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Insights into Japanese aesthetics and theatrical arts

ARTS: Over a period, extending to at least three decades, an active interest is shown on various literary and creative aspects of Japanese literature regarding the Japanese theatrical arts especially as a result of the innovative approach of the late Professor Edirivira Sarachchandra in his own creative process of deriving influence from the theatrical sources such as Noh and Kabuki.

He also wrote two novels gaining creative inspiration from his experience in Japan. He also mentioned that much could be transformed via creative influence from the Japanese literary sources, when he was at a time flounced by the contemporary elderly critics of the day.

Since then a few types of Professor Ariya Rajakaruna have appeared on the literary scene with the knowledge in the language and the host of the translations. Over the years these sprang up enriching undoubtedly the cross-cultural link extending the barriers of narrow inspiration from the English translations of Japanese works.

This also helped the younger generation the university academia of the calibre of Professor Kulatilaka Kumarasinghe get the cue to study the Japanese language and visit the country for further studies leading to a better exposure specializing in Japanese aesthetic theories and the creative elements as embedded in Japanese classical and folk theatre, one of the most significant subject areas that has not been tapped by any other scholar of our times.

Professor Kumarasinghe has devoted most of his time from his duties as the Dean of the Humanities Faculty, for the introduction of aspects of Japanese theatrical studies and the translation of Japanese literary works into Sinhala and theories pertaining to Japanese literary sources.

He has been a recipient of the state literary award for research several times for this effort. The latest to come from him is titled Japan Sambhavya Sahitya Samkalpa Saha Natya Kalava (Japanese Classical Literary Concepts and the Theatre (Godage 2007).

Aesthetic theories

In this research, he outlines 18 episodic chapters each linking to the other, the literary periods, the sources and their background, and aesthetic theories varying from time to time in relation to the social and cultural impacts introducing the salient schools of thought and creativity of classical and folk theatrical categories with an eye to help the student of Japanese literary sources to gather more minute and up-to-date information and knowledge on the subject.

He outlines these periods in the literary history of Japan as ancient, pre-medieval, medieval, post-medieval, near medieval and the modern times where the aesthetic theories have changed in keeping with the changes in the social milieu. Then he examines the various aspects of prose and verse works with his own translations with a parallel Japanese text.

This aspect of the work makes the reader feel as if he reads the original in a better manner transcending the alien attitude. Professor Kumarasinghe then extends his work to theatrical genres in order to lay down the significant periods of literary activities such as the history of theatre belonging to the genres signified as Nogaku, Noh, Tokugava, Bunraku, and Kabuki providing examples for each category with a view to impart the theatrical and creative significance of the works referring to the performer styles, theatrical structures forms, and the human experiences as creative content with their changing formats intermixed with music and dance forms.

He also presents the changing attitudes of the theatre audiences and the manner in which the forms helped to build a sensitive rapport elevating the taste for theatre craft.

Wherever possible the scholar draws attention to the reader via illustrations, pinpointing the stage and theatrical forms, where the dramatic experiences are fused with the stage patterns over the years.

One of the most significant factors in this work is the presentation of play texts as translations and as a reader I found that they are fascinating readable materials that could well be utilized in classroom theatre training workshop, which is a must in our social context.

Theatrical culture

Though we have an annual State Drama Festival we hardly have a recognized theatre school where the main objective should be to build a theatre culture. Here a number of students could be lined up to take the theatre craft more seriously than it exists today in its rudimentary forms giving vent to more individualistic ways in the name of experimentalism.

In the bleak scene of the local theatrical activities, this attempt, on the part of a university don, should be commended especially as the work formulates two main streams: the aesthetic theories, and the works needed for practical training.

This work could be used not merely as a research work that could be read to uncover information, but also as a handbook for the understanding of Japanese playwriting and creativity that has gone to enrich a particular theatrical culture over the years.

The theatre trainers could use the play scripts translated in this work as communication material as well as visualize how well the folklore traits in a particular culture could enhance the vibrant creativity in various forms utilizing all aesthetic forms such as music, dance, mime, masks, etc.

Kindling an interest in the mind of the student as to the extent of theatrical influence one can gain from one culture to another. A representative cross section of the types of plays written for the original productions are displayed in this work enabling the teacher as well as the student to gauge the changing structures of theatre.

There are eight short plays included as translations from the Kyogen genre of theatre tradition. These eight plays could be understood, read, performed and interpreted as either fantasies or realistic creations depending on the interpretation. The plays titled Komadu Hora (Melon Thief) Dontaro and Vasa (Poison) could be cited as best examples drawn from the more modern times of Japanese theatre tradition.

This work provides manifold insights to the study of Japanese theatre with its base lying in aesthetics.

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