• Category: Theater
  • Words: 1422
  • Grade: 100
American theater should be seen against its background: the long, important heritage of the theaters of ASIA. There were three main traditional theaters--- Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. Here is a little Asian theater with some facts.

Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. It originated in the area of southwestern India now known as the state of Kerala. Kathakali is a group presentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The dancers adorn themselves in huge skirts and head-dress, wearing a most intricate style of make-up. Kathakali draws heavily from drama and is danced with elaborate masks and costumes. Kathakali recitals are generally long and while other dance forms are more emotive than narrative, Kathakali is both. It combines dance with dialogue to bring myth and legend to life in the temple courtyards of Kerala. The dancers use their stunning costumes and make-up, with the accompaniment of drums and vocalists, to create various moods and emotions. A traditional Kathakali performance begins in the evening and continues throughout the night, culminating at the auspicious hour of dawn, when Good finally conquers Evil. Today, however, it has been modified for the proscenium stage, and urban audiences can participate in this ritualistic theatre experience in the comfort of a plush auditorium, within the span of a couple of hours.
Bharata Natyam is believed to be the oldest, because it is the form which is based to the largest extent, on ancient texts on the dance. For centuries it was danced by Devadasis in the temples of south India. The songs pertain mostly to the theme of love but not sensual love. A Bharata Natyam performance begins with alarippu, an invocatory number which is structured to give the effect of the body unfolding itself by degrees, as if in offering to God like a comic dance of Shiva.

The wayang or shadow puppet is the most prominent theatrical expressions in Bali (Indonesia). In a wayang kulit performance, flat cutout figures are silhouetted against a translucent, white screen, with a coconut-husk lamp as its source of light. It is mostly expressions or enactments of religious mythology blended into one with historical facts that will keep a Balinese entertained all night long. They also have operas such as Ramayana and Mahabharata performed in traditional way on stage. One hundred people at one time perform the play.
Traditional Chinese Operas With a history of 800 years, opera is the main form of Chinese theatre, integrating singing, dialogue, acting and acrobatics into a unique and fascinating art form. Chinese opera has a rich repertoire including thematic operas, comedies, tragedies, tragicomedies and poetic folk operas. Local operas have their own peculiar characteristics, often presenting local languages, songs and music. The most famous operas are the Peking Opera (Beijing Opera), Kun Opera, Shaoxing Opera, Huangmei Opera, Yue Opera, Chuan Opera, Ping Opera, Hebei Bangzi, Henan Bangzi, Chao Opera, etc. The performers enact dramas based on historical epics, legend, and myth. The characters' roles and social ranks are conveyed through elaborate costumes and stylized makeup. The Beijing Opera traditionally employed an all-male cast with female impersonators, but has recently expanded its scope to admit female actors. The actor Mei Lanfang brought its influence to the West through his tours of Russia and the U.S. in the 1930s.

Modern Chinese Drama

Modern Chinese Drama, or Huaju (spoken play), started to develop in the early part of this century in Shanghai. Different from traditional Chinese opera, it soon won fans for its realistic portrayals of the lives of common folks and for its wide range of works by such Western playwrights as Shakespeare, Moliere and Chekhov.
Since then, a number of Chinese playwrights have created works that realistically reflect the changes in the lives of Chinese before and after the founding of New China. The most memorable include " Teahouse, " "The Peking Man, " " The Thunderstorm, " " The Family," "The Prairie" and "The Death of a Famous Opera Performer." Younger playwrights have tried to develop a more modern style, exploring the inner psyche of personalities with more modernist works and incorporating more modern theatrical techniques. Unfortunately, modern Chinese playwrights and performers have to fight hard to attract viewers away from pop music concerts, variety shows and television programs.
Created around the year 1600, around the same time the English began to form colonies on the American continent, the history of Kabuki is as long as that of the United States and just as multi-faceted. While it barely scratches the surface, the brief description of the history of Kabuki that follows will attempt to give a general overview of the theater.
Okuni, a shrine maiden from Izumo Shrine, created kabuki. Her performances in the dry riverbeds of the ancient capital of Kyoto caused a sensation and soon their scale increased and a number of rival companies arose. Early Kabuki was much different from what is seen today and was comprised mostly of large ensemble dances performed by women. Most of these women acted as prostitutes off stage and finally the government banned women from the stage in an effort to protect public morals, just one in a long history of government restrictions placed on the theater.

Theater and Stage
Kabuki theaters in Japan today are built, without exception, in Western style, insofar as their building and staging facilities and accoutrements are concerned. They have retained, however, some of the significant features of the traditional kabuki theater, such as the hanamichi and the mawari-butai.
         A review of theatrical history of the world shows that an ancient dramatic art, once its form has been stabilized in a near perfect state, has been capable of surviving the test of time even when its literary elements were no longer contemporary. The truth of this statement is borne out by the present state of kabuki. It does not depict contemporary life in Japan, a country whose whole civilization has undergone a great degree of Westernization. Yet it enjoys wide popularity. A principal reason for this lies in the fact that it is now a crystallized form. Kabuki has thus retained, and seems destined to retain, a place in the nation's pride and affection.
As you can see there are many facets of Asian theater. Every culture has something to offer to this timeless art form. Asian theater is now becoming more modern and deals more with today's issues. It is clearly here to stay.

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