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Reviewed by:
  • Women in Asian Performance: Aesthetics and Politics ed. by Arya Madhavan
  • Valerie Williams
WOMEN IN ASIAN PERFORMANCE: AESTHETICS AND POLITICS. Edited by Arya Madhavan. New York: Routledge, 2017. 206 pp. 3 illus. Paperback, $40.00.

In her anthology, Women in Asian Performance: Aesthetics and Politics, Arya Madhavan brings together thirteen essays illustrating the various ways women have been included in, then excluded from, and finally reclaimed their participation in a multiplicity of Asian performance forms. What sets Madhavan's collection apart from other anthologies is that all authors were raised or have spent much of their lives in the performance forms and cultures. This first-hand knowledge brings a [End Page 492] richness and authority to the writing that is absent in other research that does not have the same context. Madhavan divides the book into three sections: the first concerns women's erasure from performance traditions, the second addresses the intervention of women in patriarchal performance genres, and the third defines how women reconstructed performance practices.

In her introduction, Madhavan states her intention was to create an anthology that views Asian performance from the perspective of Asian women performers. Madhavan emphasizes how women's contributions to Asian performance were and are still being erased. To depict the changing roles of women, many of the essays provide descriptions of historical traditions and training methods which provides valuable background to readers with little knowledge of Asian performance forms. Along with notes and reference lists, several essays provide glossaries which aid in understanding. The anthology provides valuable insight for research into specific performance traditions; reading the whole text demonstrates how women have been erased and reclaimed performance in different countries.

The first section of the text focuses on erasure of women in a variety of Asian performances including Sundanese traditions, Indian theatre, Japanese noh, Singapore tango clubs, and jingju of Republican China. Kathy Foley begins her essay "The Woman Thing: Issues and Advances for Women in Sundanese Performance" with a history of local women's participation in performance as actresses and audiences in West Java; this background assists in understanding how women have successfully broken barriers in some Indonesian performance arts and not others. Foley provides a balanced explanation of the non-gendered ideology behind Sundanese performance and illustrates how it differs from the actual male-dominated practice.

In her essay entitled "Women in a Man's World: Gender and Power in Japanese Noh Theatre" Barbara Geilhorn discusses women's continuous participation in noh theatre, the efforts to erase that female presence, and restrictions placed on contemporary female performers. Geilhorn provides practical advice on how to further women's participation in noh through strict adherence to conventions; she advocates performing traditional scripts but with a female perspective.

Angelie Multani admits that using a play with an all-male cast to talk about women in Asian performance may seem strange, but her discussion "'Just Like a Woman:' Female Impersonation, Gender Construction and Role Playing in Begum Barve" is insightful and effective in considering gender roles in Indian performance.

In the fourth essay, Shzr Ee Tan describes the popularity of Argentinian tango in Singapore and the gender-based differences in [End Page 493] performance and audience. While the article is informative, it seems an odd piece for inclusion in this anthology. Unlike the other performance genres discussed, tango has been imported from another culture and only recently become a part of Asian society; gender inequalities in the form are born in the Argentinian tradition.

Xing Fan's contribution focuses on jingju actresses during China's Republican period (1912–1949), a time when women moved from performing in small private spaces to sharing the stage with men before being banned from acting by the government. She notes that the ban could have been a result of male performer's jealousy, but the ban also reflected the Chinese societal change in gender roles.

The intervention portion of the anthology begins with Madhavan's "Between Roars and Tears: Toward the Female Kathakali" which reviews the traditional plays of male dominated kathakali and how female performers changed the patriarchal traditions. Madhavan astutely provides the necessary history, catalog of plays, and description of past devotion to male...


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pp. 492-495
Launched on MUSE
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