see nangiar kuthu performed in a kuttambalam (temple theatre). I learned that only members of the temple-serving (ambalavasi) castes whose job was kutiyattam performance could act on the Vadakkunnathan stage. I also learned that only Hindus could enter the temple complex. To that end, with complete sincerity, I converted to Hinduism on 31 May 1989 at the Arya Samaj in Mumbai. I had asked LSR to choose my Hindu name. I still have the letter in which he suggested Sathy, because my birth star is associated with Shiva, and added, “you probably want to take the caste name of the women you are so interested in, Nangiar”. At that time neither of us knew that a girl from a nambiar-nangiar family cannot use the title Nangiar, until after her debut performance (arangettam). Furthermore, “a woman from a Nambiar family who has not had an arangettam may not use the name Nangiar” (Daugherty, 1996, 56).9 I was lucky enough to interview Ammannur on 4 July 1989 in the run-up to Usha Nangiar’s 30 July 1989 performance of “The Birth of Kamsa”. Ammannur explained he was using the manuscript of the Villuvattam nambiar-nangiar family of Irinjalakuda in his attempt to make nangiar kuthu “a regular show – not a mere ritual”. Commenting on Nambiar’s published manuscript, he remarked, “Nambiar has incorrectly given the names of the ragas to be used.” He continued, “While there are some differences from family to family . . . they all seem to be remarkably similar.” He went on to theorize that Lord Krishna’s Story had, in the past, been a training piece for nangiars “that should take some two or three years to learn. Anguliyankam, a similar training piece for the chakyars [who act the male roles], is learned in the course of five years” (Chakyar, 1989). I commissioned a second performance by Usha in the Vadakkunnathan temple theatre on 29 July 1990. Ammannur titled the piece “How Kamsa Became King of Mathura”. Again, in the lead-up to the performance, I spoke with Ammannur. “Today,” he explained, “people want nangiar kuthu to be interesting and understandable – they want it as elaborate as possible. That is why, although acting manuals for nangiar kuthu don’t mention patappurappad (preparation for war), I taught Usha the item.” On 29 July, Usha showed Kamsa’s preparations for war against his father, Ugrasena, whom Kamsa conquers and imprisons (Chakyar, 1990). In September 1990, Usha offered nangiar kuthu in its ritual slot (adiyantaram) in Vadakkunnathan.10 LSR wrote to me: “I went to see it one Sunday. A good number of people were there. She did well, but, of course, it was not as elaborate as she did for you” (Rajagopalan, 1990). Between 20 August and 26 August 1992, I saw Usha’s nangiar kuthu performance in Vadakkunnathan, which was both a ritual performance – falling in the assigned time slot in the annual temple calendar – and an articulated performance. She covered up to verse 52, the end of “Putana’s

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Salvation”. By 1995, Usha’s annual Vadakkunnathan performances had allowed her to work her way through the entire acting manual. In 1997, Usha lost her caste identity when she married mizhavu drummer, Kalamandalam V. K. K. Hariharan, whose ancestral community (Nair) ranked below hers on the caste ladder. Tradition is strictly followed in the Vadakkunnathan temple theatre and only chakyars, nambiars and nangiars may perform on its stage. That same year, 1997, she accepted a post in the theatre department of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit. While juggling her job and family life, Usha said “yes” to multiple commissions to present the full Lord Krishna’s Story, which gave her the opportunity to reimagine her previous performances.11 With grants from Maya Tangeberg-Grischin and me, she extended the repertoire for solo female kutiyattam, acting Subhadra in Act V of Subhadra-Dhananjayam (2001 – Daugherty); Mandodari (2003 – Tangeberg-Grischin); Menaka (2004 – Daugherty); Draupadi (2005 – Tangeberg-Grischin); and Shakuntala (2007 – Tangeberg-Grischin). By imagining and then reimagining Lord Krishna’s Story and devising new items, Margi Sathi and Usha Nangiar intervened and established nangiar kuthu (solo female acting) as an important subgenre in the kutiyattam complex of forms.

The inheritors Female solo kutiyattam acting requires a minimum team of two women and a man: a woman to keep the rhythm and chant the verses, an actor and a drummer. As she worked through Lord Krishna’s Story and expanded the repertoire, Sathi was in the enviable position of being affiliated with a performing arts institution that had another female actor/singer/musician (Margi Usha Ratnam) and several drummers on its staff.12 Usha Nangiar married a drummer, but she was in need of a woman to recite the verses and play the cymbals. Filling this slot gave several women the chance to grow as artists. One of the first was Kalamandalam Sindhu. After training at Kalamandalam, Sindhu used a two-year scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resources to continue advanced training in nangiar kuthu with Usha. Sindu did cymbals and recitation not only when Usha acted Lord Krishna’s Story, but also when Usha, under my sponsorship, devised Subhadra’s flashback (nirvahana) from Act V of Subhadra-Dhananjayam (the love story of Subhadra and Arjuna) in 2001.13 After returning to Kalamandalam briefly as a part-time teacher, Sindhu affiliated with several arts organizations before joining Margi in 2007. Since then, acting on Usha Nangiar’s conviction that “all female kutiyattam actors should undertake the full performance of Lord Krishna’s Story”, Sindhu completed a cycle of all the major episodes at Thanjavur Ammaveedu, Thiruvananthapuram (Nangiar U., 2015). Usha’s conviction harks back to Ammannur’s perception that Lord Krishna’s Story was a training piece for nangiars. Dr Indu G., who is in Sindu’s age group, is married to Margi Madhu Chakyar. She received training from her husband, her father-in-law (Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar) at Nepatya (an arts institution which she and her husband co-founded), and from Usha Nangiar. Indu’s need for a female singer/musician to


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back up her nangiar kuthu performances has also opened opportunities for emerging artists. Mindful of Usha’s opinion on staging the full nangiar kuthu acting manual, she drew in Kalamandalam Sangeetha to chant all 217 verses while she acted. Then they switched roles and Indu sang the verses and Sangeetha acted. During the years that Usha Nangiar lived at the Ammannur Gurukulam, she trained three girls: Kapila, Saritha, and Aparna. Kapila, who has performed throughout India and toured internationally, has just returned from maternity leave. Saritha returned from maternity leave and has undertaken performing the full acting manual for nangiar kuthu at Ammannur Gurukulam. After maternity leave and earning a Ph.D., Dr Aparna Nangiar continues to perform in temples, the Ammannur Gurukulam and abroad. Seven days’ annual performance in Vadakkunnathan, the slot which she inherited from Usha in 1997, has given her the opportunity to give several full-text performances of Lord Krishna’s Story. Kalamandalam Krishnendu, who is also in this age group, completed her training at Kalamandalam, briefly joined Margi, and returned to Kalamandalam as a parttime teacher. The mother of two children, she is giving a full-text performance of Lord Krishna’s Story in a hall attached to a nearby temple in Cheruthuruthi.14 Her husband, Kalamandalam Dhanarajan, plays the mizhavu for her. She has any number of students to call on to chant the verses and play the cymbals. Two younger women and their drummer husbands have formed a team to facilitate their performance of nangiar kuthu: Kalamandalam Sangeetha/Kalamandalam Ratheesh Bhas and Kalamandalam Prasanthi/Kalamandalam Jayaraj. The couples have invested in lights, a black cloth backdrop, two drums and drum stands, a brass lamp, and a wooden stool for use by the actress. They can move into any space and transform it into a kutiyattam performance space within the time the actress takes to get ready for her performance. Each husband is the lead mizhavu player for his wife. The other husband is in charge of the stage arrangements. Each woman plays the cymbals and recites the verses when the other is acting. Forming such an intimate team helps these couples to travel together, perform together and grow together. After completing the tenth standard in school (UK Year 11), Sangeetha enrolled in a four-year diploma course (2003–7) in kutiyattam at Kalamandalam. Curiously, her curriculum included learning male roles in kutiyattam plays, but very little about solo female performance. To fill this gap, Sangeetha decided to train for a year at Chathakkudam Krishnan Nambiar Mizhavu Kalari, which V. K. K. Harihan and Usha Nangiar co-founded in memory of Usha’s father, who was an accomplished kutiyattam drummer. Just as Usha had lived and trained at Ammannur Gurukulam in Irinjalakuda, Sangeetha lived and trained in Chathakkudam. During that year she had the opportunity to co-perform (recite the verses and play the cymbals) with Usha at many venues throughout India. When, in 2010, Sangeetha received a two-year national scholarship for young artists from the Indian Ministry of Culture, she sought the guidance of Margi Sathi for performance of Lord Krishna’s Story and Lord Rama’s Story. Sangeetha has completed two cycles of Srikrishnacharitham Sampoorna avatharanam (complete staging), which she defines as an “unedited version of Srikrishnacharitham in which the performer enacts all the 217 verses and,

