Monday, October 5, 2009

Nihonbuyo Performance

(Note: Nihonbuyo = Classical Japanese Dance)

So for the past year or so many people have been practicing/preparing for the big Nihonbuyo performance that went on at the Bunka Center this past Sunday, October 4th. There were 20 different performances and probably 50 or so performers (from pre-school children to senior citizens).

It was a massive event requiring a heck load of logistical planning, preparations, and manpower. There were professionals from Tokyo to put make-up, kimonos, and wigs on performers. Numerous sets, props, and hair pieces had to be made. It was a completely different experience than last year's November Bunka Sai (which is still/also going on this year--so practices aren't done for me, yet!).

The nice thing was that since we started practicing a year ago, I didn't actually have to go to a lot of extra practices this time around. Last year, I started learning Nihonbuyo in June and the performance was in November, so in the last month or so before the performance I had to go to practices twice a week to feel like I sort of knew what I was doing. This time the only extra practices I really needed were the group practices.

But with a year's experience under my belt and my Japanese (or at least my willingness to speak Japanese) much improved since the last event, I ended up helping out with more stuff this year. For example, I learned how to do the basic make-up for the children and for my own performance so that if the professionals were too busy I could at least help a bit. (In the end, though, I only helped put make-up on the hands of one girl when no professionals were around.) I also came early on the dress rehearsal day to help get things set up (taping up names lists by the "dressing rooms", carting around boxes, etc.).

As a result, I was really tired on Saturday (even though I did leave early--around 4pm) and I think that carried over a bit to the Sunday. It also didn't help that the dress rehearsal for our piece was pretty rough because the Mandolin club that was doing the live music for our performance didn't all show up for the dress rehearsal!  As a result, we couldn't catch our cues (no guitars were there, and some of our cues came solely from the guitars) and I think it made us all a lot more nervous than we needed to be. 

I know that Saturday night I started feeling nauseated--which is what happens when I'm super nervous about something. I was in bed by 10pm, but I was having a fair bit of difficulty actually getting to sleep. Luckily my friend emailed right around then telling me to "relax and enjoy" the next day, and that helped settle my nerves a bit. I also got a call from my dad telling me that he was home! (Unfortunately I couldn't/didn't talk very long with him because I *was* trying to sleep early for the performance and by that point it was past 10:30pm). With that good news I was better able to go to sleep.

I guess I was still pretty nervous, though, because I ended up having really weird dreams. One was that some villains attacked a group returning from an archeological dig and stole some armor that gave them super powers. During the attack/theft, however, they dropped a cup-shaped thing which turned out to extend to be a bell. A friend of mine picked it up and tried ringing it. It turned out to be a sort of control device which forced all the armor pieces (along with the people wearing them) to come running to the bell. Naturally this put my friend and I on the run from the villains. We collapsed the bell again and wrapped it in a towel to prevent it from ringing. We ran into a big warehouse-like building with a festival/exhibition going on to escape, and managed to make it back outside without anyone following us. Just as we were about to flee, however, my friend realized that she had left her wallet inside the bathroom and needed to go back to get it. (Being on the run requires funds, after all.) She handed me the bag with the bell for safekeeping and dashed back inside. That part of the dream ended just as she got/was about to get caught by the villains.

The next dream sequence started off at an airport. I was trying to be a good Samaritan, so I helped a lady catch a taxi that had just dropped off a passenger. It turned out, though, that the woman was the daughter of some really rich/important person and the taxi drivers (why there were two, I don't know) decided to take advantage of the opportunity to kidnap her. I and the person who had been dropped off by the taxi thus became material witnesses to the event. Since we couldn't leave the city until the woman was rescued, the woman's family opened their house to us. It was a gigantic house and inside it actually had farm animals and farm land! There were a bunch of goats running around as they pleased inside the house. On the tour of the house, they took us through a field of corn--but it wasn't corn on a cob, it was just a field of kernels! And there were a bunch of different colours, too--like green and blue! Same thing with the next field: it was all different types of tomatoes--purple, green, yellow, etc. (I expect all the farm imagery came from my having recently seen a picture of a bunch of different tomatoes that my friend got from Black Sheep Farm!) At some point during the tour, this dream sequence actually connected with the previous one and it turned out that the kidnapped woman held a key to stopping the super-powered armor pieces--something involving time travel, I believe--and so we needed to rescue her to stop the villains. 

So yeah, when I woke up on Sunday morning I was in a bit of a bemused state thanks to the strange dreams. Even though I wasn't performing until close to 5pm (it was originally supposed to be closer to 4:00-4:30pm, but after the dress rehearsal they adjusted the times and it ended up being later), I still had to be at the Bunka Center by 9am. When I got there, I found out that I was supposed to have worn a kimono and not a yukata because I needed to go to give aisatsu (formal greetings) to the Japanese dance teacher from Tokyo, Sumiya(?)-sensei--my teacher's teacher. (Apparently that teacher is something like 70 years old, but even for an Asian woman she looked really young! Like in her late 50's/early 60's!) And apparently it's considered rude to give aisatsu in a yukata. There was a kimono there (the one I wore for the dress rehearsal) but I didn't have time to change into it before going to greet Sumiya-sensei.

