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Posts Tagged ‘new york times’

New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay shares with us today his review of a series of performances by Bandô Kotoji at Japan Society in New York last week.

I imagine the performances were marketed as “Kabuki Dance” so as to help attract potential audiences, and to help people get a sense of what it was they were going to see. Though this dance form is known in Japan as nihon buyô (lit. “Japan dance”), it seems not uncommon at all in English to refer to it as “kabuki dance.” There is merit in this, as buyô is extremely closely related to kabuki. Many of the dances in buyô come directly from the kabuki theatre – that is to say, many of these dances are taken directly from dance segments in longer plays – and the forms are essentially identical, so far as I know, in the sense that all professional kabuki actors train extensively in nihon buyô and employ buyô movements and style in their movement on stage.

Yet, this application of the term “kabuki dance” can lead to confusion, and in Mr. Macaulay’s review, it seems to have done just that. He writes “Many Westerners assume that Kabuki is an all-male genre, with female roles taken by male players in the onnagata tradition. Mr. Bando’s troupe, however, is not the first I have seen to feature women.” As a specialist (I’m assuming) in Western/modern dance, I cannot blame him for not knowing the intricacies of Japanese art forms, though, then again, as a dance critic with such a prominent paper as the New York Times, and as someone who’s reviewing a “kabuki dance” performance, perhaps we might expect him to do just a little more research. In fact, professional kabuki theatre remains wholly the realm of men, and dance is a separate story. There are all=women kabuki troupes, and regional/local (jishibai) troupes which include women, but the chief professional, official, “core” kabuki, as performed at Kabuki-za and the National Theatre, and as performed on rare occasions on the road (e.g. in New York and Washington DC in 2007), remains an all-male affair, making use of onnagata to play the male roles.

In the remainder of the review, Macaulay offers some fascinating insights into questions behind Westerners’ reception of kabuki. He writes, “So when Westerners find they like some Kabuki, are they admiring something that has been subtly Westernized in unascertainable ways? When a Kabuki performance leaves us cold, is that because we’re seeing something authentic but distanced from our sensibilities, or because we are simply seeing a poor rendition?” Can we ever fully set aside our Western upbringing / identity / cultural background, and appreciate Kabuki as a Japanese would, i.e. as it is meant to be appreciated? Now that I write this out, I realize it sounds like a Nihonjinron argument, albeit phrased by an American. I’d rather not go down that road. Still, I appreciate very much Mr. Macaulay’s investigations, and questioning what it is he enjoys in the kabuki, and how it is that he engages with it, as a Westerner. We must acknowledge our own background, our own biases, and throw objectivity out of the window in order to appreciate how it is that we react to, appreciate, and judge art forms, whether they be “foreign” or from a more familiar source.

I regret that I was not able to be in New York for this performance (or in San Francisco or LA for other performances & workshops which took place recently). You can’t be everywhere at once, of course, but being in a major world city is a start. I hope that those who attended enjoyed it, got a lot out of it, and I hope to be able to see such performances, and take part in nihon buyô / kabuki workshops again myself soon.

For some reason it does not seem to be listed anywhere online, but in fact, our own buyô / kabuki movement teacher, Onoe Kikunobu-sensei, (who I studied under in preparation for the kabuki production last year) will be holding a recital along with her troupe here in Honolulu, on Easter Sunday, at Orvis Auditorium (Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Music building).

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Lots of interesting stuff in the news today – mostly from the NY Times, as it’s one of the chief news sources I read.

*Anthropologist E.B. Banning argues that Gobekli Tepe, an 11,000-year-old site that has been billed as the world’s first temple, may not have been exclusively or primarily a sacred space, and further, that the dichotomy between sacred spaces and secular (mundane) spaces [I don’t like the word profane], is a rather modern concept.

Actually, we just discussed just yesterday in the course I’m TAing how churches and mosques have always, historically, traditionally, served as more than just religious spaces, but as community centers as well, where a wide variety of activities took place.

*Thanks to the Heritage of Japan blog for sharing links and content from several news articles today discussing the newly opened museum at Tôdai-ji, a temple established in 752 to be the central, chief Buddhist temple for all of Japan.

For those unfamiliar, Tôdai-ji, in the city of Nara, contains the largest bronze Buddha in Japan, and the largest wooden building in the world. This new museum will feature a great many National Treasures and other treasures of Japanese Buddhist art not so easily (if at all) accessible, that is, viewable, by the public previously. I look forward to my next trip to Nara to visit and check it out myself.

