As part of its Fall 2012/Spring 2013 Performing Arts Season, Japan Society proudly presents Kuromori Kagura, offering audiences an exclusive opportunity to experience the unique folk dance and music tradition from Tohoku, a culturally rich area in northeastern Japan that was deeply impacted by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. This extraordinary traditional program lands in New York as part of a four-city tour produced and organized by Japan Society, followed by stops in Middletown, CT (Wesleyan University); Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia Museum of Art); and Baltimore, MD (Towson University). Kuromori Kagura plays two nights only at Japan Society (333 East 47th Street): tonight, October 27 at 7:30pm and Sunday, October 28 at 5:30pm.
Kuromori Kagura, a centuries-old folk dance and music tradition, now designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Folk Asset by the Japanese government, is performed by artists hailing from towns devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. This group will share a selection of dances from its vast repertoire which includes furious jumps, brisk turns and whimsical moves accompanied by percussion and fue (Japanese flute), performed wearing elaborate masks and colorful costumes.
Featuring eleven performers, the time-honored pieces to be performed at Japan Society include: Uchinarashi music piece (an overture which begins the kagura ritual, summoning the gods, and includes fue, percussion and singing), Sakakiba (a brisk dance bringing forth the blessings of the gods), Ebisumai (prayer for prosperous fishing and safety at sea) and Matsumukae (celebration for the New Year and a prayer for world peace).
Kagura is a traditional folk performing art form that incorporates dance and music and represents a demonstration of appreciation to the gods of Shintoism. The specific practice of Kuromori Kagura, which can be traced back more than 300 years, honors the divine spirit of the Kuromori Shrine, located in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture. Once practiced by yamabushi, or mountain priests, today Kuromori Kagura is preserved and practiced in Miyako City by local individuals from the community who are referred to as kagura-shu, literally “kagura people.” The kagura-shu members are farmers, fishermen, and civil servants, among other occupations, who have trained in the art form from a very early age. Each year following the New Year, the kagura-shu embark on a tour of the Tohoku coastal area. On these tours, the kagura-shu offer good wishes and blessings to locals in each village they visit, through dance, music, and other rituals.
Looking toward the upcoming presentation, Japan Society Artistic Director Yoko Shioya comments, “The tradition of Kuromori Kagura is very special, as the group’s annual touring practice along Japan’s northern coastal region has survived to the present day primarily through the support and encouragement of local innkeepers and business owners along their touring routes. Following the destruction caused by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, many of these supporters were forced to close down their businesses, for a time endangering the future of this centuries-old practice. By organizing a U.S. tour of Kuromori Kagura, we hope to play a small part in the preservation of this exceptional tradition and also, to share with a wider audience the true artistry in this practice.”