Asia Society presents; 30
President. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the word winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. Whether you live in a large city or a small a city or attend a university I think you're aware of the fact that there is a growing demand to see Asian performers and perhaps you've had the pleasure of hearing or seeing Ravi Shankar perhaps the grand couple Keithy of Japan has come your way. It did open in New York in the fall of 1969 and there is a person who I would say is entirely responsible for all of this but she certainly has played a major role in bringing Asian performers to the United States and teaching us in this country that the beauty and the meaning of Asian artists. And I'm very pleased that she's a guest on this edition of the Asia Society presents.
She is by Artie Gordon a Mrs. Gordon combines many cultures in a way she was born in Vienna A went to Japan at the age of 5 lived there for 12 years then came to the United States eventually and now she's an American citizen. I guess she combines the best of three worlds. She is a consultant on the performing arts to the Asia Society and director of special programs for the Japan Society. Mrs. Gordon. Vienna is exotic to many people but not have as exotic as Japan. But since you were five years old when you went from Austria to Japan Do you remember it well enough to know that a tremendous transition in your life. Yes it was such a tremendous transition that I do not remember anything about Austria at all. It was I think my first impression of Japan was that at the age of five I was amazed that everybody had black hair and looked very alike to me. And I asked my
mother whether a lot of these people were brothers and sisters. And when she explained to me you know that it was just that Japanese have black hair and black eyes. That you know I understood that these were just a little bit different from the people I had seen before. But I have absolutely no recollection of the you know but a strong recollection I'm sure of Japans you spent 12 years there. Oh yes. Of Japan I have considered Japan my home really because all my formative years were spent there. But it's interesting that it just wiped out any Western culture for me. Your father was a distinguished pianist. His name is Leo Serota as I know. Did he. It is an unusual thing isn't it for an Austrian to leave and live in a country is different to Japan. Yes well you do that. He was really sort of a pioneer. He had gone on a concert tour of Europe and had gone as far as Hardeen in Manchuria after going through the Soviet Union and in Manchuria
a Japanese composer who happened to be visiting heard him. And this was in one thousand twenty eight. And this Japanese composer said you are so far now in the Far East. Why don't you come to Japan it will be an adventure. And my father said he would go and he went and he played almost every day for six months all over Japan. And he liked it so much that when he came back to Vienna he said that he wanted to go back to Japan again some time and the next year when he was invited he took the family with him. And then he only stayed you know he was going to stay for about a year or two. But then he was asked by the imperial academy to teach there. And what happened was that he just simply stayed on from year to year and he was more or less considered the person who introduced especially Japanese piano. I mean to the Japanese piano music of the West and while you studied the dance of Japan and learned a lot about the customs and folkways so that you were already steeped in this by the time you came to the
United States. Oh yes I had very few Western people I think could bring this with them. Well of course I spoke perfect Japanese because I had learned it at such a young age and I had studied a Japanese dance actually for me. I went to a Japanese teacher and I had many Japanese friends so that. I was very much interested and. Influenced by Japanese culture. Still when you came here Mrs. Gordon up probably at that time there wasn't a great interest in Asian befall most of the music in the dance. It began not so long ago. No there wasn't. I went to a college in California Mills College and I was sent there because it was the closest college to Japan but they are of course as you know in San Francisco there has always been some interest because they have been so many Chinese and so many Japanese who have lived there. But I think that at that time when I went to school which was at the beginning of the 40s
there wasn't very much interest and there weren't many Oriental performers who came to the United States I think this all happened after the war after the Second World War. Because during World War Two there was so much hostility naturally between Japan and the United States. And maybe this hostility extended to the Far East in general. Yes I think I think you did because you know many people in America do not really have a very strong idea about who is Japanese who is Chinese who is Korean. They all think of it in terms that these are all the same people. Well is. You couldn't distinguish very well among various European people. I mean Scandinavians may look somewhat different from Italians but not necessarily. I think that's true. Would you say. Just to digress for a moment about that that Asian people cannot distinguish among our faces for us that they're concerned we all are the same that is absolutely true I know many Asians have told me that you know unless
