Trance and Transformation of the Actor in Japanese Noh and Balinese Masked Dance-Drama

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This study examines the effect of the mask upon the masked performer in the Balinese Topeng and Calonarang dance dramas and Japanese Noh Theatre. It represents the first systematic study of the relationship between the actor and the mask from the performer’s perspective. The approach is largely empirically based and draws upon the author’s extensive field research in Bali and Japan which included interviews with performers and mask makers, study of mask carving and dance and observation of private lessons and public performances. This study will be of interest to scholars and students in many fields including Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Performance Studies, Theatre, Dance and Visual Arts. It will be also of interest to theatre and dance practitioners, especially those working with masks or intercultural performance.


“This is a brave and admirable book that makes a unique contribution to our understanding of masked performance. It does so by focusing on a vexingly difficult subject to write about: the experience of the performer while performing. More specifically, Margaret Coldiron focuses her attention on the relationship of the performer to the mask in three specific traditions of masked performance: the venerable Noh theatre of Japan and the Topeng and Calonarang traditions of Bali … Balinese and Japanese performing traditions have both given rise to a considerable body of critical literature; yet, to my knowledge, no one before has ever seriously taken up their practices in tandem. In doing this, Margaret makes admirable and judicious use of previous texts, especially where they shed light on the performers’ practices and experiences ‘under the mask’ … [The author] succeeds admirably in bringing into far sharper focus the ambiguities and paradoxes attending the masked performer’s experience.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Professor John Emigh, Brown University

“Dr. Coldiron’s strength is that she writes both as an academic and as a trained performer. She writes about Noh and Balinese performance both in terms of their traditions and in terms of how they function in the contemporary world. The importance of her book extends well beyond the specialist field of Noh and Balinese performance, for her analysis touches on the fundamentals of wearing a mask. This is the best account I know of what happens to an actor who performs in a mask. She uses the insights of psychology and anthropology in order to probe the mysterious consciousness of the actor, while documenting in a down-to-earth and accessible way the training, routines and rituals of the actor. I recommend this book to anyone interested in acting.” – Professor David Wiles, Royal Holloway University of London

"This clearly written and feelingly argued book gives an introduction to Balinese topeng and calonarang and Japanese n?, using these three genres to explore mask performance as a dissociative performance practice that the author sees as analagous to trance behaviors ... [she] points out similarities in the performance practices to help her articulate a wide theory of mask performance based on these models ... Dr. Coldiron delves into significant issues that help us understand object theatre and an objective approach to character. This contrasts with the psychological techniques that have been ascendant in Europe and America in the twentieth century. As she continues her analysis, she can bring us toward wider understanding of the art of performance ..." - Kathy Foley, Editor, Asian Theatre Journal

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by John Emigh
The Mask: Art Object, Pedagogical Tool or Transformational Mechanism?
Masks and Balinese Culture
Japanese Mask Tradition and Noh Drama
Balinese Masks in Practice
Noh Masks in Performance
The Consciousness of the Masked Actor
The Mask and Transformation
Glossary 1 Balinese Terms
Glossary 2 Japanese Terms
Works Consulted

Other Asia & Pacifica Books