Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Growing Season 3

I'm starting kabuki with another year group this term. Last year, we took Shibaraku as our text, touring an adapted version to The Japanese School and to Zayed University. Shibaraku is pure entertainment, and as such was a very good play to cut our teeth on, given that I was teaching from scratch.

This year, with that experience behind me, and a bigger class of students who have just done impressive work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, I want to look at something more substantial, and see if we can get closer to an authentic interpretation.

The trouble is that although kabuki is a feast for the senses, with its immaculate sets; elegant, often sumptuous, costumes; and music which, once European ears begin to attune to Asian musical scales and instruments, is utterly beguiling; many of its plots are rooted in the implacable samurai code which put duty to one's clan before everything else (or on what can happen as that code becomes a anachronism in an evolving society) ; and many of the plays involve heartbreaking sacrifices and deliberate cruelty. Getting a handle on the so-called 'aesthetic of cruelty' through which, to quote the Japanese Theatre scholar, James Brandon, 'violence and pain are made beautiful by abstraction' is quite daunting.

Moreover, in the 19th Century when Japan was in painful transition between feudalism and no-one-knew-what , (and my current read was written) the social and economic disruption of the time was reflected in its theatre. (Someone must have written a book on the type of theatre produced by cultures and societies in crisis. On the one hand there's the escapist fare of 1930s Britain, and 1940s cinema in the US;: and on the other there's the dark, dark humour and satire that is the crookedly painted grin of near-despair - Revenge Tragedy in 17th Century England; Kabuki in 19th Century Japan (tho' K. started in the 17thC.); the famous inter-war (Now there's a happy term!) cabaret of Berlin; Absurdism in post-war (Uhuh) France; Agit-Prop in Apartheid South Africa. It seems to me that what you get depends largely on whether the centre is holding, and people just need time out from being brave and all doing their bit towards a perceived common goal; or whether everything is in flux, and no-one - but no-one - really knows how it's going to end.) What kind of theatre - movie-making - novels - will the first quarter of the 21st Century produce, I wonder - in Europe - Asia - the US - Africa - .........the Global Village...........


Excuse me as I get back on my chair.....

I'm currently working my way through Kabuki, Five Classic Plays in search of the right text. The day before yesterday, I read Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani (Ichinotani Futaba Gunki) which is a classic (yup, like it says on the cover!) play in which a general, in accordance with the implied wishes of his lord, sacrifices his son to preserve his honourable enemy........ Yes. OK. And it is a wonderful play.

AND..........., Brandon says in Five, sacrificing one's child for one's lord is dramatic fiction; there is no historical instance of it in Japan. Strange, then, that it occurs in so many plays, with such poignancy. The samurai class didn't watch kabuki, preferring the more refined Nō and kyogen comedies. The audience for kabuki's samurai stories was the merchant class of Edo (Tokyo) Osaka and Kyoto, in a period of prolonged peace in which the samurai class was becoming more and more irrelevant, and soft. This urban audience's concerns (JB again!) centred on earning a living, seeking out pleasure and love, and being part of the exciting and ever-changing bustle of activity that was life in the great cities. Maybe their fictional samurai were no more realistic than our movie pirates - who apparently never went in for making people walk the plank (I know!) and also, more plausibly perhaps, didn't generally look much like Johnny Depp , either. Good grief!

Damn! Couldn't get a bigger pic!

The Greeks had their cathartic tragedies and ribald comedies. The Romans enjoyed the comedies, but chucked tragedy in favour of blood sports. Hollywood gives us Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and plenty of reasons not to move into Elm Street, or name your children Jason, Freddie, Damien or Carrie. Hmm. The Human Race, funny haha or funny peculiar?

Ooh! Ooh! BBC World is carrying a story on a comedy, 'Mein Fuhrer', made as a means of helping Germans explore how and why so many Germans followed Hitler. Brave man. Spiegel online has an article entitled Fun with the Fuhrer Wow. A German blogger has a trailer which she introduces as The real true story about Adolf Hitler! Helge Schneider is Adolf Hitler. Hilarious comedy about the most disgusting person in history, besides G.W.Bush. If you speak German, the trailer is on YouTube.

I don't speak German, so I can't offer an opinion, except on the place of comedy in our lives. I digress, but it's an interesting variation on the use of humour as a coping mechanism when we're faced with the unspeakable. In 2003, when I was in London, there was a satire, The Madness of George Dubya playing. I wish I'd seen it. At the time, I suspected it might do me good, but I was still so incredulous, bitter and nauseated by the actions and attitude of this arrogant moronic pawn of the dark powers of your choice, that I wanted to howl and vomit every time he appeared on TV. So I didn't go. Shame.