*Art Spiegelman has published a book entitled Metamaus, in which he looks back and discusses his groundbreaking graphic novel ‘Maus’. The first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, ‘Maus’ is a Holocaust story told using animal characters (cats for Nazis, mice for Jews).

I have to admit, I’ve never actually read ‘Maus’. (gasp!) But, despite the glut of indie comics and all sorts of things that are out there these days, I think it really stands as one of the shining examples of what the “visual sequential narrative” format can be. It can be serious. It can be literature. It can be dark, and powerful, and meaningful.

*A discovery has been made in South Africa of 100,000 year old tools used to make ocher pigments for painting. This is by far the oldest evidence we have yet found of human painting, and how it was done. By contrast, while apparently painting workshop finds have been found dating back 60,000 years, some of the most famous examples of cave painting, such as those at Lascaux, go back only 17,000 years.

EDIT: Two more articles about the African paint discovery: A report from NPR, and one from Science Magazine.

*Meanwhile, Thailand is suffering from some of the worst flooding in decades, and UNESCO is dispatching a team to assess the damage to World Heritage Sites in Ayutthaya, the early modern capital (1350-1767) of the Thai kingdom.

*And, finally, bad news, ladies. The heartthrob king of girls all across Asia, 31-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck of Bhutan, is now married. It sounds like it was a beautiful, colorful, and traditional ceremony, with royal astrologers choosing the time for the celebration, gold and red traditional costume, golden Buddhas, and of course the Raven crown.

I’m kind of surprised that royals from other countries, or other celebrities, were not invited or present. But, then, perhaps we shouldn’t be. This is not about the spectacle (well, it is, in that it’s a royal wedding. But it’s domestic spectacle), not about People magazine, or about showing off the good life for/with other royals from around the world.

I won’t pretend to know all that much about Bhutanese politics, or culture, but from what little I know, the king seems quite down-to-earth, accessible and open to speaking with commoners, very much beloved, and, as far as I know, a very capable ruler, in terms of economic and political policy, balancing modernization/Westernization with tradition and protecting Bhutan’s unique cultural identity. Congratulations to him on his marriage (and to his 21-year-old bride, the daughter of an airline pilot, and now newly royalty!), and all the best wishes for the future!

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*The New York Times reports today on renovations at the New York Historical Society which have some preservationists miffed.

The building, in the words of the society’s president and chief executive, “was designed as a vault, to keep treasures safe, not to invite the public to enjoy them.” And now, the society has come to a somewhat different attitude, feeling that “There’s really no point in having these extraordinary collections if people can’t learn something from them.” So they’re doing some pretty extensive renovations to the historic and landmark building to make it more open to the public.

When I read the sentence “Some preservationists still say the society went too far,” I thought, wait, do you mean they took steps that endangered the historical collections, that is, the objects? If so, then indeed they have probably gone too far. But no, that’s not the case. People are just miffed about the changes to the historic building itself.

Now, the article does not include good before and after photos, or other images of the extent of the changes, but it sounds like the changes are mostly interior. If the interior of the building was like stepping into the 19th century (or some other period), and was particularly historical and beautiful, then I would likely stand on the side of the preservationists. But was it? I don’t know. If they’re mainly just upset about the facade, which isn’t even being changed all that much, then I think they’re over-reacting. I value historical architecture as much as the next guy, and the atmosphere and feel of the city created by the facades of historical buildings in NYC, but the primary concern is for the artifacts, and so long as those are safe (and so long as this historical building is not being destroyed or wholly overhauled), I really don’t see what the big deal is.

*Incidentally, speaking of the New York Times, this month they’ve started charging for access. I guess we all knew it couldn’t last forever. Providing free access isn’t exactly a viable business model. Still, it’s fairly obnoxious. I don’t read quite enough of the Times to think it worth $15/mo … I guess I’ll just have to be more prudent with my clicks, since, for now at least, they’re allowing visitors to the site to read 20 articles for free each month – you have to pay to read more than that. (Though, I wonder if I can’t just create additional logins, each of which would get 20 views…)

*The Times also reports today on the increased use by museums of their own collections for exhibitions, rather than borrowing from other institutions. This is something I’ve been hearing about for a few years now at least, particularly as it pertained to the increasing difficulty of borrowing objects from Japan, which has I suppose (either as national policy, or as the policies of individual institutions, I’m not fully sure) tightened its regulations on lending objects and raised insurance claims.

Yet, as today’s NYT article reveals, it is not only Asian art shows which are facing difficulties, but rather all departments in museums, which due to the recession (is that what we’re calling it now? Last I heard, it was an “economic downturn”) cannot afford to borrow objects as much or as often.

