The quickening of a footstep, the cock of a head, the noiseless stamping of a heel, the flick of a fan -- and a dancer of the Kotobuki Kai dance troupe has told of the complexities of her relationship with her lover and of her longing for just a glimpse of his shadow. While it might prove initially bewildering to a Western audience, the economy and subtlety of traditional Japanese Kabuki dancing, or Nihon-Buyo, ultimately captivates by its aura of quietude and dignity.
In a medley of dances celebrating autumn, the Kotobuki Kai presented excerpts from traditional Kabuki repertory at Prince George's Publick Playhouse on Saturday. Directed by Yoko Harada King, this effective production employed a descriptive narration to explain the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of these dances. The smaller scale and restraint of the gesture prove to be clearly in accord with the thematic material based on notions of respect and acceptance, of a delight in the quiet pleasures of nature.
Particularly impressive were performances by Donna O'Sullivan, who danced the proud bitterness of submission to duty, and by director King. King's wonderfully comic rendition of a raccoon mimicking man is a scathing look at man's foibles through the eyes of an outsider. Pigeon-toed, bear-stomached, crane-necked, King's raccoon is a Falstaffian buffoon whose mock-heroic antics are a veneer for wise insights. In "Kojo No Tsuki" ("The Old Castle"), King peopled the stage with ghosts who inhabit an old castle ruined by war. Her dreamy flutterings and airy stampings and dips suggest these spirits dance in remembrance of happier times. While her own abilities are more compelling than those of her troupe, King is a generous director whose performances illuminate rather than outshine those of her students.