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I found these photographs by Emil Otto Hoppé of the very famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova performing Japanese Solo at her home Ivy House in 1923  (today the London Jewish Cultural Center). I learned that Pavlova and her company studied with Kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro in Tokyo in 1922. Matsumoto also taught Ruth St Denis, Ted Shawn, and Xenia Zarina. Matsumoto Koshiro was very impressed by Pavlova’s ballet. He said: ‘It (Russian dance) is the best in the world. I have seen lessons too. They are extremely rigorous.’ (Tokyo Asahi Shinbun 1922) Jiji Shinpô states: ‘I was impressed by her supernatural form and movement. Her clearly expressed impressive form, the movement of the feet as if flying over clouds, the movement of the hands and the entire body – – what a perfect art!  I was filled with a feeling of true enchantment… She must be a genious to begin with, but her art must be a result of constant practice, pain and effort.’  However, in the same paper  Takashi Hijikata says: ‘I thought her ballet is really a product of the past. There is nothing much that appeals to us in her dance’, and Yûji Kodera states that ‘the point of this piece is to show the technique itself, and probably interesting to foreigners but not so much to the Japanese. To be honest, I feel they have not evolved since the age of the classical Greek culture.’ (Kokumin Shinbun)

Pavlova’s holding of the fan and her postures shows that she is new to the technique. She bends her neck a bit too much, like I often do. She has what I call a ‘body of accents’, but I’d rather explain that there is no pure language, and that everything is mixed with everything. Accents are welcome. To contradict myself, I of course would tell the difference when someone has had ten years of ballet/contemporary dance/Japanese dance practice than one month. Still, ‘a body of accents’ means also a body that holds kowledge from various practices through space and time. The photos might show Pavlova´s attempt to remember some of her lessons in Tokyo. Matsumoto must have taught her both traditional Nihon Buyo (feminine style), and some odori, hence the different expressions.  Since the images were taken at home, she might just be posing for the camera in a kimono given to her during her tour in Japan in 1922. However, she did perform a Japanese dance in Covent Garden in 1923 to raise funds for a flood in Japan, part of the programme Oriental Impression.

The American Xenia Zarina was able to become a student through Japanese Cultural Relations Society. She also studied with the Kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro (Fujima school). I would like to add an important point, related to the fact that I am a ‘foreign practitioner’ myself studying Japanese performing arts with Japanese masters. First of all, you cannot just go to Japan and pick up a master who will teach you Nihon Buyo. You need to establish a contact with someone who will decide if you could be recommended to a teacher or not. Many teachers hold informal one-on-one auditions to see if you can work together. It is not easy to shift from school to school.

Finding Matsumoto’s 1922 praise of Anna Pavlova’s dance shows that he was equally interested in the cultural exchange of dance practices as she was. Xenia Zarina wrote from her 1930ies experience: ‘Japan is the ”Land of Dance” par excellence. Nowhere else in the world can one see so much and such high-quality dancing.’
I keep wondering when my colleagues will start to go to Kyoto to study Buyo, No, and Buto instead of going to NYC to study ballet and contemporary dance?

References:
Classic Dances of the Orient by Xenia Zarina, 1967 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-17486, 1967
Nihon Buyō: Classical dance of modern Japan, PhD thesis, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Yamazaki Kazuko, 2001

 

 

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