Dance title Ninin Wankyű  In Japanese
Author Nishikiya Kinz˘ I (music)

The Nagauta-based dance "Sono Omokage Ninin Wankyű", commonly called "Ninin Wankyű", was staged for the first time in the 5th lunar month of 1774 at the Ichimuraza, starring Ichimura Uzaemon IX and Segawa Tomisabur˘ I in the roles of Wankyű and the courtesan Matsuyama. This dance commemorated the 12th anniversary (13th memorial service) of the death of Ichimura Uzaemon VIII. A dance based on the same thema was staged in the 11th lunar month of 1734, starring Ichimura Takenoj˘ IV and Segawa Kikunoj˘ I in the roles of Wankyű and the courtesan Matsuyama.

Key words Ky˘ran

The theatre goes from its usual half-light to pitch, with only the hanamichi lit like an airstrip. The musicians are stage right in eerie soft lighting. The shamisen begins to strum wildly and drums pound in a musical interlude to set the scene, which in kabuki is everything. After a minute of what seem interminable solos, the curtain at the entrance of the hanamichi opens with a whoosh! and Wankyű scurries down the runway, a kerchief over his long black locks and a woman's kimono draped over one shoulder, two signs in kabuki language that the character is off-kilter. He stops short, weeping, looking for his lover, caressing her robe, the only vestige of pleasures past. He mimes being scolded by his parents and, unrepentant, he relives his life in the pleasure dome in a sensuous dance. He glides center stage and settles into a nap under a tree. As he wakes, Matsuyama appears through a trap door in the floor upstage. She is the quintessential grand courtesan: gilded robes, small red pout and ornate hairstyle with tortoiseshell pins arranged in spidery spokes. Waking, Wankyű is overjoyed by the vision before him. They dance together, first in a slow, Noh-speed eroticism, and work up to a swirling, joyous celebration of love and hope. Using a mere fan as a prop, they revisit childhood, write love letters, praise the virtues of a good massage. The music intensifies into an improvisational drone that heightens the madness of Wankyű's delusions. The timing of the dancers and musicians is masterful; intricate drum beats and foot stomps collide in unison. Of course, the illusion must end. Matsuyama vanishes through the floor in a shower of blossoms, and Wankyű is left to wake from the dream alone, fevered. A temple bell signals the dawn, and Wankyu is shattered in a brief moment of recollection. He weeps, looking out to find his lover, and collapses to the floor with her kimono.

Text written by Janet Pocorobba, courtesy of Metropolis [complete article]


The great Onoe Kikugor˘ VI created a 1-actor version of "Ninin Wankyű", performing both Wankyű and Matsuyama. This dance is entitled "Maboroshi Wankyű" ("Wankyű's illusion").

Nakamura Shikan IV portraying both Wankyű and the courtesan Matsuyama in prints made by Utagawa Kunimasa IV

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