DANCE REVIEWS : ‘90s Tokyo Reflected in ‘Masters’ Program


The elegant, accordion-pleated program read “Masters of Japanese Classical Dance,” Friday at the Japan America Theatre. Officially designated Living National Treasure Jyuraku Hanayagi appeared, as did five grand masters from some of Japan’s most distinguished music and dance schools.

However, much of the performance offered a radically updated classicism, one in which traditional styles of music alternated--and sometimes clashed--with harsh bursts of amplified metallic percussion, assaultive sound effects and pounding rhythms. Forget the calm beauty of Japan: This classicism reflected the extremes and energies of ‘90s Tokyo.

For instance, a new reworking of the Kabuki classic “Narukami” featured a score by Yaoji Tokiwazu that juxtaposed long passages of choral singing, ear-splitting thunderclaps, clangorous gong-and-bell music and more familiar, plangent, aristocratic ensemble playing. Moreover, stark silence reigned in the key sequence when the tempted saint (the forceful Kikunojyo Onoe) succumbed to the beautiful princess (the graceful Mitsutae Takahamaryu) and, in this version, groped her joylessly.

A celebration of the Japanese fan, Sonokisuke Hanayagi’s new male sextet “Senkei” featured steady, decorative movement gambits that seemed fundamentally disconnected from the propulsive sound score credited to Shin Miyashita (arrangement: Hiromitsu Nishikawa). Only at the end--during a powerful buildup of percussive effects--did music and dance grow in touch.


In the 1843 dance-drama “Kyo-Ningyo,” Jyuraku Hanayagi played a master doll-maker whose creation (Rankei Fujima) came to life--the same story as the 1870 French ballet classic “Coppelia” using some of the same sight gags. Hanayagi emphasized sly bemusement in his artful portrayal, while Fujima doll-waddled deliciously in hers.