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New Year Kabuki

at : Shinbashi Enbujo
2010.01.02 - 2010.01.26
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.
Date no Juyaku ("The Ten Roles of the Date House")
ebizoAshikaga Yorikane/Nikki Danjo/Akamatsu Manyu/Dote no dotetsu/Takao/Kinugawa Yoemon/Kasane/Masaoka/Arajishi Otokonosuke/Hosokawa Katsumoto
    The original version of this play was written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV and was staged in 1815. Its full title is Haji Momiji Ase no Kaomise, (A Blushing Maple Perspires in Public).
    As Ichikawa Ebizo explains in the Prologue, this refers to the actor who has a face that turns as red as the autumn maple leaves. His strenuous efforts cause him to sweat as he shows his face to the public. The play was a parody of an earlier work on a similar theme, and was staged principally to show off the versatility of the star actor who, for the first production, was Ichikawa Danjuro VII.
    Today, it has become the exclusive vehicle of the Kabuki star Ichikawa Ennosuke III who was responsible for reviving and adapting the play in 1979.
    The play calls for lightning-quick changes from one role to another by the same actor, a practice known as hayagawari, which will also involve the aid of many stage assistants, substitute actors and hidden trap doors in the set.

  - Story and the "Ten Roles" -
    The play falls into the category called o-ie sodo mono, works about the disturbances within a great feudal clan. The story is complicated with plots and sub-plots involving a multitude of characters.
    In brief, Ashikaga Yorikane, lord of the northern province of Oshu (modern Sendai Prefecture), is so given to luxury and pleasure-seeking that he neglects the affairs of state. He frequents the pleasure quarters where he has fallen in love with a great courtesan named Takao. Such an affair is scandalous and the lord's profligacy has created an opportunity for evil conspirators within his household to plot against him. They are led by the lord's own uncle Onitsura, and he is in league with one of Kabuki's most frightening villains, Nikki Danjo. Danjo has supernatural powers and is a master of the occult.
    When this evil faction succeeds in getting Lord Yorikane out of the way, it proceeds by attempting to poison Yorikane's young son and heir. Not everything goes to plan, however, for still loyal to the rightful lord are several men and, in particular, one woman named Masaoka, who rally to the boy's defense.
    Ten of the most important characters are all played by the same actor, Ichikawa Ebizo XI.

  A brief description of the roles is as follows:

    Ashikaga Yorikane  -  The feudal lord at the centre of the story who
becomes so obsessed with pleasure-seeking that he allows his house to
fall into grave danger. Though by appearance rather effete, Yorikane is
also well capable of defending himself in combat.
    Nikki Danjo  -  The arch villain who plots to usurp the authority of the
house. Danjo has been taught black magic and is able to transform himself
into a rat at will. He is also able to fly through the air, a technique
known in Kabuki as chunori. This can be seen at the end of Act III.
    Akamatsu Manyu  -  The father of Nikki Danjo, he appears as a ghost at the
very beginning of the play to inform Danjo of his lineage and to pass on the
evil secrets of their family.In his lifetime, Manyu had intended to
overthrow the country and as part of that plan he tried to defeat the Date
    Dote no Dotetsu  -  A wicked priest who wanders the country in search of
personal gain. Though not originally a member of the evil faction, his mercenary ways prove useful and he is hired to deliver poison that is used against Yorikane's son.
    Takao  -  A courtesan of the highest rank, famed for her beauty and talent in the arts. She is the lover of Lord Yorikane and is about to be redeemed from her contract when she is murdered. Her resentful spirit continues to haunt others after her death.
    Kinugawa Yoemon  -  A disgraced samurai who is, nevertheless,faithful to
Lord Yorikane. It is he who overhears Nikki Danjo speaking about the evil plot and who first witnesses his sorcery. As it happens, Yoemon was born in the year, month, day and hour of the rat, and he is therefore the only one who can defeat the dark powers. For the sake of the household, he also murders Takao.
    Kasane  -  A lady in service at the Ashikaga mansion, she is also Yoemon'wife and Takao's younger sister.
    Masaoka  -  One of Kabuki's true heroines, she is the wet nurse  who takes care of Lord Yorikane's son. Her own son is his playmate and loyal retainer.Masaoka fears that the evil faction will poison her young charge and
therefore insists on preparing all his meals herself by cooking rice with tea ceremony utensils. She has trained her son to taste all the food first, and it is this that leads to the most tragic event of the play. Masaoka's loyalty, courage, and self-sacrifice make her more than a match for Danjo's wickedness.
    Arajishi Otokonosuke  -  A fierce warrior loyal to Lord Yorikane, it is he who stands guard in the basement below the women's quarters where Masaoka keeps their lord's son. Otokonosuke must battle with a giant rat but only
succeeds in wounding it on the forehead before it escapes with an important list of conspirators.
    Hosokawa Katsumoto  -  A high court judge well known for his fair treatment and discerning intellect. It is Katsumoto who eventually exposes
the plot against the Date House and brings justice to the loyal faction.

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