Review by Shoko Yonaha
Translated from the July 1, 2015, Ryukyu Shimpo
Editor’s note: Last June, Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone-Sensei, shihan (master instructor) of Jimpu Kai USA, Kin Ryöshö Ryükyü Geinou Kenkyusho, honored the legacy of her late sensei, Kin Ryöshö, with a program of Ryükyüan classical dance and kumiwudui — or kumi odori — (classical Okinawan dance dramas) at the Kokuritsu Gekijö (National Theater Okinawa) in Naha City. Okinawa drama critic Shöko Yonaha reviewed the program, titled “Wind from Hawai‘i — Nänä I Ke Kumu,” for the Okinawan daily newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo. The review was translated into English recently by Nobuko Ochner, retired professor of Japanese literature at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. Although the dance concert was held many months ago, Yonaha’s review provides valuable insight into aspects of the performance that most audience members would likely overlook.
On June 12, 2015, at the National Theatre Okinawa, I saw the Okinawa performance by the Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone Ryükyüan performing arts school of Hawai‘i. The performance was titled “Wind from Hawai‘i — Nänä I Ke Kumu.” The first surprise for me was the difference in the use of hands from the style I am familiar with, such as that used by the Tamagusuku School, Miyagi School and Shin’yö School. The dances in Part One of the program, such as “Kajadifu,” “Zei,” a new number titled “Nkashi Habira Bushi” and “Ichihanari Bushi” — all featured different uses of hands, posturing and movement patterns. The singing and sanshin playing also had different nuances.
“Kajadifu” was performed by Hilo native Earl Masanobu Ikeda, who now
resides in New York. It was different from its opening njifa, or entry walk. His manner was not one of sliding feet, but rather like someone walking. His hand movement while holding a fan and the slight bending of the torso in tune with the music also differed from what I was used to seeing. Most of all, he did not have the posturing of thrusting the side of his torso into a turn. Then a surprising thought hit me: maybe this use of his hand was the traditional form danced by those who had performed in the last Ukwanshin (arrival of the envoys from China for the Ryükyü king’s enthronement) in the Year of the Tiger (1869), a tradition that dates back to the Ryükyü’s Kingdom era and was kept alive after the abolition of the Kingdom by the performers at the Nakamö, the first modern theatre built in the 1890s.
“Nkashi Habira Bushi,” a dance number that was created by Kin Ryöshö-Sensei and debuted for the first time in this performance, is longer than the dance “Shudun.” The hand movements and the style of fingers are different. Above all, there was no femininity, or coquettishness, which pervades classical women’s dances, making this dance seem clean and pure. The first pose of a classical women’s dance usually exudes an erotic atmosphere, but there was none of that here. Instead, the emotions of the woman as the focal person were displayed, which I found appealing.
Kin Ryöshö-Sensei received his training in kumi odori (classical Okinawan dance dramas) and classical dance directly from the performers who had starred in the Ukwanshin in the Year of the Tiger. His training is detailed in the book, “Ukwanshin Yawa (Evening Talks on Ukwanshin),” published by Wakanatsu-sha.
Kin Ryöshö’s father, Kin Ryöjin, founded the Afuso-ryü Gensei Kai sanshin school. The son upheld the performance tradition in the Shuri style through the tumultuous years, from the dawning of the modern era of the Ryükyüs to modern-day Okinawa. In 1930, father and son were invited to Hawai‘i to teach the Ryükyüan performing arts for a year. Their efforts, the seeds they sowed and fostered, surely developed into buds and bore fruit in the person and art of Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone, who studied directly under Kin Ryöshö-Sensei in Okinawa.
“Nänä I Ke Kumu” is a Hawaiian expression meaning “to turn one’s eyes to the source.” In the case of this performance, the expression carries three meanings: One is Yoshie-Sensei’s gratitude to her teacher, Kin Ryöshö. Another is her sense of gratitude to her ancestral homeland, and the third is a look back to the origin of the Ukwanshin performing arts. Half a century after the standardization of dance patterns, Ryükyüan performing arts may have entered an era of deconstruction, or at least we can say that the established concepts and styles are being re-examined. “The Wind from Hawai‘i” — the Hawai‘i Jimpukai — comprised of people whose mother tongue is English, was the harbinger of the Okinawan performing arts in the world.
In the Kennedy Theatre audience in 1976 for the kumi odori, “Shüshin Kani’iri,” which Kin Ryöshö directed and Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone and Earl Masanobu Ikeda and others performed, were Etsuko Higa, who chaired the steering committee for the performance in Okinawa, as well as Nobuko Ochner and Kathy Foley. They wrote an excellent article on kumi odori after the performance.
The Hawai‘i Jimpukai’s premier performance in Okinawa of “Hanauyi nu in (Bond of the Flower Seller),” created a unique space of its own. I hope that the Kin style (or, what some people refer to as “the Shuri style”) of kumi odori will be solidly transmitted to successive generations. According to Kishun Nishie, a national living treasure, who played the musical accompaniment for this performance, “the music in the Kin style of kumi odori has the characteristic of including even the chants or calls that other performance schools would omit.”
The group plans to perform next in New York — the next step toward “Okinawan performing arts in the world.” The wind is rustling.