Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka

Who and What is Takarazuka??

Yikes!  This really exists! (for full affect, do watch the videos.)

Part of what endears Japan to me is the seemingly never-ending discoveries to be made at both ends of the spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous.  A few days ago we travelled out of Kyoto to attend a performance of The Takarazuka Revue. I’d known about Takarazuka for years, but this year I got reservations as soon as we got to Japan.  It didn’t disappoint.

from NY Times, July 14, 2016

YOKOHAMA, Japan — On any given night outside a theater in central Tokyo, hundreds of women can be found waiting in neat phalanxes, dressed in matching T-shirts or sporting identical colored handkerchiefs — the uniform of what may be the most rabidly loyal fans in Japanese entertainment.

The stars they’re hoping to glimpse are women, too, actresses who play both male and female roles in the 102-year-old Takarazuka Revue, an enduringly successful theater company.

 

Founded in 1914 by a railway company that hoped to lure travelers to a struggling hot spring resort outside Osaka, the group began with a handful of teenage singers and dancers and staged its first performances in a converted swimming pool. A century later, Takarazuka operates five sub-troupes and puts on 900 shows a year, in company-owned theaters in Tokyo and its original western Japanese base. Most of the shows sell out.

Cross-dressing, single-gender theater groups have a long history in Japan.

Takarazuka could not be more Japanese. Training is rigorous and the troupes are strictly hierarchical, with designated “top stars” and ranks of junior performers. Rules are strict and extend beyond the stage: Members are not allowed to marry and often “retire” in their late 20s or early 30s. The most popular make the transition to mainstream acting or singing careers.

By putting women in male roles, Takarazuka is aiming less for transgression or social rebellion than for an added level of escapist fantasy. Its members’ duty, Ms. Mine said, is to be “fairies selling dreams,” onstage or off. “You can’t have the smell of a real life about you.”

Despite its Western trappings, Takarazuka draws on “ideas of purity that are very primitively Japanese,” Akio Miki, a veteran Takarazuka director, said. They show up in its productions and in the way the company — whose official motto is “modesty, fairness, grace” — regulates its performers’ private lives.

“It’s an idealized male image, seen through women’s eyes: The heroes are more romantic, more divine,” he said. “They don’t tend to lie or cheat. It’s what the audience would like from men but doesn’t usually get in reality

from Wikipedia:

Continue reading “Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka”

The Top of the Mountain

The universe turns a blind eye to the triumphs, losses, and vicissitudes of our individual daily lives.  After a resounding success or a horrific loss, I expect the world I see when my eyes open to somehow be altered.  It never is.  That can be a source of comfort but is also a source of mild bewilderment.  Last night’s brilliant performance brought many of us to the top of the mountain.

Esteban Moreno and NicoleVaughan-Diaz

Today I am savoring the resounding success of our 2017 DANCEworks residency. In my personal world and in the world of the artists who were with us for a month, I can say with certainty that the world is a better place today. It feels brighter, more loving and more optimistic.  I hope the pleasure and wonder the final performances of the residency generated for everyone in the audience will be present for them today too.

Nayhara Zeutrager and Esteban Moreno

I am still seeing images and hearing music.  The magnificence and passion of the dancers can serve as an inspiration to strive mightily in life to understand and utilize the gifts bestowed on each of us.  In this world that is not so user-friendly to the art of dance, these artists have remained dedicated. Their payback is great, if fleeting.  I can only hope it sustains them through the inevitable difficult times in their careers.  We shared a golden month together.  I am in a state of awe for what was achieved in four weeks time. Continue reading “The Top of the Mountain”

Thanks for the Work!

work:retirement

I was feeling close to retirement last year.  I got bogged down with some of the less-than-sexy-details of working within a non-profit organization. Occasionally, it has its challenges. I also got overly involved in thinking about my age.  My wise adult children refused to consider it.  “You’re not retiring!” one daughter angrily insisted.  “What, are you sick?  No! (answering her own question) What are you talking about?”

I’d been shaken strongly enough to realize the importance of keeping on.  Softening, I said, “We’ll see.”  I soon decided my daughters were right.  Hallelujah.

It’s interesting to note how we internalize expectations surrounding ageing.  Some things I had not anticipated, so never thought about (bursitis?dry eye?); while others regarding the “right” age to retire, were culturally imprinted, thought about frequently and not derived from a real need.

People occasionally tell me how much they admire the fact that I’m still working.  The truth is, it’s not like I’m descending into a coal mine every day or laying bricks.  Mostly, I sit calmly working at my computer.  No physical challenges there, except to get away from it periodically.  Psychologically, I still experience the same rush I always have when being in the presence of great dance.  It’s a high.  Why turn my back on that?  I also am the grateful recipient of gratitude from the dancers for providing them with an opportunity to do what they love and have trained for all their lives.  Having the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life is a powerful stimulant.

I’m making stimulating new relationships each year because of my involvement.   I’m forced to socialize more than I might do otherwise.  I know I’m better off because of it.

I could go on.  Let it suffice to say that I love the work I do.  I’m always thrilled when another DANCEworks season begins as it did this week.  The dancers arrive.  Their excitement and enthusiasm are contagious.  The Lobero Theater stage is lit and occupied daily by dancers and choreographers.  My people.  My life.

day 1

I’m privileged to be able to participate and watch them at work experiencing the sweat, toil and joy of creation and thankful that I’m still working.

