Women Break Barriers in Formerly Male-Only Japanese Art

By Kristi Alexandra

Just in time for Halloween, Kayoi Komachi/ Komachi Visited delivers a ghost story. But the most surprising part of the performance might not be the presence of a spirit – it’s the presence of women in a traditionally male-acted art form.

The woman behind the groundbreaking diversion from tradition is TomoeArts’s Artistic Director Colleen Lanki. She’s bringing the centuries-old Japanese art form of noh and fusing it with western chamber opera in Kayoi Komachi/ Komachi Visited, performed at The Cultch starting today (October 26) through to Saturday.

“Bringing Noh and Opera together has been challenging,” Lanki tells Loose Lips, explaining that “Noh is a fully immersive art form” that includes costume, singing, and dance to illustrate tales of near-mythical proportion.

“At the edge of the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Vancouver has long enjoyed cross-cultural collaborations with Japan, from which have transpired remarkable artistic ventures,” she says. “Noh is one of Japan’s greatest traditional performing arts, and is constantly evolving with each generation. In Kayoi Komachi/Komachi, we are pushing the boundaries of noh, while taking Western opera far beyond its familiar context as we interweave the two genres.”

Kayoi Komachi’s particular story originates in 825-900 CE.  Komachi, played by soprano Heather Pawsey, is a ghost haunted by the embittered spirit of Fukakusa-no-Shōshō (Japan’s Yamai Tsunao), a man she is said to have rejected in life.

Lanki’s version is a departure from the ethereal to a modern, earthly setting, as the story delves into the complex intimacy between lovers. Tsunao and Pawsey will delicately dance between the spirit realm and human tangibility; the masculine and feminine; the east and west, as the audience watches on in this re-imagined tale of two lovers’ anguish and, ultimately, enlightenment.

What was that about the ghosts of lovers past?

Catch Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited at the Cultch from tonight at 8 p.m. to Saturday (October 26 to 28). Find tickets here.

Kristi Alexandra is an unabashed wino and wannabe musician. Her talents include drinking an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon, singing in the bathtub, and falling asleep.