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finally, connects the kuttu to the body of the drama” (Sangeetha, 2015).15 Her first cycle was staged between October 2012 and December 2013 in Malappuram, and the second between June 2013 and November 2014 in Nepatya. Sangeetha and her team have just finished staging Mandodari in Thrissur (10–14 July 2015).16 All of Prasanthi’s art education has been at Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture. She completed the AHSLC (Arts Higher Secondary School Leaving Certificate – equivalent to AS Level in UK) in 2006, Plus Two (equivalent to A Level in the UK) in 2008, BA Kutiyattam in 2011, MA Kutiyattam in 2013, and is currently enrolled in the integrated M.Phil/Ph.D. programme. She and the team completed a full-text performance and staged the scene that reconnects nangiar kuthu to the play about the love story of Subhadra and Arjuna (SubhadraDhananjayam) in Thrissur on 8 February 2015. Jayaraj, Prasanthi’s husband, told me that the total expense for these programmes was 150,000 rupees (approximately £1,500) ( Jayaraj, K., 2015).17 While they received a small donation (5,000 rupees) from an arts organization and modest donations from spectators, Jayaraj’s participation in a contemporary theatrical performance, The Kitchen, raised the bulk of the money. (The Kitchen is a production conceived by Roysten Abel that features twelve mizhavu players. Between January 2014 and October 2015, it toured to festivals in France, Holland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. Ratheesh Bhas, Sangeetha’s husband, is also in The Kitchen.) Prasanthi and Jayaraj hope the investment in the Thrissur series will garner them publicity and bring them more programmes. Sangeetha, Ratheesh Bhas, Prasanthi and Jayaraj aim to follow in the footsteps of Usha Nangiar and V. K. K. Hariharan, and have careers as professional kutiyattam artists. They are very ambitious: in 2014, the women applied for the Nalanda Nrithya Nipuna Award given by Nalanda Dance Research Center. They travelled with their husbands and performed in Mumbai at their own expense. Sangeetha and Prasanthi were named joint winners of the award. They are also very earnest: Sangeetha wrote in the programme for her Mandodari performances that “a never ending passion to this art form is the passion which binds us together”. Coming full circle, the team that these emerging artists have set up, coincidentally, models the feudal matrilineal extended nambiar-nangiar family where the tasks involved in nangiar kuthu performance – acting, singing, playing the cymbals, drumming, decorating the stage, and keeping the oil lamp lit – were divided among various members. I wish their team all the best.

Conclusion This chapter described the diminished state of nangiar kuthu that I observed between 1988 and 1993. Only a handful of women continued to conduct temple performances of Lord Krishna’s Story. I went on to focus on two women, Margi Sathi and Usha Nangiar, who redeemed and redefined the performance of Lord Krishna’s Story (Srikrishnacharitham). Nangiar kuthu, once pronounced “irretrievable”, was retrieved. Finally, I catalogued some of the women who have followed in Sathi


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and Usha’s footsteps giving full performances of Lord Krishna’s Story and, often, carrying on to develop choreographies for new items of solo female kutiyattam acting. I composed this chapter in July/August 2015 and edited it in February/March 2016. In that gap, sadly, Margi Sathi passed away on 1 December 2015. She was 50 years old. She was creative to the end. The 10 October 2015 performance of her composition and choreography of Ekadenthacharitam (Lord Ganesha’s Story) was the last performance she gave. (She premiered Lord Ganesha’s Story in August 2015.) The loss to kutiyattam is substantial – and not just the loss of Sathi the creative artist. She was appointed as a full-time faculty member at Kerala Kalamandalam in 2005. Sathi’s passing has created a vacuum in instruction and supervision in Kalamandalam’s female kutiyattam department. There are a string of part-time teachers who work with beginner students. Sathi taught first- and third-year BA students. Who is going to instruct students at this level? Who is going to mentor women pursuing the Ph.D.? Will Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture betray the women who have undertaken advanced studies and leave them without a faculty member who can guide them? Sathi’s appointment in 2005 was the last full-time appointment Kalamandalam made in the kutiyattam department – despite three retirements. It seems, like many universities throughout the world, that Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University is not replacing full-time faculty, but hiring adjuncts. Without the appointment of a qualified female full-time faculty member, the future of advanced kutiyattam training for women at Kalamandalam is doomed.

Glossary Arangettam: debut performance Mizhavu: pot drum used in both kutiyattam and nangiar kuthu performances Nambiar: male drummers and stage managers for kutiyattam, as well as male members of the nambiar caste Nangiar: actress and female musicians for kutiyattam and nangiar kuthu performances – female members of the nambiar caste, who act female parts, sing and play a pair of cymbals during kutiyattam performances Purappad: invocation performance in kutiyattam at the start of an act in a play

Notes 1 Nangiar kuthu fits into the interlude between Acts I and II of the play SubhadraDhananjayam (the love story of Subhadra and Arjuna), by the tenth-century Kerala playwright Raja Kulasekhara. The telling of the Krishna story by a nangiar may have initially been a separate performance that was inserted into the interlude as the nirvahana (flashback) of Subhadra’s maid, Kalpalathika. All we can say for sure is that at some point the Krishna story was extracted from the interlude and became a performance form in its own right. 2 For an extended description of a nangiar’s debut performance see Daugherty (1996). 3 Verse 35 contains an elaborate description of Vishnu who reveals himself in his divine form to Krishna’s parents, Devaki and Vasudeva.

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4 The late Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad accompanied me. I am very grateful for his support and guidance over the years. 5 She performs the first thirty-six verses over four days at Chottanikkara. She performs an episode of her selection one day a year at Kuzhur (Nangiar, A., 2015b). 6 Legislation not only dismantled the matrilineal joint family. Land redistribution legislation dismantled Kerala’s feudal temple-centered culture (see Daugherty, 2000). 7 P. K. Narayanan Nambiar taught mizhavu (drumming) at the Kerala Kalamandalam. He and Painkulam Rama Chakyar revolutionized the role of the drum in kutiyattam when they decided the drummer should take cues from the actor and support the performer. 8 Kalamandalam Girija and Kalamandalam Shylaja have choreographed a number of episodes. Their jobs as teachers in the kutiyattam department of Kerala Kalamandalam occupied much their time and they did not tackle the full acting manual. Importantly, as Shylaja pointed out in a public meeting on 8 February 2015, Kerala Kalamandalam, as an institution, for many years did nothing to advocate the development or teaching of nangiar kuthu. 9 The addition of Nangiar to my Hindu name was not received well. Appukkuttan Nair chided me, saying, “I have a Sathi here performing Nangiar kuthu who can’t use Nangiar and yet you have taken this as part of your name!” Similarly, a frustrated G. Venu told Leah Lowthorp that he had caused a “small uproar” by attaching “Nangiar” to the professional name of his daughter, Kapila, a kutiyattam performer. He “somewhat bitterly pointed out the double standard that actual performers were not able to assume the name as part of their professional title, but when a foreign scholar calls herself . . . this Nangiar or that Nangiar, nobody is objecting” (Lowthorp, 2013, 116). 10 The entry piece for nangiar kuthu is shown on the day before Ashtami Rohini, Krishna’s birth star. Performance of verses from Lord Krishna’s Story (Srikrishnacharitham) continues for six days. 11 As Coralie Casassas explains, in reimagining Lord Krishna’s Story (Srikrishnacharitam) “She (Usha) will not change a single thing she learned rigorously under her Guruji, but instead will try to find the deeper meaning of the codes and conventions. The hand gesture will stay the same, but she will always . . . magnify the idea behind the gesture in her mind, which, in turn, will be reflected in her face and eyes” (2012, 22). 12 Sathi joined the faculty at Kerala Kalamandalam in 2005. When she performs she can call on her senior students to do cymbals and recitation. There are a number of trained drummers resident in and around Cheruthuruthi. 13 Usha also involved her former student, Saritha, in the project. Under the auspices of the American Institute of Indian Studies, I staged Subhadra’s entry and flashback (nirvahana) from Act V of the love story of Subhadra and Arjuna (Subhadra-Dhananjayam) between May and October 2001. Both Usha Nangiar and Margi Sathi participated (see Daugherty, 2011). 14 Temple premises are frequently the venue for both hereditary and non-hereditary actors’ secular concert performances of nangiar kuthu. 15 See note 1. 16 Usha Nangiar choreographed Mandodari’s flashback in 2003. Aparna Nangiar and Kalamandalam Sangeetha have also performed it. 17 150,000 rupees is nearly enough to buy a car. The least expensive Tata Nano sells for 175,000 rupees. Indeed some of the other drummers have purchased cars with their earnings from appearing in The Kitchen.

References Aiyar, G. (1992) Temple Performances. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 31 October.


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Arunima, G. (2003) There Comes Papa: Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala, Malabar c. 1850–1940. Hyderabad: Orient Longman. Casassas, C. (2012) Female Roles and Engagement of Women in the Classical Sanskrit Theatre “Kutiyattam”: A Contemporary Theatre Tradition. Asian Theatre Journal, 29(1): 1–30. Chakyar, A. M. (1989) Nangiar Kuttu as a Training Piece. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty and L. S. Rajagopalan, 4 July. Chakyar, A. M. (1990) Staging Nangiar Kuttu. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty and L. S. Rajagopalan, 9 July. Cheerath, B. (2013) Abode for Koodiyattam. The Hindu, 10 October. Available from www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/abode-for-koodiyattam/article 5221109.ece. [Accessed 11 December 2014]. Daugherty, D. (1996) The Nangiar: Female Ritual Specialist. Asian Theatre Journal, 13(1): 54–67. Daugherty, D. (2000) Fifty Years on: Arts Funding in Kerala Today. Asian Theatre Journal, 17(2): 237–252. Daugherty, D. (2011) Subhadra Redux: Reinstating Female Futiyattam. In Heidrun Bruckner, Hanne M. de Bruin and Heike Moser (eds), Between Fame and Shame: Performing Women – Women Performers in India. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 153–167. Jayaraj, K. (2015) Finances. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 19 February. Lowthorp, L. (2013) Scenarios of Endangered Culture, Shifting Cosmopolitanisms: Kutiyattam and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kerala, India. Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania. Nair, S. (2013) Rasa Trialogue: Gestural Reconstruction of Performative Meaning in Nangiyar Kuthu. Women in Asian Theatre Conference, 14 September, University of Lincoln. Nambiar, P. K. N. (1984) Sreekrishnacharitam Nangyarammakkoothu [A Nangiar’s “Playing” of Lord Krishna’s Story] (Malayalam). Trichur: National Book Stall. Nangiar, A. (2015a) Great Aunt and Uncle. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 22 February. Nangiar, A. (2015b) Temple Performances. [telephone call] Conversation with Diane Daugherty, 18 August. Nangiar, U. (2015) Performing Lord Krishna’s Story. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 10 February. Nangiaramma, K. K. (1988) Growing up in a Traditional Performing Family. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty and L. S. Rajagopalan, 29 June. Puthuyedathu Family (1993) Devi’s Debut. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty and Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad, 16 February. Rajagopalan, L. S. (1990) Usha’s Performance. [letter] Sent to Diane Daugherty, 10 December. Sangeetha, K. (2015) Complete Staging. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 16 February. Sathi, M. (2015a) Krishnaleela. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 16 February. Sathi, M. (2015b) Putana. [interview] Interviewed by Diane Daugherty, 20 February.