End of digression!

Then I read 'Love Letter from the Licensed Quarter' (Kuruwa Bunshō) a comedy about a lovers' tiff, at the end of which, his family takes him back and pays off all his debts, so that he can buy out her contract from the brothel (in the 'licensed quarter') where she - as a matter of honour - is earning her keep. Then they live happily ever after. After that I went out for a walk in the uncomplicated evening air.

Yesterday I read 'The Scarlet Princess of Edo' (Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshō) .

(Here, scarlet does not have the same connotations as in the West, but refers to the akahime or traditional 'scarlet robe' costume, which denotes a royal or aristocratic lady...... although Princess Sakura does fall all the way to the bottom of the pile before being restored to her original status.....just after the final curtain.........). Written in 1817, it reflects all the - um - joys - of blind transition. Adultery. Betrayal. Cruelty. Murder. Forced prostitution. Also Honour. Courage. Perseverance. Uxorial Devotion. Filial Piety. Paternal Pride. Maternal Tenderness. Self-Sacrifice. Very Nice Kimonos. Great Hair. Extraordinary Sets. All six acts of it.

After that (Your Honour) I went to Mall of the Emirates, looked at some very handsome window displays, succumbed to temptation in the Virgin video sale, and went to Cafe Paul for a piece of perfect apricot pie (perfect) and a pot of that beautiful Paul blend tea. Feeling better.

I suppose what makes these plays rather overwhelming in combination is the impression of being plunged into a completely alien culture, through a medium that speaks to the mind and emotions through all the senses. Of course, my experience of reading these plays now, having seen DVDs, heard recordings, and been involved in production - though not of any of these - is quite different from the first time I read some of them, a little over a year ago, with only a couple of Internet video clips for reference, but James Brandon presents these transcripts of performance with tremendous attention to visual and aural detail, as well as explaining the mechanics and techniques, and the underlying themes and ideas.)

The specific dilemmas and conflicts, then, and the strategies and solutions the characters resort to, might spring from an unfamiliar social code, and be expressed in an unfamiliar theatrical framework, but the relationships, the tension between individual desire and duty to anotheer party, and the emotional territory of adult life are essentially the familiar; and the whole piece plays out inside your head. Strong stuff.

Today I was transcribing my notes and doing a detailed analysis on my laptop (which is currently working - yay! - though it declines to connect to the Internet. Not a problem today, cos I've got a stack of Limewire downloads, and I put the more soothing ones on continuous shuffle, with the odd bopper like Walking on Sunshine in the mix, so I could have a little bounce now and again, to break things up a bit. After three hours of this, though I had had ENOUGH, and went out for a walk with my camera. No doubt a jog would have been a great deal more beneficial but Ha!

See Peas/Primordial Slime/Potato entry from this morning, and neighbour's veggie patch from the first bit of my walk. This is the rest of it.

3 o'clock leaf shadow

A proper palm tree - not one of those straggly California weeds! Note the irrigation tubes - not indigenous. (I mean the palm tree!)

Close-up - natural palm fibre matting

room for expansion

pampas grass on bad hair day

umbrella plants with new growth sprouting straight up

new blossom

mature blossom

The Trouble with Tribbles....

is their tendency to spread, climb,

and multiply.

Which is where our garden maintenance guys come in. Almost everything planted in The Gardens is quick-growing, and quick-spreading. All the groundcover plants have world domination built into their cells; and what looks like savage and thoughtless pruning is actually appropriate for the vigorous - nay rampant - growth habits of our potential urban jungle. I honestly thought those cheerful little yellow things would suffocate everything around them, but, five years on, everything seems to co-exist quite successfully. But the tribbles, and most of their groundcover buddies are on my list of what not to plant when we find our personal pocket paradise in Spain. Jajaja!

There you go, picture perfect lollipop trees. In a couple of months, these will be splendid again, with their red and gold leathery shields reaching for the sky and dotting the grass with colour.


nzm said...

Egads - you have been busy posting!

A movie that may help your actors get a handle on the role of the Samurai is Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai.

It's an amazing story and has a great analogy to corporate life!

nzm said...

BTW - we have a fox sleeping in our back yard!

She's been there for 2 days now.

Pics will appear soon on our blog!

MamaDuck said...

Looking forward to that!

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