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We sat down with Dance Centre Artist-in Residence Colleen Lanki of TomoeArts to learn about classical Japanese dance as she prepares for her upcoming show, lecture demo and workshop.
The Dance Centre (TDC): What are some defining elements of classical Japanese dance?
Colleen Lanki (CL): Japanese classical dance is the dance of the kabuki theatre and of the geisha. It is performed to shamisen music (a three stringed banjo-like instrument) and sung lyrics. The dancer always plays a character, and there is always either a narrative, or certainly a sense of mood and atmosphere created. The dances themselves (the movements) are either in male or female form – depending on the gender of the character being danced rather than the gender of the dancer (I dance male characters all the time!). Physically, the most important thing is the koshi – or grounding of the pelvis. There are also very subtle movements of the head and neck, and hands – especially in the manipulation of a sensu, or folding fan. Japanese classical dance is elegant, complex, and very theatrical – which is why I love it.
TDC: What genre style of classical Japanese dance do you practice? How did you come to work in Japanese dance?
CL: Nihon buyō – translated as Japanese classical dance – is really a fairly modern term and literally just means “Japanese dance” so it can contain many styles. I was trained in the Fujima tradition of dance which had its origins in the 18th century. I learned kabuki odori (kabuki dance), and my teacher also taught jiuta mai (dances from the geisha tradition) and a few kouta-buri (short mimetic dances) – so quite a variety of musical and movement styles, but they are all connected.
I came to study Japanese classical dance when I lived in Japan. I have been dancing and acting all my life, and at the time I was living in Tokyo teaching English. I was at the Kabuki-za watching a famous actor (Ennosuke III) perform the dance play Kurozuka. I was so moved I felt I had to learn more. A colleague personally introduced me to my first teacher, Fujima Yūko (1929-2003). She agreed to take me as a student, and I fell in love with the dance form.
TDC: Who was Yuko and why are you dedicating this performance to her?
CL: This concert – Yūko-kai – is dedicated to Fujima Yūko. The teacher-student relationship in Japanese classical dance is not the same as in western dance forms. She was more like a parent figure and I was her adopted arts-daughter. After almost seven years of study, she gave me a professional name – Fujima Sayū – the family name “Fujima” linking me to the Fujima school or tradition, and the “yū” part of my persona given name comes from her name “Yū-ko” – linking me to her lineage. It is a huge honour to hold this name. She was an amazing dancer and also a choreographer, so in this concert we are performing two of her original works. Two artists are coming from Japan as well – my current teacher Fujima Shōgo, and a dancer who trained with Yūko-sensei for decades – Fujima Minako.
TDC: Why do you feel it is important for Vancouver's arts and culture scene to include classical Japanese dance?
CL: I think Vancouver’s arts scene can grow so much by including Japanese classical dance into its aesthetic! Its use of time and space, its theatricality…the quality of gestures…So much to appreciate and enjoy! Each dance is a story told in the lyrics and the movements, so even if there are details that you don’t understand, you can appreciate the beauty and elegance – and let your imagination fill in the rest!
TomoeArts presents Yūko-kai:
A concert of Japanese classical dance
Saturday May 12, 2018 at 8pm | Scotiabank Dance Centre
Lecture-Demonstration with the Artists
Friday May 11, 6pm | Scotiabank Dance Centre | FREE
Nihon Buyoh Workshop with Fujima Shōgo
Saturday May 12, 2.30-4.30pm | Scotiabank Dance Centre
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