Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei

Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12

Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei is Professor Emerita of Theatre at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she formerly served as Vice Chair for Graduate Programs, Head of Critical Studies and Head of Playwriting. An authority on postwar Japanese and cross-cultural performance, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, and translator of modern Japanese plays. Her fifteen original plays include Medea: A Noh Cycle Based on the Greek Myth, the commedia dell’arte-kyōgen fusion The Impostor, and The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds, a Japanese-Israeli fusion co-created with director Zvika Serper. She is the author of Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-Garde Theatre of Terayama Shūji and Postwar Japan (Hawaii, 2005) and co-author of Theatre Histories: An Introduction (Routledge, second ed. 2010). She has presented over 100 papers and keynotes throughout the world and has published numerous articles in books and journals. She is the editor of the Association for Asian Performance Newsletter and Associate Editor of Asian Theatre Journal.

Research Project

Japanese Performance and the Myth of the Universal Body

This project is part of a larger work interrogating how Western and Japanese concepts of ‘universality’ fostered shared perceptions of Japanese cultural ‘superiority’ through globalized, movement-based performance and its associated literary rhetoric, both during the early twentieth century, and again after World War II. The current project focuses on the cultural and intellectual vortices in Japan and Europe prior to and during the First World War. These vortices engulfed the young Itō Michio (1893-1961), the Japanese dancer who aided Ezra Pound on the Fenollosa noh translations, and who performed and choreographed W.B. Yeats’ At the Hawk’s Well (1916). In his writing and choreography, Itō incorporated and subtly transformed these intellectual vortices, gradually asserting his agency as a Japanese person. Key aspects are the philosophical and artistic attitudes expressed by Fenollosa’s colleague and former student Okakura Kakuzō, the elitist modernism of Pound and Yeats, and the incorporation of Dalcroze eurhythmics into the dancing body of Itō Michio. These elements collide to create an exotic, proto-fascist aesthetic that celebrates Japanese cultural and corporeal superiority. In the larger work, I will suggest that the post-war works of Suzuki Tadashi and butoh artists similarly perform the victory of Japanese exceptionalism, regardless of these artists’ stated goals. That is, even if they espouse universalism, democracy, pacifism, or aestheticism (as most of them do), their practice as active agents privileges the Japanese body, transforming their non-Japanese students and colleagues into alien bodies that can never fully embody Japaneseness, and, consequently, can never fully perform Japanese body-based choreographies.

Recommended Publications

  • Caldwell, H. and Ito, M., The Dancer and His Dances, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977.
  • Kikuchi, Y., Japanese Modernisation and Mingei Theory: Cultural Nationalism and Oriental Orientalism, Abingdon, UK: Routledge Curzon, 2004.
  • Takeishi, M. (edited and revised by David Edward Pacun), Japanese Elements in Michio Ito’s Early Period (1915-1924): Meetings of East and West in the Collaborative Works, Tokyo: Gendaitosho, 2006.
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