By Junichiro Shiozaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe Kabukiza Gallery, on the fifth floor of the towering building behind the Kabukiza theater in Ginza, Tokyo, is well worth a visit, particularly for kabuki beginners. The gallery offers a glimpse of the traditional theater and a feel for its atmosphere — costumes, props and other items related to kabuki are on display — and also holds a monthly concert of kabuki music by top-class performers. The event showcases masterpieces and enjoys great popularity.
At the concert, nagauta traditional ballads played on drums, flute or shamisen, and gidayu musical narration accompanied by shamisen, are performed right in front of the audience.
Since audience members at regular kabuki performances watch and listen to the musicians from seating areas set back from the stage, the concert is a precious chance to better understand an indispensable element of the traditional stage.
The gallery concert features three core performers: Tanaka Denzaemon XIII, a tsuzumi hand drum player; Takemoto Aoidayu, a gidayu musical narrator; and Kineya Mitaro VIII, a shamisen player on nagauta ballads.
Denzaemon made his stage debut at the age of 5, and adopted his current stage name in 2004. He is a key component of kabuki’s nagauta ensemble section.
Aoidayu started training for gidayu musical narration when he was 15, and made his stage debut while enrolled in the National Theatre’s training course. He has risen to become a key gidayu performer who enjoys the complete trust of kabuki actors.
Mitaro became a student of Kineya Mitaro VII, a living national treasure, while in his mid-teens. Taking on his master’s name in 2012, the younger Mitaro is known for his exceptionally skilled shamisen performances and has won many distinguished awards.
The gallery concert started in September last year with the performance of the nagauta masterpiece “Kanjincho.” Admission to the gallery is ¥600 for adults, ¥500 for elementary and junior high school students and free for younger children. Some visit the gallery just for the concert.
“While performing overseas, I was impressed by a concert held in a theater lobby,” Denzaemon said. “So I suggested giving a similar concert [at the gallery], and the event has already marked its first anniversary.”
The concert began as a chance for young performers to learn by playing in public, Denzaemon said. He found willing participants in both Aoidayu — whose own Takemoto school has many budding performers — and Mitaro.
“I hope I’ll be able to continue to serve as a coordinator for the gallery concert,” he said.
Mitaro humbly said he is grateful for the chance to take part in the concert and develop performing skills.
Aoidayu said he has been interested in doing something at the beautiful space of the Kabukiza Gallery since it opened in 2013. “I’ll give aspiring performers of our Takemoto school the chance to appear in the concert,” he added.
Asked about the future direction of the event, Denzaemon said: “I hope to continue featuring popular pieces audience members have likely heard at the Kabukiza at least once.”
Aoidaru said: “It might be fun to form unconventional ensembles that aren’t seen at regular kabuki performances, like me narrating to the accompaniment of a nagauta shamisen performer.”
Mitaro hopes to perform pieces featuring his Takemoto school’s kabuki narration and a nagauta ensemble. “I sincerely want young performers to improve their skills, so I appreciate the opportunity the concert gives them to perform with the audience close at hand,” Mitaro said. “I hope the audience enjoys our performances, too.”
Call (03) 3545-6886 for more information on the gallery concert.
— Shiozaki is a specialist in kabuki.
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