November 2 (Sunday), Los Angeles
After seeing Majikina Norihiro’s troupe perform kumi udui at the Ginowan Civic Hall back in September, last week I got to see him and his group again, along with performers from the Los Angeles branch of the Majikina school of dance, at a traditional Okinawan dance and theater program called “Nuufa Gukuru,” held at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo. I didn’t even know of JACCC before this production; I guess I can add that to my list of potential places to look for jobs when tenure-track positions don’t pan out. At the very least, it’ll be a place to keep my eye on, as to what events and exhibits they’re doing. And, as a bonus surprise, two of the sanshin players invited to LA to play accompaniment for the dances were my teachers from the Nomura-ryû school of sanshin from Hawaii, Norman Kaneshiro-shinshii and Keith Nakaganeku-shinshii!
In my post about the Ginowan performance, I wrote of kumi udui as something to be appreciated, perhaps more so than being enjoyed – I would have said the same thing for classical dance, such as Ryûkyû odori or Nihon buyô. But, today, I really enjoyed myself. I don’t know if there was an actual difference in the style or manner of performance, or if i was just that I was sitting so much closer, with a much better view, or whether maybe it just takes that one more time before it “clicks,” and you suddenly start to actually appreciate and/or enjoy the art form. The first half dozen times I saw Noh, I certainly didn’t “appreciate” it, though I was certainly trying to. And then, one time, I saw one Noh performance in Kyoto that was just so much more captivating, and moving, than any I’d seen before that.
To be sure, I won’t pretend that I have come to possess some deep, true, appreciation for these very subtle arts, which can sometimes be so slow moving, and so obscure in the symbolism or aesthetics of gesture and movement… I also graded this weekend tens of undergrad papers on the role of elegance and refinement in the Tale of Genji, and I won’t pretend that I truly appreciate any of this as deeply or as genuinely as the historical Japanese seem to have…
A performance of Chikuten 作田節, filmed and posted by YouTube user kumiken34. Thanks, kumiken!
But even so, I did get something out of Chikuten, a slow, elegant dance tonight. And I thoroughly enjoyed some of the more lively, more folk-style dances. My favorite was easily Watanja, which I sadly cannot seem to find a video of online, and which features a variety of figures each entering and dancing separately, one by one, each in a different style, and then hopping into a small ferry rowboat together. Seeing this sort of made it click for me just how much so many Okinawan dances feature “characters” of one or another social type – the fisherman, the market woman, the bold nobleman, the refined noblewoman, each with their own style. And here, they’re all mixed together, highlighting it. And, plus, some wonderful small humorous moments of acting in character, such as when a young woman with a basket of fish sits in the boat, and the nobleman fans away the smell.
Another interesting thing about today’s performances was that all of the pieces were composed in the 20th century, most of them in the postwar, and yet they are near as I can tell fully within the stylistic forms (and themes content) of the more truly classical pieces. For Ryukyu even more so than Japan, it would be easy to draw a dividing line, between those things performed in the time of the Kingdom, and those composed only after the kingdom’s fall. But I saw no language in the program indicating these pieces are considered shinsaku (“new pieces”), or considered outside the standard classical repertoire. Is the Okinawan dance tradition simply ongoing, with no such dividing line?
The kumi udui we saw scenes from that night, Chindera nu Turaju, more so than Yuki barai, played as a dance drama. Brief exchanges of dialogue, with a minimum of “acting,” interspersed with dances to represent travel, combat, or other action. This, combined with the mode of chanting, makes it highly stylized to be sure, but still I didn’t have too much difficulty following it…
… and that’s all for the notes I wrote that night. I suppose I could try to force myself to come up with something more to say, but perhaps it’s better to just leave it at that… It surely won’t be for a while, but I hope to get to see some more kumi udui again before too long, expand my experience of it. And, now that I know that it’s possible, and not all that difficult, to go down to LA and back up in a single day, and still have plenty of time to poke around Little Tokyo, I just might do it a tad more often. Fortunately, that samurai exhibit at LACMA doesn’t close until February.