Tokubetsu Buyo Koen
‘The Brad Pitt of kabuki,” swooned The Daily Telegraph; “the kabuki kid,” meanwhile, is how The Guardian dubbed him. But it’s not just the English press getting hot under the collar for dashing tachiyaku (male lead) Ichikawa Ebizo, whose circle of fans in Japan extends beyond the usually narrow confines of the kabuki world due to his roles in television period dramas.
Ebizo (right) was destined for stardom from the moment he was born into one of kabuki’s most illustrious families 30 years ago. His father is famed actor Ichikawa Danjuro XII, and the Ichikawa line of kabuki actors has been dazzling audiences here for 300 years, all the way back to the time of Danjuro I.
At the Osaka Shochiku-za theater from Feb. 5-26, Ebizo will star in “Tokubetsu Buyo Koen (Special Dance Performance).” The program includes the dramatic dance, “Renjishi,” in which Ebizo will perform with fellow big-name contemporary actor Onoe Kikunosuke.
Based on the noh play “Shakkyo,” the story depicts the love that an adult shishi (mythical lion) feels for its child. In the latter part, the actors appear on stage dressed in fabulously flamboyant costumes and wearing wigs — one red and one white — that almost reach down to the floor. They then proceed to perform a shishimai (lion dance), so expect lots of foot-stamping and swinging about of their wigs in a dramatic fashion — and swoons from the audience. (R.T.)
Feb. 5-26 at Osaka Shochiku-za; ¥5,000, ¥9,000, ¥17,000 (tel.  000-489)
In February, the multitalented 50-year-old English actor/director Simon McBurney will link up again with the team at Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo. This follows the runaway success in both Japan and Britain of their first collaboration, a 2003 staging of Haruki Murakami’s collection of short stories, “The Elephant Vanishes.”
Still taking his cues from Japanese literature, this time McBurney draws his inspiration from two 1933 masterworks by the Showa Era author, Junichiro Tanizaki — his novel “Shunkin-Sho (A Portrait of Shunkin),” and essay “Inei Reisan (In Praise of Shadow),” which McBurney read on his first visit to Japan in 1995.
Apparently, McBurney was hooked by how Japanese aesthetics are to be found “in the shadows,” rather than the West’s more dualistic appreciation of light and dark. It was this, he said — and the differences between Tanizaki’s Showa Era values and those of present-day Japan — that inspired him to edit and distill the two works into “Shunkin.”
How this energetic English prodigy rises to the challenge — and he most certainly will — makes this the must-see play of 2008.(N.T.)
Feb. 21-March 5 at the Setagaya Public Theatre, Tokyo (¥3,000-¥7,000); www.setagaya-pt.jp
Symphony No. 9
Although Japan’s dance superstar Tetsuya Kumakawa’s knee injury has kept him sidelined for months, the applause from the aisles has barely died down from his K-Ballet company’s winter tour. Next, a truly epic prospect awaits ballet fans in 2008 when the 35-year-old stages the world premiere of a new ballet he has choreographed.
Based on Beethoven’s “Symphony No.9″ (completed in 1824), this isn’t just any classical music Kumakawa has chosen. The fourth movement of Symphony No. 9, “Ode to Joy,” with words by Friedrich Schiller, was the first time a choir was used in symphonic form; it has also become one of the best-known pieces of classical music in Japan, often heard at the end of the year.
Chosen as the first program for the opening of the Akasaka Act Theater in central Tokyo in March, quite how this gifted artistic director will combine this momentous score visually with live music and singing (and whether he will dance himself) is sure to make this one of the country’s most keenly anticipated artistic events for years — and one of the hottest tickets for those lucky enough to get their hands on one.(N.T.)