This dance drama, first performed at T˘ky˘'s Kabukiza theater in February 1967 [casting], was written by Hagiwara Yukio and choreographed by the late Onoe Sh˘roku II. During the premiere, the lead character of Shűkei was performed by Sh˘roku, himself. Onoe Baik˘ portrayed the woman with the blue cloth and Ichimura Uzaemon was the d˘d˘ji, a priest of T˘daiji temple. With each performance, this drama's popularity increased to where it is now one of the most popular dramas in Kabuki. The author says that he was asked by Sh˘roku to make a drama featuring the religious austerities of T˘daiji temple. These austerities are called "O-mizu-tori" or "the scooping of sacred water." This purification ritual is held annually on March 12th in T˘daiji temple's Nigatsud˘ hall. The entire event, which is called "shunie" or "Kekaho" and includes "O-mizu-tori", offers laymen the opportunity to attend several rites including "Fire Brand", "Spreading Flower", and "Reading of the Death Register." (The death register contains the names of those who have served T˘daiji directly or as benefactors.) The final rite, from which this drama takes its name, is dattan-- the penance of fire. To develop this dance drama, the author, himself, participated in the ritual three times, continuing to perfect his idea with each occasion. On a fourth visit, joined in the confines of the tiny hall by Sh˘roku and members of the temple's staff, he was overwhelmed and had a deep, religious experience.
This history has been written by Watanabe Hisao and edited by Jeff Blair [website]
This dance-drama is made up of 4 scenes.
IntroductionIn T˘daiji temple there is a legend that about 800 years ago, a woman clad in blue cloth appeared before Shűkei as he was reading the death register during the shunie ritual. She asked him why her name had not been read as part of the ceremony before suddenly disappearing. She was in fact the ghost of a young woman that had fallen in love with Shűkei during her lifetime. She appeared before him to recapture his heart and her words were merely a pretext to that end.
This dance drama is composed of four scenes. The first two present the severe austerities performed by Shuke, the acolytes (rengy˘shű), and the d˘d˘ji under the protection of sacred torches. Among these ascetic practices is the "Spreading Flower" ritual, one of the highlights of this performance.
In the later half of the drama, the woman clad in blue appears before Shűkei while he is reading the death register. The author uses blue cloth to symbolize the worldly desires of human begins. As such, the woman clad in blue signifies Shűkei's subconscious, tiring of religious austerities. She moves toward a suspicious Shűkei, reveals her name--Wakasa, and tries to remind him of the pleasures and passion they enjoyed in their youthful days. Although she died many years ago, she cannot forget him and has come to be with him once again. At this moment, Shűkei is deeply attracted to her and is only able to conquer his deep yearning for her passion after a difficult struggle with himself.
Until Wakasa stirs up Shűkei's desires, the dance drama is characterized by a solemn tranquility, but afterwards, it changes completely, expressing fierce emotions. Performed under the glow of torches, the intense and ardent reverence displayed in the ritual of dattan underscores the word's original Sanskrit meaning, "the burning of every worldly desire." Depicting the strict austerities of purification, the dance continues in a crescendo to the climax of the drama, the most spectacular scene in the performance.
The first scene: a corridor in Nigatsud˘
In T˘daiji temple, sometime during the Kamakura era (1192-1333), the shunie ritual is drawing to a close with many priests proceeding to the main hall of Nigatsud˘. The acolytes bearing torches lead the way, followed by Shűkei.
The second scene: a minor hall within Nigatsud˘.
Although it is around 9 o'clock in the evening, illumination from the torches makes it appear to be midday. The d˘d˘ji and the other acolytes (rengy˘shű) enter. Soon they begin their dance and a prayer for peace and prosperity.
The third scene: the main hall of Nigatsud˘.
After the acolytes have finished the solemn rite of the "Spreading Flower," Shűkei retreats to a secluded corner of the room, behind the partition of a sacred curtain. Continuing the shunie ritual, Shűkei begins to read the names of people that have been entered onto the death register.
Just then, a woman clad in blue cloth appears before him claiming to be an entrant in the register and asks why he has neglected to read out her name. Suspicious, Shűkei asks her to identify herself. Closing the space between them, she asks, "Have you forgotten me?" She is the ghost of Wakasa, a young woman with whom, many years ago, Shűkei enjoyed the spring time of his life.
"Though we promised to marry," she continues, "you entered the Buddhist world, forsaking me for your own religious pursuits. I still believe in us. I have come here to unite with you in a new life." Shűkei begs her to dismiss everything as a dream, forgetting even him. When she covers him with her blue cloth, he succumbs to her seductive temptations.
He emerges from behind the sacred curtain now tainted by his own desire. The two of them dance, enraptured by the memory of their innocent love. Shűkei, however, tries to break her hold over him as a battle between his religious beliefs and his emotions rages within him. She asks him to say her name, but Shűkei regains control over himself and repeatedly calls her "sh˘e no nyonin", or "woman of the blue cloth." This is his only defense, a way to distance himself from her, to avoid becoming completely enchanted.
When at last, he casts off the blue cloth, she suddenly disappears, completely unnoticed by the others present. Shűkei finishes reading the death register and begins to dance manically, as if possessed, to exorcize his desire and the memory of the woman clad in blue. The acolytes follow, continuing their rigorous worship.
The fourth scene: the inner sanctum of Nigatsud˘.
Now midnight in the inner sanctum, the ritual penance of dattan begins. Illuminated by blazing torches, Shűkei and the acolytes begin its intense austerities until the gong of T˘daiji temple rings out, signaling the ritual's conclusion.
This summary has been written by Watanabe Hisao and edited by Jeff Blair [website]
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