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Friday, Aug. 21, 2009

Be a fool and dance Bon-odori

Special to The Japan Times

If you spend your life stuck in one of Japan's concrete jungles, you may have never seen a Bon-odori (Bon-dance) performed at the summer Bon festivals held all over the country in towns and villages, where people dance in a circle or in line, making the same moves together to traditional Japanese music.

News photo
All together now: Members of the Condors contemporary-dance troupe lead a free public "New Bon-odori" — as they will on Sunday in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. TSUKASA AOKI PHOTO

Bon festivals, held in July or August to commemorate the souls of dead ancestors, vary from place to place, but almost always feature local people, often in colorful summer kimono, gathering together to perform these bonding, synchronized dances.

Each district has its own style of Bon-odori. For instance, in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku, where it's known as Awa-odori, people dance till dawn for few days while chanting such words of wisdom as, "You're a fool if you dance, and a fool if you just look on. If you're going to be a fool anyway, you might as well dance!"

In the melting pot of Tokyo, however, where local customs tend to be forgotten, there are very few opportunities to enjoy seeing — or to take part in — a Bon-odori.

With that in mind, Ryohei Kondo — leader of the acclaimed contemporary- dance troupe Condors — has this year decided to put his best foot forward for the rootless Tokyo masses by organizing a "New Bon-odori" in the West Gate Park at Ikebukuro this weekend.

Himself a resident of Ikebukuro, Kondo said he simply decided it was high time to stage a fun-filled summer matsuri (festival) in his hometown, which ranks high among the city's most cosmopolitan districts. To do so, in collaboration with Toshima Ward's Owl Spot public theater, he has choreographed a special new Bon-odori for the occasion.

The festival is free and open to all and everyone is encouraged to join in the dances — so what's stopping you from going along to join in the fun and enjoy playing the fool for once?

Meanwhile, Kondo will collaborate with kyogen (traditional Japanese theater) actor Manzo Nomura in September at Owl Spot, where they will perform the famous kyogen dance program "Sanbaso," each in their own style, accompanied by gagaku (traditional ceremonial music).

"New Bon-odori" will be held on Aug. 23, from 17:30, at Ikebukuro West Gate Park. "Sanbaso" will run Sept. 8 and 9 at Owl Spot, a 3-min. walk from Higashi Ikebukuro Station on the Yurakucho Line. For more details of both programs, call Owl Spot on (03) 5391-0751, or visit www.owlspot.jp

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