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Shochiku Grand Kabuki 2009 at the Opera de Monte-Carlo

at : Opéra de Monte-Carlo , Monaco
2009.09.16 - 2009.09.19
Kagami Jishi ("The Mirror Lion")
ebizoYayoi, later The spirit of shishi
      "The Mirror Lion" is one of Kabuki's most celebrated dances and was first performed in 1893 by a predecessor of the current Danjuro, Ichikawa Danjuro IX. The word shishi refers to a mythical lion-like beast considered holy and associated with the Buddhist deity Monju.
 The dance begins in the shogun's residence in Edo. A young and embarrassed girl called Yayoi is ordered to dance with a carved wooden shishi head as part of the New Year festivities. At the side of the room is an altar on which are set a pair of shishi heads and offerings of kagami mochi (rice cakes shaped like circular mirrors). It is from these kagami rice cakes that the dance gets its name.
      As the girl begins her dance, the lyrics suggest life spent closeted in the women's quarters of the castle where she entertains herself with girlish dreams of romance. Yayoi dances with a small ladies' fan as the lyrics also evoke a landscape of mountain hamlets, valleys and rushing streams.
       She imagines blossoming peonies and dances a very difficult section in which she spins or flips a pair of large weighted dance fans. At last, the idea of peonies leads to the mention of the shishi lion that always gambols among peony flowers.
      The lyrics take us to a divine landscape high on a sacred mountain where, spanning a deep ravine, there is a stone bridge which leads to the Buddhist Paradise.
       Yayoi now goes to the small altar and takes one of the carved shishi heads with which to dance. Mysteriously, two butterflies appear and as she glances up at one of them, does not notice that the shishi head comes alive. The head becomes violent as it darts at the other butterfly and Yayoi is finally overcome by the shishi and dragged away.
       There is an interlude featuring the two butterfly spirits transformed into a pair of young girls who dance with small drums and tambourines as the lyrics bemoan the fleeting nature of time and the brevity of a butterfly's life.
       Finally, the spirit of the shishi itself appears, danced by the same actor who performed Yayoi. In a spectacular costume with a long trailing wig, the shishi is teased into a frenzy by the butterflies, eventually swinging the wig around its head in the spectacular finale of the dance.
Kabuki Juhachiban - One of the "Eighteen favourite plays" of the Ichikawa acting line
Narukami  (“The Thunder God”)
DanjuroNarukami , high priest 
      First staged in 1742 by Ichikawa Danjuro II.  
      At the end of the play, the main character, Narukami is performed in the wildly exaggerated acting style known as aragoto which Danjuro I (1660-1704) adopted to portray superheroes and villains.
      Angered by the emperor, high priest Narukami uses his special powers to trap the dragon gods of rain in a rock pool close to his mountain retreat. A great drought ensues and, growing desperate, the emperor sends the most beautiful woman at court to try to persuade Narukami to set the dragon gods free.
      Arriving at the retreat, Princess Taema is met by the two comical acolytes named White Cloud and Black Cloud. She pretends to be a woman recently bereaved and Narukami
himself appears and asks her to tell of her deceased lover. Taema's storytelling becomes quite graphic and Narukami faints with excitement. As she has no cup, Taema revives him by passing water from her own mouth directly into his, an action that constitutes serious defilement upon a priest. Regaining consciousness Narukami is angered and suspicious, but allows her to live on condition she becomes a nun.
      Taema feigns a pain in her stomach and Narukami offers to massage it for her. In this erotic and amusing section Narukami inserts his hand further and further into Taema's robes, discovering for the first time a female body. Eventually he can bare it no longer and declares that he will abandon his religion and marry her. Taema insists that they seal their marriage with a cup of sake. With Narukami's first sip, however, the painting of the deity Fudo hanging behind his altar bursts into flames, a sign of the priest's fall from grace. He is soon drunk and lets Taema into the secret of how to release the dragon gods. He leads her off to his private room.
      While Narukami sleeps, Taema cuts the sacred rope across the waterfall which sets the dragon gods free. There is an immediate downpour and she makes her escape.
       Narukami is awoken by the two acolytes and, realizing that he has been tricked, is furious. He vows to transform into a bolt of lightning to pursue Taema. There is a tachimawari fight between Narukami and the acolytes, during which the actor performs several famous stop-motion mie poses. Defeating the acolytes with ease, Narukami races after Taema in a bounding roppo exit.

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