We gave a talk in International Council for Traditional Music(ICTM) on 22 July 2022

Conference Name

the 46th ICTM World Conference


21–27 July 2022


Lisbon, Portugal (online)

Panel Summary

Session IID04 Struggles and Creativities in Performing Arts under the Spread of COVID-19: Cases from Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia (chair: Yukako Yoshida)  

Struggles and Creativities in Performing Arts under the Spread of COVID-19: Cases from Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia

Yoshida, Yukako (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

How are performing arts conducted during COVID-19? How does the pandemic affect and change the expressions, ways of transmission, and roles of the performing arts in society? Given such changes, how can we, as researchers, reflect on and enhance our understanding of performing arts and performing bodies? This panel will explore these questions by examining cases from Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia.

The pandemic caused great hardship to those involved in performing arts (e.g., performers, audiences, and instrument makers). That hardship made them rethink the meaning of the performing arts and reflect on their activities. It also drew diverse efforts to maintain their arts. This panel will focus on the various hardships caused by the pandemic, the struggles and the creative ideas that people have used to overcome them, as well as changes that the performing arts undergo as a result. For example, new forms of expression created for digital media and new online networks have brought a refreshing change to the performing arts. People also negotiate in various ways to secure the place and opportunities for performing arts in their society. In addition, the need for social distancing has transformed the relationship between people (both performers and audiences), and between people and places/spaces. By discussing these issues, each panelist tries to deepen and extend our understanding of the performing arts.

The genres and cases we study are diverse, including online and offline, global and local, professional and amateur, performance itself, and related techniques that support the arts. We will examine how the impact of a pandemic may differ depending on the characteristics of the cases and discuss some common phenomena that are found across these diverse cases.

Each Report

  • Yukako Yoshida (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) 
    Balinese Performing Arts in the Early Stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Comfort, Edification, and Prayer 

Balinese Performing Arts in the Early Stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Comfort, Edification, and Prayer

Yukako Yoshida (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

The spread of COVID-19 caused significant losses to the Balinese tourism-dependent economy. In addition, the virus made it difficult to carry out communal activities. Accordingly, opportunities for performing arts, both sacred and secular, have decreased dramatically. Traditionally, when society faced a crisis like an epidemic, Balinese people used sacred performing arts such as Sanghyang to counter negative forces and restore balance to the world. However, at least until recently, there have been few signs of such arts being vitalized. On the other hand, there have been people who present their works online and continue creating and transmitting arts. Not only professional performers but also amateur performers have uploaded their works. Based on an online survey, this presentation will analyze the performances published on SNSs in the first six months of the pandemic. In comparison with later performances, I will point out some of the characteristics of the performances during this early stage of the pandemic and discuss how the performers confronted the difficulties this pandemic brought. In the latter half of my presentation, I will argue that the performing arts provided people with comfort, edification, and prayer. Many performances expressed people’s experiences under the pandemic such as stagnation under “lockdown” and economic difficulties. In comedy plays, for example, those plights of people were portrayed in funny ways and turned into jokes to entertain and comfort the audience. Many performances included comments on infection control and served as a medium to convey messages such as “stay home” and “wash your hands.” There were also performances to pray for an end to the pandemic and for the health of the people. These were not necessarily traditional or sacred performances, but the positive power of the performing arts was expected to help people overcome the crisis.

  • Yoshiaki Takemura (National Museum of Ethnology) 
    Singaporean Performing Arts Practices and Emotions in the Corona Disaster: Indian Diaspora, Technology, and Engagement 

Singaporean Performing Arts Practices and Emotions in the Corona Disaster: Indian Diaspora, Technology, and Engagement

Takemura, Yoshiaki (National Museum of Ethnology)

