To eyes accustomed to Western dance styles, jiuta-mai, a form of Japanese classical dance, has that rarefied quality of the exquisite hothouse orchid or the finest handmade paper. It is an art which is determinedly aristocratic in convention and subtlety, requiring some degree of connoisseurship or knowledge to appreciate its density of form. To Westerners, in fact, very little seems to "happen" in grosser movement terms; it requires of this viewer patience and probing to arrive at what Edwin Denby has termed "the austerity of elegance" of Eastern dance.
As part of the Smithsonian's World Explorers series (in cooperation with the Asia Society), Suzushi Hanayagi performed a concert of jiuta-mai at Baird Auditorium last night. Hanayagi is one of the few artists still practicing this centuries-old form.
Jiuta-mai resides in detail only: the glance of the eyes, the unfolding of a finger, the flick of a fan and the twist of an umbrella. The flow of movement characteristic of most Western dance styles is not operatic here. Rather, movement tends to occur as discrete units with pauses or full stops employed for emphasis and refreshment after each gesture. Restraint is also present in Hanayagi's bodily attitudes. Emphasis is upon the dancer's own body and not the space surrounding it: The feet are often crossed inward over the body, suggesting introspection, and the body is enwrapped in yards of cloth.