Kabuki Dancing

kabuki.jpgArguably the most arty thing I’ve done in London in a good long while, yesterday I went to watch Kabuki dancing in Sadler’s Well in Angel. This was the last show in the tour by Ebizo Ichikawa XI. On what was probably the single most humid day of the entire year in London I was in a closed theatre with another few thousand or so people, without air conditioning, sitting next to the biggest lady in the entire audience (on one side at least, Sophia is quiet petite so there wasn’t a problem on the other side).

The word Kabuki means a lot to me as it’s the title of one of my favourite graphic novels (I’ve written the first review for this series on Splash Panel). The graphic novel effectively showed me what could be done with the graphic novel format and I’m still aspiring to craft something that I can be proud of in that genre of storytelling. So when I saw the advert for this particular show I had to see it.

I will say that Kabuki isn’t for the action/adventure types. This is a form of theatre that hasn’t much changed in over 400 years, so what it is trying to convey and the methods by which it conveys them might not really mean much for the culture of today. This is most definitely an acquired taste. It’s not like a form of music. It’s an appreciation of Japanese culture and the time in which this type of theatre came to prominence.

I for one really enjoyed it. I was taken aback by how perfect the male actors were pulling of the female roles so gracefully; fair enough they’ve been training since they were 4 years old but still it was an amazing transformation to see Ichikawa go from a woman in the play ‘The Wisteria Maiden’ to the evil samurai in ‘Kasane’. The kimono’s and the sets and the music were superb as well (but then again I loved that before I even was saw the show). The musicians seriously impressed with me with their absolute stillness when they were not involved in that particular part of the musical section.

I also learnt of a number of things about the Kabuki theatre experience that I was completely unaware of. Like the fact that members of the audience actually shout the names of the house of the actors or their number in the lineage. The fact that the story is mainly told in their actions themselves, rather than in words. Sometimes the music and the lyrics are used to tell the story leaving the actor to concentrate on the motions to tell the story. Like I said it’s an aquired taste but one that I recommend for those who like Feudal Japanese Culture and viewing storytelling in different mediums.


  1. I stumbled upon this blog as I was doing some online research. As someone who had the privilege of living in Japan for a number of years prior to returning to the United States, I gained a great appreciation of many facets of Japanese culture. I applaud your observations!

    1 panasianbiz
    Quote | 24/6/2006
  2. I was wondering if you could give me a few dance steps for a project i’m wotking in? here’s my email:

    2 sammi
    Quote | 16/3/2007

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