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The chapter outlined a broad overview of the history of Southeast Asian dance and theater, providing a high-level, clear, and concise understanding without losing readability or risking wordiness. Although some important details, such as the main plotlines for the Mahabhrata and Ramayana, were emphasized, the text failed to dive deeply into specifics or interesting details of dance, theater, and so forth. However, I expect that the remainder of the book will be devoted to delving deeper into specific countries or cultures, since the first chapter seems intended to provide a general summary and introduction.
Indianized kingdoms emerged after AD 100. Besides adopting the Sanskrit language and literature, jurisprudence, and a new conception of royalty, these kingdoms also absorbed strong Indian influences in theater, as evidenced by the widespread use of Hindu epics and the Buddhist Jataka as theater stories. The Natya Sastra was also used as a theater and dance manual, and its influence can be evidenced in surviving reliefs and statues depicting Indian dance techniques and styles.
Development of classical theater forms
First, the development of classical theater forms can be linked to the decline of Indian influence and emergence of national styles after AD 1000. As Indian influence waned, Hinayana Buddhism and Islam gradually replaced Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, both of which, unlike Hinayana Buddhism and Islam, had not truly been adopted by the common people previously. Religious influence on national styles can be seen through the introverted and restrained character of Javanese classical dance, which might have been influenced by Islam. Islamic stories also gained popularity on stage in Islamized areas, while Jataka stories gained popularity in Hinayana Buddhist countries. Except for certain regions like the Philippines, Southeast Asian countries maintained cultural exchange of traditions, even while developing distinct national styles. For example, Jayavarman II, who founded the Khmer empire, transplanted Indianized Javanese dance to Cambodia through importing dancers into his country.
Second, Western colonization from the sixteenth century to World War II also influenced classical theater forms. For the most part, Western influence was indirect, and courts continued to develop their own traditions. Realism and naturalism from Western theater influences led to the use of new Western-style theater houses with proscenium stages, as well as appearances of Western dramas and operas in Southeast Asian venues. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a time of patriotism and nationalism, new ideas were often presented in the theater, often to small, elite audiences.
Finally, the post-World War II period brought about the diffusion of formerly strictly ritual genres onto modern stages, as well as the increasing influence of cinema, mass media, radio, and television, which greatly affected traditional theater.
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