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Reviewed by:
  • The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance ed. by Dassia N. Posner, Claudia Orenstein, and John Bell
  • Jennifer Goodlander
THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PUPPETRY AND MATERIAL PERFORMANCE. Edited by Dassia N. Posner, Claudia Orenstein, and John Bell. London: Routledge, 2014. 351 pp. Cloth, $205.00. (Paper forthcoming).

Inspired in part by the April 2011 conference “Puppetry and Postdramatic Performance: An International Conference on Performing Objects in the 21st Century,” hosted by the University of Connecticut in Storrs, (which I attended as a presenter), The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance seeks to invigorate and advance the scholarly conversation about puppets and performing objects. The book is quite massive in size and scope, addressing different historical, geographical, and theoretical conversations with articles by both new and advanced scholars as well as practitioners. It does not seek to be exhaustive, but rather provides a snapshot of many different voices and ideas about puppet performance today. Even though Asian puppet performance is not the sole focus of the book, there are many articles that would interest the Asian theatre scholar and practitioner both directly and indirectly.

The book is structured in three parts with a total of five sections and twenty-eight chapters, allowing for a wide coverage of genres, approaches, and regions. Each part begins with a thoughtful introduction, which provides cohesion and structure to the essays. The first part, “Theory and Practice,” offers different perspectives on what puppet and object performance is from scholars and artists working with puppets. These essays expand notions of the puppet and complicate how the relationship between object, actor, and audience might be viewed. Each author provides useful frameworks for thinking about puppetry in contemporary and traditional Asian performance. For example, Paul Piris examines the ontological ambiguity of the puppet through the idea [End Page 214] of co-presence, which, “inherently supposes that the performer creates a character through the puppet but also appears as another character whose presence next to the puppet has a dramaturgical meaning” (p.31). This concept would be useful for thinking about the puppet and puppeteer(s) in Japanese bunraku or Indonesian wayang golek.

Within part 1, Stephen Kaplin, a puppeteer who borrows from Chinese shadow theatre in his own practice, writes about “some of the essential aspects of shadow theatre performance and how the root of this ancient performance genre reflects upon the physical and metaphysical properties of light” (p. 91) in his chapter, “The Eye of Light: The Tension of Image and Object in Shadow Theatre and Beyond.” He uses the language of physics and philosophy to explain how through light and darkness, shadow puppetry around the world references both the creation and destruction of the universe. Kaplin’s descriptions and analysis invokes reasons why shadow theatre is so magical and he makes interesting interconnections between various forms, although it must be noted that not all of his details are wholly accurate—for example, he describes the flickering flame used for illumination in Javanese wayang kulit, while in practice, Javanese dalang typically use electric light. Kaplin concludes, “I see no reason why contemporary shadow theatre need lose its connection to the primal forces imbuing its prehistoric roots, nor why it should not simultaneously continue to exploit new technologies as practical media for aesthetic expression” (p. 97).

It is perhaps no surprise that part 2, titled “New Dialogues with History and Tradition,” contains the most chapters on Asia puppetry. Claudia Orenstein complicates tradition and history in relation to the puppet in her introduction to the section, concluding that “to transform puppetry in the present is inherently to be in dialogue with its history” (p. 113). This part of the book offers an excellent example of the riches to be found within theatre scholarship that has a global focus. Jane Marie Law’s excellent chapter, “Puppet Think: The Implication of Japanese Ritual Puppetry for Thinking through Puppetry Performances,” provides history and details about the lesser-known, compared to bunraku, ritual Japanese puppetry, or ningyō (which translates as both “puppet” and “doll”), to examine how, “a ritual object is used to stand for a larger world of meaning that is lost or the loss of which is threatened...


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pp. 214-216
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