An article in the Oct. 6 Prince George's Extra misidentified the location of the Kotobuki Kai dance Studio. The studio is in Riverdale Park. (Published 10/13/1999)
Don't go to Kotobuki Kai's upcoming dance performance at Prince George's Community College expecting to see joint-defying kicks, gravity-mocking leaps, or any other flashy displays of athleticism.
After all, Nihon Buyo, the style of Japanese dance that the Riverdale-based company performs, is a tradition that has endured since the 14th century. So it's kind of like a centenarian grandmother--not to be rushed.
What the company will offer the audience Saturday will resemble a series of exquisite Japanese paintings in motion, with dancers shifting from pose to pose during 14 short scenes.
Each scene is introduced with a short description by an English-speaking narrator, then a Japanese song tells a story extracted from a Kabuki play. One or two dancers take to the stage wearing shimmering silk kimonos, some with floral prints and others in solid pastels.
Almost as if to ensure that the dancers don't erupt into the kind of frantic motion characteristic of American dance, some kimonos have a heavy coil made of dense cotton around the bottom that drags on the floor like a train. The coil is designed to balance and temper the dancers' short, precise movements.
The dancers also wear long, black wigs. Stark white makeup covers their faces, which don't so much as twitch during the performance.
Accompanied by a soundtrack of plucked strings and slow, mournful Japanese singers, the scenes almost seem the work of a painter or photographer:
In one frame, a dancer stands on one leg, the opposite knee raised slightly and a hand fluttering a fan. In another frame, a dancer sits on the stage with her feet curled under her. She leans on one arm while the other hand covers her face to wipe away tears.
Rounding off the production are its elaborate sets, a different one for each scene. The painted backdrops depict trees, grass, wildflowers, swirling rivers and Japanese houses. Stage lights shine onto a screen in midnight blue, magenta and tangerine, adding life to the sky above the dancers.
The marriage of Kotobuki Kai artistic director Yoko Harada King to Gerald King was a good career move: Her husband, an art professor at Prince George's Community College, painted the sets.
When the couple first moved to Riverdale from Wisconsin in 1970, Yoko Harada King served as a model for her husband and his students.
"The stills are more important than the music," says Gerald King, sitting shoeless and sipping coffee on the carpeted floor at his wife's studio in their Riverdale home.
"The movements are slow, then there is a pose, using the hands as an umbrella. . . . There is very little action, just the stills. You get more of a pictorial flavor of Japan."
It is the Japan of 65-year-old Yoko Harada King's youth in Chiba City, a farming and fishing village 30 miles from Tokyo where she first learned to dance at age 4. She studied dance at Azuma Kabuki School in Tokyo and later taught in Chiba City, but after the village was bombed in World War II, financial hardship caused her client list to dwindle.
She moved to Madison, Wis., in her early twenties, and eventually met Gerald King, who was then an art student at the University of Wisconsin. And when his teaching job at the college brought them to Prince George's, she resumed teaching and performing in schools throughout the area and founded Kotobuki Kai, which means "the happy song."
Yoko Harada King has made it a point to return to Japan to buy costumes and to study the ancient dance form with Japanese teachers.
Over the years, the dancers in the company have ranged in age from 6 to 74 and have been of all races and nationalities. Most are Japanese emigres who have been studying with her for years as a way to reconnect with their culture.
Many of the Japanese dancers, who are often in their fifties and sixties, first came to the United States years ago to make a better life, Yoko Harada King says.
"Now their children are big, so they start to study dance," she says. "Many of the people come here not to dance, but because they want to meet people. So they start with me. Some of them have been here more than 20 years."
The Kings see their mission as exposing the public to an art form and a culture they might not otherwise see.
"It's like a cultural treasure in a community," Gerald King says. "We have people who have talent or skills that are useful to the public. You can have it for yourself or you can share."
Kotobuki Kai presents "Kawa Japanese Dance in Concert" on at 8 p.m. Saturday at Prince George's Community College, Hallam Theatre, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. Adults $12, children and seniors $9. For information and tickets, call 301-779-1488.
CAPTION: Yoshie Hoppenjans, left, and Michiko Nelson perform "Koi Jya No Mei," or "Dance of the Umbrella," at the Kotobuki Kai Dance Company school in Riverdale.