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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 25, 2004

Classic-Japanese pageantry

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Onoe Kikunobu, left, and Onoe Kikushiro, from Japan, will take part in the recitals this weekend at the Kennedy Theatre, UH-Manoa, and Thursday on Maui.

Onoe Kikunobu Dance Company

7:30 p.m. today and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

$25 general, $20 military, seniors, students, UH faculty and staff; $10 UH students; at the box office, 944-2697, or at etickethawaii.com

Also: On Maui at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center; $10, $20, $25. (808)


A centuries-old tradition — Nihon buyo, or classical Japanese dance — will be celebrated when the Onoe Kikunobu Dance Company marks its 45th anniversary with a series of performances, starting this weekend in Honolulu and next week on Maui.

"Because of the expenses involved, with costumes from Japan, it takes three to four years to put on a concert," said Howard Asao, assistant to 74-year-old company founder Onoe Kikunobu (real name, Gertrude Tsutsumi). "I started with the company in 1964, right after her first recital, and I've been connected ever since."

This year's recital is the company's 13th.

Asao, a retired Japanese-language teacher at Farrington High School, said he was hooked for life after he took in his first recital, fresh out of high school.

"My two younger sisters were taking dance lessons, and I wasn't interested at that time," he said. "Then I saw two shows — Onoe Kikunobu's first dance concert at McKinley High School, and a kabuki performance at the (Blaisdell) Concert Hall (which was the Honolulu International Center Concert Hall at the time) — and that changed my life.

He was intrigued by and lured into the world of Nihon buyo, which, he said, required year-round commitment and dedication.

At 59, he remains active and involved, joyful that he is "able to share things I have learned, to broaden community interest in Japanese dance, and retain roots in music, folk tales and myths and Japanese language."

He is one of 14 members of the Onoe Kikunobu 'ohana participating in the programs; a contingent of guest artists from Japan and the Mainland also will participate in the major recital, ramping up the cast to about 24. The production will be a colorful spectrum of pomp and circumstance, Japanese style, with authentic, elaborate attire coupled with traditional makeup and wigs.

"The same elements live on today," said Asao. "But we have been doing collaborative things with Western influences, which open new avenues same elements."

In 1970, Asao received his formal dance name, Onoe Kikunobu Kazu, bestowed upon him by the company founder. "It's an honor ... eight have earned their names over the years," said Asao.

With Onoe Kikunobu, Asao recently participated in the University of Hawai'i kabuki production "Nozaki Village" while planning their own show. "We were burning candles at both ends," he said. Asao had an on-stage role and also played shamisen on the side.

"(A company performance) is a real catalyst for young people — especially when they see us doing something at Kennedy Theatre, or when they come to our recital," said Asao. Onoe Kikunobu continues to teach Japanese dance at the (UH) theater and dance department and continues to be involved in the education."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.