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Reviewed by:
  • Eurasian Theatre: Dance and Performance Between East and West from Classical Antiquity to the Present
  • Kathy Foley
Eurasian Theatre: Dance and Performance Between East and West from Classical Antiquity to the Present. By Nicola Savarese, trans. by Richard Fowler, updated and ed. by Vicki Ann Cremona. Holstebro, Denmark: Icarus Enterprise Publishing, 2010. 640 pp. Cloth, $35.00.

This is a revision of Teatro e spettacolo fra Oriente e Occiente (Rome: Laterza, 1992) and serves as a valuable tool to those who cannot read Italian. First, it has significant scholarship that attempts to give an overview of East-West points of contact in the Greek, premodern, Enlightenment, and Romantic eras; second, it includes significant case studies of interchanges in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century between Japan and Europe; and, finally, it informs us of the perspectives behind the work of Odin Theatre and Eugenio Barba. The author, Nicola Savarese, is a member of the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) founded by Barba and collaborated with him on the important Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1991). If that book gives the high points of Barba-influenced physical theatre research, this volume attempts to ground the endeavor in the long-term history of cross-cultural performance exchanges. Savarese is attempting continental-style scholarship, which goes deep and writes more universal histories than the norm in English-language scholarship. Though the results are not a full picture (who has the breadth of languages, literatures, expertise to do this topic full justice?), the contribution is considerable especially on Japanese, Indian, and the European sides. I found information on plays by Euripides and Sophocles that were performed at Susa in 324 bce, when Greek officials married the daughters of Persian nobles (p. 21). I learned that the German scholar Albertus Magnus "dressed as an Arab when he went to the University of Paris in 1244 to lecture on Aristotle" (p. 65)—a piece of theatre itself. Madame de Scudery may have written Ibrahim or the Noble of Bassa (1641)—many facts about the European theatre, the Jesuits in China, and so on were new to me.

Though the text was initially completed in the 1990s, an editor has updated it with more recent scholarship making the work more useful. The wealth of subjects is too vast to list in a review. Though the author does sometimes consider the East to West gaze, especially when we get to the Meiji period of Japan and Kawakami Otojiro (the "father" of shimpa) and Mori Ogai are on their occidental pilgrimages, the primary gaze is the changing European view interpreting "orient" differently in different eras. The first two sections, "The 'Maschera' of Marco Polo" and "The Savage Harlequin," deal with the ancient period and renaissance, respectively, where the Levant and, to a lesser extent, Persia and China were most concerned. The discussion of Orphelin de la Chine (Orphan of China) and the impact of Jesuit reports of the Chinese are especially worth reading. While others have discussed the specifics of this important first translation of a Chinese play, Savarese places the work in a strong context of French political and social use of the orient as a trope to urge political change in France. Part 3, "The Reincarnation of Sakuntala," discusses the growth of orientalism as a concomitant of colonialism and gives [End Page 335] particular attention to the British discovery of Sanskrit drama and its implications for Europe. There are in-depth discussions of various players in the Calcutta English colonial theatre, characters like Herasim Lebedev, a Russian who was active in theatre from 1785-1797, who translated The Disguise by Paul Jodrell and Love Is the Best Doctor, an adaption of Moliere into Bengali, and who worked with Indian actors playing to a mixed audience of Europeans and Indians in 1795. The European fascination with the nautch and other aspect of the Indian-European connection are plumbed with attention to English, French, and German ballet, opera, and theatre.

These early chapters are kaleidoscopic, packing in many personalities and covering centuries. Though the writing style continues to jump back and forth in time, creating a sense of dizziness, the topics become more focused...