(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in Japan Times, 3/12.)

For many people, the mention of kabuki brings to mind images of exaggerated makeup on actors’ white-painted faces, beautiful kimono costumes and colorful sets with dramatic backdrops.

Then there are the distinctive standardized movements; classic poses (mie) expressing certain emotions; the precisely choreographed fights and swordplay (tachimawari); and styles of acting (kata), which are passed down through the generations of each family of performers.

In contrast, few people have likely heard of the Kinoshita-Kabuki company founded in 2006 in Kyoto, birthplace of the traditional performing art some four centuries ago.

Now attracting an ever-growing audience, the troupe adheres to almost none of kabuki’s myriad styles and rules — least of all the insistence on male actors playing the female roles.

Yet, despite its plays being staged by contemporary theater directors, often with simple sets and actors in modern clothes, Kinoshita-Kabuki’s works are invariably faithful to the essence of the dance-dramas and their stories. That same DNA remains, even amid high-tech lighting, sound and visuals — and modern jargon that helps to address current issues for today’s audiences.

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