Vigorous Production of Sanbaso Resonates in Rotunda

Sanbaso: Divine Dance being performed on March 28, 2013, at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Last Thursday and Friday the Guggenheim and Japan Society presentation SANBASO, divine dance brought ancient Japanese dance, music, and theater to new life, filling the Ronald O. Perelman Rotunda with explosively percussive energy. The site-specific production, staged in conjunction with Gutai: Splendid Playground, featured a performance by star Kyogen actor Nomura Mansai, sets and costumes designed by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, and vigorous musical accompaniment by Noh musicians including kotsutsumi drummers, a flutist, and a chorus.

Noh and Kyogen, the highly stylized forms of classical Japanese theater, are generally performed in tandem, with tragic, musically focused Noh plays conjuring the spirit world followed by more comic, Kyogen interludes, which often depict daily life through dialogue and mime. One of the oldest and most abstract works of the Noh and Kyogen repertoire, Sanbaso was traditionally performed as part of rituals summoning the gods to purify a sacred site and grant a bountiful harvest. Typically Sanbaso is performed by a Kyogen actor; it also inspired Gutai artist Shiraga Kazuo’s Ultramodern Sanbasō (1957), which opened Gutai Art on Stage (1957), acting as a blessing for that festival’s performances. It was this connection that provoked Samsung Senior Curator of Asian Art Alexandra Munroe to invite Sugimoto to stage SANBASO, divine dance during the run of Gutai: Splendid Playground.

SANBASO, divine dance took place on the rotunda floor atop a wooden stage that itself became a percussive instrument as dancers stomped on it, creating a deeply resonant drum-like clap. While the traditional backdrop for Sanbaso depicts a pine tree, here Sugimoto sought to “create a space of ancient myth” by using a lightning motif based on his own photographs of electrical fields of energy. Nomura Mansai wore a robe emblazoned with the same bolts, and moved from intensely slow to thunderously quick choreography culminating in a dance wearing an Edo-period black mask of the old man Sanbaso. As SANBASO’s music crescendoed throughout the rotunda’s acoustic space, producing echoing, ethereal overtones, the flashes of lightning took on a successfully mythic quality.

Along with every exhibition, the Guggenheim presents an array of public programs that enrich museum visitors’ experience of art. In addition to SANBASO, divine dance, the museum has scheduled four Concrete Escort tours to give visitors a fuller sense of Gutai’s essentially participatory and performative nature. Directed by performance artist Ei Arakawa, Concrete Escort I, II, III, IV invites participants to move through Gutai: Splendid Playground with groups of painters, sculptors, dancers, filmmakers, and archivists, in the process reanimating and reenacting moments from the history of the Gutai Art Association. The final two tours will take place on Friday, April 26, at 6 pm and 8 pm. Sign up now to be part of the historic tour.

SANBASO, divine dance being performed on March 28, 2013, at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: Enid Alvarez © 2013 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

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