they are introduced again to the person in name given they really don't know whether they have met them before because they all look alike as one race looks all the same to another race. It's true. Yes. What started this program of bringing Asian performers here and in the schools and colleges into the public in general. Well at one point. I was asked about Columbia University to do a fundraising for the nursery school there and since a lot of Japanese performers were here at the time I thought it was very interesting to have a program which combined both the old Japanese culture and the new that is to show that there were Japanese who could play the violin beautifully and who could play piano very well and we gave a concert at Columbia at Macmillan theatre and this is Roberta doing the wife of John Dewey the philosopher happened to be in the audience. And she came up to me afterwards and she said Oh Mrs. Gordon really a program like that should be in the schools and in the
colleges it's a shame just to give it once at Columbia and this gave me the idea of starting a program and then we got some funding for it and then we started sending. What record. Perform a packages to the various schools and then in 1963 the Asian Society asked whether I would make a similar program for them. And we called it the Asian dancers and this is a program now that has been going on for six years and I think we have given about a thousand performances. Well that's such an American care map of all the packages seems so disrespectful to an Asian artist but I mean to make oneself clear to the people that you were talking to I guess it was the best way to put it. However what would be in such a package. Several artists doing different things in different countries. Yes well for example in this Asian dance program we have a Chinese a Korean and a Japanese dancer. And first we have a
demonstration in which we try to show how these cultures interacted on each other. We first show the Chinese doing certain movements on stage which might mean love or it might and meaning might be writing a poem and then we see the Korean doing the same thing and then the Japanese and the children can see very easily that there is a great deal of similarity but also that each country has added something of its native origins to it and that there are dissimilarities too. And then after they have seen this demonstration which takes about 10 minutes each performer performs about two of his native countries dances always with costume changes because when one performer performs the other is changing costume. So as you know costume is so terribly important and makeup is so terribly important in Asian dance. And so it is very interesting that the children very often think that they have been many more
performers than just the three because they look so different in the different costumes and with the different masks and we have about six different costume changes in a half hour program. And later many of the children will write to me and say oh it was such a marvelous program and there were so many people involved thinking that they were different lengths and they Asian is much more apt to lie than is he on his make up and costume than on background scenery. Oh yes. That is not important. Back you had to add that for the sake of American taste. Yes but in the schools now of course for expediency sake we just dont use any scenery a tool. And it really isn't necessary because the costumes are so opulent and beautiful the colors are so magnificent that it isnt necessary probably is extraneous. It is yes it is. There are some major differences between now if we speak of the dance Western and Asian. One of them as I understand it from reading a
very informative booklet which you and your husband have written called an introduction to the dance of India China Korea and Japan is that we in the West. Aspire upward that our steps go towards what we say the heavens in ballet we stand on our toe and try to go up. Whereas Asians are more earthy or earthbound their steps and their movements tend to go down. Yes this is quite true and as you probably know there is a tremendous amount of posturing. After these steps that are very broad and strong then the movement of the the face the of course you know in Asian dance a lot of eye movement is using especially in Indian dance but this is true of Chinese Korean and Japanese dance also. And so then when they stand firmly and strike a pose there is an awful lot of business still going on to
make that pose more important and it might take another 40 or 50 seconds to actually make the POWs come to its formal ending. And this is the sort of thing which is very different of course from our western type of dancing which has a lot of jumps in it in virtual so. Steps and although there are virtuoso steps also especially in Chinese dance and as you know and in Peking Opera everything is combined acrobatics pantomime and so on. Nevertheless in general the pace is slow and the movements are deliberate. Does the appearance of the performer count for less in Asia than it does let's say in the West. Now the Byrds does a woman have to be very beautiful or does she relies so heavily on the right makeup and costume that that transforms her. Yes the makeup transforms her quite a bit. And as you know of course that
