An Introduction to Japanese Kabuki Theatre, Featuring 20th-Century Masters of the Form (1964)

The English language has adopted kabuki as an adjective, applied to situations where exaggerated appearances and performances are everything. Business, politics, media: name any realm of modernity, and the myriad ways in which its affairs can turn kabuki will spring to mind. A highly stylized form of dance-drama originating in the seventeenth century, it continues to stand today as a pillar of classical Japanese culture — and indeed, according to UNESCO, one piece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The worldwide regard for kabuki owes in part to self-promotional efforts on the part of Japan, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned the half-hour introductory film above.

Produced in 1964, Kabuki: The Classic Theatre of Japan holds up as a representation of the art, as well as a view of some of the mid-20th century’s master practitioners. These actors include Jitsukawa Enjaku III, Nakamura Utaemon VI, and Ichikawa Danjūrō XI, whose stage names reflect their place in an unbroken professional lineage.




In fact, Ichikawa Danjūrō XI is a predecessor of Ichikawa Ebizō XI, previously featured here on Open Culture for his work in kabuki Star Wars adaptations. The generations shown here didn’t go in for such pop-cultural hybridization, but rather plays from the traditional kabuki repertoire like ShibarakuMusume Dōjōji, and Sukeroku, scenes from all three of which appear in the film.

“Through elaborate costumes and vivid makeup, through beautifully stylized acting and exaggerated vocalization, and highlighted with picturesque settings and colorful music, the kabuki actors create dramatic effects of extraordinary intensity within a framework of pure entertainment,” explains the narrator. And as in the early performances of Shakespeare, all the roles are played by males, specialists known as onnagata. “Because the emphasis in kabuki is on artistic performance, not realism, the onnagata is considered more capable of expressing true femininity than is possible for an actress.” This may have struck Western viewers in the 1960s as an odd notion, but the sheer foreignness of kabuki — cultural, geographical, and temporal — must have been as captivating back then as it remains today, no matter how long we’ve been throwing its name around.

Related Content:

Japanese Kabuki Actors Captured in 18th-Century Woodblock Prints by the Mysterious & Masterful Artist Sharaku

Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

World Shakespeare Festival Presents 37 Plays by the Bard in 37 Languages: Watch Them Online

A Page of Madness: The Lost, Avant Garde Masterpiece from the Early Days of Japanese Cinema (1926)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Dancer Pays a Gravity-Defying Tribute to Claude Debussy

Most dancers have an intuitive understanding of physics.

Choreographer Yoann Bourgeois pushes this science beyond the standard lifts, leaps, and pirouettes, drawing on his training at the Centre National Des Arts du Cirque for a piece marking the centenary of composer Claude Debussy’s death, above.

Given the occasion, the choice of Clair de Lune, Debussy’s best loved piano work, feels practically de rigueur, but the trampoline comes as a bit of a shock.

We may not be able to see it, but it plays such an essential role, it’s tempting to call this solo a pas de deux. At the very least, the trampoline is an essential collaborator, along with pianist Alexandre Tharau and filmmaker Raphaël Wertheimer.




Bourgeois’ expressiveness as a performer has earned him comparisons to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His choreography shows that he also shares their work ethic, attention to detail, and love of jawdropping visual stunts.

Don’t expect any random boinging around on this tramp’.

For four and a half minutes, Bourgeois’ everyman struggles to get to the top of a stark white staircase. Every time he falls off, the trampoline launches him back onto one of the steps — higher, lower, the very one he fell off of…

Interpret this struggle how you will.

Psyche, a digital magazine that “illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophical understanding and the arts” found it to be “an abstracted interpretation of a childlike experience of time.” One viewer wondered if the number of steps — twelve — was significant.

It’s no stretch to conceive of it as a comment on the nature of life — a constant cycle of falling down and bouncing back.

It’s lovely to behold because Bourgeois makes it look so easy.

In an interview with NR, he spoke of how his circus studies led to the realization that “the relationship between physical forces” is what he’s most interested in exploring. The stairs and trampoline, like all of his sets (or devices, as he prefers to call them), are there to “amplify specific physical phenomenon”:

In science, we’d call them models – they’re simplifications of our world that enable me to amplify one particular force at a time. Together, this ensemble of devices, this constellation of constructed devices, tentatively approaches the point of suspension. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

The relationship with physical forces has an eloquent capacity that can be very big; it has the kind of expression that is universal.

