Dance master Mme. Hisami Wakayagi to present 2008 New Year Celebration

Wakayagi Hisami Shizuhataobi

Mme. Hisami Wakayagi of the Seiha Wakayagi School will lead the 2008 New Year Celebration recital by performing a very challenging 45-minute piece “Shizuhataobi” upon her triumphant return from the National Theatre of Japan performance in Tokyo in October 2007. (Courtesy of Hana-no-Kai)

Cultural News 2007 December Issue

The Hana-no-Kai branch of the Seiha Wakayagi School in Tokyo, led by Mme. Hisami Wakayagi of South Pasadena, will present a “2008 New Year Celebration – Hana-no-Kai and Hisami Wakayagi Recital” on Saturday, January 19, at 12:40 p.m. at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre in the Little Tokyo district of Downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $35.

Veteran dance master Mme. Wakayagi appeared at the National Theatre of Japan (Kokuritsu Gekijo) in Tokyo twice this year and received overwhelming acclaim. Her performance of “Shizuhataobi” on October 7 at the National Theatre was especially considered an accomplishment of a very challenging dance since the performer must express a range of emotions – anger, despair, hope, honesty, disappointment, and insanity – during the 45-minute program.

As the highlight of the New Year’s program, Mme. Hisami Wakayagi and Tokyo-based dance master Hikosaemon Wakayagi will perform “Shizuhataobi” to celebrate their triumphant return from the National Theatre show. The Hana-no-Kai program will also feature the Ryubu dance troupe led by Mme. Keiko Yonamine of Orange County.

Over thirty years have passed since Mme. Hisami Wakayagi first set foot on American soil in 1974. During these years, she has been dedicated to committing her master skills to help people in the U.S. understand Japanese performing arts. In addition, Mme. Wakayagi has made continuous efforts to nourish and preserve Japanese traditions, heritage, and culture for younger generations.

In pursuit of this endeavor, Mme. Wakayagi has embarked on a rigorous schedule of teaching, lecturing, supporting various Japanese cultural events in communities, and performing both in the U.S. and in Japan. She also has volunteered to perform for colleges, public schools, municipal festivals and retirement centers.

Born in Kobe and raised in Tokyo, Mme. Hisami Wakayagi started learning Japanese dance at the age of 6.  She then started taking lessons from Kichisanji Wakayagi, the headmaster of the Seiha Wakayagi School in Tokyo. In 1965, Mme. Wakayagi was permitted to receive the coveted natori dance title, and, in 1966, shihan teaching credential. In 1974, Mme. Wakayagi came to Los Angeles and opened her own studio. In 1980, the first recital dubbed as Hana-no-Kai was held.

In her lessons, Mme. Wakayagi teaches not only techniques of classical Japanese dance but also dressing skills of kimono and obi, mannerisms and etiquette. Through these lessons, Mme. Wakayagi hopes to convey Japanese traditions to the next generations.

Throughout the week, Mme. Hisami Wakayagi teaches at her home studio in South Pasadena, at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in the Downtown Los Angeles Little Tokyo district, and at studios in Torrance and Beverly Hills.

During the last thirty years, she has often returned to Japan to refine her skills and become updated on the latest techniques. As with any art form, Japanese classical dance has changed over the years.

Ignorance of the advanced study of these techniques makes Japanese dance dull and outdated.

Therefore, Mme. Wakayagi annually returns to Japan to receive advanced training, while passing along her artistic traditions to her followers. Her love and passion toward Japanese classical dance inspires her students and colleagues to further pursue their studies.

In 1985, Mme. Hisami Wakayagi assumed the directorship for the Seiha Wakayagi School, USA, to introduce Japanese classical dance as a representation of one element of the Japanese performing art. She has made a tremendous effort to diffuse its profundity, depth, and magnificence in the U.S.

Program for the January 19, 2008 Recital:

Yamatogaku “Shiki no Hana” by Kei Ogawa, Amelia Cantlay, Yuki Kirihara, Yuka Kiuchi, Natsuko Yamada, Tomiko Nash, and Midori Makino. The dancers transform themselves into flowers of the four seasons and compete with their beauty in this group dance.

