It's amazing how expressive the human body can be, even when nearly obscured by costume. Japanese dance, as performed by Chiyo Hanayagi, one of the distinguished artists the Kennedy Center is presenting as part of the Classical Performing Arts Friendship Mission of Japan, is concerned primarily with style, the delicate rather than acrobatic side of movement.
Hanayagi performed three solos last night at the Terrace Theater. Lyrical in the "Little Willow" poem, comic and agile as a magician-warrior priest in the Yamabushi Dance, and evoking a wide range of moods in the "Four Seasons in Rain," her expressiveness was mainly concentrated in the hands, the neck, a tilt of the head or a purse of the lips. Her legs, even when the feet were entrapped in her beautiful and elaborate costume, were less important.
With its emphasis on precision, stillness and stances but, like all classical art, grand rather than small in scale, Japanese classical dance may be as close as modern audiences will ever come to seeing what Western ballet was like in its 16th-century court dance beginnings.
The other half of the program was devoted to music usually heard as accompaniment to dance and Kabuki plays. We're not used to thinking of music as a visual art, but the Japanese, whose esthetic is a total one, place as much importance on the placement of the instruments, the juxtaposition of colors and decorations, as they do on the music.
Excellent program notes made the selections comprehensible to a non-Japanese-speaking audience. Tonight at the Terrace, the program continues with selections from Noh and Kyogen (comic plays).