the male dancers especially in theater only males were allowed to perform. This is true of this is true of no in Japan. It's true of the Chinese opera that although inthe way way back women were allowed on the stage because of reasons of propriety they were not permitted anymore so the males had to take both male and female roles. And there you can see how important makeup was to make a male into a female and the length of the voice how it would have to change if it happened to be. Bogle Yes well of course what they did is in order to hide the male voice they used a formal set of yes but has the time come now. Now roles are done interchangeably so that females will handle male roles and vice versa. In dance yes but not when it appears within the theater. In other words in the comic you still only have male performace and a Peking
Opera. It was always that only males performed. I don't know how it is. Recently because we haven't seen it here in the United States with a couple key the grand couple key made a big hit when it played here at the city center in New York. Now do you think it made a big hit because everyone thought this is something very exotic. I'd like to see it and went out of an initial sense of wonder or do you think it really made a big hit because it reached people. I think that middle is quite different from what West Nori and sarcasm do. I think mostly I think people winge because it is so very exotic and of course the costume and the see the costumes and the scenery in Kabuki there is a great deal of scenery its 17th century you know theatre and the scenery is very important and visually it is so beautiful that you are just overwhelmed and as many critics said the
scenery the costumes the whole art the whole theatre as such takes on the aspects of a woodblock print which of course and woodblock prints are very very much liked in the United States. I I do think although the reviews were extremely good in general and as you probably have seen there were a few people who spoke out and against it in the sense that they found it boring. And I would just like to read you a very short paragraph here. This is from Q magazine. Asia files aside and I have studied their articles and listened to their comments. This theater is one in which each arresting effect is parenthesized between traditional ritual and the doldrums. What other that's it there is a formality a rigidity a lack of flexibility which is part of the tradition I know of Asian performers. They don't improvise they knew what has been done for many centuries which
might not appeal frankly to many Western audiences. Well I think this brings us to another point in that I cannot blame a Western audience sometimes for feeling bored because a Western audience is very different from an Asian audience and Asian audience. Goethe goes to the theatre not only to be entertained by the play or the dance of the music of whatever it is they also go to socialise they bring their little children with them. They bring their lunch and they bring tea. In Chinese opera performances in China I don't know how it is now but it used to be that there were there were vendors there who were hawking their wares sweetmeats and tea and things like that there was a man who sold hot towels and he would stand at one end of a row of seats and his assistant was at the other end and the assistant would signal to him Here is a man who wants a towel and the man with the
towels threw the hot steaming towel to the assistant who then gave it to the man who had wanted it what can you imagine 10 or 15 vendors in a theater and many people wanting these hot towels you know to wipe off their faces with the performances. Then as you say may still be the last eight in 10. Oh is he perhaps I old days of fair right. And as as ritualistic and as formalized as the performance was on stage the audience was completely informal. They would leave their seats and go outside for a while take a walk have dinner and come back maybe just to see one particular scene that they left because they knew it all quite well from before. That is correct. Thomas is going after the various Asian performers who have come here some of whom you've helped bring some come under other auspices. Which ones you think appealed genuinely. Do Americans. Well that is difficult to say. I mean Ravi Shankar seems to be the notable success and I think the rhythm
the rhythm I think is is of course terribly important but then also I wonder whether the the Beatles discovery of Ravi Shankar didn't have a lot of yes I think it became a coat and that was part of it but still it has to be some basis for it and I think the complicated sensuous rhythms must have something to do. Yes and now of course it has been absorbed so that is you know many rock'n'roll bands rely heavily on writing. Right. And also I think the Filipino dances. You know I had a great influence I think they I think they are a little bit closer to western in that there has been so much Spanish influence there. And it was very easy to understand. I think there has been I think some of the Indian dancers who have come and again as you say the rhythm is so important and I think also the beauty of the hand movements and then I think in general now that Americans are learning more about it and. And they are being told what a mood drop a gesture and Indian hand gesture
