Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Swords, music, action!

The Japanese performance group O-Getsu-Ryu takes elements from ancient culture and creates a contemporary art form


Under the blazing sun at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on Monday, three men and one woman in beautifully-embroidered, warrior-like costumes swung their heavy iron swords and started a fierce battle on the greenish meadow. People started to gather, fascinated by the refined movements of their bodies and the sounds of their swords.

O-Getsu-Ryu (櫻月流) is a Japanese performance group that will take the art of tsurugi to the stage of the Sun Yet-sen Memorial Hall this weekend and for a tour around the country in the following week.

Translated as "Cherry Blossom and Moon Subculture," O-Getsu-Ryu is also the name of a new

category of performance art that combines music, dance, theater and tsurugi -- a Japanese sword fighting style.

Most of the 20 performers have received training in tsurugi -- translated in the Yamato dialect as "exhausting one's life in order to reach a heavenly state" -- for over 15 years.

The tsurugi/dance performance has no script. Instead, the audience is invited to follow the story through the body language of the performers, and the powerful Yamatian songs of Kamiya Mihoko, one of the practitioners of this ancient art form.

"Yamatian is an ancient language that no one can speak any more. I learned of the Yamatian voices from my grandmother. It is a way of singing to let yourself be part of the universe, a way of expression to open yourself up to the sky. I believe beautifully resonating voices can cross the language barrier and strike the audience's hearts without any media," Mihoko said.

Having studied ancient and medieval music and literature, the leading lady said they had spent 10 years trying to blend the movements of tsurugi with music before the establishment of O-Getsu-Ryu.

"Dance has rhythm. It's easy for any dance to go with the music. The rhythm of tsurugi comes from breathing. It's in between each inhale and exhale. The rhythm can also be heard and felt in the air stirred by the strokes of swords. It really took us a while to understand the basic elements of such performances," she said.

Sakuy tells of a Sakuya princess and a young samurai who battle against the god of darkness. In ancient times, darkness meant a world without sounds. In a world divided into dark and light, the Sakuya princess uses her celestial voice and songs to serve as a guardian of the sphere of light.

But the god of darkness kills the princess' grandfather, who is the master of the young samurai. The young man is seriously injured during the fight and the girl is also taken captive by the forces of evil. Darkness envelops the earth.

The samurai is determined to sacrifice his life to defeat the forces of evil, so he perfects himself in his studies of the martial arts taught by his master. Now the time has come for the young warrior to set out on the odyssey, to rescue the princess and save the spirits of samurai from the suppressing hands of the evil god.

Sakuya is the group's latest work and went on a tour of 29 cities in Europe last year. Echoing the aesthetic theme of previous productions, this piece attempts to deliver the spirituality of Bushido in Japanese culture. Sakuya's beauty lies in its

ephemeral nature. The moment petals fall onto the group represents the moment of the samurai's death. The fleeting beauty inspired by cherry blossoms inspires samurai to sacrifice themselves for justice and honor.

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