Athens hosts traditional Japanese theater shows

The Greek public is able to see, for the first time, performances of Japanese Kabuki Theater, complete with bright-colored costumes, imaginative stage sets, traditional make-up, and the style’s codes and rituals at the Athens Concert Hall. Performances, which started yesterday and run to tomorrow, are part of the concert hall’s «Bridges» series of events. «These are highly demanding performances,» said «Bridges» artistic director Dimitris Marangopoulos at a recent press conference. «This is a complete musical spectacle which has its roots in China and Japan, but also ancient Greece.» Theater expert Eleni Varopoulou said that Kabuki is the most popular of the three categories of Japanese theater, the other two being Noh and Bunraku. «If we try to draw a similarity in Western culture, we would have to choose Wagnerian opera, which combines all arts and ancient drama, of course,» she added. The history of Kabuki theater started in the 17th century. It continued to evolve throughout the 19th century, and during the Meiji period. Its beginnings can be traced to 1603 in the city Kyoto, where small groups of women danced and sang near the temples, entertaining the public. The style is modeled on the wandering dancer Okuni who, apart from taking care of the temple, engaged in a daring dance that combined farcical and erotic elements. Today’s performances of Kabuki theater are based on the 18th century shows. Extracts from three plays are being staged at the Athens Concert Hall. «They are a complete ballet. Eighteen actors, unique in their field, are participating and are backed on stage by various assistants who may be ‘invisible’ to the audience but are necessary for the show, as each actor’s costume alone weighs almost 35 kilos,» said the group’s artistic director Akio Igarashi at the press conference. The first play is called «The Bearer of Salt» and has a tragic and mysterious plot. It refers to a great poet of noble origins who was exiled for three years to Suma Island, in the Japanese sea. The second play, «Ayatsuri Sambaso» (The Dance of the Puppet) contains elements of the Bunrau puppet theater, another great traditional Japanese theater, which along with Noh influenced Kabuki and its evolution. In the third play, «Sagi Musume» (The Heron Maiden), the audience has an opportunity to admire the unique Kabuki techniques. It was first staged in 1762 and its choreography today combine elements of traditional and modern dance.