Kathy Foley, Ph.D.
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The month of July marks the observance of Okinawan Obon, when ties to deceased loved ones are renewed through music and dance. Memories from a 1976 visit by several of Okinawa’s top artistic and cultural masters will be recalled with gratitude and fondness on Sunday, July 30, as the Okinawan dance studio Jimpu Kai USA Kin Ryosho Ryukyu Geino Kenkyusho Hawaii Shibu presents “Du usami: The Journey,” a voyage into the heart of Okinawa’s artistic traditions at the University of Hawai‘i’s Kennedy Theatre. The performance is part of the UH’s Asia Pacific Dance Festival.
Jimpu Kai USA, led by artistic director Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone-Sensei, will stage the kumi udui play, “Shushin Kani’iri,” (“Possessed by Love, Thwarted by the Bell”) a classical dance-drama from the days of the Ryükyü Kingdom. The group is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its establishment.
The classical dance-drama was created by Tamagusuku Chokun (1684-1734). Okinawa was the Kingdom of the Ryükyüs when it was performed for the first time in 1719 in the Shuri court to entertain Chinese ambassadors during investiture ceremonies for King Shö Kei.
While many attending the performance will savor the refined music and dance, some of us will be remembering when we danced or translated these gestures or played the music in the University of Hawai‘i’s Japan Studies Institute Program in 1976. We will be seeing Nakasone-Sensei’s dancers as new links in a chain stretching back to Tamagusuku Chokun, whose art was taught in Hawai‘i by Kin Ryosho-Sensei (1908-1993), a 20th century master artist during that 1976 UH project. Kin-Sensei spent two and a half months working with us in Hawai‘i.
Although, politically, Okinawa had been part of Japan since 1972 — as it was from annexation in 1879 until the end of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa — our study of its song, drumming, movement and music allowed us to understand the distinctive legacy of this independent kingdom. For centuries, the Ryükyü Kingdom had struck a delicate balance between Japan and China, taking selectively from each and making everything its own.
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