Geisha Dances in Kyoto
Kyo Odori (亰をどり)&Miyako Odori (都をどり)/ Geisha Dances
April in Kyoto. If you are in pursuit of something other than strolls around or drinking sessions under cherry trees, then you might want to give the Kyo or/and the Miyako Odori (dances) a try. Performed every year by geisha (known as ‘geiko’ in Kyoto) and apprentice geisha (known as maiko), the stages are so glorious and beautiful that they move me to tears without fail. (but that mighust be me. I cry at anything!)
This year, I saw the very last performance of the 2-week show of the Kyo Dance ,and the Miyako Dance at a theatre different from the usual hall, Kaburenjo(歌舞練場), due to the ongoing renovation.
At both shows, the audience was privileged to witness performances somewhat out of the ordinary.
Kyo Odori (at Miyagawa-cho , one of the five geisha districts in Kyoto )
Geiko and maiko learn and keep blushing up on their Japanese traditional art skills ,for example dances, songs, musical instruments, tea ceremony, and so forth, day in and day out. At the shows you can see them dance, sing, and play musical instruments. What you can expect to see is the tradition passed down from generation to generation and gracefulness of the entertainers.
But this time it was a little different.( I don’t mean they were ungraceful.)
The maiko and geiko improvised, since it was their last performance.
In a play called ‘Taketori Monogatari(The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)’, a girl ,born in a bamboo and raised by the bamboo cutter and his wife, finds three suitors as she reaches a marriageable age. One of them is filthy rich. When this suitor made the second appearance on stage, he (or she, as the character was played by a geiko) made the audience giggle. He was wearing sunglasses and had a gold scarf round his neck. He reminded me of Piko Taro. (You don’t know him? Please scroll down to have a glimpse.)
The geiko and maiko NEVER wear anything like that, whether they are on stage or on their way to work, so it was quite unusual.
A person who stood on stage after the performance in order to show gratitude to the audience explained that a few geiko wanted to do something (unusual) since it was their last performance of this spring show, and he apologized to the audience, though in a casual manner.
Geiko , maiko, and anybody who works for /with them are the successors of traditions, but at the same time, geiko and maiko have to keep abreast of the times so that they can converse with their customers about a wide variety of topics. In addition, their lives seem rather otherworldly. Many people, the Japanese alike, don’t know exactly what goes on in Hanamachi ( the geiko districts). I can only assume that by dressing like Piko Taro or having rabbit ears on their heads, they wanted to show they were not all that distant to us.
Miyako Odori (usually at Gion, another geisha district)
This year’s Miyako Odori took place at Kyoto Art Theater, which is on a university campus. Since it is a theater that accommodates any type of shows, from traditional performances to modern ones, it has not only a hanamichi (a walkway running from the stage to the rear of the theater), a small Seri called Suppon (the trap on the hanamichi), but a revolving stage as well. The usual hall, Kaburenjo doesn’t have the latter two. (Hanamichi can be found in any theaters that put on Japanese traditional art shows. ) The geiko and maiko put the stage settings to good use.
The most impressive scene was when a group of maiko made appearance in the last program. On the dimly lit stage, they were standing still in an arc, half of them with their backs to the audience. Slowly they started to move in an arc to the left to face us. I thought they were shuffling, but actually they were on the revolving stage, which sent them to the front of the stage. It made them look as though they were gliding. Just before they faced us, the lights went back on. The effect of the stage and the timing of the lighting was perfect!!
Throughout the show I heard the audience give sighs in awe a number of times.
I think some Kyotoites may think the Miyako Odori should be held in Gion, geiko and maiko’s place of work. Nevertheless, thanks to the stage setting , it was like a mini kabuki(often translated into English as the Japanese opera).
Whatever happens at those performances, I can guarantee they will perfect your spring in Kyoto.
＊These shows by geiko and maiko take place 4 times in Spring and 5 times in Autumn, in different Hanamachi (the geiko districts) in Kyoto.