The Newsletter 51 Summer 2009

Asian performing arts in the academy

Matthew Isaac Cohen

Grouping Asia’s performing arts together is what Gayatri Spivak calls a ‘strategic essentialism’. Europe’s performing arts have historically had more cohesion than their Asian counterparts. The reason why we might want to cluster such different forms as Japanese nihon buyo dance, Mongolian throat singing and Malaysian bangsawan theatre, Matthew Cohen argues, is not because these heterogeneous genres share essential characteristics commonly imputed to Asian arts such as spirituality, audience participation, stylisation and intermediality. Rather, that Asian performing arts taken as a whole can impact on Eurocentrist beliefs and practices.