Eleven months after an Okinawa Culture Assn. touring group performed at the Japan America Theatre, another sampling of Ryukyu culture turned up Saturday in the same venue.
Sponsored by the Japanese government, "Music and Dance From Okinawa" bypassed the aristocratic court dances that had been the glory of the previous troupe in favor of folklore.
Indeed a special, made-for-export suite took up the final half of the program incorporating genre scenes galore: an oar-dance by fisher-folk, a hoe-dance by farmers, a weaving dance that celebrated the distinctively printed textiles of Okinawa, plus several courtship duets, a martial arts display and a final drum procession.
Vibrantly performed by members of the the 23-year-old Okinawa Dance Company, these brief dance-vignettes emphasized hearty love of life and a kind of physical solidity that almost made you overlook the exceptional refinement of their gestural details and their sumptuous fluidity. One intriguingly furtive love duet also provided a glimpse of darker emotional values.
The formal dances early in the evening capitalized on symmetry, synchrony and supple hand motion.
In "Odori Kuwadisa," for example, a dozen women formed graceful groupings to a deep melodic song--their smooth circlings, bendings and kneelings accented by the castanet-like bamboo blocks they carried in each hand.
The duet "Hatoma-Bushi" offered a masculine contrast with its bold stamping, swivel-steps and hops on one foot, while the trio "Nobori Kuduchi" exploited a tauter, more sculptural kind of male prowess.
The quartet "Shundou" and the octet "Bazangah" presented comic contrasts between physical beauty and its opposite. In the former, two grotesquely masked women aped their demure, unmasked counterparts--with their claw-like hands and overemphatic movement style no less ugly or funny than their false faces.
In "Shundou," makeup replaced masks but the conclusion remained the same: Good-looking people reflect human ideals both in appearance and behavior; everyone else is a joke.
Not, however, a cruel joke: Okinawan culture allows even terminal misfits the solace of one another and the wisdom to accept what they can get. In the Ryukyus, beauty may be much more than skin deep, but everyone has a place in the scheme of things. For those of us designed on one of our Creator's off days, that's a comforting vision indeed.