would mean. I think as they understand more about the dance they appreciate it more too. And I think this is really our function because I don't think one can just enjoy Asian dance or theater without bringing some knowledge. So it's I think one has to be brief if you will informed. Given the background to understand it and that's true of any new thing whether it's an opera you've never heard before or whatever it may be. Do you find that the demand for Asian performers is definitely growing in the country. Yes especially now because Asian studies are becoming so important in the schools. Before you know 10 15 20 years ago nobody studied about Asia in in in the school history was Weston. Western culture. Right. And yet ancient history who ever studied about China or Japan. Yes you heard the Japan was opened up to trade to the west but you you never learned anything. I think with any one with any kind of scope to it
with any kind of depth. And I think this is a recent development and again after the Second World War and now recently in the last five years even Chinese and Japanese is being taught in the schools you know as an organization from if I may say like the Asia Society has done a great deal to bridge this gap between East and West. I mean they haven't met completely but they are much closer and maybe they become closer through artistic performances than in any other way. Well we feel that way of course that if you expose a child to something visually very beautiful and interesting that then they will want to learn about Asia in general and this has always been my idea that let us expose them first to something that they can take in visually and through through the ear through the eye and then maybe they will start being interested in Asian poetry and Asian literature in the Asian languages. And I think this this is true because the letters that I get especially from children in are
in the schools even the very little ones who write that this has opened a whole new world of beauty to them. Would you say that you had to make severe modifications though in bringing these performers here that we just are not and doubtless we were not trained to have the kind of patience to sit through a long performance. Did you have to make many modification. Yes we have made modifications in this sense that we have chosen the very shortest dances are to present because we feel that a child is not going to sit through a 20 minute dance that with one costume only. And so we have not changed anything in the dances themselves but for example if there were a long dance from which we wanted to take an excerpt we might take one segment of it which is perfectly alright because there are many segments to these dances and so this is what we have done we have edited a bit but we have never. Are used on authentic
music and authentic costumes or anything like that. It is always absolutely authentic. A good we look at this for a moment in a reciprocal way. What effect has Western music and Western dads etc. had upon the East. Tremendous effect that which way do you think it has gone. Most wrongly. Oh much more strongly from the west to the east rather than east to the US tremendously because the impact has just been so that we have excellent Asian musicians now in the United States who can compete with ours very easily. I mean so much have they been studying in the last 20 or 30 years especially in the field of violin and piano. This rate artists first rate it also in modern dance Martha Graham has many Japanese for example and Koreans in her troupe. Do you think that this will have an injurious effect upon the old and beautiful traditions artistic traditions of Asia. No just overpower the east I hope not.
I don't think so I think the old traditions will go on and that side by side will be the new the new type of dance the new type of music. And since Asians want to become international cosmopolitan rather than just Asian I think they feel very much that this is one world now. I think it is quite good that they have taken on Western culture. Also a final question. You have indicated though Mrs. Gordon that you cannot really mix the two Western and Eastern dance. I mean the dilution is bad and mixture is when it is done by people who really aren't steeped in either culture. It is very very bad. But when someone who really knows how to do it. Bridges the gap between East and West and creates something new and original it can be very beautiful. As you can also see in some of the marvelous arch that has come out of Asia. Well I thank you very much and I think we're all grateful to you and people like you
to be in a position to make that West see the east better and vice versa. And Mrs. Gordon biotic Gordon our guest on this program is a consultant on the performing arts to the Asia Society and is well she's director of specific special programs for the Japan Society. The booklet to which I referred may be obtained from the Asia Society and if you'd like more information about this just drop me a note. This is Lee Graham saying goodbye and always with a reminder that although east is east and west is west. As you can hear from what we've been saying we do think the time has come for the twain to meet. But concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and
make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of The Asia so fire day presents.
- Asia Society presents
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
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