So, they are digging into their own collections. Which, for the most part, is a good thing. Most museums at any given time have less than 10% of their collections on display, and few if any are really regular or thorough at all in rotating through the entire collection. How many wonderful objects, one wonders, are hidden in the bowels of the museum, not to be seen (again) for decades? I remember when I was interning at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, they put on display a gamelan acquired by the museum ten years earlier which had never been on display there before, let alone played. Flipping through the “Highlights of the MFA Collection: Japanese Art” book in my mind, outside of the sculptures on permanent display, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of those works – including a few which are among the most famous of all Japanese artworks – have not been on display in Boston in the last five years (and perhaps much longer).

In today’s NYT article, Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan, makes some excellent points about the inability of any museum’s collection to be as complete as we might like, the inability to be complete enough to properly represent a given theme without borrowing from other institutions. Indeed, while the Met has an impressive collection of Picassos, the NYT’s own art critic, Holland Cotter, criticized a recent Picasso exhibition for including too many works of lesser quality, a direct representation of the imbalances and voids in the Met’s collection.

*Finally, for today, today is the 150th anniversary of the shots fired at Fort Sumter which kicked off the American Civil War. I am sure there must be a gazillion articles online, and events in person, going on today as a result.

Here is one, from Discovery Channel, on the role of war photography in the Civil War.

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The situation in Japan of course has not, and will not, go away overnight. It is still very much on my mind, especially after hearing directly (on skype video chat, rather than simply in text form via Facebook, Twitter, or email) from a friend who, though quite safe in Tokyo and quite far from the real center of the devastation, was even there in Tokyo terrified, and shaken, if you’ll pardon the pun, to the core.

I have been putting off posting about anything else for a few days, watching other bloggers put up post after post of serious, concerned, disaster-centric posts. People in Japan sharing their own photos and their own stories; people sharing images and information from the news, and lists of websites for finding and getting in touch with people, and for making donations to the relief efforts.

Here‘s just one of the many many stories being posted online right now. An op-ed piece published in the NY Timesa New Yorker reminisces about her time in Tôhoku, and how much has changed in the last few days, and writes about her relatives in Tôhoku, experiencing this tragedy firsthand. A beautiful, short, piece, entitled “Memories, Washed Away.”

Gary Leupp, history professor at Tufts University and Edo period culture/society specialist, meanwhile, shares his thoughts on the disaster, touching upon the history of the city of Sendai, its poetic beauty, and historical artifacts and sites damaged and lost, and those which have hopefully survived.

It is far too easy to simply move on and get on with our normal lives here in Hawaii… I just learned that my rabbi back home in NY asked after me, and made some kind of announcement to the whole congregation about my being okay. Given how completely out of danger I was, and how relatively normal the last few days have been, I cannot help but feel bad that anyone should be worried about me at a time like this.

But, what can I say? Of course, I cannot, I will not, “move on” completely. I will continue to think about what’s going on in Japan, to pay attention to the news, to be concerned; to keep in touch with friends over there, and to do what I can to be supportive for Japanese friends here. But in the meantime, some scattered news bits from other parts of the world:

*Neil Gaiman – the author of Neverwhere, American Gods, and the comicbook series Sandman, and easily one of my favorite writers – has been working for quite some time on a non-fiction book about The Journey to the West, the classic Chinese story from which The Monkey King is particularly famous. And now, it has been announced that Gaiman is working with others on a film of The Journey to the West. It has been done before, numerous times, in both Chinese and Japanese films and TV dramas, and I don’t want to say that I definitively predict that this one will blow those all away, I trust Gaiman with this kind of project. He’s exceptionally insightful and creative in understanding the internal logic of fantasy worlds, and amazingly skilled in bringing such worlds to life; he’s profoundly respectful of other cultures and their histories, while at the same time not as invested in the project as an expression of nationalism as a Chinese or Japanese creator might be. In short, I’m very much looking forward to it.

*UNESCO has decided not to recommend the reconstruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and the Afghan government has decided to go along with that recommendation. Now, admittedly, there are some pretty good reasons for them not to be reconstructed – chiefly, the argument that the millions of dollars it would cost might be better spent on alleviating poverty or any number of other humanitarian or development sort of purposes, and the argument that reconstructions would be fake. There isn’t enough material from the originals to reconstruct them properly from the original materials, and so, really, reconstructed versions would be fakes.

Still, my knee-jerk response is to say that of course they should be reconstructed. Their destruction was a heinous act of religious intolerance, and was the destruction of astonishing sites of cultural and historical value on a global scale. Monuments that, the argument goes, belong to all humanity, not just to the Afghan gov’t to do with it as it pleases.