British Asian theatre is a term that can be taken to refer to practitioners and performers in the exercise of vocational skills; but it also indicates an artistic medium for the expression of the diaspora problematic.1 Admittedly, the careers of many British Asian theatre artists are often themselves expressive of that problematic, conceived within a dominant, host culture; but playwrights in particular will aim to reach out explicitly to the everyday of diaspora experience. In so doing, they have often chosen to deploy the modes of contemporary stage realism to convey their stories, while those engaging the means of production have at times added and elaborated intercultural modes of theatricality. This study will consider some indicative achievements by women in British Asian theatre practice, achieved in a robust independence and through striking initiative. It will also provide an illustration of the kinds of dramatic discourse about the experience of British Asian women elaborated by women playwrights. The genesis of British Asian theatre is complex, and has a great deal to do with the exodus from Africa of South Asians in flight from oppressive regimes in the later 1960s. The children who came with these exiles grew up within Britain, and their experience was not so much the shock of the first generation but the cultural mix that became the nourishment of the second. Another strong characteristic that needs to be emphasized is, in many instances, the lack of any first-hand knowledge of South Asia itself. The cultures of the subcontinent were, for these enforced migrants, already existing in a received form, which could readily prompt a questioning in their children of any apparent certainties about identity. Deprived of the context of South Asian experience in the African communities from which their parents had come, these children could perceive how fragile their grasp of India might be, and be unable to construct what Salman Rushdie has called “imaginary homelands” of their own (Rushdie, 1991). So, while the first thoroughly notable production in London featured practitioners who had been born in the subcontinent, and who were contending well


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for professional status in Britain, the first companies to develop continuing profiles were put together by those who felt themselves to be products of the suburbs of the British cities.2 The initiative in the case of the earliest, Tara Arts, lay in the first instance firmly with young men, who were artistically radicalized by the murder of a Sikh boy in the late 1970s. They chose theatre because they felt they could do it themselves, and by establishing a regular group meeting in a community centre in Wandsworth, in southwest London, they also drew in young women. It was indeed not long before one of these women, Rekha Prashar, moved sideways in the group from being a performer to being the administrator, a necessary step for any arts enterprise hoping to gain funding and to set itself on the path to at least a minimal recognition.3 By performing, Prashar and other young women also drew the subject matter of early production work by Tara towards the experience of women, which to an extent acted as a correction to a strong emphasis in Tara Arts on history, which could highlight male symbolic figures (such as Gandhi) and male action and trauma in its often satirical plays. Rekha and her sister Arti were two of the women performers who toured early small shows around Britain, with Arti later running the theatre-in-education company that Tara established, and Rita Wolf one of the three actors in Tara’s first professional company at the Edinburgh fringe. In fact, Tara became a vehicle for the development of young British Asian women actors, and two of the most regular in its professional productions of the 1980s were Naushaba Shaheen Khan and Sudha Bhuchar. In the west of London, the suburban district of Southall had become a focus of resistance to racism in the later 1970s, with the foundation of the Southall Youth Movement, which was followed by the establishment of the Southall Black Sisters.4 So the London Borough of Hounslow, adjacent to Southall, became a location for a variety of initiatives in the arts. In one of these, a collaboration envisaged by a young woman performance poet, Poulomi Desai, and an incipient young male producer Hardial Rai, led to the formation of a multifarious group called the Hounslow Arts Cooperative (HAC), which included theatre-making with graphic arts and interventions.5 The theatre-making section of HAC saw one of its women performers, Preet Bancil, once again taking on the all-important administrative role. In a separate development in Southall, Shakila Maan, later and more usually known for her film work, created early theatre performances, which she both wrote and directed.6 Both the Southall Black Sisters and the HAC chose to stage versions of the Ramayana, which specifically challenged stereotyping of gender roles in distinctive visions of Sita and Rama, and so implicitly may have been a challenge to the attitudes of an older generation (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 59–60; Richman, 1999, 33–57). While the mediation of contemporary subjection through traditional material would continue to be a feature of the early years of British Asian theatre, an agitprop form of realism led to a satirical revue-style of performance (for both Tara Arts and HAC) that could tour easily, but also to issue-based drama. In one of their first productions, Playing the Flame (1979), Tara had listened to the message coming

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from Amrit Wilson’s collection of testimonies from Asian women (Wilson, 1978), now acknowledged as a ground-breaking publication. In Playing the Flame, a young Hindu woman Jyoti has a sexual involvement with a young Muslim man, Omar, which leads to her pregnancy and eventual suicide, after an abortion and a failed arranged marriage (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 19–20). Tara took a pair of productions to Edinburgh in 1982 – one which looked at Gandhi’s life; the other, called Scenes in the Life of . . ., focused on the life of a young Asian woman in Britain, revealed dramatically in an interview with a white playwright. On its return from Edinburgh the play had an interesting afterlife, in a joint venture with the Croydon Warehouse Theatre. Asian women learning English on the Croydon English Language Scheme worked with parts of the text and the themes, and the production of Sapno kay ruup (The Shape of Dreams) later in 1982 was derived from that workshop, in a performance by three women actors – Sudha Bhuchar, Naushaba Shaheen Khan and Rekha Prashar – playing all the roles, male and female. The production used a simple, panel set and was multilingual, featuring short dance sequences and extracts from popular Hindi songs, and with English appearing as the language of officialdom and bullying, which the leading figure receives from an immigration officer. The young woman, Sumita, is also subjected to a verbal assault from the husband she has come from East Africa to Britain to marry (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 31–32). Rita Wolf, who was one of Tara’s first professional actors in 1982, became part of another venture known as the Asian Cooperative Theatre, whose leading spirit was at first Farrukh Dhondy. In the Cooperative’s first production, Dhondy’s play Vigilantes (1985), Wolf took the role of a journalist who returns to film former anti-racist male activists in her Bangladeshi community in London’s East End, but is subjected to an attempted rape by them. Asian Theatre Cooperative also had Shelley King and Meera Syal as members, alongside the established playwright Dilip Hiro and the successful young playwright Hanif Kureishi.7 Attempted rapes also formed central scenes in Tara Arts’ “street” youth drama, Chilli in Yer Eyes (1984), first of a girl and then of a boy who comes to her aid (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 40–44). In the 1980s, as its confidence and funding gradually expanded, Tara Arts ventured into traditional Indian (Sanskrit) drama, rebuilding the kinds of skill that would display a distinctive style. This decision brought in musicians and also dancing, or more precisely movement, which was taught by Shobana Jeyasingh, a dancer who had trained in bharatanatyam. What she offered Tara was a non-naturalistic style of movement which could be learned by actors who had no dance training, and no knowledge of traditional Indian theatrical forms (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 44–45, 47–50). The breakthrough production in 1984 was of Miti ki gadi (The Little Clay Cart), and it set out a different model for the young women performers in the person of the successful and glamorous courtesan, who is sought after in a languishing manner by the play’s leading male, but is also persecuted by a punitive, demonic male (Hingorani, 2010, 49–57). Although Jatinder Verma at Tara chose this particular Sanskrit classic because of its non-mythical plot, later productions during the 1980s and 1990s exploited the resources of Sanskrit myth and the