Watch more of Youann Bourgeois’ physics-based choreography on his YouTube channel.

Related Content: 

Hear Debussy Play Debussy: A Vintage Recording from 1913

Quarantined Dancer Creates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Dancing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Partner

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Mistake Waltz: Watch the Hilarious Ballet by Legendary Choreographer Jerome Robbins

So often mistakes are the most memorable part of live performance.

In Jerome Robbins’ The Concert (or The Perils of Everybody)they’re built in.

The portion set to Chopin’s Waltz in E Minor, above, has earned the nickname The Mistake Waltz. It’s an anthology of screw ups that will be familiar to anyone who’s attended a few amateur ballet productions and school recitals.




When the entire ensemble is meant to be traveling in the same direction or synchronizing swanlike gestures, the one who’s egregiously out of step is a guaranteed standout… if not the audience’s flat out favorite.

Robbins generously spreads the clowning between all six members of the corps, getting extra mileage from the telegraphed irritation in every indiscreetly attempted correction.

Performed well, the silliness seems almost improvisational, but as with all of this legendary choreographer’s work, the spontaneous beats are very, very specific.

It only works if the dancers have the technical prowess and the comic chops to pull it off. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo aside, this can present a sizable casting challenge.

Robbins also felt that The Concert should be presented sparingly, to keep the jokes from becoming stale.

Individual companies have some agency over their costumes, but other than that, it is executed just as it was in its 1956 debut with the New York City Ballet.

Former NYCB lead dancer Peter Boal, who was 10 when he played Cupid in Robbins’ Mother Goose, has made The Concert part of Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s repertoire. He revealed another side of the exacting Robbins in a personal essay in Dance Magazine:

He had the unique ability to become kid-like in the studio, giggling with others and often laughing robustly at his own jokes. He was certainly his own best audience for The Concert. How many times had he seen those gags and yet fresh, spontaneous laughter erupted from him as if it was a first telling.

Related Content: 

Ballet Dancers Do Their Hardest Moves in Slow Motion

Radiohead Ballets: Watch Ballets Choreographed Creatively to the Music of Radiohead

The Dance Theatre of Harlem Dances Through the Streets of NYC: A Sight to Behold

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety show honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

Quarantined Dancer Creates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Dancing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Partner

1987’s low budget sleeper hit, Dirty Dancing, propelled its leads, Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze, to instant stardom.

Swayze later mused to the American Film Institute about the film’s remarkable staying power:

It’s got so much heart, to me. It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves, this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things. On a certain level, it’s really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because [of] what she’s got in her heart.

Nearly 35 years after the original release, another gifted male dancer, Brooklyn-based photographer Quinn Wharton, is tapping into that heart… and Grey has been replaced by a lamp.

Wharton once told Ballet Hub that his favorite part of dancing professionally with the San Francisco Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was the access it gave him to the great names in dance — William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, and others whose proximity made for “a remarkable education.”




The first few months of the pandemic forced him to dance solo, recreating memorable film moments in response to a friend’s challenge:

I was hesitant at first but thought I would give it a try to see what I might be able to learn from it. Turns out it was way more fun than I thought and the result was funnier than I could have imagined.

We agree that his Quinn-tessential Dance Scenes series is very funny, as well as beautifully executed in the twin arenas of camera work and dance. His self-imposed parameters — no outside help, no green screen, no filming outside of the apartment, and no special purchases of props or costumes, contribute to the humor.

His hardworking, disembodied, comparatively well-covered haunches elicit laughs when seen next to the much skimpier original costume of Flashdance’s “Maniac” scene, above. 18-year-old star Jennifer Beals had three dance doubles — Marine Jahan, gymnast Sharon Shapiro, and legendary B-Boy Richard Colón, aka Crazy Legs of Rock Steady crew. None of them appeared in the original credits because, as Jahan told Entertainment Tonight, the producers “didn’t want to break the magic.”

In other words, a lot of steamy 80s-era fantasies centered on Beals are now known to be a case — possibly three cases — of mistaken identity.

Wharton’s quarantine project afforded him a chance to come at John Travolta from two angles, thanks to the disco classic Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction’s twist sequence, a surprisingly popular fan request. Though Travolta’s dance training was limited to childhood tap lessons with Gene Kelly’s brother, Fred, Wharton praises his “serious range.”

