Sharing a sacred craft

SINGAPORE - A single spotlight cuts through the darkness at the Blackbox studio at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

The crowd of about 100 people fall silent. They wait in anticipation and an eerie tune pierces the silence.

The spotlight is on a Japanese woman in a kimono, moving slowly to the rhythm of the beat.

It is the opening of a Nihon Buyo performance, a traditional Japanese art form.

The 10 minute-long performance tells the tale of Inabune, a woman pining for her absent lover.

The performer moves slowly to the rhythm of the intoxicating music as she reminisces about the time she spent with her lover.

The female character is actually played by a male performer - master dancer Guraku Akifusa who was in town for the one-session only lecture and demonstration on Wednesday.

The 40-year-old started learning the trade from his mother at the age of five. She is also a master dancer.

Before the performance, Mr Akifusa shares about Japanese dance culture with the audience, and the meaning behind his performance. "Today, we bring the backstage to you," says Mr Akifusa in Japanese, with the help of a translator.

Mr Akifusa explains the different aspects of the performance, such as how to wear the kimono, and the meaning behind details like why a kimono sash is sometimes tied at the front and sometimes, at the back.

He also shares some of his make-up secrets.


"The make-up technique is very sacred as we don't want other performers to know of our techniques," says Mr Akifusa while powdering his face with white foundation.

The preparations for make-up and costume take about 45 minutes.

"Back in the day, the make-up was made of lead but the harmful material shortens the lifespan of performers," he says jokingly.

He also shares the history of performing arts in Japan, such as how there used to be only candles to light the stage and performers would paint their faces ghostly-white.

"I want to show Singaporeans Japanese culture and to move (impressions of Japan) away from the stereotype of being tech-savvy and foodies," says Mr Akifusa

This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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