Introductory Essays on Kabuki Dance
Dance in the kabuki theater has a history as long as the theater itself. The birth of kabuki is said to be the riverside performances of the dancer Okuni at the beginning of the 17th century. Most plays for the theater have in them interludes of dance, particular scenes where the narrative action pauses while one actor or an ensemble performs a dance. Shosagoto, dance pieces of themselves, have always been a part of the kabuki theater, and as dramatic, realistic pieces developed shosagoto became set off as individual performances in the multi-performance program.
In this section we offer a few introductory essays on kabuki dance.
A short definition
Kabuki dance is made up of dances and dramatic dance pieces that have developed within the kabuki theatre. Kabuki dances tend to have a strong theatrical or dramatic aspect to them. In general a one-day program in the kabuki theatre will have a dance piece as one of the middle acts or as the finale. These dance piece may have some topical connection to the dramatic pieces on the program, but as often will stand alone with no such relationship.
In the early eras of women's kabuki (onna kabuki) and young men's kabuki (wakashū kabuki) dances were generally large ensemble productions (sō-odori or ō-odori), but later with the advent of the onnagata role female journey (michiyuki) dances became popular. In the Genroku period (1690-1720) the so-called gesture pieces (shosagoto) developed, and at the same time the role of the choreographer appeared in the kabuki theatre. From the Jokyo period to the Hōreki period (roughly 1720-1750) the onnagata dances were the focus. From the Hōreki era on through the Tenmei era (1770s) dance dramas were formalized in which male heroes and even villians were given individual dances. In the nineteenth century many varieties of dance pieces were developed, including the property showcase "article dances" (shohin buyō) and the popular "quick change dances" (hengemono) in which a single performer transforms within the dance through a series of quick costume changes. In the Meiji period (1868-1912) the so-called matsubamemono were created. These dances took the contents and titles of the noh and kyōgen pieces as well as some of the stylization of those theatres and adapted them to dances in the kabuki theatre.
A single piece of kabuki dance is based on the tripartite jō, ha, kyu structure of noh performance, with an entrance section (出端), a middle passage of development (中端), and a rapid final section (入端).