Monday, February 25, 2008

Special Dance Performance (Tokubetsu Buyo Koen)

This post was originally written for another social media platform on February 25, 2008 and I thought it would be worth sharing here.


Two Buddhist pilgrims meet and speak of the lion spirits (shishi) that are rumored to be in the area.  In a bit of comic relief, they try to impress and intimidate each other with their banishment skills, until the sudden appearance of the lion spirits sends them fleeing in terror.

A white-maned father lion spirit (Ichikawa Ebizou) and it's red-maned cub (Onoe Ukon) appear and perform a lively dance, first playing on the rocks (represented by a red platform holding red and white peonies at opposing corners).  The father treats his son harshly so that he will grow strong.  The performance comes to its climax with the actors performing kamiarai.  [Kamiarai is the wild swinging of the lengthy manes worn by the actors.  It takes skill and control and in a traditional Kabuki stage, the number of swings is counted by the audience and ends only when the actor stomps to signal the end.]  Ukon's performance was amazing for such a young actor and I'm really looking forward to following his career in the future.

Kyoganoko Musume Ninin Doujoji

Monks are preparing to dedicate the new bell at their temple, Doujoji, when a woman appears outside the temple grounds, asking for entrance.  Women are generally not permitted on the grounds, but she convinces the monks that she wishes to dance as part of the bell's dedication.  There is a bit of humor when the monks are discussing among each other what dances they could expect and trying to figure out who, among them, has enough experience around women to know what to expect.  The woman (Onoe Kikunosuke) performs a series of dances representing the many phases of a woman's love, when her true self takes over and she destroys the bell.  When she reappears, it is in her true form as a serpent demon who then battles a demon-banisher (Ichikawa Ebizou).  For this particular version of Musume Doujoji, Tamasaburo Bando (world-renowned onnagata) would appear by way of the trapdoors built into the stage and hanamichi to dance in duet with Kikunosuke.  Both wore identical, elaborate costumes and, if I hadn't been a fan of Tamasaburo long enough to follow his mannerisms (particularly his unique style of head and hand movement) and recognize his face, I would have been hard-pressed to tell the two apart.  Seeing both together on the same stage was a special treat.  The reveal of the serpent demon form was especially impressive.  After knocking the monks away, the maiden steps under the bell and causes it to come crashing down over her.  When the bell is raised again, both onnagata appear and all you can see of them is the tail of their red manes, appearing just below a kimono they are holding over their heads.  They remain under cover, intimidating everyone on stage until a moment when Kikunosuke turns to the audience and momentarily lifts the kimono over his head, revealing his serpent face (excellent black on white Kabuki makeup) and the horns at the top of his head.  I nearly jumped out of my seat!  Then both uncover their heads to fight with Ebizou and Kikunosuke would occasionally gape his mouth open at the audience.  With the makeup, it gave the exact impression of a snake, opening its mouth.  The performance ends with both serpent demons atop the bell and everyone on stage holding a final dramatic pose.  Musume Doujoji is considered to be the pinnacle dance performance for an onnagata and in nihon buyou (classical Japanese dance) you can achieve a high-ranking title if you have mastered this dance.

It was absolutely worthwhile to see this performance and I'm lucky I was able to get a ticket.  The hall was sold-out!  I got the second to last seat in the very last row in the 3rd tier after waiting only 10 days from the start of the online pre-sale.  There is no way I could have purchased tickets on the day of the performance.  I noted with both Shochiku-za and Kabuki-za that you want 1st or 2nd tier if you hope to see all of the hanamichi.  For casual viewers, this would not seem important, but some of the most dramatic entrances and exits are made on the hanamichi and only the 1/3 closest to the stage is visible from the 3rd tier.  We would hear applause on the entry of an important actor, but not see them until they were almost to the stage, minutes later.

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