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Saeko Ichinohe Recreates Her Masterwork

by Marian Horosko
November 23, 2008
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
405 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000
Saeko (Sa ko) Ichi (Itchy) Nohe (No heh) has created her masterwork with her latest reconstruction of "The Tale of Genji," in her latest version as seen on November 22 and 23 at The Ailey Citigroup Theater at the Joan Weill Center for Dance on 55th Street. The work and research for this 1000th anniversary of the novel "The Tale of Genji," has been monumental. Ichinohe has translated it through dance into a vibrant stage work incorporating modern dance, Japanese gestures and the aesthetic ideal in Japanese literature inspired by profound feeling of sentiment and sadness.

It's a tall order. Yet Ichinohe, a Japanese-born Juilliard graduate mentored by Antony Tudor, has had more than 30 years of choreographing a range of original and restaged subjects behind her to reach "The Tale" with boldness, instinct and solid modern dance tradition. She herself, in the small, heart-breaking role of Lady Rokujo, was and is always a strong presence onstage.

Modern dance has benefited greatly from Japanese movements…the raised large-toe walk fascinated, Lincoln Kirstein, the mentor of ballet in America. Martha Graham incorporated this slow, sliding walk into her technique. In the twenties, the Denishawn group toured worldwide, including the vaudeville circuit throughout America, and incorporated "orientalia" into their stagings. Ruth St. Denis' fame was based upon her being an East Indian nautch dancer! The dancers in the Denishawn Company and its productions were the fertile ground where modern dance was nourished by its rebellious creators: Graham, Humphrey, Holm and Weidman. But the Denishawn group used the exoticism of Asian dance as entertainment rather than incorporating its genuine technique and aesthetic.

Not so, Ichinohe, who is a profound interpreter of Eastern dance combining contemporary Western modern dance as a vehicle. No less important is the training she gave her talented cast for this production: Jeff Moen as Prince Genji, Shiho Miyazawa as Lady Aoi, Satoshi Takao, Heather Currie (from Fort Wayne, Indiana), Ari Someya, Lindy Schmedt from the University of Oklahoma and Yukie Okuyama, dancer and costume designer. The colors of the wardrobe were dazzling and used inventively: long trains intertwined to symbolize the liaison of newlyweds; long sleeves opening into curtains to conceal costume changes.

Beginning with a video introducing the history and culture of the Heian era and its artistic influence on world culture, Ichinohe proceeds to chapter 1 to 13 of the saga in seven scenes accompanied with traditional music (Gagaku) and American and Japanese contemporary additions. The dancers wear their costumes with tremendous impact indicating their societal importance in slow, serene, majestic movements or tempestuous or painful emotions.
Brava Saeko, you lead the bridge between Asian and Western modern dance culture.

The company on tour can be found on www.ichinohedance.org.
Saeko Ichinohe as Lady Rokujo in 'The Tale of Genji'

Saeko Ichinohe as Lady Rokujo in "The Tale of Genji"

Photo © & courtesy of Nan Melville


Saeko Ichinohe as Lady Rokujo in 'The Tale of Genji'

Saeko Ichinohe as Lady Rokujo in "The Tale of Genji"

Photo © & courtesy of Nan Melville

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