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Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 108-110

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Estudos Sobre Artes Cénicas Asiáticas. By João Soares Santos. Lisbon: Fundação Oriente, 2000. Paper. Price NA
Buto: Pensamento Em Evolução. By Christine Greiner. São Paulo: Escrituras Editora, 1998. Cloth. Price NA
O Teatro No E O Ocidente. By Christine Greiner. São Paulo: Annablume Editora, 2000. Paper. Price NA

João Soares Santos' Estudos sobre Artes Cénicas Asiáticas (Studies of Asian Theatrical Arts) is a sprawling and audacious work. In 600 pages and 34 chapters he discusses the history, practice, and significance of bugaku, no, bunraku, kabuki, Chinese opera, Khmer dance, Vietnamese and Indonesian puppetry, Indian odissi dance, kathakali, and bharata natyam; muses separately on such issues as the use of masks and marionettes, verbal versus gestural expression, and the roles of music and dance; and even ruminates on the influence of performance traditions on Indian pop cinema. Throughout Santos considers the theoretical and mystical precepts animating the theatres of East, South, and Southeast Asia. It is difficult to imagine any American scholar (save perhaps James Brandon) daring to write such a book.

Artes Cénicas Asiáticas, however, occupies a different niche than The Cambridge Guide to Asian Theatre. Although Santos covers a great deal of ground, he does not attempt to introduce the theatrical legacy of every Asian nation from Japan to Pakistan. Whereas Brandon's Cambridge Guide succinctly relates historical developments, specific practices, and genealogies of practitioners, Santos is primarily interested in underlying theoretical concepts. Instead of "thick description," he writes with an insightful bravado often lacking in historical scholarship. At his best he rivals Artaud (an admitted inspiration) in his exuberant vision, Lévi-Strauss in his rational structuralism, and Richard Schechner in his sheer eclecticism.

It is not apparent that any primary research contributed to the writing of this book. Furthermore, its bibliography (with few uncommon or specifically Portuguese sources) may not arouse much interest for Anglophone Asianists. His failure to discuss the specific innovations of (nontheorist) practitioners is a more fundamental omission. Santos presents Asian theatre history as an essentially philosophical discourse between sociopolitical frameworks and theatrical form. It is therefore somewhat abstracted both from cultural complexity and from individual genius. Zeami appears more as a [End Page 108] conduit for Zen mysticism than as an extraordinary actor, for example, and the diversity of Chinese opera merits little recognition. Such quibbles may be beside the point. Readers looking for new research or comprehensive treatments will certainly be disappointed, but those interested in the question of a common "spirit" animating Asian theatre and culture may find it breathtaking.

Christine Greiner's two books, by contrast, trace specific practices of no and buto within the global performance economy of the twentieth century. Buto: Pensamento em Evolução (Buto: Thought in Evolution) discusses the aesthetics and development of ankoku buto, beginning with Tatsumi Hijikata's debut performance in 1959 through several generations of dancers in Japan and abroad. Greiner portrays Hijikata as poised between a recovered (or reinvented) Japaneseness, the influence of Western (and especially German) modern dance, and the desire to create a radical new modernity based on an emphasis on individual imagination. The book is organized into four chapters, arranged thematically, each addressing a binary struggle that has influenced the development of buto. The first chapter, "The Body That Devours Words" explains Hijikata's understanding of the textuality of the body and his seminal relationship with playwright-novelist Yukio Mishima, who encouraged him to incorporate the written and spoken word. The second chapter, "The Time That Devours Spaces" discusses buto's evocation of a space that is not empty but consciously rendered absent. For Hijikata, this absent or negative space severs the body from Japanese culture and yet connects it to the asymmetric structure of the traditional Japanese aesthetic of ma (timing). The third chapter, "The Dance That Devours the Wind," goes further in exploring buto's ambivalent relationship to Japanese formalism. Although it explicitly draws from and creates...