Thursday, September 15, 2011
When the thunder spirit Kaminari roars against Sendo, a boat man wearing a feminine mask, it will be the first time the two Japanese Kabuki characters meet on an American stage. They’ll do it Sunday at CSUMB’s World Theater, along with a small army of Kabuki and classical Japanese dance personalities in an expansive show unspooling 11 works from four centuries.
It’s rare to see this kind of breadth anywhere outside of Japan, says director Nakamura Gankyo (also known by his dance name, Bando Hiroshichiro). Part of what makes his dance-theater shows so unique is that they straddle two stylistic camps: edo, of a more hierarchical, samurai persuasion, and kamugata, which engages itself with the themes of the merchant class.
Gankyo says he has a penchant for the love dramas and double suicides of kamugata. At one point, he’ll appear onstage as a lion cub in a story about a father lion who throws his offspring into a deep ravine to test its strength.
Gankyo, a California native, began studying Kabuki at the request of his grandmother, now 93. Besides becoming the first foreigner ever accepted to study Kabuki in Japan, Gankyo is also a doctoral candidate at UCLA in Japanese.
He has no qualms about modern takes on Kabuki; he’s appeared in a Kaiser commercial and on The Ellen Show.
“You can always take certain aspects and tinker with them, as long as you know what it really meant,” he says. And he’s comfortable crossing all sorts of boundaries: an 83-year-old student (from Gankyo’s Del Rey Oaks studio, where he teaches one weekend a month) will play a 20-year-old woman.
“[Kabuki]’s an art form that is really dying out, even in Japan,” Gankyo says. He’ll celebrate his 31st birthday Sunday by appearing at the World Theater and doing his part to revive the art.
Three days later, another lofty cultural component from the East flies into the same venue when National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China visit.
Though the plate-spinning, leaping and juggling gymnasts have canvassed 40 countries from Israel and India to the Dominican Republic and Russia, this tour marks its first visit to the United States.
They’ll bring with them some abilities that stretch the borders of believability and set up extended residence in every memory bank present.
One strikingly adorned young woman bends her backbone and lower body with such elasticity that her toes come over her shoulder to stretch past her chin. Acrobats spring from one towering pole to another with the quick agility – and adhesive grip – of giant frogs. Using hands and feet, multiple talents juggle both up (with rings, pins and even umbrellas) and down (with rapid-fire bouncy balls) in elaborate patterns that dizzy audiences as much as they amaze them. It’s the kind of culture that defies explanation, but needs no translation.
KYO NO KAI: CLASH OF THE THUNDER happens 1pm Sunday, Sept. 18 ($30). THE CHINESE ACROBATS perform 7:30pm Wednesday, Sept. 21 ($35/general; $50/premium). Both take place at World Theater, CSU Monterey Bay, 100 Campus Center #28, Seaside. 582-4580, www.worldtheater.csumb.edu.