As a multi-ethnic nation, Singapore has emphasized cultural people development with a policy of establishing a national identity. The nation has particularly cultivated arts and cultural policies that are closely linked to the tourism industry. The COVID-19 pandemic effects became particularly severe in Singapore from March 2020, forcing the country to address tourist entry and lockdown. Many arts events were cancelled. Arts organizations that teach music and dance faced a crisis in classroom operations, which forced changes such as online business and social interaction. However, based on the SARS epidemic experience of the early 2000s, the Singapore government responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and produced guidelines for cultural and arts events and stage activities, which encouraged the creation of hybrid artworks and online production with integrating technology. Results provided excellent opportunities for Indian arts organizations to connect and reinforce their networks not only with domestic and international performers, but also with people in India and the Indian diaspora around the world. Because the stage performance environment has changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study specifically examined the activities of Indian performing arts organizations and the relation between Indian immigrants and their performing arts in Singapore. This examination is an assessment of how those practices such as online teaching and performances are affecting the emotions and engagement of performers, teachers, and learners in the wake of the pandemic. This study also reconsiders characteristics of performing arts and their importance as cultural traditions among Indian communities in Singapore and the dynamics of networks among India residents and the Indian diaspora in the globe.

  • Megumi Maehara (Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties) 
    Overlooked Impact of COVID-19 on Japanese Traditional Performing Arts: A Study of the Plight of the Shamisen Manufacturers 

Overlooked Impact of COVID-19 on Japanese Traditional Performing Arts: A Study of the Plight of the Shamisen Manufacturers

Megumi Maehara (Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties)

Since March 2020, I have been mainly involved in a project at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties which is collecting information on Japanese traditional performing arts that have been canceled/postponed, or resumed/held due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, this presentation begins with an overview of the trends in Japanese traditional performing arts. Next, I will point out one of the most serious and deep-seated impacts on technologies such as stage costumes, props, and musical instruments, which are indispensable for the performing arts. The importance of safeguarding such technologies has been recognized by the government, which supports protective measures under the banner of “Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties”. Although it has been pointed out that the demand for traditional performing arts has been sluggish since before COVID-19, the plight of the technologies that support them has not been shared. Indeed, these problems did become apparent through the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, I will focus on the manufacturing techniques and manufacturers of shamisen, one of the most popular Japanese musical instruments. I will look back on what happened to the shamisen, how the environment responded, and how the situation changed. In the conclusion, it will become clear that in considering COVID-19’s impact on the performing arts, it is important to also look at the spillover effects on the manufacturers who work behind the scenes to support the performing arts. The paper also shows the importance of passing on traditional performing arts along with conservation techniques for cultural properties.

  • Ako Mashino (Tokyo University of the Arts) 
    Struggling for Space, Sustaining Place: A Case Study of Indonesian Performing Arts in Japan during the Pandemic 

Struggling for Space, Sustaining Place: A Case Study of Indonesian Performing Arts in Japan during the Pandemic

Ako Mashino (Tokyo University of the Arts)

This paper explores how practitioners of Indonesian performing arts such as gamelan, dance, and shadow puppetry living in Japan (both Japanese and Indonesian), have experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the interactive and interdependent relationships between space, place, and the communities. The physical and environmental setting of the performance space directly or indirectly affects the sound, body movements, and the interactions of people that have evolved there. Acquiring and maintaining the space for performance, rehearsals, and gatherings, which naturally comprise the local ecology, topology, cosmology, and socio-cultural contexts surrounding the performing arts, are crucial factors for the performers to maintain and develop their activities. In transplanting Indonesian art forms into the Japanese environment, which naturally differs from the Indonesian, performers in Japan have dealt with their local settings to establish their own place and community in the society and tried to bridge the places beyond distance and difference through their activities. COVID-19 and the consequent “new normal” pandemic lifestyle have powerfully affected people’s mindset and behavior around the world, particularly changing the spatial sense of the performing arts in various ways. As a result, the performers have been further driven to transform, reconstruct, and creatively extend the space, whether physical or virtual, to advance their activities. Based upon dialogues with the performers living in Japan, I will explore their experiences and challenges during the pandemic. Comparing the space and place for performing arts in Indonesia and Japan, I will discuss how the space and environment have significantly affected and molded the performing arts practice and its community before and since the pandemic.