Wharton cites the inspiration for one of his lesser known recreations, director Baz Lurhman’s first feature, Strictly Ballroom, as a reason he began dancing:

My dad loves this movie and as a kid I can’t count the number of times that I watched it. It’s so much, loud, brash, exuberant …It also allowed me to bring back my favorite partner.

Quinn-tessential Dance Scenes is on hiatus so Wharton can concentrate on his work as a dance photographer. Watch a playlist of all eight episodes here.

See more of his dance photography on his Instagram page.

Related Content:

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

The Power of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Choreographers and Even John Travolta Himself

The Iconic Dance Scene from Hellzapoppin’ Presented in Living Color with Artificial Intelligence (1941)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine, who can occasionally be spotted wandering around New York City in a bear suit, in character as L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the “Greatest Juggler of the Ages,” Frances Brunn, Perform His “Painfully Exciting” Juggling Routine (1969)

When John Ringling North, then president of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, saw a pair of German  jugglers and acrobats perform in Spain, he immediately invited them to join “the Greatest Show on Earth.” A brother and sister team, Francis and Lottie Brunn would astonish audiences. In 1950, theater critic Brooks Atkinson called Francis “the greatest juggler of the ages. Not many people in the world are as perfectly adjusted as Mr. Brunn is. He will never have to visit a psychiatrist.” If physical grace and balance are reflective of one’s state of mind, maybe he was right.

When Lottie left the act in 1951, Francis went on to popular fame and even more hyperbolic acclaim. “After he performed before the queen of England in 1963, The Evening Standard called his show ‘almost painfully exciting,’” Douglas Martin writes at The New York Times.




“Trying to describe Brunn’s act is like trying to describe the flight of a swallow,” writes Francisco Alvarez in Juggling: Its History and Greatest Performers. He became a regular performer on The Ed Sullivan Show, “played the Palace with Judy Garland,” notes Martin, “and went twice to the White House, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed him the best juggler he had ever seen.”

None of this should bias you toward the television performance, above, of course. (How many jugglers could Eisenhower have seen, anyway?) Judge for yourself. By way of further context, we should note that Brunn was known for perfecting “an austere but demanding minimalism. He was fascinated by controlling just one ball, and virtually compelled audiences to share this fascination.” Or as Brunn put it, “it sounds like nothing, but it is quite difficult to do properly.” As anyone (or virtually everyone) who has tried and failed to juggle can attest, this description fits the art of juggling in general all too well.

Brunn made it look laughably easy: “Large numbers of objects posed scant problem. He was believed to be the first juggler in the world to put up 10 hoops,” Martin writes. He also liked to incorporate flamenco into his act to compound the difficulty and the grace. “I do not consider myself doing tricks,” he said in 1983. “There is one movement for eight minutes. It’s supposed to be, let’s say, like a ballet…. I would love if the audience is so fascinated that nobody applauds in the end.” Brunn, I suspect, never got to hear the sound of stunned silence after his act.

Related Content: 

Watch the Serpentine Dance, Created by the Pioneering Dancer Loie Fuller, Performed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Brothers

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

Discover Alexander Calder’s Circus, One of the Beloved Works at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Evolution of Dance from 1950 to 2019: A 7-Decade Joy Ride in 6 Minutes

I see Michael Jackson as a dance style, okay? — Ricardo Walker 

Ricardo Walker and his Crew’s The Evolution of Dance, 1950 to 2019 will make you regret every minute spent hugging the wall in middle school.

The breakneck, 6-minute romp led by dancer, choreographer, and Michael Jackson impersonator Ricardo Walker, not only showcases the all-male Brazilian crew’s talent, it makes a strong case for throwing yourself into some serious dance floor silliness.




The Crew, formed by a mutual passion for the King of Pop’s moves, is plenty cool, but their willingness to ham their way through “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” the “Macarena,” and Dirty Dancing’s “Time of My Life” suggest that the joys of dance are available to ordinary mortals such as ourselves.

They cavort in sagging early 90s-style Hammer Pants for “U Can’t Touch This” and don Western wear for Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the most recent number on this musical tour.

