JAPANESE TRADITIONAL ARTS
March 6, 2016
For the unfamiliar, Japanese traditional theater might sound-like high-pitched squawks and dissonant music. Then again, there’s no denying the majesty of the spectacle, and the unequaled authority of the performers. Many who practice these forms are borne of artistic dynasties--families that have practiced the mysteries of the form and unsparing technique for centuries. At Carnegie Hall, the production company 3Top Co. in association with the Japanese American Association of New York as well as the Asia Society presented a one night only program of Kyogen, Noh and Kabuki Theater.
The bad boy of Kabuki Theater, Ichikawa Ebizo arrived to great applause from the many fans crowding the Isaac Stern Theater. Originating in the 1600’s Edo period, Kabuki fuses music, dance and acting to draw aural and visual pictures of rowdy lives spiked by samurai rivalries, suicides and desperate love.
Dressed in ornately painted and colored kimonos (long robes synched at the waist with wide sleeves and masks), men perform all the roles in elaborate make-up and exaggerated gestures that read to the rafters. Despite the lack of supertitles, the few non-speaking Japanese in the audience could follow the highly animated action punctuated by the musicians’ intricate, but specific scores.
In Noh Tscuchigumo (The Earth Spider) evil spiders spar with priests over a man’s health. Sick in bed, the hero is visited by a priest who suggests the evil doings of a spider. He sprays white streamers representing the spider's venom at the hero, who strikes back with his sword. By the second half the hero overwhelms the evil with the “spider slasher” ‘sword.
What’s really remarkable, are the deeply weighted steps, shocking jumps that are more like pops straight up with feet tucked up to the crotch, and the singular fullness applied to the spare, instantly legible gestures. Seated behind the performers or to the side, the all-important musicians sit driving the action through the instruments and vocals.
Feet slap on the floor in a variety of timbres, and the click of the head right or left is as articulate as any ballerina’s foot.
Not so far from the broad-humor and drama of vaudeville, experiencing the unusual presentation of Kyogen, Nohn and Kabuki in one evening, was a celebratory occasion. It’s unfortunate American audiences are not exposed more frequently to a national art form populated by artist clans and honored by its country.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis