Japan’s ‘Prince of Kabuki’ Ebizo Ichikawa XI has returned and will be performing two new plays over two days in Singapore. If you’re into Japanese culture, this is one thing you cannot miss.


Who is Ebizo Ichikawa?

Born in 1977, Tokyo, into one of Japan’s oldest kabuki families, Ebizo made his professional stage debut when he was only six years old. Just two years later, he received his first stage name, Shinnosuke VII. In 2004, he was granted the name Ebizo Ichikawa at a grand shūmei (襲名, naming ceremony) at the Theatre National de Chailot, Paris.

On growing up in a kabuki family he says, “There definitely was pressure, but I have worked hard and made the best use of my given environment. Kabuki is a part of my daily routine, it didn’t really occur to me that it wasn’t a part of my life until now.”

Ebizo is a talented, charismatic performer who has been focused on making kabuki more accessible to the younger generation and it shows in his work. He constantly breathes new life into the traditional art form. ABKAI, his self-produced series that transformed traditional Japanese folktales into kabuki performances, has been a hit with younger audiences all over Japan.

He explains tackling modernising kabuki as a form of evolving the art, “Kabuki itself has always been a production of tradition storytelling. Instead of saying modernising to the work, I believe the works were interpreted differently through the years so therefore evolved and reaching to where we are at, which is important to have everyone be able to share our intention in the same way.”

He has performed extensively in Europe, including major cultural centres like London, Paris and Rome. In 2006, he was nominated for a Laurence Olivier award and in 2007, he received the French Art Culture Medal. 2015 marks his second visit to Singapore with Japan Theatre.


The Shows

Ebizo will be performing two new pieces that have no been seen on stage in 100 years.

The first piece is Uwanari (嫐), from the famed kabuki jūhachiban (歌舞伎十八番) – a set of eighteen kabuki plays that epitomises the Ichikawa family’s acting style. First performed in 1699 by Danjuro Ichikawa I, the play has fallen out of the standard repertoire for most kabuki troupes and will be revived at The Grand Theatre at the Marina Bay Sands.

Uwanari (嫐) means “second wife” and “jealousy”, which aptly summarizes the torrid tale of jealousy, hate, and love. In the play,  a man divorces his wife and marries another woman. But while the newlyweds enjoy marital bliss, the jilted wife fumes, and plots her revenge on her them. Think dark schemes passionate drama.

Explaining his choice to revive this play in Singapore, Ebizo says, “The topic about jealousy between men and women has existed through ancient times and even now. Using this universality, is what entertainment/art is truly amazing about. Through the play, I want to send the same message that previous actors from the past had and illustrate the idea  of ‘jealousy’ that the world can relate to.”

The next piece to see its debut in Singapore is Mimasu Kuruwa no Kasauri (三升曲輪傘売). Set in Edo (the old name for Tokyo), the performance is revolves around an umbrella seller in the Yoshiwara district. With his fine wares and irresistible charisma, the umbrella seller charms passers-by into buying his umbrellas, and conducts a brisk business until he’s beset by ruffians who want a piece of his profits and that’s where the story takes a surprising twist.

On his second role he says, “I will be appearing as an umbrella seller in front of the audience, but the real deal about this character is that he is a renowned burglar called Ishikawa Goemon. As an umbrella seller, I will be presenting a lot of stunts that I have practiced and look forward to the costumes, setting, etc. that have been made especially for the play.”

5 things you need to know about Kabuki

1. Kabuki means music, dance and skill

Ebizo Ichikawa XI, Kabuki, Sadler's Wells Theatre, London - 11 June 2010
Ebizo Ichikawa XI, Kabuki, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London – 11 June 2010” by GanMed64 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When broken down, kabuki (歌舞伎) refers to music (歌, ka), dance (歌, bu) and skill (伎, ki). It is an ancient form of Japanese theatre dating back to 17th century Japan. The last character is often translated as ‘skill’ but is more often used to refer to the actor who is in the play.

2. Three important elements of kabuki

Photo by Jun K is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The first is mie (見得), in which the actor strikes a picturesque pose to establish his character. At this point (the second element) his house name (屋号, yagō ) is sometimes heard in loud shout (掛け声, kakegoe), the third element. The shout serves to express and enhance the audience’s appreciation of the actor’s achievement. To pay an even greater compliment, try shouting the name of the actor’s father.

3. Characters are colour coded

The Ichikawa line is famous for creating and developing the iconic kabuki style of make up called kumadori (隈取). Ebizo explains that the make up changes with each role and takes about 30 minutes to apply.

“Kabuki makeup, on top of the white base for the face and body, red and black colour are used to represent muscles and blood vessels as a symbol of strength. Red is for righteous, blue for villains, brown for monsters. This is Kumadori, a kabuki makeup method.”

4. There are three main kinds of Kabuki

The three main categories of kabuki play are jidai-mono (時代物, historical, or pre-Sengoku period stories), sewa-mono (世話物, domestic, or post-Sengoku stories) and shosagoto (所作事, dance pieces). Jidai-mono are set within major Japanese historial events while sewa-mono often features dramatic double suicides.

5. Elaborate stage design

Kanamaru-za” by Yoshikazu TAKADA is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kabuki stages have elaborate feautres that help create dramatic transformation or revelation scenes. They often have a long walkway that extends into the called a hanamichi (花道; literally a flower path); a revolving stage (回り舞台, mawari-butai), stage traps (seri, せり) and chūnori (空のり), the act of wire flying.

Ebizo Ichikawa XI's Japan Theatre 2015 
 (Click to buy tickets)

 $89, $115, $145, and $185, $350 (VIP).

 17 October 2015 – Saturday 3pm & 7:30pm
 18 October 2015 – Sunday 3pm

Stand a chance to win a pair of tickets (worth $145)!

Just comment below or on our Facebook page post and tell us the names of the two plays Ebizo will be performing in Singapore. Contest ends 25 Sep ’15.

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