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Published: February 23rd 2014
Takarazuka Revue Costume
with feathers and glitter - for otokoyaku performer (male role)
Kabuki (歌舞伎) is the best-known traditional theatre of Japan, with all male casts. Stories are traditional musical dramas with distinctive music, elaborate costumes and makeup, black clothed puppeteers who make magic swords fly and actors who specialize in female roles. Noh (能楽) is an older style of theatre, also with all male musicians and actors, highly stylized masks, elaborate costumes, and trancelike movements and music. Takarazuka Revue (宝塚歌劇団) is an all female theatre began 100 years ago to boost sales of train tickets to a small resort town near Osaka.
The first Takarazuka season of 2014 in Tokyo proved to be sold out. To get tickets required three visits to the box office, including a 9am start with a one-hour wait in the queue. The ticket office carefully monitored the queue for the 90 ‘on the day’ tickets, counted people with a clicker, and set out cones when the line got longer. After successfully buying our tickets, we returned 3 hours later for the performance. 2014 is the 100th Anniversary year, so the all singing and dancing, Revue Section sang praises of Takarazuka. This included using church scenes complete with nuns singing gospel style, Notre dam windows lit up in
stage lights, a "kick-line" and samba line (complete with nuns).
The feature story was a Japanese movie classic "Shall We Dance" which began with the whole cast in a white and diamanté ballroom scene from the court of Marie Antoinette. The revolving stage provided eclectic scenes from a downtown Tokyo office and train station, the dance studio and several dance competitions, including Blackpool. The ballroom and latin dance costumes were glitteringly elaborate and colorful. Several Japanese friends eloquently describe Takarazuka theatre as “a Dream World, where everyone behaves in an ideal manner.” I have attended five of their performances, which makes me a Takarazuka Otaku (geek).
On a magical day of heavy snowfall in Tokyo, we attended a special program at the National Noh Theatre featuring women performers. I had seen some of them rehearsing at Yasakuni Shrine Noh Stage one Sunday. The program began with two short extracts featuring all women as chorus and actors. The main feature was The Rolls of Silk, a piece in praise of poetry, which contained a special dance by the goddess of poetry, who is portrayed with a white mask. In Noh there are four instruments used: a taiko, a small
hand drum, a small shoulder drum and a flute. One of the drummers was a woman. Six of the eight chorus chanters were women, but the four principal actors were men. The theatre has seatback screens (like in planes) with subtitles in English and Japanese. Many audience members have a book and follow the text as the language is ancient Japanese and incomprehensible to most people. Many Japanese people describe Noh as boring, but very few of them have ever attended a performance. I find the performances meditative and trance like.
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