Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 104-106
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Nicola Savarese describes his new book, Il Teatro Eurasiano, written in Italian, as an "escort" to his award-winning Teatro e Spettacolo fra Oriente e Occidente (1992), also published by Editori Laterza. Probably the publisher asked him to provide a quick, easily readable survey of some of the material he had previously addressed in more scholarly detail. At 125 pages, Il Teatro Eurasiano is roughly a quarter as long as Teatro e Spettacolo; about half of it is lifted almost verbatim, and much of the rest consists of reworkings of parts of the earlier book. The focus, however, is now much more on the twentieth century and the importation of various Asian techniques by a range of European and American figures generally concerned with revitalizing their own theatres. It is from these various exemplars that readers would have to deduce what Savarese understands by "Eurasian theatre."
The book's opening chapter tells of Faubion Bowers' encounter with Japanese culture twenty days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it goes on to discuss Ruth Benedict's analysis of the lack of mutual comprehension between American and Japanese cultures. Chapter 2 turns to some of the deleterious effects of centuries of European colonialism everywhere in Asia except Japan and Thailand. With respect to theatre, Savarese uses Said's Orientalism to argue that Western understandings of the "East/West dichotomy" have forced a static view of "Asian theatre" as something that exists unchanging from the past, rather than registering a constant renewing and change within extremely various forms. Savarese then homes in on two extratheatrical dimensions that are pertinent here and have to be cleared away: "the Myth of the East" and "Exoticism." Chapter 3 traces the former back to the fifth-century Greek encounter with Xerxes of Persia—since which time an image layer has been built up having little to do with geography (defining the "East" or "Orient," for example, as "all lands east of Anglo-Latino culture") [End Page 104] and everything to do with a hierarchical center/periphery model. Chapter 4, after considering various meanings of the "exotic" through history, begins to put in play the term "Eurasian," citing both the anthropologist's view of it as referring to a territory delimited by cultural traits and the sociologist's use of it to mean a person of "mixed blood." It was first associated with theatre, we learn in Chapter 5, by Eugenio Barba in 1988, with an eye to Stanislavsky, Brecht, and others influenced by Asian theatre.
The following two chapters, somewhat disconcertingly, return to exoticism and colonialism respectively, summarizing in ten pages what Teatro e Spettacolo took more than 250 to detail. In the seventeenth century, Europeans were enthused by colors, shapes, objects, and so on that either were Asian or could appear to be, and they used them without discrimination. The Jesuits brought back The Orphan of Zhao—minus this opera's music—and William Jones discovered Sakuntala. Savarese stresses that not only did Europeans' interest in Asian theatre coincide with recognition of their own theatre as worthy of study but they used, at least initially, Western criteria and methods. In other words, there was great concern for textual analysis and practically none for the missing theatrical techniques. Even if there had been, moreover, it would have been hard for Europeans, used to regarding song, dance, and dramatic narrative as discrete entities, to appreciate the synthesis of these elements that constitute "theatre" for Asian cultures. What made the difference here, perhaps, was the great expositions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where for the first time Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese forms were performed in European capitals and Sada Yacco (Kawakami Sadayakko) and her husband Kawakami Otojiro toured the Continent. For, as Savarese writes, while Otojiro then returned to Japan to open an acting school devoted to naturalism, Asian theatre forms now began to play in Europe a "sometimes preeminent" role in a reaction against naturalism.