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Reviewed by:
  • The Fundamentals of Japanese Dance: Kabuki Dance
  • Barbara Sellers-Young
The Fundamentals of Japanese Dance: Kabuki Dance. By Hanayagi Chiyo. Trans. by Leonard Pronko and Tomono Takao. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2008. 266 pp. Illustrated in color and black and white. Selected bibliography and index. Paper, $45.00.

Hanayagi Chiyo started her study of Japanese dance or nihon buyo in 1930. In 1951, she opened a studio in Meijio and began researching the fundamentals of Japanese dance. The goal was to create a pedagogical method to provide a technical base for Japanese and non-Japanese dance students. The first version of Nihonbuyo no Kiso Renshu (Fundamentals of Japanese Dance) was published in 1971. A version of the book was published in Chinese in 2002, followed by this English translation by noted kabuki experts Leonard Pronko and Tomono Takao in 2008.

At the beginning of the text, Hanayagi Chiyo notes that each school of Japanese dance has traditionally taught specific dances that embodied the fundamentals of their particular approach. The Hanayagi school taught Kikuzukushi (Chrysanthemum Dance), the Fujima School taught Nanatsu ni Naruko, the Bando school taught Meseya, and so on. Her goal has not been to abandon this approach but to investigate additional methods to cope with the tight schedules of contemporary life in order to, as she phrases it, train dancers that "touch the heart of the spectators" (p. 13). For, in her estimation, "Art expresses the heart, and for the dancer this heart is conveyed through the body" (p. 13). This is a theme that continues through this highly technical text that takes the reader from the basics of the movement vocabulary of Japanese dance through the incorporation of the music and props associated with it.

Hanayagi Chiyo begins the challenge of creating a text for dancers through the historical evolution of stage environments, from the simplicity of the early stage to the complex evolution of the kabuki stage. The description of the stages and the appropriate posture and etiquette of the performer for the stage are illustrated through numerous photos and drawings labeled with the appropriate Japanese names for each. This level of detail is included throughout the text in a systematic explanation of the movement vocabulary of the upper body (head, eyes, chin, nose, cheeks, shoulders, chest, torso, arms, elbows, back, hands, wrist, and fingers) and lower body (hips, knees, and feet). The illustrations of the individual movements are integrated with role types associated with kabuki. For example, the description of the tripartite [End Page 192] head gesture or mitsuburi includes the role types of child, village girl, townsman, warrior, and so on. This distinction of role types is continued in explanations of the use of the hands in twenty-two pages that demonstrate the intricacy of character's relationship to narrative involved in vocabulary of hand and arm and supported by the postures and gestures of the lower body.

The next segment of the text moves from the basics of walking and turning to the speciality of the slide step and stamping. To those not familiar with Japanese dance, these sections may sound simplistic, but each movement component is a multifaceted array of individual aspects divided, as was the material in previous sections, by role types. Therefore, the text conveys a progression of understanding of a role type in Japanese dance from the integration of the individual body parts incorporated into the creation of a character, to the spatial dimension of the character's movement vocabulary. This organization of the movement vocabulary is given depth by the reminders throughout the text that the vocabulary of the dance is conveyed through the integration of pelvis with the rest of body. Consistent admonitions by Hanayagi Chiyo include: "Remember the center of gravity moves with the lower abdomen and hips" (p. 86); "In dance, Japanese stand firmly with both feet on the ground" (p. 90); and, "When dancing, don't forget to breathe in the lower abdomen" (p. 138).

As the text evolves, the Japanese dance's stick-figure notation system is integrated with photos to illustrate the timing of movement with the musical line. Hanayagi Chiyo refers to this timing as ma and notes that it...