2023: Four dance schools showcase Japanese classical dances at Torrance North High School

Back row Left to Right: Wakayagi Shuho; Wakayagi Ayame; Wakayagi Kiyoka; Wakayagi Rinsen; Bando Hidesomi; Sanjo Kanfuji; Bando Hiromiya;
Front row Left to Right: Azuma Harusuma; Azuma Kikusue; Azuma Hisatsuma; Azuma Kikuemi (Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio)

“An Afternoon of Japanese Dance,” a program of Nihon buyo, or Japanese classical dance, was enjoyed by many Japanese dance enthusiasts on November 4th, 2023, at North High School Performing Arts Center in Torrance.  This was the first in-person event presented by the nonprofit 501(c)(3) sponsor, Nihon Buyo Kai of California (NBK) since its last one in 2019.

Four dance schools (ryu) in Southern California were involved in the November 4th show:  Azuma, Bando, Sanjo, and Seiha Wakayagi.  The teachers –– Azuma Kikusue, Bando Hidesomi, Bando Hiromiya, Sanjo Kanfuji, and Wakayagi Hisame — have all achieved mastery and teaching credentials from the headquarters of their respective schools in Japan.

Opening the program was the auspicious dance, Hourai, considered a classic among all compositions of the nagauta genre.  It was performed by Wakayagi Ayame of Wakahisa Kai, and was based on a fairy tale of a noble place of eternal youth far from earthly life.

Hourai was followed by a lively piece called Katsuo Uri, a dance depicting a fish peddler, a common sight in the villages and towns during the Edo period (1600 to mid-1800s).  This Bando version first premiered In March 1813 in Edo (now Tokyo)  when it was performed by Grand Master Bando Mitsugoro III.  For this program, Bando Hiromiya danced the role of the fish peddler,

Wakayagi Kiyoka (Wakahisa Kai) performed the dance Wakatake, a composition in the kiyomoto genre that was first performed in 1943.  The name Wakatake means, “young bamboo,” so the dance movements reflected the strength and beauty of the bamboo, and was suggestive of the famous fairy tale, “Princes Kaguya” (Kaguya Hime), a story about a baby moon princess who emerged from a piece of bamboo and was found and raised by a wood cutter.

Another well-known dance classic in the nagauta genre that is based on a fairy tale is Urashima. The tale is about a fisherman who rescued a sea turtle, and for his good deed, was rewarded by a princess with a trip under the sea to a lavish palace where the fisherman was entertained.  When he asked to leave, the princess gave him a box, cautioning him not to open it.  After arriving home and realizing he had been gone for about 100 years, he was overcome with curiosity about the contents of the box.  Upon opening the forbidden box, he suddenly became an old man.  Dancer Sanjo Kanfuji skillfully portrayed the fisherman, and two koken (stage assistants) helped with the age transformation.

After a short intermission, Bando Hidesomi performed a classic nagauta composition called, “Kurokami,” or literally, “black hair.”  The dance is based on a Kabuki play about a princess who, for political reasons, abandons her love for a man.  The princess must manage her growing jealousy toward the other woman, much like the snow that accumulates during a frosty night.  This version was choreographed by Grandmaster Bando Mitsugoro VIII.

The dance Onnatayu of the kiyomoto genre featured Wakayagi Rinsen (Wakahisa Kai) who portrayed a traveling entertainer making a living as she sings and plays her shamsen, in a dance reflective of the manners and customs of the Edo period.

The final dance was performed by five members of the Azuma Kotobuki Kai, led by head instructor Azuma Kikusue, with Azuma Hisatsuma, Azuma Harusuma, Azuma Kiyosuma, and Azuma Kikuemi.  Their dance, Nagare, was significant because it had been first presented on a world tour in the 1950s.  Last year, these dancers were invited to perform this same dance in May at the prestigious National Theatre of Japan in Tokyo to celebrate the 90th anniversary of their school’s Azuma Ryu.  The choreography by the 2nd Soke (Headmaster) reflected the different forms and flow of water.

Please visit Nihon Buyo Kai of California’s website (https://nihonbuyokai.org) for more information about the organization and to see photos of past events.