Yago no Kai (Yajūrō–Shingo Company) European Tour 2016
A great introduction to an art which is still able to reach an overseas audience!
In Paris the Yago no Kai Kabuki Company’s performances took place in the Grande salle, the 300 seater theatre, at the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris (May 12-14).
Two other European countries are scheduled on their whistle-stop tour this May, in Switzerland at La salle Théodore Turrettini at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva (May 17 & 18), and in Spain Kabuki returns for the first time since 1987, after an absence of nearly 30 years, at the Teatro Fernando de Rojas of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid (21 & 22 May).
The two plays being performed on the tour are the dance Omatsuri (The Festival) and the Tokiwazu narrative music classic ‘shosagato’ (dance-drama) Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Seki no To (Love at the Snowbound Barrier Gate – commonly known as Seki no To) by the main star Bandō Yajūrō supported by his son Bandō Shingo and their group of musicians and singers.
Omatsuri is a dance based on an existing festival which was originally established in the Edo Period, the Sannō Matsuri, one of only two Edo festivals that were permitted by the Shōgun to enter the grounds of Edo Castle. In Omatsuri an Edo fireman (played by Bandō Yajūrō), is attracted by the fun of the festival and joins a couple of the locals and a courtesan (played by Bandō Shingo). Bandō Yajūrō played his role with obvious enjoyment and in the absence of a translation of the lyrics his facial expressions more than adequately conveyed not just the emotions of the character but his skill as an accomplished actor. Bandō Shingo’s superlative portrayal of the role of the alluring yet demure courtesan really enhanced the overall feel of what was a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Preceding the second part of the performance programme was a talk by Bandō Yajūrō on the ‘Experience of the World of Kabuki’ on how best to appreciate Kabuki, listed in 2005 by UNESCO as Representative of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The opening part of this was a short ‘kōjō’, a formal ceremony introducing the actors, which was followed by Bandō Yajūrō’s talk on some of the main aspects of Kabuki performance. Most enjoyable were his explanations, and the accompanying demonstrations, of aspects of Kabuki musical accompaniment designed to represent such things as rain, thunder and snow, as well as his demonstrations of Kabuki poses.
In a preface to the finale there was an introductory address explaining that Seki no To, first staged in 1784, tells the ninth century story of Sekibei, who is really the villain the Court Noble Otomo no Kuronushi, an evil man who intends to take over and become Emperor using some Imperial seals he has stolen. He has already killed a man called Yasuda, mistaking him for Yasuda’s brother Yoshimine Munesada whose dwelling is adjacent to the Osaka barrier gate of which Sekibei is the barrier guard and where a cherry tree is blossoming amidst the snow. Ono no Komachi had arrived to visit her lover Munesada and was refused entry by Sekibei but Munesada intervened and they had become suspicious of Sekibei.
The part of the play that was performed was later in the story when the drunken Sekibei (played by Bandō Yajūrō) meets the late Yasuda’s lover the Courtesan Sumizome (played by Bandō Shingo). After sharpening his axe Sekibei tests its edge by cutting open a ‘koto’ (a musical instrument) which reveals Yasuda’s blood stained sleeve, hidden there earlier by Yasuda’s brother Munesada. The seal he has stolen flies up into the cherry tree which he begins to suspect is inhabited by a supernatural entity. Sekibei wants to cut down the cherry tree to perform a supernatural ceremony to help him become the ruler of the country. Sumizome appears and tries to charm Sekibei. Eventually they both undergo a ‘miarawashi‘ (transformation) when Sumizome is revealed as the supernatural spirit of the cherry tree and, in the bukkaeri quick change (from Seki no To), Sekibei is revealed as Kuronushi. A life and death confrontation ensues between Sekibei armed with a large axe and Sumizome with her magic powers. Another element of the stage production, which would not have been known to the audience, was the use of a hidden mirror in Sekibei’s axe, used by the actor to apply make up to enhance his ever more evil countenance. Once again Bandō Yajūrō exhibited his consummate skill in the role conveying the evil Sekibei who is also Kuronushi, a performance that was again more than enriched by the skilful portrayal of Sumizome by Bandō Shingo, an upcoming ‘onnagata’ (female role specialist actor) to watch out for. It will be interesting to see how Bandō Shingo’s skills as an ‘onnagata’ develop.
