For anyone who believes that Japanese theater traditions are esoteric and remote, needing much study and even more patience to enjoy, Nihon Buyo is quite the opposite: accessible and dedicated to displaying the beauty of this previously unknown Far Eastern art form.
“Ayatsuri Sanbaso (Puppet Sanbaso)” is a Japanese version of “Petroushka,” the Fokine/Stravinsky ballet in which a puppet takes on human emotions and battles with its puppeteer. Sanbaso (an exquisitely delicate, extravagantly costumed Hanyagi Ohhisui is first observed collapsed on the ground until the Koken (Stagehand), played with gruff humor by Hanayagi Tasuma begins manipulating her. Soon the puppet begins whirling on its own to the surprise of the puppeteer and it is finally, reluctantly subdued.
In “Oshukubai (The Nightingale in the Plum Tree),” a naïve Plum Tree (Fujikage Shizuhisa, a vision in pink) is taken in by a clever Crow (Hanayagi Genkurou) who convinces her that his strange black and white kimono and ugly song is a new version of Nightingale behavior. Fortunately a real Nightingale (Fujima Toyohiko, impressively lovely figure in shiny, pale green) glides in and all ends well—except for the evil Crow who is banished from the comforts of the budding Plum Tree.
Three musical pieces displayed the instruments on which the music is made. “Nagare (Flow)” was played on two shamisen (stringed instruments) by Touon Minamidani Mai and Touon Sakata Maiko, completing in ever faster, improvised sounding, themes, all based on traditional melodies (kind of like a gentler version of “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance). “Toki (Japanese Crested Ibis)” featured a long fue (flute) solo by Tosha Suiho, whose passionate musicianship was overwhelming. The third work, “Shishi (Lion)” combined all the different percussion instruments and the flute to great dramatic effect.
The final work, “Shunkashuto (Four Seasons),” began with ‘Sarashi Sanbaso (Spring)’ danced by the lovely Plum Tree, Fujikage Shizuhisa whose manipulations of long white banners evoked gentle winds.
In ‘Sanja Matsuri (Summer),’ two men, Hanayagi Tasuma and Fujima Toyohiko, perform a Kabuki inspired number in which two fishermen playfully interlocked arms and legs, pulling off each other, all the while manipulating fans. In ‘Tsugaru Tanto-Bushi (Autumn),’ Gojo Eikinu and Hanayagi Ohhisui spun colorful parasols, decorated with hypnotic spirals and waved silver and red baton acting like gentle cheerleaders.
The final section, ‘Shirasagi-Sho (Winter),’ was performed by six dancers to the most astringent music of the evening, appropriate for the bleak subject matter. Silver fans represented ice or clouds. White confetti snow completed the wintry imagery.
In addition to the six musicians, two singers added to the authenticity of the experience: Touon Ito Kaoruko and Touon Yokoyama Saeko were solid throughout the show.
The Geimaruza troupe favored New York City with its modern take on older theater/dance forms and, hopefully, they will return soon.
Nihon Buyo Dance by Geimaruza (March 3 – 5, 2017)
The Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-715-1258 or visit http://www.japansociety.org
Running time: 100 minutes, including one intermission