CRAZY ABOUT KABUKI
TomoeArts brings master odori and shamisen performers to Vancouver for two performances
It’s no secret that TomoeArts Artistic Director Colleen Lanki is passionate about kabuki. The North Vancouver-based dance artist has co-presented two editions of the Cinema Kabuki film series, and, in 2010, she brought in a trio of master dancers from Japan for her sold-out production of Odori: The World of Kabuki Dance.
Now Lanki is turning her attention to the relationship between odori and the shamisen, a three-stringed banjo-like instrument whose soulful wail has provided musical accompaniment to kabuki productions since the 17th Century.
In TomoeArts’ Shamisen & Odori: The Music and Dance of Kabuki (May 12 & 13, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Vancouver), these essential elements of kabuki theatre take centre stage in an intimate concert performed by award-winning guest artists from Japan: Fujima Shôgo (master dancer/choreographer) and Tokiwazu Mozibei V (master shamisen player). Lanki will also dance.
“We’ll be performing in su-odori style, meaning we’ll be wearing simple kimonos with only a byôbu, or folding screen, as our backdrop,” said Lanki, who will dance a solo and appear in a duet with her teacher, Fujima Shôgo. Below, Lanki dishes on her passion for kabuki and what Vancouver audiences should expect from these two special performances.
Shamisen & Odori finds TomoeArts once again inviting audiences to experience kabuki. How is this different from your previous productions?
Shamisen & Odori: The Music and Dance of Kabuki will allow the audience to enjoy kabuki dance and music in their purest forms, without the crowds and trappings of a large theatrical spectacle. The room is acoustically beautiful, so you’ll be able to hear the shamisen and voice without distortion. It’s a “connoisseur” type of production where the smaller, more nuanced details can be savoured, as if you’re at a private party.
Tell me about the role of music in Kabuki theatre.
There are a number of different kinds of music in kabuki theatre, including nagauta, or long song, and tokiwazu, which is true storytelling music and involves many different characters. Because it can be more challenging, fewer people perform tokiwazu—and for our performances we are bringing in master shamisen performer Tokiwazu Mozibei V. He is the fifth person in his family to perform tokiwazu. We are incredibly fortunate to be featuring a master musician who is both a singer and lead shamisen player.
What is the story behind the duet you’ll be performing with your teacher, Fujima Shôgo?
Matsu no Hagoromo (The Feather Robe in the Pine Tree) is the story of a heavenly maiden who comes down to earth to have a bath. She disrobes and leaves her robe on a pine tree, and while she is bathing, a fisherman finds it and takes it, and she pleads with him to return it. In some versions of the story, he won’t, and she is kidnapped, forced into marriage, and ultimately escapes. Our version comes from the Noh play, in which the fisherman says, “If you teach me the dance of heaven, I’ll give it back to you.” They bicker and he doesn’t trust that she’ll teach him the dance if he returns it first, until she says, “Lies are for humans; we don’t lie in heaven, so give me back my robe,” and he does.
You’ll also be performing a male-form solo. As a woman, what’s it like to perform a male-form dance?
Male-form dances are active and fun, and you can actually portray female characters within them. In Kuruwa hakkei (Eight Views of the Pleasure Quarter), the main character is a man who goes to the Pleasure Quarter. In the middle of the dance I become a female character, and then I switch back into the male character, and then into another female character, and then back to the main male character again. It’s incredibly challenging and rewarding.
What is your favourite moment in the show?
In Matsu no Hagoromo, there is this lovely moment where the heavenly maiden is trying to fly and can’t. She curls down and stretches up as if she’s a bird trying to take off, and she falls. She looks at the fisherman, and puts her hand on her heart in sadness. It’s achingly charming.
What does the future hold for TomoeArts?
My dream is to bring a full kabuki dance play to Vancouver, complete with orchestra, dancers and costumes. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s my dream. I don’t see why it can’t happen: there is much love for kabuki in Vancouver.
TomoeArts & SFU Woodward’s present
SHAMISEN & ODORI: The Music and Dance of Kabuki
8:00pm, May 12 & 2:00pm, May 13, 2012
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Simon Fraser University
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Tickets: $32 (standing or limited vision tickets $15 at the door)
www.tomoearts.org / 604.607.5978