2 weeks ago
Kitano Tsunetomi: Heron Maiden, c. 1925
Photo: Bandō Tamasaburō performing ‘Heron Maiden’ in 2009 at the Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo
‘Heron Maiden’ (Sagi Musume) is a traditional dance in Japanese Kabuki theatre in which the spirit of a white heron takes the form of a young girl. The dance features a single dancer in a female role and tells a sorrowful story of unrequited love and emotional self-destruction.
The performance opens with the spirit of the white heron wandering through snow (white is the color of sorrow) before it is revealed, through a costume change, that the heron was a beautiful young girl in a previous life. Through transformations and costume changes, the dance then shows both the joyfulness of falling in love and the madness-inducing betrayal that results in the young girl descending to hell to be reborn as the white heron in her next life.
Tsunetomi’s design offers viewers a “close-up view of the Heron Maiden’s tormented psyche. Hunched over with her head bowed, she draws her left hand, buried in the sleeve of her robe, up to her face. In Japanese visual culture, this gesture signifies emotional distress. The sleeve bears a faint pattern of willow boughs, a tree associated with death and often the only prop sharing the stage with the Heron Maiden in kabuki performances.”
Allan Hockley: The Women of Shin Hanga, 2013
Photo credit: ‘Kabuki on the web’ www.kabuki.ne.jp/en