But, then again, if indeed logistically it is not feasible to reconstruct them, if that is indeed the case, then that has to be the result, obviously.

*The Australian reports on continuing damage and threats to major tourist sites from hoards of tourists. This is, of course, nothing new, but it continues to go on, continues to be a problem, and sites continue to struggle to find solutions. As with artworks, so with sites, and so too I am sure with other cases which don’t immediately come to mind – a balance must be struck between access and conservation. Allowing people in to historical sites such as Angkor Wat, Borobudur, and the Great Wall seems only natural; denying access to these sites because they are so important, and beautiful, and impressive, essentially defeats the purpose of conserving them, just as keeping the Mona Lisa locked away in a dark storage vault to keep it safe from light and other conservation threats completely defeats the purpose. If we’re protecting something – whether it be artwork, or a site – we are presumably protecting it for people, but, the people (or display – exposure to light, air, moisture, etc.) are themselves the threat.

Never mind the graffitti, the people climbing where they shouldn’t, those stealing bits of rock. Even those who are fully obeying the rules are causing damage, as the moisture in the air they breathe out – multiplied by multitudes of people times days, weeks, months, years – encourages the growth of mold in centuries-old cave paintings in Dunhuang. As the erosion caused by footsteps, just regular ordinary footsteps, again, multiplied by thousands or even millions of people, day after day, year after year, wears down the floors of the Great Wall, of, frankly any and every building that sees visitors. You touch the walls, and you think it’s nothing. But multiply that by however many people, touching it however many times – that’s why those bronze statues at your alma mater, you know the ones, the ones that people rub for luck on exams, are so shiny and polished only in those places. Even just the lightest touch of robes brushing up against the wall as people walk by, happening time and again, wore off the wall paintings, only below a certain height, a certain point on the wall, in a famous and majorly old and important Buddhist temple in Japan (I’m blanking on which one at the moment..), and that was a site where tourists have never been let in – the damage was done by courtiers hundreds of years ago, and other religious devotees, visiting the temple and worshipping by walking around the perimeter.

Is there a definitive answer? Perhaps. I don’t know. Perhaps not. Perhaps we just need to strike a balance, keep a close eye on the sites, or make difficult decisions. Some sites are closed off; others are replaced, essentially, by reconstructions built next door and opened to the tourists. It’s a problem that is not going away any time soon; and, hopefully, if everyone does their jobs, the sites themselves won’t be going anywhere either.

*Donny George, former director of the Iraqi National Museum, has died. He collapsed in Toronto airport, and was declared deceased shortly afterwards at the hospital; he had been in Toronto to give a lecture on Mesopotamian artifacts and efforts to combat the black market illegal trade in such objects.

Dr. George had been instrumental in recovering thousands of objects looted from the Baghdad museum in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, and was a real force for good in the museum world. His loss will surely be felt deeply.

*The Japanese contemporary art show “Bye Bye Kitty” which I have been eagerly awaiting for quite some time opens later this week at Japan Society in New York. A brief article today accompanies a slide show of installation shots and of staff working to figure out how to get Nawa Kohei’s life-size deer sculpture in the doors.

I quite like Gallery Director Joe Earle’s comments on having the show despite recent/current events. The article states: “Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami will surely hang over the exhibit that opens March 18, but Joe Earle, vice president and director of the Japan Society, noted that much of the work itself had already contemplated such destruction. After all, he said, every Japanese child, from a very young age, is trained to prepare for such disasters.”

And while I don’t like to attribute too much to Murakami Takeshi, or to talk about him too much, he often speaks/writes about his own theory of the profound importance and fundamental role that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played – and continue to play – in shaping the collective psyche of postwar Japan. Going along with Earle’s comments, I would say that the creators of these contemporary current artworks are fully embedded in the cultural and societal issues which face Japan, including not only a culture of overworking salarymen, and extraordinary pressure placed upon high schoolers, as seen quite directly in two works from the show, but also in a society that is constantly aware of the dangers of natural disasters, and takes preparations very seriously.

*One more link for now. The New York Times has a rather interesting article today about the collection of the White House and its curator, a position started 50 years ago by Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy.

One could probably write volumes about private collections, and could take all different sides of the issue, talking about how cool it is to think of all the wonderful things that a place like the White House must have, but then also the negative side of how many similar private collections throughout the country and the world must have so many awesome artworks and other objects hidden away from public view or access.

I’m not sure I have anything really to say about it all at the moment, without getting into a pages-long stream-of-thought ramble on the subject… I shall simply say that I think it a very interesting and intriguing job to have; fun and interesting to realize that there definitely are curatorial-type jobs outside of the major museums, and just nice, and fun, to get a brief glimpse into it through this article.

