The Man of Kabuki Talks About the Women of Kabuki

The steps, in turn, were maundering, menacing, mincing. The facial expression switched from snort to smirk with the rise or fall of a painted eyebrow.

It was a mini-tour of the recondite world of Kabuki, Japan’s popular theater, and with Leonard Pronko as guide, the lecturees at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena last week were not only instructed but enthralled.

Pronko, professor of theater arts at Pomona College, was the first non-Japanese to study Kabuki at Japan’s National Theater, and his Pasadena insights, many agreed, were as much fun as a performance.

That a man should interpret the art form was only fitting, since Kabuki now is an all-male province. Not always, though, Pronko explained.


Originally “a sort of folk dance, with erotic and comic elements added,” Kabuki was introduced in Kyoto in the 1590s by a woman named Okuni. Her troupe was wholly female, Pronko said, “many of them prostitutes.” By 1629, woman dancers were outlawed “because the important part of the performance was taking place after the performance.”

Even the word Kabuki has changed meaning: “Originally,” Pronko said, “it meant ‘leaning'--leaning in the wrong direction--since the early actors indeed had strange, and not entirely savory, bents.” Now the word means, “song, dance and skill,” the final bowdlerization of a once-bawdy divertissement .

Men now perform stylized male and female roles alike. “They had to devise a way to suggest not a woman but absolute femininity,” Pronko said, “the essence of a woman.” And they did it so well that “nowadays, they say a woman can’t possibly capture that elusive essence.” What she would have to do, said Pronko, with a beguiling tip of the fan, “is imitate a man imitating a woman. . . .”

14-Year-Old Sets Her Wonders to Music


She has been hard at work composing for six years, and now, at long last, Julie Yang has won her first major music award.

Julie, of Westwood, was declared Southwest Division winner in the Junior High School classification of the Music Teachers National Assn./Columbia Pictures Publications Student Composition contest--in effect, crowning Julie as the best young composer in a six-state area: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Her winning composition was “Six Variations of Wonders,” written for solo piano--"because I play the piano myself.” (She also plays cello with the Junior Philharmonic Orchestra of California, sings soprano with the Los Angeles Mandarin Baptist Youth Choir and dabbles enthusiastically in a variety of pursuits, from the sciences to “general school life.”)

Julie, who was born in Taiwan and came to the United States in 1984, describes her composition as limning “the different stages of my life, since I was 4--kind of like flashbacks of feeling, remembering how I felt. As a child, you really don’t know what’s coming up. Not that every period is a ‘wonder,’ but in a different sense, you’re always wondering .”

Has Julie, then, wondered about life as a professional musician? “Not necessarily,” she says. “I enjoy many things. Music certainly is a way of expressing myself, but not the only way. I may well go to UCLA--that’s where my brother is--but I really don’t know what I’ll be doing in the future. Remember, I’m not even 15 yet.”

One More Time, Counselors, From the Top

They’re human after all. Then again, one might have expected a lighter side to men and women who spend so much time at the bar.

Over the weekend, the Orange County Bar Assn.'s Theater Wing presented “Law Revue ’89,” a musical comedy, in the Chapman College Auditorium, a show that demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that judges too can tap dance.


“You understand,” lawyer William Jackson said before the show, “that it’s to raise money for charity, for the Orange County Bar Foundation’s community programs. But at the same time, it is great fun.”

“We take a lot of (San Francisco lawyer) Morris Bobrow’s musical parody, then we intersperse it with talent of our own,” said attorney Karen Taillon, theater-wing chair. “We have an all-attorney barbershop quartet doing ‘Law and Motion Here I Come,’ ‘Justice Rose,’ a few others. The chorus line is all judges, and yes, they do tap-dance. There’s a number called ‘Brush Up Your Motions’ and another one: ‘Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Lawyers.’ ”

Alas, no “Sue City Sue” or “Bill Bailiff Won’t You Please Come Home,” but there was a series of comedy sketches whose chronology, as seen by lawyers, was telling: “Singles in America,” “Our Love,” then “Visitation Blues.

“There’s another benefit to a show like this,” Jackson said: “getting judges and commissioners and attorneys together in a social venue. Remember, sometimes we too have an adversarial relationship. We don’t always get along with those guys either.”