Professor Travels to India, Nepal to Study Traditional Performance

Thomas Riccio

Thomas Riccio has been studying indigenous types of performance for more than 25 years.

Thomas Riccio, professor of performance and aesthetic studies in the School of Arts and Humanities, recently visited Nepal and India to deepen his research on indigenous performance.

“My visit to India and Nepal showed that the peoples of the two nations have sustained their ancient traditional and indigenous performance expressions into this century,” said Riccio.

Riccio said that some customs, however, are threatened with extinction due to globalization and environmental challenges.

“Each culture offers up unique resources and perspectives that are marginalized or disappearing. Each voice of the Earth must be articulated and heard— performance transcribes the earth’s knowledge,” said Riccio. “Like biodiversity, cultural and performance diversity is healthy and essential, if not a necessary, resource for cultural evolution in this time of globalization and environmental challenges.”

In Nepal and India, Riccio lectured at Tribuvan University, which is the national university in Nepal’s cities of Pokhara and Katmandu, where he also held a workshop for the Mandala Theatre.

“While in these two countries, I was also scouting for potential partnerships between UT Dallas and local universities. I’ve been invited back to both countries for a longer stay for performance projects and research,” Riccio said.

Performing Africa book cover

Riccio's book on performance in Africa was published in 2007.

After traveling to southern India, Riccio taught in a weeklong workshop at Pondicherry University and conducted research in Therukoothu, a Tamil form of dance and theater.

“The koothu performance tradition which I researched is more than 2,000 years old. The shamanic traditions of Nepal are even older. These are oral traditions that inscribe and convey knowledge that is being lost as these nations modernize and urbanize, said Riccio. “When an elder dies, a library burns.”

Although trained in Western theater, Riccio has conducted research on indigenous performance, ritual and shamanism. He has created performances and conducted workshops and research in several African countries, Siberia and South Korea, and throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the U.S.

Riccio has been a visiting professor at the University of Dar es Salaam and the Korean National University for the Arts. His book Performing Africa: Re-Mixing Tradition, Theatre, and Culture, was published in 2007. Since 1994, Riccio has served as artistic director of Litooma, a project dedicated to the documentation and development of indigenous performance around the world.

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