Tachibana, Tamasaburo, Japanese Dance and Theatre including Wig-making and Makeup.

The Butterfly Dance: which blossom will the butterfly choose?

In the early 1960’s, I took on the role of Lotus Blossom in ‘Teahouse of the August Moon’ at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts theatre. Lotus Blossom was meant to be performed by someone Japanese, and my part was in Japanese which I learned from tapes. While we were rehearsing, a dancer named Tachibana gave a concert performance at the Museum, enabling me to have a private class with her so that I could choreograph the dance of Lotus Blossom. How very stylized and restrained in gesture classical Japanese dance is. One aspect of Japanese culture is its formality and sense of precedence.

Women assume an inferior status to men. When my daughter was in Japan to film Lindsay Kemp a few years ago, her Japanese Inn keeper could not grasp that  she had brought a film crew of men under her.  He kept bringing free saki to the men. She made a  mistake in the hierarchy of etiquette by giving the secretary to the Director of the Theatre a gift a bottle of Chanel 5 as a thank- you for her help. The secretary promptly passed the Chanel to her male boss because my daughter had not produced a superior gift for him. I was reminded of a book by Maus (an anthropologist) called ‘The Gift’.

The dance here is visual and often tells a story so that one might say that there isn’t the same separation between music, dance and drama. In the Noh especially, I am reminded of ancient Greek drama. Do not feel that you must watch the full length of each offering, but I give you the opportunity.

First I will show dressing, makeup and wig making: In the 1990’s, I visited The Chinese Opera School in Taipei and had the pleasure of being made -up as a clown, with a black and white ying-yang design which was painted on my face. Thus, I have had a bit of experience, although I do not confuse the two cultures which are quite different. It was just the excitement of makeup made from crushed pigments and painted on with a brush by a makeup artist. It was quite funny, I was the only volunteer, because I think the other guests were concerned that the makeup might not come off. I, on the other hand, reckoned they had been removing their makeup for hundreds of years. Of course, it came off ! as three students in the School set about my face with cream, water and tissues.

The first film is of a Maiko Being Dressed Full  Version:

Next is the Maiko or Geisha painting her face:

Finally, to complete the dressing, here is a wig-maker:

Now to the dance: There is a little trailer ‘The Heron and the Geisha’:

Now the firefly dance:

The following are the work of a great artist, a man , Bando Tomasaburo. In the Japanese Kabuki Theatre, ‘onnagata’ or ‘oyama’  are male actors who impersonate women.

Tamasaburo performing  Sagi Musame [heron maiden]:

Tamasaburo performs ‘Inabune’ ,a Kabuki dance. It is so visual, like a Japanese painting:

Tamasaburo performs ‘Yokhi’ part 2: Yokhi is based upon an historical princess who was a concubine of a Tang Dynasty emperor.

A Note about Kabuki Theatre:

The history of kabuki began in 1603 when Izumo no Okuni, possibly a miko of Izumo Taisha, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate, enforced by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The name of the Edo period derives from the relocation of the Tokugawa regime from its former home in Kyoto to the city of Edo, present-day Tokyo. Female performers played both men and women in comic playlets about ordinary life. The style was immediately popular, and Okuni was asked to perform before the Imperial Court. In the wake of such success, rival troupes quickly formed, and kabuki was born as ensemble dance and drama performed by women—a form very different from its modern incarnation. Much of its appeal in this era was due to the ribald, suggestive themes featured by many troupes; this appeal was further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution. For this reason, kabuki was also written “歌舞妓” (singing and dancing prostitute) during this period.

Kabuki became a common form of entertainment in the Ukiyo, or Yoshiwara, the registered red-light district in Edo. A diverse crowd gathered under one roof, something that happened nowhere else in the city. Kabuki theaters were a place to see and be seen as they featured the latest fashion trends and current events. The stage provided good entertainment with exciting new music, patterns, clothing, and famous actors. Performances went from morning until sunset. The teahouses surrounding or connected to the theater provided meals, refreshments, and good company. The area around the theatres was lush with shops selling kabuki souvenirs. Kabuki, in a sense, initiated pop culture in Japan.

The shogunate was never partial to kabuki and all the mischief it brought, particularly the variety of the social classes which mixed at kabuki performances. Women’s kabuki, called onna-kabuki, was banned in 1629 for being too erotic. Following onna-kabuki, young boys performed in wakashu-kabuki, but since they too were eligible for prostitution the shogun government soon banned wakashu-kabuki as well. Kabuki switched to adult male actors, called yaro-kabuki in the mid 1600’s. Male actors played both female and male characters. The theatre remained popular, and remained a focus of urban lifestyle until modern times. Although kabuki was performed all over ukiyo and other portions for the country, the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres became the top theatres in ukiyo, where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held. [wikipedia]


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Fascinating article and videos, thanks! If you are interested, please check out the JETAANC Kabuki Club website: http://www.jetaanc.org/kabuki There you can join our international mailing list and discussion group devoted to Kabuki and Japanese performing arts!

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