Troupe members Gabriel Zaidan and Alexandre “Lelê” Mayrink seem unhampered by vanity, tossing their enviable locks into the 35 costume changes’ goofiest styles.

The Crew took 16 hours to get the video in the can on a day when one of their number felt under the weather, and they had to be out of the studio by 7pm. (Our compliments to the editor!)

While such hits as Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again,” Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and — who could forget? — “Gangnam Style” instantly summon a period, the 90s placement of Tom Jones’ signature tune, “It’s Not Unusual,” is throwing viewers for a loop.

How did that old chestnut wind up between Madonna and Backstreet Boys?

By virtue of its first studio version, released in 1995 as part of the compilation album The Legendary Tom Jones — 30th Anniversary Album, that’s how.

Prior to their virtuoso turn in the Evolution of Dance, 1950 to 2019, the group guided viewers through the Evolution of Michael Jackson’s Dance. (Jackson’s influence is also evident throughout the former, earning him 4 nods.)

For those whose feet have begun to itch, choreographer Walker teaches a Master Class in Michael Jackson’s dance moves for $100.

Songs used in The Evolution of Dance — 1950 to 2019 — by Ricardo Walker’s Crew

00:03​ – 00:13​ – Singin’in the Rain – Gene Kelly

00:13​ – 00:23​ – Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

00:23​ – 00:30​ – Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

00:30​ – 00:35​ – Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker switch to color

00:35​ – 00:45​ – I feel good – James Brown

00:45​ – 00:57​ – I Want You Back – The Jackson Five

00:57​ – 01:09​ – Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

01:09​ – 01:16​ – Dancing Machine – The Jacksons

01:16​ – 01:20​ – Shake your Body – The Jacksons

01:20​ – 01:24​ – You’re the one that I want – John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

01:24​ – 01:31​ – Time of My Life – Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes

01:31​ – 01:46​ – Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

01:46​ – 01:55​ – Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson

01:55​ – 02:03​ – FootLoose –  Kenny Loggins

02:03​ – 02:13​ – Thriller – Michael Jackson

02:13​ – 02:18​ – What a feeling – Irene Cara

02:18​ – 02:22​ – U can’t touch this – MC Hammer

02:22​ – 02:31​ – Black or White – Michael Jackson

02:31​ – 02:42​ – Vogue – Madonna

02:42​ – 02:51​ – It’s not unusual – Tom Jones

02:51​ – 03:02​ – Everybody – Backstreet Boys

03:02​ – 03:13​ – Macarena – Los Del Río

03:13​ – 03:26​ – Crank That – Soulja Boy

03:26​ – 03:33​ – Single Ladies – Beyonce

03:33​ – 03:46​ – Bye Bye Bye – NSYNC

03:46​ – 03:54​ – Ragatanga – Rouge

03:54​ – 04:04​ – Gangnam Style – PSY

04:04​ – 04:15​ – Despacito – Luis Fonsi

04:15​ – 04:25​ – Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson , Bruno Mars

04:25​ – 04:34​ – Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO

04:34​ – 04:43​ – Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake

04:43​ – 04:51​ – Watch Me – Silentó

04:51​ – 05:03​ – Swish Swish – Katy Perry

05:03​ – 05:17​ – In My Feeling – Drake

05:17​ – 05:35​ – Old Town Road – Lil Nas X

Related Content: 

How Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Video Changed Pop Culture Forever: Revisit the 13-Minute Short Film Directed by John Landis

The Dance Theatre of Harlem Dances Through the Streets of NYC: A Sight to Behold

Twerking, Moonwalking AI Robots–They’re Now Here

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Iconic Dance Scene from Hellzapoppin’ Presented in Living Color with Artificial Intelligence (1941)

After Charles Lindbergh “hopped” the Atlantic in 1927, his history-making solo flight set off a craze for all things “Lindy.” Of the countless songs, foods, products, and trends created or named in honor of the famous onetime U.S. Air Mail pilot, only one remains recognizable these more than 90 years later: the Lindy Hop. Developed on the streets and in the clubs of Harlem, the dance proved explosively popular, though it took Hollywood a few years to capitalize on it. In the late 1930s, the musical Hellzapoppin’ brought the Lindy Hop to Broadway, and in 1941, Universal Pictures turned that stage show into a major motion picture directed by H.C. Potter (now best known for Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).

