Preview: Kabuki Heroes On The Osaka Stage 1780-1830, British Museum, London

Alice Jones
Monday 29 August 2005 00:00
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Kabuki, a theatre-dance hybrid, originated in the 16th century and is performed by an all-male cast wearing elaborate costumes and make-up. Ganjiro represents the onnagata tradition, in which men play female roles and strike emotionally charged poses.

The exhibition focuses on the hype and cults which surrounded Kabuki actors. Professor Drew Gerstel, curator of the exhibition, has traced the rivalry between two 18-century performers, Rikan and Shikan. "They would have theatres next to each other, performing almost the same role and they'd have competitions.Playbills would come out saying who won. Afterwards people produced prints and poems as a way of saying who was better," says Gerstel.

This is not Ganjiro's first visit to London. In 2001 at Sadler's Wells, he garnered rapturous reviews for his tour de force performance as a 19-year-old female prostitute. At the time, he was 69 years old. Four years on, he is undertaking a greater challenge, changing from a male to a female character mid-way through his performance.

Such transformations are the product of a lifetime's training and it is unlikely that Ganjiro will hang up his kimono any time soon. In the past, it was not uncommon for Kabuki actors to draw their last breath while on stage.

To 11 September; dance performances 9 and 10 September (020-7323 8181; www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk)

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