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Early Japanese Dance Forms

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Early Japanese Dance Forms
The oldest record of dance in Japan
Shamanistic rituals of possession performed in
Shinto shrines
Development of basic circular and up and down
Style of rhythmical stamping of feet and lifting
of both hands originated in Kagura dance.
Both hands were lifted in an attempt of the
performers to invite gods to be present.
Props were often held by dancers and considered to be sacred
and inhabited by deities presiding over dances. Props include
tree branches, paper pendants, fans, and swords.
Today the term Kagura is used to describe generic Shinto
ceremonies and theatricals. Some still reflect the Shamanistic
origins while others show influences of No and Kabuki theater
as well as western styles of dance.
Adaptations of popular theatricals are followed by processions
and folk dances that reflect local traditions.
Traditionally performed by female (miko) professional Shaman
dancers in Shinto shrines. The movements are often trance
Today miko dances are performed at major
centers of worship and there is little evidence of
the trance inducing movements of the past.
Kagura performances consist of two parts. The
first is a sequence of rituals for purification and
the calling of spirits with hymns. The second
entertainment for the spirits present. The ritual
elements remain virtually unchanged while the
entertainment that follows tends to follow
contemporary trends.
Two Major Classifications
Mikagura: performed at imperial court each year for the
emperor. The ritual is an unchanged version of the 11th
century courtly liturgy. It is composed of solemn slow
dances and hymns performed at night in an open courtyard
at the imperial palace. It is dedicated to the emperor’s
Satokagura (“village kagura”): embodies the local
traditions and performed by local dancers and musicians.
There are 3 major traditions. The first two are associated
with the geographical locations that give the kagura its
name. The third is the use of lion masks and
incorporates acrobatics, magic acts, and dance plays.
Kagura Flower Festival
performed between 12\2 and 1\18
Festival takes name from exiled Kazan-In (name
translates to flower).
The festival takes place in local villages and traditionally
danced for repossessing the emperor’s soul. In today’s
popular culture the festival is associated with flowering of
rice crops.
Dance floor made of earth and prepared for entrance way
of whomever’s house is chosen for that year’s festival.
Large caldron filled with boiling water is placed in the
middle of the dance floor and boils throughout the night.
A variety of vigorous dances are accompanied by flute
and drum music performed by young men.
Kagura Flower Festival
The first dances are performed without masks then the final
dances are masked figures. The dances with out masks are:
“preparing the ground”, “dance for 3:, “dance for 4”, “flower
dance”, and “shamanic dance” The shamanic dance is
characterized by energetic jumping motions. The dancers range
in age from age 6 and up. The masked dances are “excitement
over the boiling water”.
Towards the end of the night young boys scatter the crowd by
splattering the crowd with boiling water for the purpose of
purification. As morning approaches the masked lion dancer
and several devil masked dancers mill about the crown in a
mood of elation. Traditional steps give way to spontaneous
movement. At dawn 2 masked dancers “the spirit of the water”
and “the spirit of the fire” restore peace and tranquility
terminating the festival.
Buddhists influences on dance
Introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th and 7th
century transformed culture adding new dimensions to
dance including the use of sophisticated masks and
brightly colored silk costumes.
Gigaku processional and pantomimic performances
rapidly spread through Japan and reached peak
popularity during the first half of the 8th century.
When new forms of dance in Japan were introduced
Gigaku gradually faded away. Traces can still be seen
today in masked precessions and pantomimes usually
performed in remote temples.
Court dances of military origin from the Japanese
Imperial Court
Movements characterized by symmetry, a slow pace, and
refined attention of the performers.
Components of what became bugaku reached Japan in
waves and reflected traditions of remote lands and elite
society of Imperial Courts.
The creative vitality of early bagaku gave way to
formalized conservatism and was a direct reflection of the
courts loss of contact with forces shaping the culture
outside palace walls.
Structural elements of dances having a
beginning, middle, and end were
developed by Bugaku.
The forceful, symmetrical, and
emotionally detached movements meant
to express the solemn force that gives
birth to all movement and to celebrate
the human ability to conform to the order
of the universe.
Brought to the Japanese performing arts the
structural elements of beginning, middle, and end,
which later became essential elements of NпЃЏ.
Introduced into Japanese dance a concern for
using body movement and musical rhythms to
express the harmonies of the celestial spheres.
The forceful, symmetrical, emotionally detached
movements were meant to express the vast,
solemn force that gives birth to all movement and
to celebrate the way in which human behavior can
conform to the order and rhythm of the universe.
Japanese Folk Dances
In Japan, folk dance has always been
performed in ritual or religious contexts.
The recreational purpose is secondary.
Japanese fold dance can be classified into
three major divisions
Kagura: rites for prolonining life
Dengaku: rites related to agriculture
Furyu: rites to drive away bad spirits
Bon Odori
O-bon or bon is a Japanese Buddhist
holiday to honor the departed spirits of
one’s ancestors.
Has evolved into a family reunion
The style of celebration varies from region
to region.
Each region has a respective local Bon
dance and music accompanying the dance.
Bon Odori
The way in which the dance is performed also varies from
region to region.
The typical Bon dance involves people lining up around a
high wooden building made especially for the festival called
a yagura.
The yagura is also the bandstand for the musicians and
singers of the Obon music.
Some dances proceed clockwise and some counterclockwise around the yagura. Often dancers proceed in a
straight line through the streets.
The dance of a region can depict the area’s history and
specialization (the coal miners dance)
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