Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kabuki to go

We're a week from performance and our students, who have worked tremendously hard as production team on two school plays, are really looking forward to performing.

Shibaraku (which translates as Just a Minute!) has an unstoppable teenage hero giving an ambitious and unscrupulous lord his come-uppance, and restoring honour to a noble house. Written as a crowd-pleaser to open a new season, it's lively, funny, full of swaggering and posturing, and beautifully set and costumed.

Of course, ours is a touring production aimed primarily at introducing our students to the acting tradition, so our set is minimal, nor do we have the budget for layered kimonos of hand-embroidered silk - honestly, what can you do?

Still, they're having great fun working on the stylised movement and vocal delivery, they're excited about richly coloured kimonos as a change from school uniform and their usual daywear - and an early exploratory session on wigs was a hoot.

Finding dead white foundation has been a challenge: the authentic white paint for the face, neck, shoulders, hands and wrists of aristocratic characters is called oshiroi, and may be plentiful in Tokyo, but in Dubai..... hmmmm... I've been testing facepaints with very unsatisfactory results - unless,when you think 'geisha' you think blotches and smears? BUT a very helpful woman from an international cosmetic house thinks they may have exactly what we need in their warehouse. Fingers crossed! **Update: She has indeed got exactly what we need, and is sending it to us without charge as encouragement to our students. Isn’t that great? I’m sure the results will be imMACulate.

I got black polyester swimming caps as wigbases from Géant in Ibn Battuta, wigs and hairpieces at Fida's in Satwa, and bamboo poles from the plant souk round the corner - since seven-foot tempered steel samurai swords aren't in our budget either!

There's still plenty to be done, but it's all coming together.So here are some pics of work in progress, and where we're heading with this!

Working on the walk.

And the wigs!

One kimono and several graduation gowns.

Yoshitsuna - noble, wronged hero

Katsura Mae - his fiancée

Takehira - evil lord who wants Yoshitsune dead and Katsura Mae as his 'attendant'. This is actually a detail from Kanjincho, showing Benkei, but we're taking it as a base for Takehira as it's about halfway between the delicate makeup for Yoshitsuna, and what they call the aragoto (roughly, bravura) make-up, required for the larger-than-life Kagemasa.

And here is Kagemasa - teenage hero (on a Brazilian magazine cover) The actor, Ichikawa Ebizo XI is going to be performing in London this June. You're looking at three layers of kimono over the heraldic undergarment, and you wouldn't believe the shoes and trousers, so I'll leave them out!

Finally, just in case you thought Kabuki was alien, elitist or whatever, here, from the Kabuki-Za in Tokyo, is indisputable evidence of its broader appeal:

This is a scene from Kanjincho. Yup! Snoopy is Yoshitsuna, with his little bodyguard of Woodstock and his buddies. The blonde guy - piano player - I forget - is Benkei, the warrior priest. Linus is Togashi, the sergeant of Yoshitsuna's elder half-brother, and torn between duty to his lord, and admiration for Benkei's loyalty to his. And Sally (? yes ? - How can I have forgotten?!) is - well - she must the obligatory decorative chick, because she certainly doesn't figure in the story! Are Hollywood values creeping into Japanese culture?

I have to say that you cannot appreciate Kabuki from reading about it and looking at pictures, though they certainly help. There are several excellent sites online, and if you just want to look at the gorgeous costumes and spectacular makeup, you could spend an hour or so in Google Image Search!

I ordered some DVDs for school from Farside Music, a UK company run by Paul Fisher who lived in Japan for some years. If you've not seen Kabuki before, the comparatively slow pace (compared with virtually any western theatre you've ever seen) takes a little adjusting to, but it's so worth it.

The DVDs that Paul's imported from Japan are first rate, with excellent commentaries, and the customer service is also first rate. None of this automated reply business that massive companies have to invest in. Kanjincho is truly touching. Terakoya is heart-breaking. And the double bill of the woman looking for her lost son, and the temple dancer who becomes possessed by the lion spirit - well it works for me. They're expensive, but you get what you pay for, and when I leave here, I'm going to have to order my own copy of Kanjincho.

Farside also does Nō, but not yet with subtitles, and CDs of traditional Japanese music.

Thank you Mme Cyn for introducing me to Japanese culture and starting me down this delightful path: I don't think I ever expected to get this far!


Mme Cyn said...

You're welcome, MamaDuck! The Japan Club at The ZU are looking forward to seeing your performance next Tuesday. Are you going to give a little speech to introduce the Emirati girls to what they are about to see, or should I write up something for the pres of the Japan Club? Or isn't it necessary?

MamaDuck said...

See you tomorrow MmeC.