Commedia Counterparts

Middle Eastern and Asian connections

Authored by: Kathy Foley

The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415745062
eBook ISBN: 9781315750842
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613374


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Since the early twentieth century Western exponents of Commedia style performance have been drawn to Asian genres as part of their investigation of the mask as a theatrical tool. Consider that Copeau who helped jumpstart European masks and Commedia in contemporary Western actor training, felt his school’s 1924 production of Kantan was its zenith, stating: “This Nōh… remains for me one of the jewels… of the Vieux Colombier” (Leigh 1979: 47). (André Gide showed a more traditional Eurocentric bias when he countered that Copeau “terrifies me when he declares he was never nearer to the attainment of his goal than in the Japanese Nōh… a play with no relation to our traditions, our customs, our beliefs” [Leigh 1979: 48].) Ron Jenkins (1994), a translator of Dario Fo to the English-speaking world, has researched Balinese mask performance since the 1970s and undertaken a number of collaborative projects with Balinese topeng dancer I Nyoman Catra (b. 1957), while the Blue Lake, California school of Dell’Arte’s master teacher Joan Shirle (2009) has taken Western actors to Bali for work in topeng with Ida Bagus Anom and shadow master I Wayan Mardika (see Shirle 2009). Attraction goes in both directions: kyōgen artist, Shigeyama Akira (b. 1952) became interested in the work of Commedia master Alessandro Marchetti (b. 1929) of Italy/Switzerland and the Swiss clown Dimitri (b. 1935) in the 1980s. Nomura Mansai, scion of another kyōgen family, on a fellowship in England in the 1990s met Lecoq-trained Simon McBurney of Theatre de Complicité with whom he has collaborated on a number of acting/directing projects.

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