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techniques that Tara’s company was developing, with an inevitable accompanying accent at times on the heroic and the masculine. Nonetheless, it was in a production of this kind by Tara Arts that Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith first played alongside each other, and that encounter later led to a decision to form a separate company. Landon-Smith had produced (1988) a version of Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Untouchable (1935) with students at the National School of Drama in Delhi, and she and Bhuchar felt that there was an opening for work of this kind in the UK.8 They found support from Verma at Tara Arts in the new centre in Earlsfield, Greater London, with the chance to do a reading, and from the Arts Council, which provided money for it. What was distinctive was that the reading took place in both Hindi and English; but from the beginning a full-scale production was also planned, drawing on Landon-Smith’s experience in Delhi (Hingorani, 2010, 71–76). Bhuchar and Landon-Smith decided on a “totally realistic style”, which would recreate the locales of the novel across the performance space (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 107), and the designer selected was Sue Mayes, who remained with the company. It was also characteristic of the approach that Mayes went to India for research, and the company set out an aim to connect with the South Asian communities in Britain by dramatizing aspects of life, seen through adaptations of literature, in the subcontinent. Without a fixed space of its own, Tamasha Theatre as it became known had to tour in the UK to secure funding from the public funding bodies such as the Arts Council. This was a standard requirement for British Asian theatre, but the set for the opening performances of Untouchable in the Riverside Studios in London in 1989 proved difficult to adapt for touring, and so the burden of recreating atmosphere was carried by highly credible properties (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 110). It will be self-evident that with Tamasha a thoroughly different profile for British Asian theatre began to emerge, since all three leading practitioners were women. Initially, it is plain that Bhuchar and Landon-Smith relished the opportunity for career development beyond the role of actor, and also were firmly convinced that the company could provide a vehicle for promoting “the Asian actor/producer”. While women had certainly played significant roles in British Asian theatre to date, notably as administrators vital to the development and recognition of companies, there had been no obvious role for a woman in directing or in the broader terms of what Bhuchar and Landon-Smith called “artistic choice” (Ley and Dadswell, 2011, 107–108). The addition of a highly skilled woman designer to the original partnership was an inspired choice, and the trio worked together through two decades with totally impressive consistency. Over the years the pattern settled: Bhuchar spent much energy on the scriptwork as well as taking leading roles in productions, while Landon-Smith concentrated on directing and on developing an approach to preparing actors that she found to be effective for Tamasha’s work. In fact, the continuing success of the company from its foundation in 1989 demonstrates an outstanding ability to negotiate in the business of subsidized theatre production in the UK. The relationship with the Arts Council was brilliantly

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managed from the start, with the company always willing to listen and to adjust its intentions to a subtle degree to work with funders. So also was the relationship with partner theatres, which Tamasha so crucially needed, since it had no venue of its own, with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Riverside Studios as prominent collaborators. In particular, the partnership with Birmingham Rep was instrumental in building the company’s reputation, and the attraction for participating co-producing venues was in part Tamasha’s ability to satisfy the requirement for finding new audiences that funders placed on theatres in this period. In fulfilling this brief, Tamasha drew upon the invention and knowhow of a fourth crucial member of the team, Suman Bhuchar, sister of Sudha, who not only supervised marketing but interpreted that as outreach to British Asian communities, to bring them into theatres that they may not until then have regarded as part of their community or culture in the UK (Suman Bhuchar, 2012). Tamasha made it certain that the lives and experience of women were dramatically prominent in their productions, with the exploitation of the status of Sohini by a Pandit outside a temple in Untouchable, the hopes and traumas of women of a Sindhi community in a block of flats in House of the Sun (1991) and, most strikingly, with Women of the Dust (1992), which looked at the conditions of life and work of migrant Rajasthani women workers on a building site in Delhi. These perceptions were unequivocally projected on to the subcontinent up to and including A Shaft of Sunlight (1994), which took up the theme of marriage between Hindu and Muslim and communalism. But, in The Yearning (1995), Ruth Carter’s script adapted Lorca’s Yerma to the trauma of a young bride from India who has come to live with her husband in Birmingham. From that point forwards, Tamasha proved willing to mix British settings with those referring to the subcontinent, looking variously at a Pakistani husband married to a local woman from Salford in East Is East (1996) and a young woman negotiating India at the time of the Emergency in A Fine Balance (2006), or adopting techniques of verbatim theatre to examine masculinity in The Trouble with Asian Men (2005). While Tamasha from the beginning relied regularly on its skill in adapting, and Tara gained its reputation for its stylish versions of European classics, Kali was called into being to satisfy the need for a production vehicle for those women who wished to write. Neither Tamasha nor Tara, for different reasons, proved to be an ideal vehicle for young and aspiring writers, and the HAC became known for the gritty realism of the street plays by Parv Bancil, but was less able to encompass other nascent playwrights. Other initiatives proved to be too short-lived to provide extended opportunities, but Kali has remained a company with a light structure that is dedicated to producing plays by British Asian women.9 At the outset, Kali was a collaboration between the actor Rita Wolf and the writer Rukhsana Ahmad. Although Ahmad had written scripts for Tara’s TIE company in the mid-1980s, it was her involvement with the Asian Women’s Writing Collective (AWWC) that provided the true genesis of Kali (Ahmad, 2012). Male domestic violence against women is the theme of Ahmad’s Song for a Sanctuary, given a reading by the AWWC in 1991, which brought Wolf and Ahmad


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together, and imaginative support from Tara Arts and the Arts Council encouraged further developments with that script and into the future. Ahmad remained until 2002 to steer the company through lean times into better, fostering a combination of script workshops and development and full production.10 The ethos of the company was to create opportunities for Asian women who wished to write, and to provide at least some with the possibility of a full involvement with demands and skills of theatrical production. So repeatedly Kali has hosted writers’ workshops, from sensitive engagement with the victims of domestic violence in an early collaboration with Southall Black Sisters to the regular series of readings, “Talkback”, in more recent years. Initially, Kali relied on Tara Arts to provide the infrastructure to organize and run the touring of its productions, and comparatively it has had to work with a relatively light structure over the years, forging good relationships with a number of host theatres. Like other British Asian companies, it has a profile of stable artistic direction, with Janet Steel succeeding Ahmad in 2002 and maintaining constant activity. The company has always embraced subjects that might be challenging for its perceived community. Domestic violence in a British Asian context was an uncompromising start, and tensions and trauma over death and marriage in mixedrace or communalist contexts have been the central subjects of later scripts. Kali has also chosen scripts that dramatized sexual preference, looking at male and female homosexuality, and prostitution has been seen in the context of a woman’s independence. But Kali has not been afraid of comedy, and like Tamasha it has seen the humour in family life alongside portrayals of anguished aspirations, hostility and failure. Like Tamasha, it has also dramatized aspects of life in the subcontinent as well as in contemporary Britain, and can point to an impressive list of past alumnae who have written for other theatres as well as for BBC Radio, which had from an early stage broadcast work by Ahmad. Apart from a strong network of women directors working with the dramaturgs and tutoring writers, Kali has been able to draw upon well-known names from the British Asian acting community, such as Wolf, Shelley King, Jamila Massey, Nina Wadia, Parminder Nagra and Harvey Virdi. While the creation of companies has formed the core of British Asian theatre, and demanded and gradually received recognition, there has also been a strong and diverse tradition of solo performance, ranging from storytelling through one-person theatrical shows to live and performance art. Women have been in the lead in all these categories. The origins of solo performance may lie in singing and the recitation of poetry in all kinds of context, formal and informal, and the co-founder of the initiative that led to the HAC, Poulomi Desai, had performed poetry as a girl with her mother. Steps into theatricality were taken by individuals in different ways. Storytelling was developed by Vayu Naidu into a relatively lavish performance of considerable ambition, which would overtly suggest traditional skills set in a new context (Banfield, 2012; Naidu, 2006). So Naidu created a recital-performance drawn from the Ramayana (Nine Nights, 1999) that was accompanied by music, and subsequently combined music and recitation with traditional dance.

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A satirical form of solo-theatre was developed by Rani Moorthy through her company Rasa Theatre, who relied on her ability to impersonate as well as narrate, reaching across to an audience with humour and informality, and drawing at times on the idea of auto-performance, the dramatization of personal experience.11 Her best-known show was Curry Tales (2004), which combined a series of “cooking demonstrations” with the impersonation of a series of female characters from the indulged and rich to the deprived. Live art has been explored by Rajni Shah, who has juxtaposed Asian and British female icons, contrasting costume and clothing with her own nakedness. Her own performance and creative skills have also been employed in projects that have embraced larger casts, and reached beyond reference to British Asian communities (Shah, 2012). All three practitioners – Naidu, Moorthy and Shah – have had close collaborators, operating as directors or production managers or, in Shah’s case, a costume designer; but all have shown impressive ability to create and maintain a profile over an extended period with very little stable support from funding sources. Companies such as Tamasha and Kali, with distinctive emphases, have promoted the vocational possibilities in theatre for South Asian women in Britain. The dramatic representation of Asian women’s lives in Britain presents a different picture, and requires a different commentary. It might be said that, in general terms, there is a spectrum with a light end, which is comical or satirical, possibly musical and Bollywood-based and relatively optimistic, while the other end is darker, with sombre, traumatic and hyper-realistic attention to the degradations attached to prostitution. Within this spectrum, potential integration and conformity for South Asian women gain repeated dramatic treatment from writers and theatrical companies, as do social and familial stigma. Yet neither conformity nor exclusion is likely to be represented without context and the possibilities of subversion, where conformity may not be quite what it seems and self-restitution may be part of the agenda of the seemingly isolated. Spreading through from one end of the spectrum to the other is the theme of subordination and submission to the male, which runs from indulgence and a kind of infantilism to the other, brutal end of abuse.12 A less dynamic, thematic thread is that of conflict or misunderstanding between generations. This, however, is often seen through the travails of young men rather than young women, since males are shown to have a greater opportunity for successful self-assertion. Writers are almost required by the modern British theatrical system to advance themselves as an independent voice, and so are probably less liable to see themselves as part of a movement or phenomenon known as British Asian theatre than those practitioners who are deeply embedded in companies. One of the earliest writers to make an impact was Maya Chowdhry, whose striking subject in two plays in the 1990s, Monsoon (1991) and Kaahini (1997), was gender and sexual orientation in young women.13 But perhaps the best known of contemporary Asian women playwrights is Tanika Gupta, who has worked diversely with many different producing companies, and does not write by any means exclusively on British Asian subjects. Like many women writers, she has been supported by Kali from time to


