Arts & Culture Blog
Kabuki Theater Performance Shines in its Subtlety
September 19, 2011
Kabuki and classical Japanese dance are arts that require a lot of patience to appreciate, especially on a brilliant Sunday afternoon. But when Nakamura Gankyo and a team of pro and hobby actors took to the stage yesterday, all eyes were trained on them, with a concentrating audience looking for the nuanced adjustments to facial expressions, or the subtle movement of a few fingers into a flowing sleeve, that tell the story in these wordless pieces.
Actors and dancers slid across the stage in socks, making some exaggerated steps and stomps particularly jarring signals of plot changes or fights between characters. Using their feet as percussion instruments at times and only simple props—a fan, an umbrella—actors relied on small fluttering movements and symbolism (a red inner garment showed meant a fight scene was in action) to tell their stories.
Not to say there weren't thrills—backflips, and some climbing up off the stage—but for the most part a plain set and lack of props made for a highly focused, distraction free production. And the details here go a long way; on women's ornate costumes, the folds were pinned in place for precision. This all makes for a captivating show, as viewers try to understand the plots. (And a stage manager who spoke only in Japanese meant English-speakers were left to careful watching to follow the stories.)
Actors, including Gankyo's Del Rey Oaks students (where he teaches one weekend a month), mastered some solo pieces, including a modern 2007 piece, to a pop song, rather than the more subdued centuries-old music customary of the other works. "It’s just a matter of taking certain elements of kabuki and readapting and modernizing it, so it will appeal to the American audience," Gankyo says of his willingness to dabble in the contemporary.
Also evidence of his ability to go beyond the traditional: casting women. "Kabuki’s an all-male world," he says, "but this isn’t unique. It was the same thing in Shakespearian theater, Greek theater, the Peking opera."
Gankyo also cast older students as young beauties, geishas pining for their lovers. "It’s really important for the audience to get that sense of flavor of life," Gankyo says. "For an older person to portray a younger person, you have gone through so much in your life, there is a different flavor you can present." The elaborate white makeup and bright red detail on lips and eyelids helped obscure age, too, but Gankyo clearly runs a tight ship. He was also joined by Fukima Toyohiro from Japan, who made the calculated spins and stomps and jumps looks effortless.