Mei Lanfang, Brecht, Meyerhold, and Other Issues: A Reply to Janne Risum
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 32, Number 1, July 2013
- pp. 100-106
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COMMUNICATIONS FROM READERS MEI LANFANG, BRECHT, MEYERHOLD, AND OTHER ISSUES: A REPLY TO JANNE RISUM I read with great interest and gratitude Janne Risum's extensive review1 of my recent book, Mei Lanfang and the Twentieth-Century International Stage: Chinese Theatre Placed and Displaced (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). As I wholeheartedly agree with Risum in her cogent remark that ``serious debate is best fed by questions rather than ready-made answers'' (p. 236), I want to address some of the points that she made in her review. I want to emphasize that as an important development of the arguments I made in my 1997 article on Brecht's interpretation of Chinese acting,2 I compared and discussed in the book that Risum reviewed (hereafter, Mei Lanfang) different versions of Brecht's article on Mei Lanfang -³ (1894±1961) and Chinese acting. In addition, I called particular attention to one of Brecht's most signi®cant concepts, refunctioningÐa key concept that has been generally forgotten or overlooked, and revealed how Brecht used ``refunctioning'' as a strategy in his interpretation of, and his judgment on, the usability of Chinese and Japanese theatres (pp. 210±13). In my 1999 article on Meyerhold's interpretation of Mei Lanfang and the Chinese theatre,3 I discussed all the major sources I had found on the subject published in Russian, French, Chinese, and English. In the expanded and revised chapter in Mei Lanfang, I made use of many other new sources (in Russian, French, Chinese, and English) on this subject that were not covered in Risum's 2001 article on Meyerhold and Mei Lanfang.4 I also added a section on Alexander Tairov's interpretation of the Chinese theatre in the context of his idea of ``Theatre of Synthesis'' (pp. 170±73). Risum compares my work to her 2001 article, and to two others, this way: ``. . . Tian focuses more on the misinterpretations at the same time that he presents what he thinks is a more authentic and correct understanding of Mei's art'' (p. 231). Here I want to make it clear that more than that, my arguments, whether as originally put forth in my 1997 and 1999 articles, or as expanded on in this book, are fundamentally different from Risum's as put forth in her 2001 article. 1 CHINOPERL Papers 31 (2012): 228±36. 2 Min Tian, ```Alienation-Effect' for Whom? Brecht's (Mis)interpretation of the Classical Chinese Theatre,'' Asian Theatre Journal 14.2 (Fall 1997): 200±22. 3 Min Tian, ``Meyerhold Meets Mei Lanfang: Staging the Grotesque and the Beautiful,'' Comparative Drama 33.2 (Summer 1999): 234±69. 4 Janne Risum, ``Mei Lanfang: A Model for the Theatre of the Future,'' in Be Âatrice PiconVallin and Vadim Shcherbakov, eds., Meyerhold, rezhissura v perspektive veka/Meyerhold, la mise en sce Áne dans le sie Ácle (Moscow: OGI, 2001), pp. 258±83. CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature 32.1 (July 2013): 100±106 # The Permanent Conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, Inc. 2013 DOI: 10.1179/0193777413Z.0000000005 In her review, Risum speaks twice of my approach as an ``essentialization'' of xiqu 2ò (indigenous Chinese theatre). The ®rst time comes after she has rehearsed my argument that Mei Lanfang's art could not truly act as a model for Western antirealist avant-gardists (such as Brecht and Meyerhold) because it does not conform to their theories and praxis and, in effect, it ``converges in some of the most essential points'' (emphasis added) with the Stanislavsky systemÐthose points that ``antirealist avant-gardists attacked as naturalistic'' (p. 14). Risum then makes this statement: ``. . . with this move, Min Tian turns the view he is opposing upside down by going to the other extreme (from `cold' to `warm') and in so doing he essentializes xiqu as he understands its conventions'' (p. 232). As I strongly believe that Mei Lanfang was much closer to Stanislavsky than he was to Brecht (if such a comparison has to be made), I would stress that what I have done in my exposition and deconstruction of Brecht's ``cold'' interpretation of Chinese acting is to underline the paramount importance of ``inner experiencing'' and``identi®cation'' (she shen...