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time, and has had much work produced on BBC Radio, which has proved to be a major support for Asian women playwrights over an extended period. Gupta can write a warm-hearted play Love N Stuff (2013) about an older, British Asian couple who become reconciled again to each other while debating issues at Heathrow Airport, or a harsh, symbolic drama of African genocide, Sanctuary (2002), played out bleakly in an urban churchyard in multiracial Britain (Schlote, 2012). She has also written for television. Maintaining a consistent career in writing for the theatre is immensely difficult, and few British Asian women playwrights have had the success that Gupta has achieved. But many have concentrated on writing about the British Asian experience, creating a voice that aims to generate or sustain a contemporary awareness of women’s lives.14 How young women cope with what is expected of them, and on offer to them, is inevitably a common theme handled in very different ways. In Unsuitable Girls (2001), Dolly Dhingra gave a romantic solution for twentysomething Chumpa, who is due to be hitched to Ashok. Dhingra has Chumpa’s friends sum up her attitude, which is that of scepticism towards marriage altogether: Mandy: Sab: Mandy: Sab: Mandy:

Never heard her say a good thing about marriage. Some marriages do work out. Not many. I said some. Just ’cause you make the finishing line don’t mean you’re happy. (Dhingra, 2003, 18–19)

This is the good-natured version of the topic, one which might well appear in the musical form, not a thousand miles from the basic “finding the right man” form of Hum aapke hain koun (Who Am I to You?) (Barjatya, 1994), the celebrated Bollywood film so successfully adapted by Tamasha as Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral (1998), or indeed from some elements of Bridget Jones’s Diary (book 1996; film 2001). The good-natured quality comes out in the mock description of wedding gifts: Sab: Indians give really crap gifts. Make a wedding list otherwise you’ll spend the rest of your life giving ‘em away to other people getting married. It’s a real headache cos you got to make sure you don’t give them back to the family that gave ‘em to you. My Mum was always doing that. The rows it led to. (Dhingra, 2003, 26) Similarly, the attitude to men is superficially disillusioned – “ ‘A nice man from the Midlands.’ I didn’t know there were any nice men in the Midlands,” says Mandy of the lonely hearts column (2003, 42) – but the eventual choice for Chumpa is a highly educated, astronomically inclined young man, and Dhingra’s play ends with Bhangra wedding music and confetti falling from the sky.

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Everyone likes a happy ending, and Dhingra like others is happy to give one, because in many cases it makes good box office, if you can write a sharp script. There is a similarity here to the kind of script produced by Rifco, the brilliantly successful and Bollywood-influenced British Asian theatre company that knows how to put women at the heart of its work. There’s Something About Simmy (2007), which had a script that was 30 per cent in Punjabi (with subtitles in order to be inclusive), was the story of a girl brought from the Punjab who speaks no English but who eventually falls in love, as in Who Am I to You?, with the “wrong” brother. Lighthearted entertainment, perhaps, but also highly perceptive about all the relationships that are involved. Yet what Dhingra brings to all the good cheer is a slightly unnerving undercurrent that maybe it is marriage that is becoming “unsuitable”, that Chumpa is almost unnaturally lucky by the contrivance of the playwright – and with our wishful-thinking and connivance – in finding her happy ending. By contrast, there is nothing very optimistic about Amber Lone’s Deadeye, a play fostered by Kali in their link with The Drum in Birmingham. The drama features some staple elements of British Asian realism, the oppressed mother saddled with a pipe-dreaming husband and the drug-caught son. But the central figure of the play is the daughter, Deema, who moves between all the characters with understanding if with impatience, looking for the chance for her own life amidst the chaos of frustrated aims. Lone also manipulates a subplot to look like the main excitement, with a theft of serious money from a drug dealer assumed to have been made by Deema’s feckless brother, with disturbing implications for the whole family. In fact, the drug dealer’s partner has stolen the money, and the drama ultimately proves to be about the successful assertion of independence by both her and Deema separately. So the casualty here is conformity, the inability of family failure to draw Deema in, inexorably, through sympathy. Deema is a survivor, who is not a “big talker” as her mother falsely claims, but a young woman who does “have a plan” (Lone, 2006, 77) to which she eventually holds on.15 Breaking free of the tentacles of other characters is one possible device of a realist script, as Ibsen proved, but in Fourteen (2014) Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti chooses to tackle the independence of her female lead Tina with the isolation of monologue. The result is a tour de force divided by a large time-gap of some thirty years, between the teenage years of the title in Act I and motherhood in Act II. The family is conjured into being in vivid snapshots, and a dangerous disillusion sets in when Tina’s father is found in the park with her best friend. But what subverts the impression of a drama of relationships is the constant theme of Tina’s fascination with literature, her natural ability with this material and its criticism, which seems nonetheless to be threatened. Those thirty years later reveal Tina as a single mother in poverty, with a daughter who can at times claim to be ashamed of her, but whom she can still help with her homework, notably the assignment on The Merchant of Venice (Bhatti, 2014, 291). In fact, the existence of the extended monologue, in its articulate moderation of the impact of other characters, is a sign of self-possession despite all possibilities of disappointment. Tina pulls through, without despair or any indications of


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self-loathing, with a clear-eyed assessment of the personal miseries that can fall to other classes in society, and an ability to navigate away from the contempt that is necessary to the aspirational and conspicuously nasty “middle middles” (Bhatti, 2014, 287). Her dancing partner Clive, to whom she is certainly not going to “surrender herself ”, proves to be “not as thick” as she thought (2014, 300), and she feels that she may well be happy enough with second place in the dancing competition, whatever her English teacher might have thought. In Bhatti’s most recent play, Khandan (Family, 2014), this tone of survival without optimism or despair is explored in a comprehensive manner. Bhatti is even-handed in her treatment of characters: this is not “family” seen from only one perspective, but a thorough examination of how family works on all. The mother Jeeto is hard and crude, but with a sharp wit and a determination to see her values and aspirations (for the family’s land in the Punjab) fulfilled. She assails Reema, the rejected wife of a nephew who arrives from the subcontinent, with pictures of the violence that women of the household would in the past have inflicted on a perceived slacker, but never actually threatens her herself. In fact, she proves too tolerant, since her son Pal ultimately has a momentary affair with this young woman, before plunging the family into poverty with misconceived business schemes. For her part, Reema, the educated young woman from the Punjab, has had enough: she proves to be the source of a male grandchild, but is desperate to leave and to find herself. The final scene shows us the son and the mother settling to build up again through graft, with the grandson underpinning their struggle. Since the very early days of Tara Arts, Sudha Bhuchar has been a fundamental part of British Asian theatre, through her joint directorship of Tamasha, to her most recent performance as the mother Jeeto in Bhatti’s Family. When she first joined Tara with her sister Suman in 1979 she had no intention of acting, but she got drawn in, continuing to act and tour while studying for her degree, and getting her first major role with the courtesan, Vasantasena, in Tara’s The Little Clay Cart. She has had a remarkable career, adapting and creating original scripts (most recently My Name is . . ., 2014) for Tamasha, and retiring from the company in 2015, after performing regularly. She has also worked regularly in radio and television, but she still issues a bleak warning about the strictly limited opportunities for British Asian women actors in theatre outside the initiatives that they create themselves: “It’s this whole erosion that one feels as an artist of colour. Everything you do feels like a sort of parallel movement. And things aren’t incremental, things don’t lead to things, it’s always up to you to make things happen, and that hasn’t got any easier” (Bhuchar, 2015). Her words confirm that, if much has been achieved diversely by women practitioners over the last thirty years, there is a core in British theatre that remains too little changed.

Notes 1 Two different assessments of the term are advanced in Godiwala (2006, ch. 4, “Genealogies, Archaeologies, Histories: The Revolutionary ‘Interculturalism’ of Asian Theatre in Britain”, 101–119) and Dadswell (2009).

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2 Details of the production of Dilip Hiro’s To Anchor a Cloud (1970) can be found in Ley and Dadswell (2011, 87, n. 3). Unless the reference is to a published script, all subsequent dates appended to plays are those of the first production. 3 For the early history of Tara Arts, see Hingorani (2010, ch. 2, “Tara Arts 1977–1984: Creating a British Asian Theatre”, 18–44); Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 2, “Tara Arts, 1977–1985”, 13–56); Chambers (2011, 158–162). 4 For information, see www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/sbs-timeline/ [Accessed 12 May 2015], and the publication Against the Grain listed there. 5 Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 3, “Hounslow Arts Cooperative”, 57–73). 6 The plays Rani (1979) and Spirits (1981) – www.shakilamaan.com [Accessed 12 May 2015]. 7 Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 6, “Asian Cooperative Theatre”, 87–103). 8 Hingorani (2010, ch. 4, “Tamasha Theatre Company 1989: Authenticity and Adaptation”, 71–94; ch. 5, “Tamasha Theatre Company 1989 – East Is East: From Kitchen Sink to Bollywood”, 95–119); Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 7, “Tamasha, 1989–1997”, 104–130); Chambers (2011, 168–171); Sams (2012). 9 Hingorani (2010, ch. 6, “Kali Theatre Company 1990–2007: Producing British Asian Women Playwrights”, 120–142); Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 8, “Kali Theatre Company”, 131–162); Chambers (2011, 167). 10 Godiwala (2006, ch. 15, “Kali: Providing a Forum for British-Asian Women Playwrights”, 328–346) reviews the period under Ahmad’s direction; Griffin (2003, 149–159) discusses Song for a Sanctuary. 11 Ley and Dadswell (2011, ch. 14, “Rasa Theatre”, 229–238). 12 On this subject, see the study by Lucas (2006). 13 Discussed by Griffin (2003, 94–107 and 132–137 respectively). 14 In addition to Griffin (2003), see Schlote (2006). 15 Deadeye is discussed in some detail by Hingorani (2010, 136–142).

