Kabuki 歌舞伎 is a traditional Japanese dance/theater performance art, enjoyed as an avante-garde (even as it was developed) form which developed gradually over various political scenarios into its present form.
Originally performed by both women and men, it soon began to be primarily performed by young men with physical beauty as well as women. In the middle 1600s, the shogun of Japan banned Kabuki because of riots due to the audience members fighting over beautiful men and women (there was no strong heterosexist exclusionary division of imagination at this time in history, much like the ancient Greek and much of the old Ottoman, Roman and Hasburg civilizations, as an example).
Soon women were banned from performing and cross-dressing male actors, raised from a very young age, became the primary performers of Kabuki. The style is highly stylized, bizarre, and nuanced. Many of the story-lines came from Noh theatre, Puppet-performance called Noh, as well as traditional kabuki-intended storylines. Famous poems of their times, song styles from popular and elite forms, and the various instruments from the different art-dance genres, sometimes began to crossover, depending on what the Kabuki performers and productionists wanted to project to the audience.
Kabuki art forms are meant to evoke from the audience, an emotional participation. Some call-outs by audience members during performances are common at certain quieter performances. Kabuki actors want concentration on the forms, gestures and every nuance of movement, and also be transported to another world, as opposed to remaining ‘audience’ members. In this way, much of Japanese kabuki performance, similar to Noh theater, is not a mere ‘watching’ but a participation through sensitivity to movement as much as the story-lines.
Kabuki performance was briefly banned by the US and Allied Occupying forces after WWII, but it was reinstated in 1947. This, coupled with the devastation of Japan after the war and its concentration on re-building, as well as many Japanese institutions and people rejecting many of their old ways, intensified the downslide of kabuki popularity. However, helped by booming interest in kabuki by European, Australian/NewZealand, and American fans, kabuki did not completely die out and has remained an important cultural genre. The best performers are revered and maintained as cultural icons, even if only a handful.
Wikipedia has an excellent overview of this art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabuki
I have inserted two videos out of the complete 3 in the series to one of the handful of great living modern performers of Kabuki- Tamasaburō Bandō 坂東 玉三郎. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandō_Tamasaburō_V – followed by a short clip from an interview with him.
The videos are narrated quite wonderfully by Peter Griffith and are from an excellent series of DVDs of Tamasaburo’s performances. On the DVDs, the narration can be turned off if you want to just become engrossed in the performance. For understanding what is happening in the pieces, the narration is quite helpful. These other traditional Japanese arts DVDs and other materials can be found at:
Marty Grosse productions: http://www.martygrossfilms.com/index.html
Farside Music: http://www.farsidemusic.com/
After watching, we could, then, discuss what Judith Butler has talked about in relation to coercive gender, sexual orientation, performance, and their relationship with ‘reality’ as far as freedom, art, expression, cultural difference, pleasure and life.