Subi Shah’s Holistic Theory of Nepali Performing Arts: Implications for Research and Teaching
Subi Shah (1922-2008) was a Nepali performer and educator whose life’s work was to preserve and promote Nepali folk genres of music, song, dance, and drama, especially the wide variety of these that make up the tradition known as Pangdure. Raised in this tradition, he became one of its leading exponents. He did so outside of the academy and was thus free from disciplinary strictures. Although he was consulted and honored by state cultural policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, many of his contributions remain unrecognized. This study analyzes five of his texts, building on my 20 years of engagement as a scholar and performer with the traditions described therein. The objectives of the study are to identify key aspects of Shah’s theories of performance. The study finds that Shah’s descriptions and analysis of integrated performance practice valorize a performance tradition with its own unique worldviews and theories. It concludes that teaching these worldviews and theories will help maintain the cultural sustainability of this and other Nepali performance traditions, by helping students make connections among the traditionally related aspects of performance: instrumental music, song, poetry, dance, and drama. Further, it demonstrates the broader applicability of Shah’s methods for holistic performance scholarship within and beyond Nepal, which contributes to decolonizing ethnomusicology by centering a non-Western theory and methodology from outside the academy.
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