Ten years on from the reopening of the Kabuki-za in April 2013, the grandson of Living National Treasure Onoe Kikugorō is set to make his stage debut under the name of Onoe Maholo I next month. The ten-year old performer was born on 11 September 2012, just a few months before this theatre opened its doors, and is of dual heritage and nationality, being the son of Kikugorō’s daughter, the Japanese actress Terajima Shinobu, and the French creative director Laurent Ghnassia. He belongs very much to the era of “global kabuki” heralded in the commemorative programmes for the Kabuki-za’s opening performances, when the traditional drama anticipated an increase in its acclaim worldwide.
Maholo made his first stage appearance (hatsu omemie) under his real name of Terajima Maholo in May 2017, when he played Yokichi in the play Sakanaya Sо̄gorо̄, and has taken part in a succession of kabuki productions since then. The performance coming up in May will mark his first time performing on stage as a kabuki actor (hatsu butai) and the occasion when he takes on his initial stage name. Like the production in which he first trod the boards six years ago, next month’s performance is part of the “Dan-Kiku Festival,” which celebrates and honours the actors who created the era of modern kabuki after the Meiji Restoration of 1868: Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, and Onoe Kikugorō V, whose stage name Maholo’s grandfather (Onoe Kikugorō VII) has inherited.
At a press conference at the French Embassy in Tokyo on 7 February, Kikugorō announced his plan to have Maholo act both male and female roles for his stage debut, in the play Oto ni Kiku Makoto no Wakamusha. This highlights, on the one hand, kabuki’s onnagata tradition, in which a male artist performs femininity within a male-only theatre space,and, on the other, its reputation for spectacular productions in which significant characters unexpectedly reveal their true identity, enabling the actors to showcase the versatility of their skills in portraying multiple role types.
In the first half of Oto ni Kiku Makoto no Wakamusha, Maholo appears as a girl who dances prettily at a banquet to celebrate Ōtomo no Yakamochi becoming the national guard. Just after this, the villagers come to ask Yakamochi for help, because they are being attacked by a monstrous baboon. The girl volunteers to help – and surprises everyone by transforming into the hero Iwami Jūtarо̄, who travels round the country exterminating monstrous apes and serpents. So, in part two, Maholo goes on to perform as the young swordsman, fending off the baboon in a dynamic fight scene.
Kabuki has operated as a commercial venture since it emerged as entertainment for the artisan and merchant townspeople in the Edo period, and so has a long tradition of fostering links with sponsors and engaging them in aspects of the performance and overall theatre experience. In recognition of Maholo’s French heritage, the House of Chanel is supporting the creation of the iwai maku, a customised stage curtain for the occasion of his stage debut. It has been designed by French artist Xavier Veilhan, in collaboration with Aska Yamashita, Artistic Director of Montex, an embroidery atelier founded in 1939 and acquired by Chanel in 2011.
The performances take place at the Kabuki-za Theatre (4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo) from May 2nd, 2023 (Tue) – 27th (Sat), with a Matinee at 11:00 AM an Evening Show at 4:00 PM each day except Wednesdays 10th and 17th, when the theatre is closed.
Full performance details will be announced on the official Kabuki website as soon as they are decided.
Tickets will be on sale from April 14 from Shochiku Multilingual Online Ticket, which is a 24-hour service.
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