Kirk (Dixon) Nishikawa is the grandson of Nishikawa Ukon, the Headmaster of the Nishikawa Ryu of the Nagoya Odori. At the Nagoya Odori on Sunday, September 9, 2012, Kirk Nishikawa played a young samurai who fights his own deep emotions and his demon – which are one and the same.
Odori and Kabuki are an offspring of Nō theater (能). Nō is an older theater style begun in Japan in the 14th century. Nō was viewed exclusively by the aristocrats of Japan.
In 17th century Japan, as jobs diversified and wealth increased, a kind of democratization of theater occurred. As there was demand for entertainment from the lower class, the concepts of Kabuki (歌舞伎) and Odori (踊り) developed. Odori focuses on the dance part of the Kabuki. Although, there is some drama in Odori, there is a concentration of dance and music in the performance.
Odori is not dance as we Westerns are accustomed.
In Odori, the performance concentrates on characterization, perhaps more than the story. The ‘dance’ is a dramatic form used to tell a story. However, the Japanese Odori does much more. Odori draws the inexplicable, the deep emotions of all mankind – shattering emotions, from feelings of rejection to deep seated fear of failure. Odori paints a picture of the nature of man. The Odori performance, like a painting that exposes pain or anger through color and form, transfers these emotions to the audience through costume, music and dramatic movement.
The makeup on the actors is characteristic of Kabuki. I saw two kinds of makeup in the performances. One kind of makeup uses heavy white paint. The color white indicates that the character is a high class person. An aristocrat did not need to work in the fields and was not exposed to the sun; his skin is white. The lower class characters usually wear more natural makeup.
The actor always wears wigs that have been made for him individually. Made of real hair, the wigs are made back stage. When I visited back stage, there were 3 or 4 wig makers making wigs for the next performances. There were also 3 or 4 costume makers who were ironing and repairing kimonos made of silk and decorated in gold.
On stage, with the help of stage hands, the actor may changed or manipulate his costume and props. The helpers are dressed in black or in traditional costumes and the audience ‘can not see’ them.
The actor’s use of his costume on stage, is a stylized equivalent to using body language to express emotions. The character may kick away the trail of a kimono of an offending opponent, indicating a deep disrespect for his antagonist. How the actor grasps the lapel of his kimono can indicate strength or a need to protect herself from the verbal barbs of her antagonist.
At times, a Shakespearean-esque narrator speaks from off stage. He speaks in heavily stylized Japanese. With my conversational level Japanese, I could understand some of what the actors on stage said, but, I could not understand the narrator. The narrator tells the story. He may also tell the audience the thoughts of the characters.
For someone who likes Hollywood films like “Ironman” and “Die Hard,” the actors’ movements seemed monotonously slow. However, when you go to see Odori, may I recommend that you take a deep breath, become aware of your own body and absorb the moment?
I found that the interaction of the characters on stage paints a visual work of art. When the characters take a dramatic pose, the audience is given time to focus on the beauty on stage. The scene consists of the exquisite costumes, the angle of the actors’ form and the scenery. Take a moment to feel the quiet: the aesthetic and the the peacefulness. Each moment is analogous to a perfect Ikebana construct (Japanese flower arrangement). When the pause ends, the characters move to compose a new image to be appreciated.
Cavaye, Ronald. Kabuki: A Pocket Guide. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1993.
Dixon, Keith. Personal interview. 9 September 2012.