 

Eating My Brown Sugar Fudge

Eating My(Brown Sugar)Fudge

“What is the matter with you?” asked my husband, as I handed him a Martha Stewart recipe for penuche (brown sugar fudge), trying to entice him to whip me up a batch in his spare time. Good tasting, rich and creamy penuche is impossible to find outside New England.  It was a childhood favorite of mine.  In a stroke of genius brought on by an intense craving for something sweet, I googled it and lo and behold, Martha had one that read as perfect.

When my kids were little, my husband would make them a delectable batch of chocolate fudge for Valentine’s Day.   True, it wasn’t Valentine’s Day, nor was it for my children, but given his fudge – making history and my yearning, it didn’t seem like a totally unreasonable request.

Danny’s  question caused me to reflect.  What is the matter with me?  I need a baking pan full of sugar in my kitchen like Obama needs Donald Trump offstage.trump

 

Suddenly, my craving made sense.  In classic Overeater’s Anonymous fashion, I was attempting to fill a now-vacant spot in my daily life.  It was the sweet spot in my afternoon that was provided  each time I dropped by the Lobero Theatre to watch Doug Elkins rehearse Mo(or)town Redux during his DANCEworks residency. No matter how intensely the dancers and the choreographer were working, they would  easily joke and laugh with each other between takes. Regardless of pressing issues in the outside world, the interior space of the theatre and of our minds and bodies were charged with positive energy, love of work, love of process, and the excitement of discovery.  The sweetness and lightness of this creative process were contagious and we each were touched by it.  Filled by it, as well.

doug-elkins
choreographer, Doug Elkins

Well, I guess we all know that finding a reason for a craving might be helpful, but won’t necessarily eliminate it.

Not yet able to dismiss my penuche fixation, but knowing it was in my best interests to do so, I distracted myself by wondering if there can be  a recipe for creativity?   Saying recipe in the same line as creativity is an obvious oxymoron. But could I  isolate some essential ingredients?  In no particular order of importance, here are a few qualities I’d observed in the theatre during Doug Elkins’ wonderful residency.

Talent, inspiration, dedication, technical prowess, vulnerability, receptivity, willingness to fail, respect, craftsmanship, resiliency, support, focus, and collaboration.  Nothing that can be measured, cooked or dispensed or eaten.  But , put together it produced an outcome that gave me a satisfaction and high that far outweighed any other I’d experienced.

I left the house for a few hours trying to put all thoughts of penuche and recipes out of my mind.   Much to my delight, when I returned, my husband had whipped up a delectable batch of penuche. It was even better than I remembered it from my New England days.  We gleefully scraped the mixing bowl together.

Once in a while, you can have your fudge and eat it too.  Happy holidays, everyone!  Whip it up.

evergreen

Martha Stewarts’ Penuche Fudge

INGREDIENTS

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 5 ounces (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces toasted walnuts, chopped (1 cup)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a 5-by-10-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Line with plastic wrap leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides.

  2. Bring evaporated milk, brown sugar, butter, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 236 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 25 minutes.

  3. Transfer to a mixer bowl, and beat in confectioners’ sugar on low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium, and beat until mixture is thickened and smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add vanilla and walnuts.

  4. Spread mixture in pan, smoothing top. Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm, about 25 minutes. Unmold fudge using plastic overhang, and discard plastic. Cut into 18 pieces.

COOK’S NOTES

Penuche will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.

Nowhere do you get That Happy Feeling

I’ve done this dance/theatre producer/presenter thing for almost 20 years now.   Year after year, I experience euphoria at the conclusion of the final performances of the residency.   It’s intense and can be contagious.  Unfortunately, euphoria is unsustainable, but the work created here has been born and will have a life.  That’s the big picture.  For right here and right now, we’ve embraced our shared humanity, celebrating the arts.  For a time, the generosity of the performers and the generosity of the audience has become one big love fest.

vim-vigor-selfie
Vim Vigor selfie at curtain call
eu·pho·ri·a
yo͞oˈfôrēə/
noun
  1. a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.
    “the euphoria of success will fuel your desire to continue training”
    synonyms: elation, happiness, joy, delight, glee; More

I’d prepared myself on Friday for a small house that evening as ticket sales had been slow. The theatre is a big one for a small city and we rarely fill it with our performances of contemporary dance. So, as a presenter, unless you’ve got a big headliner on tap, it’s hard to know what to expect in terms of ticket sales.  I’ve learned to tap down expectations as much as possible telling myself it’s not about the numbers.  Which is only partially true, but a convenient little white lie to repeat when you’re getting panicky about such things.  I need not have been concerned.  The dancers gave it their all and the ultimately large audience responded accordingly.

Saturday’s performance had an even larger crowd.  The performances, which began as  a concept in the mind of the choreographer a little over three short weeks ago, had taken shape and become a work of art. For me, the process is nothing short of miraculous.  But here’s what it took:  Hours and long days of rehearsals.  Hours of lighting cues. Determination. A supportive staff.  Grit. Talent. Stamina. Boundless energy.  Enthusiasm. Teamwork.  Vision.

I’m always slightly shocked when something I’ve anticipated for months, finally arrives and then is quickly over.  It’s life’s story, isn’t it?

But, it doesn’t really end.  Relationships have been born. I let go with the knowledge that the art will continue, inspiring some,  perhaps generating controversy, but always enriching our humanity.   This, I believe. I think it forms the basis of that happy feeling.

Vim Vigor dancers with Shannon Gillen