Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tamasaburo performing in Beijing, a second part.

Some impressions come with time...

It’s more than a month since Tamasaburo’s performance of Mudanting, The Peony Pavillion, and I think it is a good time to recall and then express new impressions if they are any.

Tamasaburo in Beijing, "Mudanting"

Again, intelligence.
Tamasaburo’s version of Mudanting started with a Japanese style introduction, and actually not with "Mudanting" instead he introduced himself performing a portrayal of a famous chinese character, Yang Guifei the concubine, only for this first scene. Tamasaburo’s version then is constructed from the kind of ritual entrance of any Kabuki Classic performance: a chorus chanting, the main character doing her entrance very slow, getting all the public’s attention through her first movements. I was recording video but I was watching only Tamasaburo’s movements, listening to the music and to the choir; when someone from the staff asked me to turn off my camera I was surprised I was still recording it.

This kind of ritual was a very clever introduction; it showed the Chinese spectators that the actor on the stage was a Japanese figure, performing in his own style and introducing himself to all of us with the humility of an outsider and with respect. After that he could perform Kunqu because he didn’t appear as someone “coming to teach”; he, talking with actions, had come to be a cultural diplomat, to share his artistic skills with the finest and most magnificent performing Art in China. He knew very well the Chinese spectator.

I also remember how Tamasaburo shared the main role, Du Linang, with two other Chinese actors, they were younger and very well trained. We could see and even compare movements, voices and beauty. Tamasaburo is a star, but he was performing the role as any other young player. That was an opportunity for enjoying this kind of role (an actor performing a female character) for the first time in my life; I enjoyed those three different ways of performing (as they were three) with their voices, with their movements and their beauty.

Beyond any technical skill or talent, a glimpse of intelligence can become the origin of success.

While I was spying him, he stopped talking and looked at me.

I wanted to say sorry because of the video issue (though you may not believe me, in China there is no problem to take photographs during a performance of any Chinese Opera, wherever you are), but I didn’t find the guy of the staff inside the theatre, so I went out and looked for him in one of the beautiful courtyards. Then, while I was talking with the guy, I noticed that there was a big fabric screen dividing the courtyard. Soon I was alone I went through to discover that it was the part the theatre prepared for the cast to refresh themselves, to smoke or to receive people. And that was what Tamasaburo was doing. I saw him talking with a group of Chinese, kind of bored, respectful, listening to them and using a translator to keep the conversation.

The man was there, without costume or makeup, only with a tiny shirt and that white foundation used by any female makeup designer.

He was talking with the group of Chinese, neither him nor anyone else noticed I was there, so I concentrated on his figure and gestures. I’ve always loved the idea of seeing any genius as a human being, a real human being, and that evening I had the chance to do it again. I remember how feminine his figure was: thin, tall and solemn. And then, my brain instantly started recalling any transvestites I had seen in my life; how silly of me! But the white face, the net covering his hair and his attitude, everything reminded me of those people. I had to put my thoughts in order and relocated his image on the stage on a first plane in my memory, and recalled those videos of him I had seen.

In the middle of this absurd game of unconscious comparisons, while I was spying him, he stopped talking and looked at me; it was only for a second (maybe less), but he stopped and looked at me. All I could perceive in his eyes was tranquility and, of course, seriousness. Then everything returned to normalcy, he was talking again with the help of the translator.

I didn’t use my camera, I simply couldn’t do it; if he were performing on the stage..., but no, he wasn’t. I was there without any permission, it seemed embarrassing, no, impolite, rude of me. It was a very private moment, like a naked man trying to rest after a busy day. It was nonsense.

Helping to build the myth

A Japanese friend commented to me about Tamasaburo’s life and how some Japanese see this artist. She told me Tamasaburo wasn’t part of any Kabuki family, so he wasn’t part of Kabuki’s tradition. What did this mean? Well, I looked at some internet pages and some books and it seems that Japanese respected him more because he had to work harder than others to reach the place he enjoys today. Kabuki actors who belong to a certain lineage of families are heirs to the style and work of their fathers, they have “the blood”, so a big part of the way ahead is already prepared, they only have the obligation to work with persistece to be part of the Kabuki tradition. Actors like Tamasaburo have to convince others with work, with talent, with professionalism and, of course, with their artistic values.

She also told me that Tamasaburo had a poliomyelitis problem in his left hand, so his work for getting such skills as a Kabuki actor was even harder! He broke the myth people usually have about the impossibility of becoming an actor or dancer (Kabuki onnagata players are both) if the aspirant has such physical problems.

I can’t assure the veracity of her comments, but I must accept that I want to play the game of helping to construct a myth (or destroying one?). I have enjoyed so much as a spectator of Tamasaburo’s work on stage that I am sure he is walking rapidly through the way of myths even without my help.


Creation in my life has always been linked to the pleasure of being a spectator. If I have created something in my life it has been thanks to seeing or listening to something extraordinary before. I am not looking for imitation of the biggest, I am enjoying what some people call “inspiration” but by the biggest, and I love it. After seeing them perform, after crying, trembling, laughing or getting deep in my own self I can write or picture anything I want, without them my artistic life would be unbearable.

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