Reviews

The author of remarked books on the history of traditional “Tajik” theatre (i.e., the most various forms of vernacular show in Transoxiana, and their historical roots up till the most remote past), N.N. offers through these two richly illustrated volumes—sponsored by the Aga Khan Humanities Project—a refreshed version, enriched by numerous descriptions, of a previous opus on the same theme.  After an introduction of a generally apologetic tonality, on the evolution of a great variety of theatrical genres in Transoxiana since this region’s prehistory and antique history, the author embarks on the description of extremely diverse forms of “popular” “shows”—both unexplained notions including the festivals of the agricultural and Islamic calendars, a number of forms of traditional physical exercises and competitions, as well as performances linked with the male sociability of the “fire houses (‘alaw-khana)” and other winter gatherings (gaps, gashtaks).  The third part includes multiple descriptions of pantomimes, illustrated by black-and-white photographs (located but undated), from pieces staging fabulous or diabolic characters to innumerable pantomimes with animal themes and some human caricatures.  The first volume is closed with a chapter devoted to varied forms of “danced show”, from the mystical dance of the Sufis to the street shows of acrobats—the chapter ends up with interesting anecdotes on numerous historical figures of nineteenth and early twentieth-century male and female dancers.  The second volume is devoted to several categories of textual show, defined according to the formal criteria of modern theatre, with poor mutual logical articulations: sung theatre (including the classical shash-maqam), musical dramas (among which the reader is surprised to find the qalandar-bazi of itinerant dervishes), textual theatre (including the performances of the maddahs), puppet theatre (chadir khayal and chadir-i dasti).  This second volume’s structure work is nevertheless constituted by a long and rich chapter on the Tajik maskhara-bazi—with considerations on both the actors and spectators of this peculiar genre.  Based on a rich, though sundry archaeological and ethnographical documentation, the work shows essential, thanks to the author’s exceptional erudition—albeit the latter’s effort at apologising a Tajik theatre, from prehistory to nowadays, drives him to build up some fashionable, though poorly argumented hotchpotches of ideas.  One may also deplore, beside the usual lack of an index, the absence of a descent bibliography on the subject, in spite of the presence of bibliographical notes at the end of each chapter.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-4.6-387