Arts of Japan Celebration - Cherry Blossoms, Saeko Ichinohe, Mannojo Nomura
Tidal Basin and Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Friday, March 26 to Sunday, April 11, 2004 - especially Monday, March
29 and Friday, April 2
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 12 April 2004
blossoming each year of the Japanese cherries can be considered a performance.
It is the result of art as much as it is a manifestation of nature. The
selection process for the trees is as stringent as entry into a top ballet
school and over time it has produced trunks and branches that darken as
they age (with a red tint hidden in the oldest, blackest bark) and blossoms
of a pink so pale that it is the ideal color for Princess Aurora's Act
During the Cherry Blossom Festival's first week this year, nature provided
just one sunny day for viewing the trees' performance—Monday, March
29. Using the old railroad bridge that the new Oriental Hotel has turned
into a footpath, I crossed busy Maine Avenue SW which separates the built
up city on the east from the Tidal Basin's rim, hub of Washington's flowering
cherries. Parallel to this bridge and in spitting distance is another
railroad bridge that is still in use for trains, and with luck one can
see the most diverse rolling stock rumbling by. Not many people as yet
have discovered this path. In order to get to it, face the landside entrance
of the Oriental. Look back and notice the potted cherries in the middle
of the street. They are not the classic Japanese sort but dark pink and
with miniscule petals that have a feathery appearance. Facing forward,
proceed to the outdoor staircase on the left or east side of the hotel.
At the base of stairs, turn into a path to the right that runs along a
terrace on the hotel's waterside front, quite high above Maine Avenue
and a connecting road for northbound traffic. The path turns left as it
reaches the bridge. Cross over the traffic and take the stairs down on
the channel side of the road. Make a u-turn onto the sidewalk along Maine
and proceed under the two bridges to the Tidal Basin.
The blossoms on Monday were fresh, and still a bit stiff (the fluffy state
comes later). A painter friend who hadn't seen them before remarked on
the extravagance of the scene that stretches all around the basin on the
left, and on the right over parkland up to the Washington Monument. Most
of the trees bore the pale petals, although a few had the somewhat deeper
tint of cherry syrup on vanilla ice-cream. There were quite a few sightseers
but the walks weren't crowded.
The weather became overcast the rest of the week, with periods of fog
and a light rain. That kept the traffic down and it was possible to drive
past the cherries, which were worth seeing even in the gray atmosphere.
The Arts of Japan Celebration, which the Kennedy Center organized to coincide
with this year's Cherry Blossom Festival, presented two dance performances
on April 2: the Saeko Ichinohe Dance Company at 6 PM on the northwestern
Millennium Stage and Mannojo Nomura's Ethnos ensemble at 8 PM in the Concert
Ichinohe, who has persisted in her American dance career for years, showed
two suites. The first, Stars & Stripes and Cherry Blossoms to
Nicholas Scarim's music, is a mostly comedic celebration of changes that
took place in Japan after Commander Perry's 1853 arrival. The 1984 choreography
was bicultural, with American modern dance predominating in some sections
and Japanese movement in others. There was even a touch of ballet for
a figure similar to the El Capitan of George Balanchine's Stars and
Stripes. The mix was awkward, with the modern dance looking creaky
and the ballet absurd. One of the Japanese portions, for a youthful pair
which first presents itself with poster portraits of He and She over their
real faces, had livelier wit and invention.
Utamaro, a premiere, was Japanese in feeling. Ichinohe seemed
fascinated with the act of leaning, which she explored in many subtle
variations to diverse music. In part 2 of this piece, the company's finest
dance—a young woman whose name in the program was not linked to
the work—slipped delicately and fluidly through a solo titled Woman
Diver Catching Abalone. The final part, the duet Lovers' Journey,
used leans and supports sensually and sensitively to chart a relationship.
This duet was dedicated to the late choreographer Antony Tudor.
The costumes in both of Ichinohe's suites (by S. Horishige for the 1984
work and by Yukie Okuyama for the new work—particularly the kimonos
for the latter) were handsome.
Ethnos's lecture/demonstration, Nippongaku, was a panorama of
the history of Japanese theater styles. There was too much lecture by
the company's founder and director, Mannojo Nomura, and too little of
demonstration. Yet the scenes shown were intriguing. First came the directness
of early masked entertainers and acrobats. Then the Kyogen manner, the
comic counterpart to Noh, which functions as relief, like the satyr plays
do for Greek tragedy. There followed the elaborate stylizations of Kabuki's
highly made-up, complexly costumed performers and (on screen) Bunraku's
equally adorned and hauntingly manipulated dolls. Nomura introduced more
than touch of 20th Century street theater into some of his reconstructions
of the older forms, but always with an eye for theatricality.
If you didn't catch the Kennedy Center performances, there are no repeats.
The cherry blossoms, though, should last a few more days.
Volume 2, Number 13
February 9, 2004
Jean Battey Lewis
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
site is the online supplement to DanceView,
a quarterly review of dance published since 1979.
is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good
read. Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe