Justin’s Japan: New York Marches Into Spring with Gagaku, Kabuki Masters

Nishizaki Emino, left, and Bando Kotoji, right, perform at Japan Society's Kabuki Dance March 29-31. (Toshio Kiyofuji)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02). Visit his Japanese culture page on Examiner.com here for related stories.

As winter gives way to spring, New York will host special performances of the traditional Japanese performing arts of gagaku and kabuki for a modern audience.

At Highline Ballroom on March 28 is Hideki Togi with Iwao Furusawa. Known as the flame keeper of gagaku (ancient Japanese court music), Togi embodies a proud 1,400-year legacy. Furusawa is a multi-award-winning violinist who has collaborated with Togi for over 15 years, drawing 20,000 people every year in their joint annual national tour. The music drawn from different streams of tradition—Togi from the East and Furusawa from the West—transcends the boundaries of music and art.

As part of its Sakura — Spring Renews, Beauty Blooms festivities (which mark the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from the Land of the Rising Sun to New York and Washington), Japan Society will host three nights of Kabuki Dance from March 29-31. Led by master dancer Bando Kotoji and a dozen other performers to the accompaniment of live music, visitors will be treated to the elegant and refined art form of nihon buyo, centuries-old Japanese dance.

Using traditional kabuki dance techniques while incorporating the individual expression associated with Western “high-art,” nihon buyo performers have built a repertoire that now consists of popular sections from famous kabuki plays as well as pieces inspired by classical noh plays and old folk tales. They have also integrated musical elements from kabuki and bunraku such as shamisen and storytelling chanters.

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