Kyoto is famous for its springtime. Having come from Mongolia, I feel that this is justified fame. Walking around the last two days, it is just chilly enough to want a jacket - perfect for early spring. Now, if only the sakura would stop being a bunch of divas and do their thing, my life would be complete. (Seriously. A friend was in Yokohama last week and they had sakura. What gives, Kyoto???)
Besides the weather and the sakura, spring has one more thing going for it here - there are two simultaneous geisha dances that happen throughout April. Although I'm not as crazy about geisha as I was when I came in 2005, it still bothered me that I hadn't been able to see a proper dance performance. Oh sure, I went to Gion Corner that first time, but it's definitely a tourist thing without the strength of tradition behind it. So it's possible I may have unintentionally swayed Five to pick Kansai over Tokyo for this exact reason. Being a good sport, she said she was up for anything (or at least anything I was willing to organize).
Yesterday I meant to be waiting when her bus got in from Osaka. Thanks to my obsession with sword pieces it took me longer to get to the bus stop than I thought it would, but we managed to find each other (one positive thing about being a tall, fat, ginger in Asia - you make a great landmark), and made our way to the guest house. No sooner had she gotten settled than we had to set out for the theater.
Of the two dances, I chose to take us to the Miyako Odori - it's just a little bit older than it's competition. Traditionally it's held at a theater in Gion, but the Koubu Kaburenjo is currently under renovation for earthquake proofing. Instead, it's happening at the Kyoto University of Art and Design. At first I felt a little sad that I didn't get to see it in situ (so to speak), but the art teacher in me shut that thought down when I got a look at some of the student work at the theater. Besides these manga panels on the windows there was a booklet of student work for sale that had some pretty legit anime-style illustrations, and I found myself thinking that instead of an online Masters of Art Ed I could come study here. Five had to go and point out that I'd already paid the entrance fee to be accepted at UN - Kearney; I reminded her that the bigger plot hole was that my knowledge of Japanese was almost entirely made up of animal names and character catch-phrases.
Actually, now that I'm imagining it, that could be really funny. Okay, plan...X, I think I'm up to X...write a manga about a teacher who comes to Japan but can only speak anime-Japanese.
Alright, so the actual performance. They don't let you take pictures, so I left my camera at the hotel. It's a shame, though, because I would have had some incredible shots Instead, you get me and Five's selfie with the poster. The theater was amazing. Having let Engrish and The Voice (our music teacher) sucker me into working on the school musical, I am beginning to get the vaguest understanding of how much work it is to put together sets and costumes. Shunjuzu theater had been given the full treatment - if I didn't know that this wasn't the actual theater for the Miyako Odori I don't think I would have realized it. The two galleries to the sides of the floor where we sat had musicians in them - all geisha, I believe - and there was a stage running the length of the left side of the theater to the main stage. This is where the dancers made their first entrance, shuffling out and moving in unison better than any marching band I've ever seen. Literally every one of them was breathtakingly gorgeous, and they were wearing matching kimono and obi. The first time they stomped their feet in the dance, I think my heart stopped. It was perfect.
After the opening performance came a pas de deux - can you apply ballet terms to geisha dances? Cause I'm going to do it anyways - who were joined by others. I tried to figure out what was going on, but honestly didn't care. The dancing was graceful and elegant, and the set was a simple river painted on a huge curtain of (I'm sure) silk. This dance finished and was replaced by a scene of autumn red trees, and another small group of dancers. It wasn't until the third performance that Five figured out that the seasons were the theme...I, on the other hand, quick thinker that I am, had to hear Five say it. That one nearly did us both in. A lady - maybe a nun? She was wearing a veil - was dancing alone in her hut while snow fell across the rest of the stage. She paused and looked across the audience to where a "man"...
Let me just say how much I love the fact that in traditional Japanese performing arts, not only do men play women, but women also play men. Or at least they do during the Miyako Odori.
...and a woman were rising out of the trapdoor in the side stage. I imagine they were supposed to be telling the story of her misspent youth, wearing kimono that undoubtedly cost more than I make in a year, but both of us had a hard time paying attention to this one. Blame it on Five's trip from Mongolia the night before. Anyways. The finale involved all of the dancers, electric lanterns, and cherry blossoms dripping from the ceiling - so if we don't get much else in the way of sakura, we at least had that. It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and although at first I thought that a one-hour performance wasn't long enough, it was so well done that it was worth every yen.