Taro Bove

(Images of Taro Bove’s performance of Kakitsubata in 2010. This is not the performance I saw, but the style, stage, and his costume were similar. The photo is from Bove.)

On Thursday for the first time, I was at KAAT, the brand new performing arts center in Yokohama that has just opened. It is a beautiful, very large space, and I hope to see more of it soon.

I arrived just in time to attend a performance by Taro Bove in the lobby of the building. A white, square stage and two black felt-covered platforms were set up. As I arrived, noh instrumental music (hayashi) played quietly. Eventually, three professional noh instrumentalists entered and took their places on one of the platforms, and then a single professional noh actor (and singer) came and took his place on the other platform.

The four noh performers began to play and chant music to “Izutsu.” In the play the ghost of the wife of famous Nara period philanderer and poet Ariwara no Narihira appears. She recounts her story as the wife of Narihira. Left behind during one of his visits to another woman, she expresses her loneliness and her faithful love for her husband through poetry. In the culmination of the piece, she dances in her husband’s robes and then looks into a well they played at as children. In her reflection in the water, she sees her husband. . .

As if appearing out of nowhere through the audience, Bove slowly entered. Since I was expecting him to enter the same way as the other performers, I did not realize his presence until he was right in front of me. The upper half of his body motionless as he walked, made it seem as if he floated much like a professional noh actor. However, his technique was not traditional, as he dramatically lifted his heals and toes with each step. (The traditional method would be to keep the whole foot continuously in contact with the floor, smoothly sliding one foot forward then the other. The untraditional flooring material might have made this kind of movement impossible.)

But it was his costume that really caught my attention first. As you can see in the photo above, it is perfectly tailored and contains elements of traditional noh attire. The wide skirt-like trousers are similar to hakama, the width of the collar is similar to the width of a kimono collar, and the dark charcoal color is close to the standard black kimono worn by professionals. However, the sleeves were closely fitted and especially the cut of the jacket showed a strong Western influence. Although modifications of kimono often appear contrived, this costume created a new and refreshing yet somehow familiar silhouette, which fit the performance perfectly.

Bove’s dance displayed a high level of control and finesse as if drawing strength from the rhythm of the music. Since he was not using a fan, he freely used his hands and fingers in a way that were faintly reminiscent of southeast Asian dance forms. These were congruous with his modified posture and turns. Instead of keeping his posture perpendicular, he would lean and move his arms in fluid motions that emphasized the curve of his turns. As the tempo of the music very gradually increased, his dance became fuller and included more noh-like movements. He even included the mimetic climax of the play, in which Narihira’s wife pushes aside tall grasses to look into the well.

The effect of the performance as a whole was in keeping with noh forms of expression. Although I have seen only a few contemporary performances that have incorporated noh, it seemed to me as if he had successfully integrated his own original ideas into the complex fabric of noh forms. This harmonious fusion must have taken not only a lot of study both of noh and of contemporary dance forms, but also an intensely analytical and detailed approach.

My only desire might have been to incorporate something along the lines of noh-like stomps, because these break up the fluidity of movement for which noh is very famous for. In other words, instead of primarily showing noh’s cliché slowness, the audience might be drawn into the performance more if the movement were interspersed with some more unusual aspects of noh dance. Of course, as Bove continues to work with noh forms over time, no doubt his movement will develop. I look forward to seeing more of his performances soon.

The performers were:

Dancer and choreographer: Taro Bove (www.tarobove.com)

Flute (fue): Sugi Shintaro (Morita-ryu)

Small drum (kotsuzumi): Sowa Naoyasu (Kō-ryu)

Large drum (ōtsuzumi): Kawamura Masaru (Ishī-ryu)

Vocals (utai): Tamoi Hiromichi (Kanze-ryu)