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Kabuki Weekend One

11 February 2012
Yesterday - an eight-hour workshop, Lecture/training in the here-to-fore impenetrable art of KABUKI!

Led by Lawrence Kominz (affectionately know ‘round here as ‘Larry the Kabuki Guy’) and I must say, I am still buzzing. 
Kabuki is certainly what attracted me to Japanese theatre in the first place.  I’ve always been into that “Form over (i.e., super-imposed onto) content.” 

This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to learn the technique.  Reading and viewing only get you so far:  to learn what the voice and body actually does.

Larry’s teaching style works great for me.  He’s entertaining, occasionally irreverent, a casually tuber-knowledgeable. 

The opening lecture was a sharp synthesizes of the visual, cultural, and textual import of the art peppered with insights, quips and charming asides.

Then we recited and danced.  Oy vay. 

Much food for thought there.

In this order, we walked around as:
A young lady,  (very difficult)
A little girl,  (even worse)
A servant or merchant, (which was almost like natural walking.  Almost.)
A merchant in a hurry,
A samurai,
A super-hero/villain.

One of the first set pieces we learned was the famous “Roppoh” —the violent super-hero exit.  You may have seen this,  The big hopping exit.  Roppo translates as the “Six Directions”  —as far as I can figure, you are throwing your body into three at a time (thank god) as you hop noisily.   ( I can boar you with the math / shinto theory of the exit if you buy me a drink some time.)

Next, some textual work—a grand villain who is actually a hero in disguise (don’t ask, I do ‘t know) taunting, “Just try and attach me!” (Chest beating and all!)

That was the first two hours.

Then came the Lady Dance.
I’ve been really looking forward to learning onnagata because the fourth movement of A Minor Cycle has become a piece about a tragic upper-class woman in kabuki style.   I also wondered if all those drag-shows I did would give me a leg up. 
Well, these ladies never put their legs up.  In fact, one grinds ones knees together as they walk.  (Ouch!)
Needless to say, I was pretty solid on the big “twist yourself around like a corkscrew and look prettily at the audience”, but the subtle things… I over-did.

This is Buyo Dance.  The classic solo dance form. 
It is abstractly mimetic and emotional (well, emotional for the Japanese.) and incredibly complex—many moves and actions within one dance.

After lunch; more video/lecture mostly on modern and fusion works.  (I’ll comment on that in a future blog.)

And then onto the ‘Row Man’s’ dance—a pastoral piece about the heroic man who rows a boat across stormy seas.  (more chest beating)

I never realized that so much Buyo is choreographed to Enka Music. (sorta like Eurovision … YouTube it) It’s felt kinda of silly at first by then we got into the high drama of it all.

Finally, back to speaking and storytelling. 
This time in English which was eye-opening (as the first time I heard noh in English.)  We worked from from Larry’s translation of Mishima's kabuki play The Sardine Seller’s Net of Love.  A very clever kabuki comedy which he had producd before.
At one point I was reading the “lover” role, which uses almost as much falsetto as a female role, and Larry said,  “you need to go much higher.”  Of course my first thought was “I could have done it 500 packs of cigarettes ago.” But I think with practice I can find that voice.

Listening in English is difficult, I think.  It sounds so… so… …the only word I have is “fake.”   Kabuki, after all, is about artifice.  And filling a thousand-seat house with your voice.  But in English it is startling.  Perhaps well executed, and unrelenting one grows accustomed to it.  I remember being startled when I saw it at the Kabuki-za with the top actors.  Again, artifice is so important (Form on top of Content).

We will see what tomorrow brings.  I will be bringing my ace bandage and an ice pack (OY! My knee!)

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