References Ahmad, R. (2012) Experiments in Theatre from the Margins: Text, Performance and New Writers. In Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 50–65. Banfield, C. (2012) Directing Storytelling Performance and Storytelling Theatre. In Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 79–99. Barjatya, S. (dir.) (1994) Hum aapke hain koun. [Who Am I to You?]. [film] India: Rajshri Productions. Bhatti, G. K. (2014) Plays One: Behsharam, Behzti, Behud, Fourteen, Khandan. London: Oberon Books. Bhuchar, Sudha (2015) Reflections. [interview] Interviewed by Graham Ley, 12 May. Bhuchar, Suman (2012) The Marketing of Commercial and Subsidized Theatre to British Asian Audiences: Tamasha’s Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral (1998 and 2001) and Bombay Dreams (2002). In Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 133–153. Chambers, C. (2011) Black and Asian Theatre in Britain: A History. London: Routledge. Dadswell, S. (2009) What Is This Thing Called British Asian Theatre? Contemporary Theatre Review, 19(2): 221–226. Davis, G. and Fuchs, A. (eds) (2006) Staging New Britain: Aspects of Black and South Asian British Theatre Practice. Brussels: Peter Lang. Dhingra, D. (2001) Unsuitable Girls. London: Oberon Books.


Graham Ley

Godiwala, D. (ed.) (2006) Alternatives within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press. Griffin, G. (2003) Contemporary Black and Asian Women Playwrights in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hingorani, D. (2010) British Asian Theatre: Dramaturgy, Process and Performance. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Ley, G. and Dadswell, S. (eds) (2011) British South Asian Theatres: A Documented History. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Ley, G. and Dadswell, S. (eds) (2012) Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Lone, A. (2006) Deadeye. London: Oberon Books. Lucas, V. (2006) Women, Sexuality and Violence in British-Asian Drama. In Dimple Godiwala (ed.), Alternatives within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 363–380. Naidu, V. (2006) Vaiyu Naidu Company’s South: New Directions in Theatre of Storytelling. In Geoffrey Davis and Anne Fuchs (eds), Staging New Britain: Aspects of Black and South Asian British Theatre Practice. Brussels: Peter Lang, pp. 141–159. Richman, P. (1999) A Diaspora Ramayana in Southall, Greater London. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 67(1): 33–57. Rushdie, S. (1991) Imaginary Homelands. London: Granta. Sams, V. (2012) Patriarchy and its Discontents: The “Kitchen-Sink Drama” of Tamasha Theatre Company. In Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 119–132. Schlote, C. (2006) Either for Tragedy, Comedy, History or Musical Unlimited: South Asian Women Playwrights in Britain. In Geoffrey Davis and Anne Fuchs (eds), Staging New Britain: Aspects of Black and South Asian British Theatre Practice. Brussels: Peter Lang, pp. 65–85. Schlote, C. (2012) Dramatising Refuge(s): Rukhsana Ahmad’s Song for a Sanctuary and Tanika Gupta’s Sanctuary. In Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 66–78. Shah, R. (2012) On the making of Mr Quiver. In: Graham Ley and Sarah Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on British South Asian Theatre. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 207–221. Wilson, A. (1978) Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britain. London: Virago.


Ahmad, Rukhsana 191–2 Aiyar, G. 174 Akiko, Baba 37n Albright, Ann Cooper 56 Alekar, Satish 9, 40, 42, 43–4, 46, 48–9 An Daecheon 153 Anan, Nobuko 9–10, 110–23 Anand, Mulk Raj 190 angura 116, 122n Antharjanam, Sreemathy 92–3 Aoi tori (Blue Bird) 110 arangettam 180, 184 Arnaud, Monique 136 Artaud, A. 110, 125–6, 159 asceticism 4 Ascharyachoodamani (The Wondrous Crest Jewel) 6, 165, 170 Asian Cooperative Theatre 189 Asian Women Performing Arts Collective 121 Asian Women’s Writing Collective (AWWC) 191 Aswathithirunal 89 attaprakaram 165, 179 Ayurveda medicine 85, 95n Baek Jeonggang 146, 151 Bai Yuwei 77n Bal Gandharv 41, 44, 46–7 Balasaraswati 3–4 The Bald Prima Donna (The Bald Soprano) 48 Bali see topeng

ballet 24, 25n, 55, 162 Ballinger, Rucina 126, 127–8, 129, 130, 131, 132, 138n, 139n Bancil, Parv 191 Bancil, Preet 188 Barba, Eugenio 126, 131, 138n baris 126 batin 22 bedaya (court dancer) 15, 16 Begum Barve 9, 39–51 Beijing Indigenous Theatre see Zhonghua Indigenous Theatre School Beijing Opera see jingju Benedetti, Robert 162 Bhadrakalivijayam (The Victory of Bhadrakali) 86–7 Bhagavatha Stories 166 bharatanatyam 3–5, 189 Bhatti, Gurpreet Kaur 195–6 bhavathrayam 179 Bhuchar, Sudha 188, 189, 190, 191, 196 Bhuchar, Suman 191, 196 Bi Yunxia 101 Bock, Sheila 53, 56, 62 body language 6 Bongsan Talchum 142, 143, 147, 148, 150 Borland, Katherine 53, 56, 62 Bourdieu, Pierre 29 British Asian theatre 10, 187–98 Buddhism 134, 139n Butler, Judith 40, 49, 88, 152, 159–62



cabeceo 58, 60–1, 63 Casassas, Coralie 165, 185n Case, Sue-Ellen 2, 6 Castaldi, Francesca 53 Catholic church 16 censorship, jingju 9, 97–101, 106–7 Chakyar, Ammannur Madhava 177, 179–80 Chakyar, Moozhikulam Kochukuttan 175 Chakyar, Painkulam Rama 177, 180 chakyars 11n, 174, 181 chavutti thirummal 84–5 Cheerath, Bhawani 179 Chen, S. 53, 54, 55, 56, 61 Cheng Yanqiu 67, 71, 99 children: good wife, wise mother 111, 116, 122; Korean troupe 150; noh 30–1 Chilli in Yer Eyes 189 China: jingju 9, 66–79, 97–109; matrilinear society 2 Chinese Central Television (CCTV) 66–7 Chongya She 70 Chowdhry, Maya 193 Ci Shaoquan 73, 74 cirebon dancers 17, 18–19, 20, 22, 24 ‘Cleaving and Spinning’ see Pi-Fang (‘Cleaving and Spinning’) clowns 74, 75; Sundanese performance 15, 18–19, 20, 22, 23, 25n Cockin, Katharine 3 Cokorda Istri Agung 131 Coldiron, Margaret 10, 124–41 colonialism 3, 111, 113, 117, 118–20, 175 Comedy Nights with Kapil 50 Conference for Asian Women and Theatre 121 cosmopolitanism, Singapore tango clubs 52–65 Cowan, Jane 53 Creese, H. 130 Croydon Warehouse Theatre 189 Curry Tales 193 curtain: function 44; half- 92; look 92, 93, 95n Da piguan (Cleaving Open the Coffin) 103, 105, 107, see also Hudie meng (The Butterfly Dream) daito¯ a kyo¯ eiken (Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) 111, 121 dalang (puppetmaster) 16–18, 19–21, 22–4 dan performers 67, 69, 70, 71–2, 75, 76–7n, 99, 107

Danius, Sara 5 Daugherty, Diane 10, 84, 173–86 de Zoete, B. 126–7 Deadeye 195, 197n Desai, Poulomi 188, 192 Desak Nyoman Suarti 131, 132 devadasi practice 3, 4–5 Devi Arundale, Rukmini 3 Dhanarajan, Kalamandalam 182 Dhondy, Farrukh 189 diaspora Asian performers 10, 118, 187 divine men, devotion to 89 Dixit, Madhuri 46 Do¯ jo¯ ji (The Do¯ jo¯ Temple) 31, 36n Dolan, Jill 117 domestic violence 191–2 Do¯moto Masaki 37n Dongnae Yayu 143, 146, 147, 150–1 Durban Arjo, Irawati 15, 19, 25n Ekadenthacharitam (Lord Ganesha’s Story) 184 Eliot, T. S. 43 Elliott, M. 62 Emmert, Richard 137 Emperor System 117–18 eongdeongichum (butt dance) 145 erasure 6–7, 8–9, 13–79; Begum Barve 39–51; jingju 66–79; noh theatre 28–38; Sundanese performance 15–27; tango clubs 52–65 Ericksen, Julia 59 eroticism 3–4; dance 52–3; jingju 97, 103–6 expressive acts 159–61, 167–71 fanchuan (cross-dressing) 99 Fang mianhua (Spinning Cotton) 73–5, 97, 98, 100–2, 103–7 Fauré, Christine 2 feminism: Japan 110, 121, see also women’s liberation movement Feral, Josette 2 Final Home, Temporary Lodging see Tsui no sumika, kari no yado: Kawashima Yoshiko den (Final Home, Temporary Lodging: The Life of Kawashima Yoshiko) Foley, Kathy 9, 15–27 Ford Foundation 128 Formaggia, Cristina 10, 124–41 Foster, Susan Leigh 55 Foucault, M. 170 Four Great Dan 67, 69, 70, 71, 75, 99, 107 Four Pieces of Jade 71

