Despite splendid garments and dignity of pace, the men from Osaka looked like bureaucrats. Friday night as they performed ancient Japanese movement and music of the noble style: Bugaku and Gagaku.
Japan's other performing art forms like epic Kabuki, classical-almost Greek-Noh, or Bunraku's puppets and puppeteers arouse pity, envy, fear and joy. But the 23 dancers and instrumentalists of the Garyo-Kai Association never manipulated the audience's emotions or even showed involvement themselves during their performance at Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Center.
Gagaku is one the strictest orchestral traditions, with a prescribed alternation of types of works; even the sequence of tuning instruments is determined. Progression within a piece is like a dialogue. Combination of winds, percussion and plucked strings are selected of tone color and their number never exceeds the minimum needed for a desired timbre or intensity. Drums and gongs are used in a tampered way, so that the dominant sound is often that of the winds.
Dancers is Bugaku move slowly, on a silk-covered platform, displaying their costumes and implements but with little emphasis on realistic action, agility or step variety.
Undeniably, these artists evoke an austere sensuality, but one wonders whether they intend to execute their millenium-old tasks like office routine or are purposely disdaining an appearance of involvement for the sake of an elegant style.