Luckily I was able to go with my friend Kasumi (who often does dance practice with me) to give aisatsu, because it would've been super awkward for me to have gone alone. As it was, it was plenty awkward because I didn't realize that I was supposed to bring a token of appreciation for Sumiya-sensei. Thank goodness she at least knew that I was from Canada and not Japanese or I would've felt even worse. As it was, I felt pretty embarrassed to have received a handkerchief/towel thing from her even though I hadn't given her anything. @_@ I also got a handkerchief/towel thing from one of the other members of our dance--Oedo Nihonbashi--and felt bad for not having anything to reciprocate with. 

Then too were all the flowers I received--from my friend from taiko (I bought my black and silver yukata from her shop), from my supervisor, from a teacher at my favourite elementary school (she also gave me a beautiful bag made from an old obi), from a teacher at Kirita, from two parents of students at Kirita, and even from the president of the Towada Soroptomist Society (although how she knew about my performing is completely beyond me!). At the time I was just really surprised and happy to receive them, but I learned today that it's customary for performers to prepare small gifts--bento, handkerchiefs, etc.--to give back as a token of appreciation. My dance teacher, Rika-sensei, for example, had something like a hundred things prepared, and even then she ran short! I know that it's OK for me to not know these things because I'm not Japanese, but still, I wish I had known.

Well, I can't go back in time, but I decided to at least bake peanut butter cookies tonight to give out tomorrow as thank you gifts for the people I received flowers from in person. (Well, the elementary school teacher I won't see for a while, so I'm sending her a thank you card through the office's "internal mail." And I'll have to get a card to the Soroptomist president somehow as well.)

But back to the performance. It was really a long day of waiting. I had my hair done first thing in the morning, but after that I had nothing to do. Luckily I was able to kill some of the time watching Kasumi and her dance partner getting their make-up, kimono, and wigs put on. I took a ton of photos of the entire process, as it was really impressive. 

The rest of the time I was wandering around trying to at least not be in the way, if I couldn't be helpful. I felt a bit bad because Erik was there and Kristina came back stage for quite a while, too, but doing nothing but waiting gave me too much time to get nervous, so I didn't really feel like talking/socializing.

It was a relief when I was finally able to get my make-up done (luckily it turned out I didn't have to do my own) and get dressed in the kimono. By then Kasumi and some of the others had finished their bigger performances and we were able to practice together, which helped ease some of my tension. 

After much waiting, it was finally time for the performance! It actually went surprisingly well. During practice I was always looking at Kasumi or someone next to me to match my timing to theirs, but I was able to look at the audience more than usual during the real thing. There were a few mistakes--at one point we made a circle and one-by-one leaned forward and tapped the shoulder of the person in front of us with our fan (kind of like a domino-effect) but I was too close to Kasumi and ended up brushing my face against her obi. @_@ At the very end I also put my right foot forward instead of my left. Thankfully I was in the back row, though, so I was able to quickly change to the proper position before the final pose without drawing much if any attention to my mistake. 

Once we were done we just had to wait for Rika-sensei's piece before going back out to give aisatsu to the audience. (Her dance was the longest, at something like 25 minutes. My eight minutes was more than enough for me, and I was with a bunch of other people, so a 25-minute solo completely boggles my mind.)

After the aisatsu, we took a group shot and then all of the adults in Oedo Nihonbashi had to rush upstairs to take off our rental kimono so the kimono people could get packed up in time to make it to the after party for a short time before heading back to Tokyo. (The after party started around 6:30pm and they had to leave by 7:10pm to catch the train!)

Then it was the after party from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. (Apparently Rika-sensei was out until something like 2am, so I'm glad I decided to leave when I felt like I should head home, rather than trying to wait for the party to die down.)

I was planning on doing nothing but lesson planning and maybe a little more cleaning (in preparation for Nate's arrival on Wednesday!) tonight, but then I got an email from Rika-sensei during the day saying that some people were going to give aisatsu around 5pm and could I make it. Since I got the email in the morning, I didn't really read it or think about it too carefully and just said "sure." I really had no idea what I was going to go do, however. 

Turned out it was just a smaller gathering of people coming to talk about the performance and to exchange thank you's, etc. Again, I felt awkward about a lack of knowledge of Japanese culture when, before leaving, all the other people handed Rika-sensei an envelope clearly decorated as a thank you envelope (i.e. for cash). @_@ Of course, I was the only one who didn't have one because I had no idea about the custom! I guess it was good for me to go just to learn about such things (it was also during this time that I learned the thing about the bringing gifts to reciprocate for gifts/flowers received during the performance), but I really prefer to learn things before making a mistake, rather than through/from errors. 

*sigh* Just goes to show that no matter how well adjusted you think you are to Japanese culture, there are always some small things that you really can't know unless someone tells you about it specifically. In my case, I guess I shouldn't feel too bad because I suspect some of the etiquette is more specific to Nihonbuyo/special performances and thus not something people would normally be expected to know.

Oh, and in case you missed the link earlier, you can check out all my photos in my Facebook album here:

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