Index 201

Four Queens election 69 Fourteen 195–6 ‘fourth wall’ 43 Fuliancheng School 103 Furongcao (Zhao Tongshan) 101–2 Gabrovska, Galia Todorova 7 gambuh 10, 125, 126–32, 138–9n gamelan 126, 127, 131, 138 Ganesh, Keerthy 94–5 Gao Yuqian 77n Geilhorn, Barbara 9, 28–38 gender construction 39–51 gestural elements 159–72 gisaeng 142 goddess worship 7–8, 86–7 Goldstein, Josh 66, 72, 77n Gopinath, Guru 125 Goseong Ogwangdae 143, 146–7, 149, 153 Gotfrit, Leslie 56, 60 Grover, Sunil 50 Gupta, Tanika 193–5 Hadijah, Idjah 20 Hahoe Byeolsin’gut Talnoli 143, 149, 151 Hanna, Judith. L. 53 Hansen, Kathryn 40–2, 46–7 Hari, V. K. K. 182 hebei bangzi 70, 75, 76, 77n hermaphrodites 22, 23 hiden (secret transmission) 31 Hiro, Dilip 189, 197n Hitsujiya Shirotama 121 home 10; imaginary homelands 187; re-signification 110–23 homosociality 29, 30, 32, 34 Hosokawa, Shuhei 61 Hou Yulan 72, 77n Hounslow Arts Cooperative (HAC) 188, 191 Howe, Elizabeth 3 Hu Bilan 69 Hu Zhiyu 162 huadan 97, 104, 107 Huang Yufu 69, 77n Huanghou Theatre 72 Huangjin Theatre 72 Hudie meng (The Butterfly Dream) 97, 98, 99–100, see also Da piguan (Cleaving Open the Coffin) Huggan, Graham 61 Hughes-Freeland, Felicia 152 Hwang Jong-uk 146, 147, 149

I Madé Djimat 126 iemoto 133, 138 iemoto seido 28, 29, 31, 32, 35 Ikeuchi Yasuko 117, 121 imaginary homelands 187 improvisation 162–4, 167–71 India: female impersonation 40–50; goddess worship 7–8, 86–7; kathakali 83–96; nangiar kuthu 173–86; Sanskrit drama 189–90, see also Kerala International Noh Institute (INI) 136 International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) 131 intervention 9–10, 81–156; foreign females 124–41; home re-signification 110–23; jingju 97–109; kathakali 83–96; Korean mask dance dramas 142–56 Ionesco, Eugène 48 isuja 146, 154, 154n Ito jigoku (Thread Hell) 110–17 Ittirarichamenon, Mandavappilli 89 Jackson, Phil 52–3 Japan see noh Jaquez, Candida 153 Jayaraj, Kalamandalam 182, 183 Jeong Sujin 154n Jeong Yeongbae 150–1 jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo 146, 150, 154, 154n Jeyasingh, Shobana 189 jingju 8, 9; popularity and censorship 97–109; stars on the rise 66–79 jingyun dagu 75, 76 Jiumei (nine beauties) 162 Jonsson, Stefan 5 joryo¯ nohgakushi 31 Josei jiutai ni yoru (Accompanied by a Female Chorus) 33 josei nohgakushi 31 ju¯ gun ianfu (comfort women) 121 kabuki 7, 29, 36n Kai gekijo¯ (Kai Theatre) 110 Kalamandalam 84–5, 177, 182–4, 185n kalampattu 7 Kali rituals 7 Kali (theatre company) 191–2, 193, 195 Kalyanasougandhikam (Flower of Good Fortune) 87 Kamisaka Fuyuko 118, 119 Kan’ami 134 Kannakicharitham (Kannaki’s Story) 166, 179 Kano, Ayako 102



Kanze Hisao 32 Kanze Tetsunojo¯ 33 Kaplingadan School 84 Kapur, Anuradha 41 Kareendran 87 kari 90, 92, 95n Karnasapatham (Karna’s Vow) 84 Karthikathirunal 86 Kartyayani 92 kathakali 8, 9, 83–96, 125 Katzenstein, M. F. 34 Kawakami Sadayakko 102 Kawashima Naniwa 118–19 Kawashima Yoshiko 118–20 keban 71 kecak 132 Keechakavadham (The Killing of Keechaka) 87–8 Kerala 7, 165, 173, 174–5, 177; folk performances 86; Kalamandalam 84–5, 177, 182–4, 185n; kathakali 83–6, 88, 93, 95, 125; nangiar kuthu 173–7, 183–4, 184–5n kettattam 165 ketuk tilu 19, 24 Khan, Naushaba Shaheen 188, 189 Khandan 196 Kim Seonok 146–7, 150 Kim Yeongsuk 152–3 King, Shelley 189 King Lear 120 Kiratam (The Rule of the Jungle) 89 Kisaragi Koharu 110, 121 Kishida Rio 10, 110–23 Kishida Rio jimusho (Kishida Rio Office) 110 Kitazawa Ichinen 133 kokata 30 Korean mask dance dramas 142–56 Krishnendu, Kalamandalam 182 Kristeva, Julia 1–2, 5, 159 kulit (shadow puppetry) 17, 18 kunling 66 kunqu 98, 107 Kureishi, Hanif 189 kutiyattam 1, 5–6, 10, 11n, 85, 89, 164, 165–6, 171n, 173–4, see also nangiar kuthu kyogen 136 Ladies Troupe see Trippunithura Kathakali Kendram (Ladies Troupe) lahir 22 lalita 90, 95n

Landon-Smith, Kristine 190 laosheng 99, 101–2, 107 Lear 120 Ley, Graham 10, 187–98 Li Lingfeng 70 Li Shengzao 99 Li Yuru 71–2, 75, 77n Li Yuzhi 77n Liang Cishan 73, 74, 77n Lin Daiyu 101 Ling Troupe 72 Liu, Siyuan 9, 97–109 Liu Xiaoheng 102 Liu Xikui 66, 76n Lone, Amber 195 Lord Krishna’s Story see Srikrishnacharitham (Lord Krishna’s Story) Lowthorp, Leah 179, 185n Lu Jufen 101 Lü Peifang 71 Lu Sujuan 66 Ma, S. 68 Ma Ke 100 Ma Xiaowu 98 Maan, Shakila 188 McRobbie, Angela 52, 56 madang 142, 151, 154 madanggeuk 144 Madhavan, Arya 1–11, 29, 83–96, 164, 165, 171n Madras Marumak-kathyam Act 175 Mahabharata 18, 22, 48 mak yong 24, 25n Malat 127 Malbon, Ben 53 Mali (Madhavan Nair) 84 Mantrankam (The Secret Art) 170 Mao Ling 73, 75 Marathi Sangeet Natak 40, 41, 45, 46 Marathi theatre 9 Marattam (Masquerade) 88 marumakkathyam 174 mask dance dramas: Korea 9, 142–56; topeng 10, 15–16, 17, 18–24, 125–6, 129, 131–2, 138n matrilineal system 2, 4, 174–5, 176, 183, 185n Matsui Sumako 102 Mayes, Sue 190 Mayumi Nagai, Angela 136 Meduri, Avanti 3 Mei Lanfang 67, 70, 71, 99, 101 Meixian Playhouse 67–8

Index 203

Meng Lijun 69 Meng Xiaodong 66 Menon, K. P. S. 84, 92 Menon, Parvathy 83, 85, 95 Menon, Pattikkamtodi Ramunni 84 menstruation 23, 85 Merleau-Ponty, M. 169 Mia Sadafumi 134 Michiko Kageyama 135 Miller, J. H. 93 minjung munhwa undong 144 minukku 90, 92 Miti ki gadi (The Little Clay Cart) 189, 196 mizhavu 175, 176, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185n mohiniyattam 85 Moorthy, Rani 193 Mori Yoshiro¯ 117 Moser, Heike 165 mudiyettu 86 Multani, Angelie 9, 39–51 munhwajae bohobeop 142–3 Muta, K. 111 Nagai Ai 110, 121 Naidu, Vayu 192 Nair, D. Appukuttan 174, 176, 177–8, 185n Nair, Sreenath 10, 159–72 Nalacharitham (The Nala’s Story) 87 Nala’s Story 89, 91 Nambiar, P. K. Narayanan 166, 176–9, 185n nambiars 11n, 171n, 174, 180–1, 184 Namboodirippad, K. V. 83–4 Namboothiri, M. P. S. 83–4, 87, 92 nandan 100, 101, 103, 107 Nangia, Usha 7, 183–4, 185n Nangiar, Aparna 176, 182 Nangiar, Usha 10, 165, 174, 177, 179–82 nangiar kuthu (solo performance) 6–7, 10, 11n, 173–86; rasatrialogue 159–72, see also kutiyattam Nangiaramma, Kunju Kutty 175 Nangiaramma, Saraswathy 176 nangiars 11n, 171n, 174–5, 180–1, 184, 185n Narakasuravadham (The Killing of Narakasura) 86 National Noh Theatre 32, 36n naturalization of hierarchies 40 Natyasastra 163–4, 165 New Order 130, 138 Ni Nyoman Chandri 131, 132

