Stage

Kabuki icon takes Dazzle dancers to new levels

by Mana Katsura

Special To The Japan Times

Street dance has been growing in popularity for years among younger generations in “Cool Japan,” with displays often attracting crowds of passers-by.

Though many artists perform alone in public, others have pooled their talents to help broaden their appeal. Among those, one standout is nine-member all-male Dazzle headed by 38-year-old Tatsuya Hasegawa, who has also choreographed stage works and dance routines for the likes of top pop group SMAP.

Although the troupe was founded by Hasegawa in 1996, it was 2011 before I first caught up with them at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania. There, they thrilled multinational audiences with their 2009 work “Hana to Otori” (“Misty Mansion”). Drawn from a Japanese legend that questions humans’ morals through the motif of a wedding of shape-shifting foxes, the work unfolded in unexpected ways as it combined hip-hop, contemporary dance and nihon buyō, an ancient Japanese form of dance accompanied by traditional instruments.

Performed in front of a screen on which explanations of the storyline were projected in English along with animations, the harmonization of the moving bodies and the images behind them was quite exquisite as the dancers also beautifully manipulated shoji paper screens and Japanese umbrellas. In fact that work won top production and design awards at the Fadjr International Theater Festival in Iran the following year.

Since then, Dazzle have continued to expand their fan base with their fantastic and thought-provoking stage performances that continue to seek out a new direction.

In January this year, for instance, the troupe guested in a Hasegawa-directed show by the men’s gymnastics-performance unit Blue in the northern Honshu city of Aomori.

This month in Tokyo, Dazzle will perform with the 64-year-old kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando V, a designated Living National Treasure who has recently also been seeking out new horizons by directing and appearing in shows by the famed taiko drumming troupe Kodo.

Together, Tamasaburo and Hasegawa have spent a year developing and rehearsing “Ballare” (meaning “dance” in Italian), which will be performed on the vast stage of the 1,300-seat Akasaka ACT Theater, where more than 25 dancers, including members from Blue, will present what’s been dubbed “a multifaceted interlacing of movement.”

Speaking to The Japan Times recently, Tamasaburo said his aim was “to make a kind of work that no one has ever seen before — to dance with nothing but your body for a weapon,” as he put it.

“In order to set out on that adventure,” he continued, “I suggested that these guys, who had always used original music, instead use three established pieces — a tango, (Igor) Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and (Gustav) Mahler’s “4th Symphony.”

For his part, Hasegawa — who choreographed those three pieces — said, “The difficulty I experienced tackling the complex rhythms and dissonance of ‘The Rite of Spring’ has brought me joy from being able to venture into that unknown territory.

“That is something (Russian ballet legend) Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) and other historic dancers have performed to, so I wanted us to express it in our dance in a way only we can.”

Sitting beside the choreographer, Tamasaburo — who continues his kabuki life while also creating fresh new forms of expression in collaboration with such as the Polish film director Andrzej Wajda and French-born Chinese-American cellist Yo Yo Ma, as well as those Kodo drummers — added, “My reason for living is to help make the next generation of talented people shine.”

Clearly, through its encounter with Tamasaburo, Dazzle has closed the door on straightforward storytelling, and has begun trying to express the act of dancing itself in the abstract. Who knows where this will lead — though it’s an evolution that promises to be fascinating every step of the way.

“Ballare” runs March 7-15 at Akasaka ACT Theater in Tokyo. For details, call 03-3234-9999 or visit www.ints.co.jp. This story was translated by Claire Tanaka.