The medium sized theatre brought to the audience a more intimate setting than is usual with performances in larger theatres. The absence of a ‘hanamichi’ (literally flower path) walkway through the audience, which in Japan is such an intrinsic element of the Japanese Kabuki theatre, seemed not to present a hurdle to the performances, in particular that of Seki no To, a short platform to one side of the stage being put to use as a very short ‘hanamichi’. For Kabuki aficionados ‘kakegoe’ calls, shouted phrases of encouragement at key points during the performance which also add to the rhythm and enjoyment of the play, would have augmented the performance and added to the mystique and appeal of Kabuki to the uninitiated and could have been covered in the talk. Many companies touring overseas either bring at least one ‘kakegoe’ caller along or perhaps rely on a member of the troupe to make the calls. Nonetheless the performances were thoroughly enjoyable and the actors accomplished in their roles. If you haven’t yet seen Kabuki these performances are not to be missed and are a great introduction to an art which, thanks to Yago no Kai, is still able to reach an overseas audience. Go and be enthralled!
After the performance run in Madrid Bandō Yajurō will be at a conference discussing Kabuki on 23 May at 7pm at the Teatro Juan del Encina, Centro Cultural Hispano Japonés, Univesidad de Salamanca. Entry is free, seats are unreserved.
The (mostly villainous) ‘tachiyaku’ (male role specialist) actor Bandō Yajūrō (b 1956) is from Tōkyō and is the third son of the former star of early Showa Kabuki and movie actor of the silver screen Bandō Kōtarō. He took the name Bandō Yajūrō and first appeared on stage at Kabukiza Theatre in May 1973. He was a disciple of Bandō Mitsugorō VIII until Mitsugorō’s death from fugu (blow fish) poisoning in January 1975. Then in 1978 the announcement was made that he passed his exam for promotion to Nadai (named ranking actor) and he became the disciple of Ichikawa En’ō II (at the time Ichikawa Ennosuke III). In 1984 he won the Kabukiza Award for Excellence and in 1998 the Kabukiza Theatre Award. In 1998 he was also awarded the prestigious Seika Mayama Prize and in 2014 the National Theatre Award for Excellence. His hobbies are drama appreciation, trekking and travel especially to Europe. He has in the past performed alongside his childhood friend the late Nakamura Kanzaburō XVIII and in recent years appeared in Cocoon Kabuki. He worked with Ichikawa Ennosuke III as Assistant Director of the adaptation of the Rimsky-Korsakov Opera ”Le Coq d’Or” in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1984, and with Bandō Tamasaburō V directing a stage adaptation of Kinsohita Junji’s folk tale ‘Yūzuru’ (Twilight Crane) in August 1998 at the Ginza Saison Gekijō Theatre.
The 26 year old Bandō Shingo (b 1990) debuted in 1995 and though he continues to perform as a ‘tachiyaku’ (male role specialist) he is the first in his family to diversify by becoming an ‘onnagata’ (female role specialist). His main hobby is reading. His favourite phrase is ‘isseki no chō’ (to kill two birds with one stone). When he performed in ‘Sasaki Takatsuna’ at the Minamiza in Kyōto in 1999 he was awarded promotion to Nadai. He won the National Theatre Special Award in 1999 and the National Theatre Award in 2013.
Both are actors with the Yamatoya Guild and have appeared in performances of Cocoon Kabuki and the Heisei Nakamuraza Theatre; Bandō Yajūrō in Heisei Nakamuraza performances both in Japan and overseas.
The Yago no Kai Official website (in Japanese)
Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris
The beginning of the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris dates back to a meeting between François Mitterrand, the then French President, and Zenkō Suzuki, at the time Prime Minister of Japan, when François Mitterrand proposed the idea of a venue that would introduce Japanese culture to the French public and strengthen the ties between the two countries.
Construction began in 1994 and the opening ceremony took place in 1997 in the presence of the French President Jaques Chirac and Princess Sayako, the daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and opened its doors to the public in September of that same year.
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.