Ancient 'Genji' is condensed for dance

March 16, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The first clue that "The Tale of Genji" by the Saeko Ichinohe Dance Company is going to be the Reader's Digest Condensed Book version is that the piece occupies only half the program.

To stuff Lady Murasaki's 11th-century classic novel of Japanese art, culture, politics, history, magic and romance into a six-part, 50-minute dance is a little like the time John Huston made a film of "The Bible" that quit after the Book of Genesis, overwhelmed by so much material.

Ichinohe's New York-based company performed what was called the premiere of "Genji" at Towson University on Friday. But it wasn't a premiere, either. Ichinohe choreographed it in 1995.

This performance was the debut of the costumes, by Eiko Yamaguchi and Y.O. Moen of the Nakazawa Studio, whose work was indeed gorgeous: silk kimonos, heavy with brocade embroidery or inset squares of contrasting fabric, gleaming with gold and silver thread under delicate washes of light by Chenault Spence.

As for the six episodes, they describe Prince Genji's arranged marriage to Lady Aoi, his affair with the older Lady Rokujo, her curse upon his wife, who dies in childbirth, Genji's adoption and later marriage to a girl/woman who looks like his dead mother, his exile and return. But this is only a small part of the epic novel.

Moreover, Genji (Jeff Moen) is turned into a passive character who does little but stand around looking stoic. The women's roles are much more full, especially the tragic Lady Rokujo (Ichinohe).

It may be a valid feminist statement to see the women as prime movers in the Genji story; but it's not quite fair to present this, and only this, as an account of a work that is not generally known to a Western audience. A novel needs to be familiar to its readers before an alternative interpretation can mean much.

The rest of the program included a Japanese dance of invocation, performed by Ichinohe in yet another sumptuous kimono; and "Homage to Paul Klee," five studies of works by the amusing Swiss master of color and whimsy. It includes the well-known "Twittering Machine," which looks like the direct ancestor of Sandra Boynton's round little greeting-card birds.

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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