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Reviewed by:
  • Trance and Transformation of the Actor: Japanese Noh and Balinese Masked Dance-Drama
  • Kathy Foley
Trance and Transformation of the Actor: Japanese Noh and Balinese Masked Dance-Drama. By Margaret Coldiron. Studies in Theatre Arts 20. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004. 350 pp. Hardcover $129.95.

This clearly written and feelingly argued book gives an introduction to Balinese topeng and calonarang and Japanese nō, using these three genres to explore mask performance as a dissociative performance practice that the author sees as analogous to trance behaviors. As John Emigh notes in his introduction to the work, Coldiron is probably the first to seriously undertaken a comparison of Balinese and Japanese mask traditions (p. xvii). She does not argue for any clear historical linkage (though she does not rule this out), but rather points out similarities in the performance practices to help her articulate a wider theory of mask performance based on these models. The text [End Page 361] contributes new data to our understandings of the three forms, via the interviews shared. The text will be of interest to those who research or perform these Asian genres as well as students who are seeking a quick, clear introduction to them. The work enters into dialogue with earlier texts and training methods of mask performance, including the work of Jacques Copeau, Michel St. Dennis, and Jacques Lecoq. It continues the Western dialogue on the implications of mask work for Western performance training that has emerged since the early twentieth century.

The material contains much that is illuminating, especially in quotes by many of the artists of the mask traditions discussed. The book gives some of the clearest descriptions of actual performances of topeng, calonarang, and that I have encountered. It discusses the reactions of multiple performers to questions of what they experience when they perform mask genres, rather than being a recording of the particularities of a single teacher as found in important earlier work, for example, of John Emigh (Masked Performance: The Play of Self and Other in Ritual and Theatre [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996]) or Rebecca Teele (editor, Nō/Kyogen Masks in Performance (Claremont, CA: Mime Journal, 1984). This compilation of responses by many different performers gives new data on both Bali and Japan that will be appreciated by specialists.

In some ways the Balinese material is more in depth. Coldiron seems able to talk more clearly about her own training and has the opportunity to draw clearly on the new generation of Balinese performers such as I Made Bandem, I Wayan Dibia, I Nyoman Catra, and others who combine traditional Balinese training with understanding of Western academic traditions. I Made Djimat, Ida Bagus Anom, and Ida Bagus Alit are other major informants, so she has tapped Bali's top mask dancers for her information. For Japanese work, Coldiron draws heavily on Rebecca Teele, Udaka Michishige, Matsuda Kenji, and Haruo Nishino, among others. The limitations of language and the more difficult entry into the world of Japanese schools make this section seem less representative of the wider field, in contrast to the Balinese sample, but the greater amount of material already written in English on Japanese performance allows her to give a good overview of this art as well. She is very good at pulling together what is available in English, and the bibliography is an excellent starting place for Westerners approaching any of these arts. Sources in Japanese and Balinese however, are missing. She gives fine descriptions of performances in actual practice as she traces what happens on and off the stage during a calonarang performance, topeng presentations, a torch light performance, and a Kongo school performance of Hagoromo and Tōru. The clarity about these representative performances is a strength that makes the work interesting for the specialist and, at the same time, accessible to the beginning student who seeks to demystify the Asian forms. Coldiron is a clear translator between cultures, but her interest remains rooted to a Western [End Page 362] theatrical nexus; the potential of mask as a theatre tool and its impact on the performer are her true areas of interest.

Bali and Japan are case studies...


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pp. 361-364
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