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Japanese form of dance theatre dating back to the 16th century. Kabuki means song, dance, and acting, although the term originally meant shocking or strange, in reference to the form's unusual style. It originated in performances given by O-Kuni, a dancer and lay priestess from the Izmumo region who created a fusion of prayer dance, folk dance, comic mime, and erotic dance for herself and her all-female troupe. Her shows were very popular in Kyoto and evolved into dance dramas whose vernacular style contrasted with the refined and aristocratic noh theatre. Part of their popularity derived from their overtly erotic content however and this eventually led to a ban on women appearing in kabuki performances (from 1629) and on boys (from 1652). Adult male dancers thus took over the kabuki style, creating the profession of female impersonator or onnagata. This became an honoured calling for which boys, often from kabuki dynasties, would be trained from childhood. Kabuki evolved through four basic stages, the first theatrical stage that took its inspiration from historical sagas, the second that focused more on pure dance content, the third that drew its stories from folk material, and the fourth that aimed for more contemporary narratives. In its classic form kabuki became an integrated mix of dance, gesture, music, costume, make-up, and dramatic stage effects. Performances are long by Western standards and slow moving, but are rich in imagery and emotion. Two famous works are Chushingura (The Forty-Seven Loyal Samurai), a historical tale of honour and revenge, and Sumidagawa (The Sumida River), the story of a mad woman's search for her lost son. Kabuki dance troupes (as distinct from kabuki theatre troupes) also now give independent performances, with both male and female artists taking part. The form remains popular in Japan, especially with the stage and film star Ichikawa Ebizo gaining cult status among the young, and it enjoys a loyal international following.

Subjects: Performing artsTheatre

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