Ito, born in
Ito and five of her colleagues will perform three 19th century Kabuki dances, one Okinawan court dance (closer in style to Chinese than to classical Japanese) and two pieces that Ito choreographed in the Japanese classical style.
Kabuki theater was actually invented by a woman, Izumo no Okuni, a remarkable talent and great beauty, in 1603. She founded an all-female troupe and quickly gained competition from other groups. As has so often been the case with theater over the centuries, though, Kabuki soon became associated with immorality. In 1629, the ruling military government, the Tokugawa shogunate, banned women's participation in what had very quickly become a popular art form.
"It was sensational theater, like a dance revue with a short skit," Ito says. "The dance has been the essence of dancing and the essence of Kabuki since the early 17th century. More and more dances have been created. Even the acting, even the fighting, is a dance in Kabuki. The dance developed together with the drama. It is storytelling, gestures to help tell a story."
The oldest dance still preserved dates from the late 1600s.
After the 1920s, Ito says, "Women began to perform (Kabuki) publicly, professionally, in the concert halls. Much of our repertoire comes from 19th century Kabuki dances, but there are many (newer) dances that choreographers, both men and women, have created based on Kabuki styles. Today we even use western music sometimes, such as
Ito decided to include Okinawan dance in the program after a recent visit to the
"Dance is a mirror of a culture," Ito says. In Okinawan dance, "You see the costumes, how different the walk is, the stance. Okinawan makeup is closer to Chinese; it's more pink. Japanese makeup is white. The music is different; Okinawan music is like Indonesian, more Southeast Asian."
All of the dances, she says, are feminine; the dancers use their long sleeves and fans in expression. In one, "Wisteria Maiden," the dancer "is the spirit of the wisteria flower; she drinks wine, gets a little bit drunk, and falls in love with a pine tree. Just enjoy the mood and enjoy the beautiful costumes, just as if you are in the Botanical Garden, enjoying the flowers."
A narrator will introduce each brief dance to help audiences unfamiliar with the particulars of the art form understand what they're seeing and hearing. Each performance will last just under an hour.
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