Ryubu “Bashintui” by Keiko Yonamine; Ryubu “Udoi Kuwadisaa” by Mieko Shima, Miyoko Lawrence, Takako King, Hideko Sueyoshi, Nobuko Ajifu, Teruko Ishihara. Ryuku refers to the kingdom of which modern day Okinawa prefecture was once a part. Although the Ryuku Kingdom does not exist today, the term is still used in describing that which derived from that era. Some may refer to this style as Okinawan dance, but here the former is used.

A typical Ryubu or Ryukyuan dance piece is often composed of two parts. The first part is usually slower-paced and performed with precision. The second part is usually faster in tempo. Also, Ryukuan dances originate from the performances at the royal court when welcoming important guests and envoys from China. This is a major difference when compared to Japanese dances. Japanese dance was developed as entertainment for the common folk.

Tokiwazu “Kaguramusume” by Mie Wakayagi. In a Matsuri (festival) event, a young girl becomes fascinated with masks belonging to a street vender. She starts dancing with the masks of a princess, snake monster, young Samurai warrior, Okame woman and Hyottoko man. This dance requires a higher level of dance skill.

Ryubu “Umi no Chimbora” by Miyo Ajifu. Miyo is five years old. She began dancing at the age of four when Miyo accompanied her mother for her mother’s dance practice.

Ryubu “Chantame” by Joseph Jones and Akiko Yamauchi. Set in Tancha’s fishing village facing the China Sea, young men harvest from the sea and the young maidens sell the men’s catch. Dancing the young man’s part will be Joseph Jones and the young maiden will be portrayed by Akiko Yamauchi. Starting at the age of six, Joseph has been dancing for 14 years.

Nagauta “Sagimusume” by Hisaki Wakayagi. The dance depicts a young woman who had been betrayed by her lover at the height of their romantic bliss. The progression of her internal conflict is expressed by the instantaneous costume changes (Hikinuki). This performance requires not only the skill of the dancer and the stage assistant, but also the skilled hands and considerable resources required in handling the elaborate costumes, wigs and set pieces. Therefore this dance piece is rarely performed outside of Japan.

Nagauta “Furyujin” by Hisame Wakayagi, Kiyoka Wakayagi, Ayame Wakayagi and Ayaka Wakayagi. Personifying the phenomenon that the cruel wind blows away beautiful petals of cherry, plum and peach blossoms, the dancers distinguish each character of the trees by skillfully bending their knees at low, middle and high positions and by beautifully raising their arms in a unique manner.

Yamatogaku “Kane” by Hisaya Wakayagi. Of the many Dojoji performances in existence, this is the famed piece based on the story of Anchin and Kiyohime. The plot unfolds beneath a cherry tree in full bloom when a woman who is visiting the temple looks up at the bell and remembers the beautiful, yet tragic tale of the lover. Although this is a short piece, it is filled with the best-loved elements of the Dojoji performances.

Ryubu “Tsubarama” by Keiko Yonamine and Mieko Shima. “The moon we see is the exact same moon from the far past. It is people who change over time.” As the lyrics portray, this dance is an original choreography about the love between a man and woman.

Ryubu “Nuchibana” by Miyoko Lawrence, Takako King, Hideko Sueyoshi, Nobuko Ajifu, Teruko Ishihara, and Miharu Tengan. The lyrics and dance of this song tell of gathering flower petals beside a small stream to make flower leis. The garland of red flowers is given to loved ones, while the garland of white flowers is for the children.

Ryubu “Natsuno Shidahama” by Joseph Jones, Akiko Yamauchi, and Kaori Ikemiya. Surrounded by the ocean, the hot, humid summer days in Okinawa prompt young people to search for some cool relief in the shade on the beaches. This original choreography shows them as they gather, sing, and dance.

Nagauta “Shizuhataobi” by Hisami Wakayagi and Hikosaemon Wakayagi.

This dance describes the story of a mother who is traveling from the west of Japan to Musashi-no-kuni (currently Tokyo) to look for her kidnapped son Umewakamaru. When the woman arrives at the bank of the Sumida River which separated Musashi-no-kuni and Shimousa-no-kuni (currently Chiba prefecture), she becomes insane after the long and horrible trip.

A ferryboat operator at the river asks her to perform many dances in exchange for information on the whereabouts of her son. After she satisfies the boatman, she realizes her son has already died. In the last scene of the dance, the woman comes upon the small grave of Umewakamaru.

The Aratani/Japan America Theatre is located at 244 S. San Pedro Street, Los Angeles. Tickets are $35. For more information and tickets, call Hana-no-Kai at (323) 257-5412.