Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kabuki: Backstage to Hanamichi

This post was originally written for another social media platform on October 20, 2009 and I thought it would be worth sharing here.  The performance took place on October 19, 2009 in the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

The evening began with a lecture presented by Nakamura Matanosuke, a Nadai (billboard-ranked) tachiyaku (male-role specialist).  He described the history of Kabuki as well as the music, introducing the musicians and their instruments.  Something unique to a presentation like this is that we were able to see the percussion section on stage where they are never visible on the stage in Japan.  We were also introduced to the kuroko (stage hands who wear all black with black veils) and one of the chief costumers.

Sagi Musume

Following the lecture, Nakamura Kyozo performed Sagi Musume.  I've seen this performed on DVD (Bando Tamasaburo) and was anxious to see a live performance as this is one of my favorite Kabuki dances.  It has several quick changes, perhaps the most of any Kabuki dance, shifting between the melancholy heron in the beginning, to the exuberant young maiden who then remembers their former life, returning to the present where the heron flies away in anguish, directionless.

The next lecture was presented by Nakamura Kyozo who explained and demonstrated the basics of onnagata (female role specialists).  The movements and gestures of the onnagata are not just feminine, but hyper-stylized.  In fact, in earlier years, the women who attended Kabuki performances would often take up the hairstyles, fashion, and even the floating walk of the onnagata as new fashion trends.  One of the more fascinating points in the lecture was when Kyozo showed how the male actor presents a female form with a slight alteration in the shoulders. He brought his shoulder blades together in the back, then dropped his shoulders, then pushed his chest out, going from manly squared shoulders to the narrower, sloping shoulders of a woman.

For the second half of the lecture, Nakamura Matanosuke applied his kumadori makeup on stage (something you will almost never see in Japan) with a camera projecting the process on a large screen so everyone could see the details.


The final performance for the evening was Shakkyo (Lion Dance).  This is one of the oldest nagauta compositions and also one of the oldest dances featuring the shishi (a lion-like spirit believed to be a guardian in the Pure Lands).  During the Edo Period, the shishi was often a maternal figure.  I have seen Renjishi (shishi father & son) and Kagamijishi (a young maiden is dancing with a lion mask when she's taken over by the spirit of the shishi and becomes the fabled beast) live, but this performance was special because it featured the female and male shishi dancing together.  The male shishi wears the long white mane and Noh-styled kimono while the female shishi wears a red mane with a multi-layered woman's kimono, complete with elaborate obi tied in the front.  Unlike all the male shishi who wear stylized kumadori makeup, the female shishi has simple feminine makeup. Something I found fascinating about the dance was that, while her movements and steps were largely feminine, the female shishi would perform a mie with the male shishi.  A mie is a significant pause, usually involving widened eyes, grimace, aggressively exaggerated hand gestures, and rolling of the head (like drawing the shape of the Japanese symbol for "no").  This is usually specific to the aragoto style (masculine, almost "super-hero" style of dance) so it was interesting to see a feminine version performed (minus the grimace).

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