niskala 22 Nizhalkuthu (The Shadow Play) 86 noh 8, 9, 10, 23, 28–38, 125; Rebecca Teele 125, 133–7; schools 138 Okuni, Izumo no 7 Ong Keng Sen 120 onna kusemai 7 onna sarugaku 7, 29, 35n onna yakusha 7 onnagata 102, 107 Ono no Komachi 34, 37n O’Shea, Janet 4 Othikkan 92 Otozuro Gozen 134 pakarnnattam 6, 165 Palermo, Carmencita 23, 125, 129, 130, 131, 132–3 Panicker, Kavalam Narayana 88 Paniker, Ayyappa 164 Panjangmas, Nyi 16 Pansi dong (The Cave of the Silken Web) 99 pansori 144, 152, 154n Park, Chan E. 145, 152 Parma, P. 62–3 Parsi Theatre 40, 41–2 Parukkutty, Chavara 91 pasinden 16, 18, 19–20, 23, 24 patriarchy: iemoto seido 28, 29, 31, 32, 35; imagination 145; Japanese patriarchy in Asia 117–18, 120 Paulose, K. G. 166 Pellecchia, Diego 136–7, 139n performative acts 159–61, 168 Phelan, Peggy 3, 161 Picelli, Cristina 136 Pi-Fang (‘Cleaving and Spinning’) 97, 99–101, 107 pigu zuozi 103 Pillai, Pannisseri Nanu 86 pingci 76 Pitkow, Marlene 84, 90 Playing the Flame 188–9 poladan 104 Pollock, Griselda 4–5 Poothanamoksham (Salvation of Poothana) 89 Prasanthi, Kalamandalam 182, 183 Prashar, Arti 188 Prashar, Rekha 188, 189 Prideaux, E. 135 prostitution 3, 4–5, 111, 114, 192, 193



puppetry see kulit (shadow puppetry); wayang purappad 175, 184 qiangbei 103 qiao 103–4, 107 qingyi 104, 107 qinqiang (or bangzi) 98, 107 qipao 99, 102, 105, 107 Rai, Hardial 188 Rajagopalan, L. S. 174–5, 180–1 Rajeev, Vaidyamadham V. B. 85 Raju, Suma Varma 93, 95 raket 126 Ramamoorthi, P. 44 Ramavarrier, Irattakulangara 89 Ramayana 188, 192 rape 189; as entertainment 87–8; Japan 118–19 Rasa 163–4 Rasa Theatre 193 rasatrialogue 159–72 Rasta, Dalang Otong 21 Rath, E. C. 35n, 36n, 134, 135 Ratheesh Bhas, Kalamandalam 182, 183 Ravanavijayam (Ravana’s Victory) 87 reconstruction 9, 10, 157–98; British Asian theatre 187–98; nangiar kuthu 173–86; rasatrialogue 159–72 Renaissance theatre 45 Rifco 195 roaring 83, 91–3, 95n rod puppetry (wayang golek) 16, 20–1, 24 role-playing 39–51 ronggeng 15, 16, 19, 22, 24, 25n Rugmangada Charitham (The Tale of King Rugmangada) 89, 94–5 Rushdie, S. 187 ruwatan 16, 24 ryo¯ sai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) 111, 116, 122 Saeji, CedarBough T. 9, 142–56 Saivite Kalamukas 15 sakala 22 Salomé 102 Salvation of Poothana 166–9, 170–1, 171n Salz, Jonah 136, 139n Sangeetha, Kalamandalam 182–3 sanjo 144 Sanskrit drama 189–90 Sapno kay ruup (The Shape of Dreams) 189

Sathi, Margi 7, 10, 165–9, 170–1, 171n, 174, 177–9, 181, 182, 183–4, 185n Savigliano, M. E. 57, 59, 62 Sawitri, Ibu 17, 19 Scenes in the Life of. . . 189 Schechner, R. 161 Senda Riho¯ 35–6n sexual content 148 Shah, Rajni 193 Shakespeare, William 120 Shandong Provincial Art Theatre 70–1, 77n Shang Xiaoyun 67, 99 Shanghai Theatre School 71, 77n Shanzhai zhuren 106 Shigeyama Sennojô 136 shikigaku 29 shingeki 102–3, 107 shinpa 36n shinsaku noh 33–4, 35 Shuangding ji (Two Nails) 105 Shzr Ee Tan 9, 52–65 Silverman, Carol 145 Singapore tango clubs, cosmopolitanism 52–65 singer-dancer see ronggeng Sita, Saktibhadra 6 Sitayanam (Sita’s Journey) 166 Sivaraman, Kottakkal 86 Skinner, Jonathan 56 slaughter plays 86–7 Smith, Amy L. 45 social drama 161 Songpa Sandae Noli 143, 148, 152–3 Sotoba Komachi 34 Southall Black Sisters 188, 192, 197n spectatorship 9, 42, 46, 105, 164 Spies, W. 126–7 Spiller, Henry 152 Spinning Cotton see Fang mianhua (Spinning Cotton) Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 1–2, 5, 122n Srikrishnacharitham (Lord Krishna’s Story) 173, 175, 177, 179–84, 185n Sriramacharitham (Lord Rama’s Story) 166, 179, 182 Steel, Janet 192 stereotypes 9, 188; Singapore tango clubs 52–6 Strawson, Tiffany 132–3 Strothers, Lee 136 Subhadra-Dhananjayam 181, 183, 184n, 185n Sunardi, Christina 152, 154n

Index 205

Sunarya, Dalang Abah (Abeng) 17, 18, 20 Sundanese performance 15–27 Sundari, Jai Shankar 41, 46 sutradhar 42–5, 47–50 Sutterheim, W. F. 15, 23 Syal, Meera 189 symbolic violence, noh 29–32 Tamasha Theatre 190–1, 193, 196, 197n The Taming of the Shrew 45 tango clubs, cosmopolitanism 52–65 Taniguchi Akiko 133 Tara Arts 188–90, 191–2, 196, 197n Taylor, J. 57, 59 tayuban 15 Teele, Rebecca 10, 124–41 Terayama Shu¯ ji 110 tesarugaku 35n Tessenkai noh troupe 32–3 Thambi, Irayimman 87–8 Thampuran, Kottarakkara 86 Thampuran, Kottayathu 87 There’s Something About Simmy 195 Thornbury, Barbara 145 Thread Hell see Ito jigoku (Thread Hell) Tian Jiyun 70 Tianchan Theatre 72, 73, 75, 77n Tomko, Linda 56 Tong Zhiling 70, 72, 73–6, 77n, 98, 99–100, 102–7 Tonooka Naomi 117 topeng 10, 15–16, 17, 18–24, 125–6, 129, 131–3, 138n; cirebon 17, 18–19, 20, 22, 24; Cristina Formaggia 125, 126, 128, 129, 131–3 Topeng Shakti 131–2 Toranayuddham (War at the Flagpost) 86 Traditional Theatre Training (TTT) 136 transvestites 15, 23, 39 Trinh Minh-ha 62–3 Trippunithura Kathakali Kendram (Ladies Troupe) 83, 91, 92–5 Tsui no sumika, kari no yado: Kawashima Yoshiko den (Final Home, Temporary Lodging: The Life of Kawashima Yoshiko) 110–11, 117–20 Tsumura, R. 31 Tsumura Kimiko 37n, 135 Turner, Victor 161 Turvey-Sauron, Victoria 4–5 Udaka Michishige 133–4, 136 Unsuitable Girls 194–5 Untouchable 190–1

utopian performatives 117, 120 Uzawa Hikaru 32–3 Uzawa Hisa 32–4 Varma, Geetha 91, 92, 93, 94–5 Varma, Radhika 91, 94, 95 Verma, Jatinder 189–90 Vickers, A. 127, 129, 139n Victorian morality 3, 5 Vigilantes 189 Wang Huifang 71 Wang Keqin 76n Wang Yaoqing 70, 77n Wang Yurong 72 Wangi, Sena 21 war plays 86–7 Watanabe Eri 110 wayang 15–24 wayang golek 16, 20–1, 24 wayang wong 132 Weber, Harold 3 Weber, M. 29 Weedon, C. 93 Weikun Cheng 66, 76n Wianta Foundation 128, 138n Wilde, Oscar 102 Wilson, Amrit 189 Wolf, Rita 188, 189, 191 Wolff, Janet 55 women’s liberation movement 110, 125 Wong, Deborah 62 wonhyeong 143, 151, 154n Wu Suqiu 98, 99–100, 102–4, 105–7 Xiao Cuihua 97, 98, 100, 103, 104–5, 106–7 Xiaochang 99, 102 Ximi zhuan (Theatre Fans) 99 Xin Yanqiu 66 Xing Fan 9, 66–79 Xu Lanyuan 70 Xue Yanqin 66, 69 Xun Huisheng 67, 70, 71, 75, 99 Yamaguchi Yoshiko (Li Xianglan) 119–20 Yan Huizhu 66–7, 70, 72, 76 Yan Lanqiu 70 Yanagisawa Hakuo 117 Yanaihara Mikuni 121 Yang Jongsung 143 Yangju Byeolsandae 143, 146–7, 148, 150 Yanming Troupe 72



yeonhui (folk theatre) 144, 154n Yu Gyeongseong 147 Yu Lianquan 71 Yu Zhenting 68, 69 Zarrilli, Phillip 84, 169 Zeami 134, 162–3 Zhang Eyun 66, 69 Zhang Guyu 73

Zhang Kai 69 Zhang Wenyan 102 Zhao Yanxia 70, 72, 76 Zhao Yikuan 68–9 Zhonghua Indigenous Theatre School 70–1, 72, 104 Zhu Guifang 70 Zhu Ruxiang 70 Zupancic, Alenka 44