The Japan Folkloric Art Dance Troupe has so refined and prettified whatever authentic sources it can lay claim to that the works the troupe danced Saturday at the Japan America Theatre often seemed like picture post cards of a never-never land.
Founded in 1963, the company puts emphasis on ever-smiling faces, colorful costumes, phalanxes of dancers in drill-team precision, genial generalities and speedy resolutions of any hint of dramatic tension. This sort of thing looks awfully dated after the Japanese have sent us the profound anguish of the butoh performance idiom.
The “Rice Planting Festival,” with its synchronized bobbing and bouncing peasant women pushing seeds into the earth in a delirium of happiness, verged on propaganda.
The “Umbrella Dance,” which, according to program notes, is supposed to commemorate a farmer who sacrificed his life to bring rain during a drought, became an exercise for six men twirling large, colorful umbrellas.
The “Dance of the Wild Horses” offered terminally cute male-female relationships. “Tsugara Aiya” showed an equally saccharine courtship dance. The “Dance of Awa” ventured lightweight revels including a comic skit in which a man impersonated a kite.
Certain works provided more ballast. Fierce and forceful, Akira Saito offered a terrific “Demon Sword Dance.” The “Dance of the Deer,” despite coy charm, hinted at problematic dominant and submissive behavior. “The Great Serpents of Yamata,” with two enormous, centipede-like snakes, had some striking theatrical effects.
A small group of talented musicians provided accompaniment.