Several years ago I was in Japan for studying, and one day I saw a Kabuki performance on TV, not the whole of it though, and I did not know what the performance was called. But it was the part of it with the Lion Dance. It was so amazingly performed, the actor would move so incredibly, the way he moved his head, and neck, and body… The actors' costumes, the most amazing make-up! That was absolutely different from the theatre I knew, the theatre in my country, in Ukraine. For some reason I remembered that picture in my mind, and since then I had always wanted to see an actual performance, to see the Kabuki Lion Dance in real.
On the 24th of October the citizens of Denver enjoyed the lecture and performance of the world famous Kabuki actors Nakamura Kyozo and Nakamura Matanosuke who led a troupe to America and visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland before they arrived to Denver. This was the first year the performance was presented in the city, and the event took place with the assistance of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the Japan Foundation.
The event included two parts - the History and Music of Kabuki and the Basics of female role specialists and costumes of male role specialists. The audience could enjoy two Kabuki dances, as well - Sagi Musume or The Heron Maiden (Nakamura Kyozo) and Shakkyo or Lion Dance by Nakamura Kyozo and Nakamura Matanosuke.
The first part, the lecture was very informative and rather interesting. Nakamura Matanosuke in a very entertaining way gave the most interesting facts about how Kabuki theatre emerged, developed and what it is now. The sounds of nature, such as rain, thunder, and even inaudible sounds of snow or a falling handkerchief can be amazingly conveyed with the help of traditional musical instruments used in Kabuki theatre. String (Shamisen), Percussion (Gaku-daiko), Tsuke and other instruments complete the whole orchestra of sounds combining the nature and the people, movements and emotions coming out from the stage.
Nakamura Kyozo, specializing in onnagata (female roles), started his professional career in 1982. He plays in Tokyo (Kabuki-za, National Theatre), Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka, etc. And he also participates in lecture-performances overseas in Europe, Asia, the United States, etc. Authorized to be a holder of "Important Intangible Cultural Properties - Kabuki (collective recognition)". Nakamura Kyozo is also a lecturer of the New National Theatre and of the faculty of Education in Chiba University.
On Saturday in Denver, Nakamura Kyozo prezented the techniques of performing the female roles - their behaviour, walking, laughing and crying. He explained that the way onnagata is performed, is based on observations, and is played from the men's point of view. I can say that the audience was charmed by the way he depicted the women's laugh and cry, after that we were encouraged to practice together with the famous actor.
He also performed a fascinating, lavish in costume changes (more than 4 times!), and emotions, dramatic and charming dance Sagi Musume.
Nakamura Matanosuke, specializing in tachi-yaku (male roles), graduated from the National Theatre's Training School for Kabuki Actors in 1986. Promoted to Nadai (billboard-ranked actor) in 1999, Nakamura Matanosuke received the Encourage Prize Award from the Japan Actor's Association in 2004.
On Saturday, in the second part, he gave an exclusive "master-class" on Kabuki tachi yaku make-up and costumes. They say, you can hardly, if not never, see in Japan.
In the end, the two actors performed the Lion Dance, leaving the audience illuminated with the charming and delightful beauty and uniqueness of Kabuki, proving its outstanding and rightful place in world culture.
To me this was my dream come true. Like I said, it is an absolutely different kind of performance art, very different from theatre in my country.
I want to express my special thanks to Rie Seaver san for assisting in getting to the event, to the personnel of the Japanese American Society of Colorado for the efforts to make this event take place in Denver this year, and to my friend, Kurt Inagaki, for making it possible for me to attend.
Written by Tanya Bykova
The pictures were taken from Google.