A theatre genre crystallised in classical form is an extremely sensitive and complex whole. It requires the close co-operation of specialists in many forms of art and an unbroken tradition extending over generations. It necessarily reflects the history and ideals of the culture that created it. Theatre has often been called living history, and in Asia this is particularly true.
Many of the stories which are enacted with the most elaborate dance-like movements can have histories stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years. Some of the ritualistic features and physical techniques of performances reflect ancient animistic beliefs going back even further in time and, even today, the performances can have a profound spiritual and symbolic meaning for both the performers and their audiences.
As Asian theatrical genres are such complex constructs they offer exceptionally wide-ranging approaches. They can be studied or observed from the point of view of literature, since they often enact great epics or dramatic literature of the highest order. As they are usually accompanied by specific musical styles, they offer material for musicologists as well.
Their complex dance or dance-like movement techniques can be analysed by means of dance research or a dance anthropological approach, while the ideologies they propagate can be observed from a philosophical or religious point of view. They also reveal much information about the social histories of their respective countries.
This material aims to describe the traditional forms of Asian theatre and dance firmly in their historical context. Attention will be paid to what they tell or propagate, i.e. their literary content. However, as Asian theatre genres still preserve their complex, often physical, acting techniques, special attention will be paid to the question of how the stories are actually performed, and which techniques exactly are used in the process of enactment.