Experimenting with Dance Drama: Peking Opera Modernity, Kabuki Theater Reform and the Denishawn’s Tour of the Far East


  • Catherine Vance Yeh




Dance, Mai Lanfang, Peking Opera, modern dance, Kabuki, Denishawn, transcultural interaction.


During the 1910s and 20s, Peking opera underwent a fundamental transformation from a performing art primarily driven by singing to one included acting and dancing. Leading this new development were male actors playing female roles, with Mei Lanfang as the most outstanding example. The acknowledged sources on which these changes drew were the encounter with Western style opera. The artistic and social values carrying these changes, however, suggest that Peking opera underwent a qualitative reconceptualization that involved a critical break with its past. This paper will explore the artistic transformation of Peking opera of the 1910s-20s by focusing on the three areas of contact Paris, Japan and the US. It will argue that the particular artistic innovation in Peking can only be fully understood and appraised in the context of global cultural interaction. It suggests that a new assessment of the modernist movement is needed that sees it as a part of a global trend rather than only as a European phenomenon.

Author Biography

Catherine Vance Yeh


Catherine Vance Yeh is Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Transcultural Studies at Boston University. Her research focuses on the global migration of literary forms; the transformation of theater aesthetics in transcultural interaction, and entertainment culture as agent of social change. Her publications include Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals and Entertainment Culture, 1850-1910; and The Chinese Political Novel: Migration of a World Genre.