An often surreal, fourth-wall-breaking affair, Hellzapoppin’ is remembered mainly for the five-minute Lindy Hop musical number that comes about halfway through the film. It features a dance troupe called the Harlem Congaroos, played by the real-life Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, a group of professional swing dancers founded at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, the origin point of the Lindy Hop as we know it today.




Its appearing members include Frankie Manning, whose name had become synonymous with the Lindy Hop in the 1930s, and Norma Miller, who as a twelve-year-old girl famously did the dance outside the Savoy for tips. Hellzapoppin’ preserves their athleticism and vitality for all time — with a hot jazz soundtrack to boot.

Like most Hollywood musicals of the early 1940s, Hellzapoppin’ was shot in black-and-white, and cinephiles will maintain that it’s best seen that way. But just as the technology powering long-haul flights has developed greatly since the days of Charles Lindbergh, so has the technology of film colorization. Take DeOldify, the “open-source, Deep Learning based project to colorize and restore old images and film footage” that “uses AI neural networks trained with thousands of reference pictures” – and that was used to produce the version of Hellzapoppin‘s Lindy Hop number seen at the top of the post. It all looks much more convincing than when Ted Turner attempted to colorize Citizen Kane, but in lovers of dance, whatever sense of realism DeOldify contributes will mainly inspire a deeper longing to experience the culture of Harlem as it really was in the 1920s.

Related Content:

1944 Instructional Video Teaches You the Lindy Hop, the Dance That Originated in 1920’s Harlem Ballrooms

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

Watch Metropolis’ Cinematically Innovative Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intended It to Be Seen (1927)

Rita Hayworth, 1940s Hollywood Icon, Dances Disco to the Tune of The Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive: A Mashup

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Radiohead Ballets: Watch Ballets Choreographed Creatively to the Music of Radiohead

Since Radiohead’s last release, A Moon-Shaped Pool, members of the band have been absorbed in other projects. They’ve turned their band’s website into an archive for their discography and a library for rarities and ephemera — sending not-so-subtle signals their time together has reached a natural end, even if drummer Phil Selway said in 2020 “there are always conversations going on…. We’ll see. We’re talking.”

Two of the band’s most prominent members, guitarist Jonny Greenwood and frontman Thom Yorke, devoted their talents to film scores, a medium Greenwood has explored for many years: in the theatrical violence of There Will Be Blood, for example, the horrific aftermath of We Need to Talk about Kevin, and the almost balletic bloodiness of You Were Never Here. Yorke, meanwhile, scored Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, a film in which ballet dancers’ bodies are broken and bloodied by black magic.




Greenwood, Yorke and company excel at conjuring atmospheres of dread, despair, and disorientation, traits that suit them well for arthouse film. They might not have seemed a natural fit, however, for ballet. And yet, Jason Kottke reports, the two are “together at last” — or at least as of 2016, when choreographer Robert Bondara toured Take Me With You, a piece scored to several Radiohead songs, including In Rainbows’ “Reckoner,” which you can see interpreted above by two dancers from the Polish National Ballet.

The performance is an athletic response to a kinetic track, in choreography not unlike pairs figure skating at times. It is not, however, the first time the band has inspired a ballet. In 2005, Romanian dancer and choreographer Edward Clug created a modern interpretation of Shakespeare set to songs from OK Computer and Kid A. Radio and Juliet debuted in Slovenia, toured the world, celebrated its hundredth performance in 2012, and was scheduled to open in Moscow in 2020.

Clug drew on a prior connection: OK Computer’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” was written for, but not used in, the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. After Radio and Juliet, Clug once again drew inspiration from his favorite band (“They are the soundtrack to my other side; listening to them feels like I’m finding a self that I haven’t met yet.”) Clug’s piece “Proof” (preview above), set to “Feral” from The King of Limbsdebuted in 2017, his first for the Nederlands Dans Theater. If we are to have no more Radiohead, here’s hoping at least we’ll see more Radiohead ballets.

via Kottke

Related Content:  

Introducing The Radiohead Public Library: Radiohead Makes Their Full Catalogue Available via a Free Online Web Site

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke Performs Songs from His New Soundtrack for the Horror Film, Suspiria

Classic Radiohead Songs Re-Imagined as a Sci-Fi Book, Pulp Fiction Magazine & Other Nostalgic Artifacts

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

More in this category... »
Quantcast
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.