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Dance groups helping build bridges with China

By Joji Uramatsu, Mainichi Shimbun, Sunday 12 September 1999

This fall, Japanese and Chinese performers, who've been trained in Japan, will stage musicals in China commemorating the 20th anniversary of a bilateral cultural exchange agreement.

The nation's two largest-scale dramatic companies, Gekidan Shiki and Takurazuka female troupe, will send their performers to two cultural epicenters in China.

It will mark the first appearance of the Takurazuka troupe in China since the end of World War II.

Since August, Gekidan Shiki has been preparing from its rehearsal studio in Yokohama for a performance of Beauty and the Beast it will give in Beijing next month.

Along with the Japanese performers, some 30 or more Chinese have been training day in and day out with the troupe.

Gekidan Shiki held auditions throughout China, choosing the most talented of men and women performers ranging from in age from 16 to 24.

The director, Isamu Furusawa cues the performers and they all rise to dance.

Their lines and lyrics are spoken in Chinese using an interpreter to explain some of the more difficult directions Furusawa must make.

Gekidan Shiki and Takurazuka both have contributed to cultural exchange in China in the past.

Gekidan Shiki has been staging performances in China and inviting Chinese dance companies to Japan since 1988.

Since musicals are relatively new to China however, most of the performers training with Gekidan Shiki, have little or no experience, only having performed in traditional Chinese-style operas.

Most of the performers express surprise at the strict training, but are still enthusiastic.

At first I was surprised because the practices were so tough, but now I enjoy them a lot, said Zhu Minya, 21, who plays the village daughter in the play, as she hurried back to rehearsal.

The troupe of Chinese will perform for three months in Beijing from the end of October, a total of 60 performances.

Sony, which set up a local business in the Chinese cultural industry in 1996, will help finance the performances, it says.

Takurazuka, which heralds an 85-year history, performed three times in China during World War II.

Ten years ago, there were plans to hold a performance there but it never happened, says Takurazuka.

Ten years ago, women still weren't welcomed to kick their legs while dancing in China. And this time, we had trouble deciding how to divide the expenses. But I feel that Takurazuka with its bright image fits into the Chinese traditional drama well and will be well received, said a Takurazuka spokesperson.

They will perform in Beijing and Shanghai from late October to early November.