That’s all for now, I suppose. Stay safe, everyone. My thoughts and prayers to those throughout Japan continuing to struggle with this crisis, and to their friends and families overseas.

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The New York Times reports today on a recent outdoor performance in Shanghai, akin to a “Shakespeare in the Park” production, of a dramatically shortened version of the classic Kunqu opera “The Peony Pavilion.”

I don’t know much about Chinese opera other than that it’s beautiful, moving, transporting, and very enjoyable, a unique art form in danger (greater danger, in any case, than, for example, Kabuki) of fading away. A lot could be said, pro or con, about shortening, jazzing up, or otherwise altering a play to appeal more to a modern audience, about what should or should not be done in the interests of preserving, reviving, or continuing a performance tradition in danger of dying out. But it’s a touchy subject, one in which I have made missteps before, and one in which certain friends of mine are far more well-versed. I think I will just let the article speak for itself, and invite you to take a look at the beautiful slide show and video clip provided by the Times.

I have been privileged to enjoy the opportunity to see various Chinese opera performances in New York, London, and Honolulu, but never in China, and never a full-on professional performance. Enjoyable as those performances were, and as much as they made an impression upon me, and transported me to their world quite successfully, from the pictures and the brief video clip, I am sure that this performance was on a whole other level. I very much hope one day to see a full-on professional performance of Chinese opera, in China. And if only I should be so lucky to witness it in a venue such as this, in the atmospheric environment of the outdoors, with a soundtrack by Tan Dun!

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Two related New York Times articles (one actually an op-ed piece) caught my eye recently.

*Historic neighborhoods in Beijing continue to face bulldozers as development-crazed officials ignore the cultural and historical value of these neighborhoods and the architecture, lifestyles, atmosphere, and culture contained within.

It’s really terribly sad to read about these kinds of things. Granted, my time in Kyoto this summer revealed that things are not nearly as bad in that city as some books and articles would imply, but even so… I have seen modern, new, shiny reproductions of cultural areas, akin to what seems to have happened to Qianmen, and what will happen to Gulou, and it *always* fails to capture the historical, cultural feeling it claims to be preserving or revitalizing. It always feels plastic and fake, shallow and empty, a mere echo of its former self, destroyed now, never to be seen again.

What amazes me most, perhaps, is that in a country that so values its heritage and history, or at least claims to, in a country which bases its superiority complex and its very identity on having such a long history, there seems to be no respect for historical buildings themselves. The hutongs are one thing – how old is any one given house in that neighborhood, and how long have people really been living this kind of lifestyle? Fifty years? 100 at the most? Destroying the hutongs is a horrible crime against history and culture, but destroying the 13th century bell towers which, for centuries, rang out the time for the whole city? What should be all but completely unthinkable goes without a second thought in China’s mad drive towards some skewed conception of progress.

Thankfully, at least some of the residents have the right idea, and won’t be moving to the soulless high-rise apartments on the edge of town so quickly. “many residents have high expectations, saying they will not budge unless the money allows them to buy large apartments near their former homes.” ““It’s a treasure to live in a place where you know the people and where your family has lived for generations.” ““I need to feel the earth beneath my feet. I’ve heard that old people who move to high-rise buildings usually die within two or three years.”

*Meanwhile, contributor Verna Yu argues that more and more people in Hong Kong are raising their children with English in the home and with Mandarin as a second language, leaving little place for Cantonese… While I can appreciate the value of good English in getting ahead in today’s world, these parents rarely speak proper English themselves, and so essentially they’re just creating a difficult and awkward situation for themselves, while raising their children to speak broken English. The whole question of a broken English (see Singlish, Hawaiian pidgin) becoming a normal standard accepted dialect is a complicated one, rife with controversy and Orientalist & nationalist issues, so I’ll try to just step carefully around that, but, well, as Yu herself puts it, “I had always presumed that speaking to your child in your native tongue was the most natural thing in the world. Apparently not everyone thinks so.”

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The New York Times reports today that two children of CC Wang, a prominent collector of Chinese art and donor of art to the Metropolitan, are engaged in a legal battle over the inheritance of the collection following Wang’s death.

I certainly have no special insights into which side I should think is right, which side deserves the inheritance, and so I cannot comment on that.

It is sad to hear of such a conflict, however.

The C.C. Wang Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, i.e. the objects already previously donated, includes some truly incredible works of art. The NY Times article highlights one work, “Scholar Viewing a Waterfall” by Ma Yuan (above), one of the most famous works by one of the most famous of Chinese painters.

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