Sakamotobushi ©Yohei Oshiro

Traditional Dance and Music of Okinawa at Japan Society This Weekend

Waves Across Time: Traditional Dance and Music of Okinawa

Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m.

Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

Admission: $42 / $32 Japan Society members

Marking the 50th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japan following the U.S.’s post-WWII occupation, a group of the island chain’s most exquisite dancers will perform a diverse program of Okinawan traditional performing arts accompanied by live music. Japan Society presents two performances of this live, in-person program Waves Across Time: Traditional Dance and Music of Okinawa this weekend.

Jikata ©Yohei Oshiro
Jikata ©Yohei Oshiro

About Waves Across Time: Traditional Dance and Music of Okinawa

The award-winning young artistic director of the National Theatre Okinawa, Michihiko Kakazu, selected versatile artists to perform highlights Kakazu chose from the traditional repertoires of kumiodori and zo odori. This program reflects Okinawa’s complex history and rich performing arts heritage.

When the island archipelago of Okinawa was an independent kingdom called Ryukyu (15th to late-19th centuries), Ryukyuans developed kumiodori, a form of theater similar to noh. UNESCO designated an Intangible Cultural Asset in 2010. The classical dance and music repertoire from the Ryukyu Kingdom, performed in bright, gorgeous costumes, is elegant and deliberate with dignified melodies and rhythmic accompaniment.

Zo odori are popular folk dances that originated in 19th century, as the Ryukyu Kingdom was dissolved, and the royal courts disbanded. These energetic and dynamic folk dances, often performed barefoot in a simple kimono made of indigo-dyed fabric or abaca cloth, feature the cheerful rhythms of typical Okinawan music.

Sakamotobushi ©Yohei Oshiro
Sakamoto bushi ©Yohei Oshiro

Program Highlights

The first half of this live program begins with two independent dance pieces developed from excerpts of the classical kumiodori titled “Manzai Techiuchi.” The first excerpt, “Sakamoto bushi,” is a female duo dance who perform with Okinawan castanets called yotsudake. The second piece is a dance between two young brothers disguised as street performers as a ploy to avenge their parents. This section concludes with an excerpt from “Timiji-no-en,” a romantic masterpiece from the kumiodori repertoire, featuring a popular scene called “Shinobi no ba” (“A Scene of Secrecy”), depicting the secret rendezvous of two star-crossed lovers. This scene includes several well-known classical Ryukyuan ensemble pieces, as well as solo instrumental pieces for the koto and fue (flute).

Tanchame ©Yohei Oshiro
Tanchame ©Yohei Oshiro

The second half of the program features a variety of zo odori pieces, including a female dance that expresses the joy of a journey, a duet between a male and female dancer about life in a fishing village, and a dance that employs karate and weaponry such as sai and nunchaku, and a love duet. The program culminates with a narrative medley from the zo odori repertoire, representing farmers and fishermen gathered to embrace their village life.

Throughout the performance, an ensemble of musicians will accompany this stunning array of works on the sanshin—a snakeskin-covered, banjo-like instrument unique to the islands—as well as other traditional instruments. The brightly dyed bingata costumes and the island music’s iconic use of pentatonic scales further immerse audiences in the traditional performing styles of Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

Ticketholders can enjoy a pre-performance lecture, introducing Okinawa’s history and the development of its unique dance forms and musical instruments, that starts one-hour before each performance.

To purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website or call the Box Office at 212-715-1258.

COVID-19 Protocols

Visitors must show proof of vaccination and photo ID, as well as proof of a booster shot for anyone who is eligible, with a 4-week grace period after eligibility. For the health and safety of the staff and visitors, please wear a KN95 or N95 mask that covers your nose and mouth at all times. Japan Society will provide KN95 masks upon request. Please visit Japan Society’s website for more information about their current visitor policies and safety protocols.

Kanayoamakawa ©Yohei Oshiro
Kanayoamakawa ©Yohei Oshiro

Related Events

Workshop: Introduction to Okinawan Dance
Saturday, March 19 from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

Learn about the history of Okinawa’s performing arts through an in-person, interactive dance workshop that introduces the movements and rhythms of Okinawa’s traditional court dances and popular folk dances. This intimate workshop also allows participants to view the traditional bingata-dyed costumes and stylized rustic apparel used in each dance form.
Maximum 25 participants

Okinawan Dance Workshop for Families
Sunday, March 20 from 10:30 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.

This in-person family workshop explores not only the stylized movements and gestures of Okinawa’s traditional court dances and popular folkdances, but also the beats and sounds of Okinawa’s iconic music. In this introductory lesson, participants have the chance to see the performers’ costumes and musical instruments up close.
Maximum 20 participants
Appropriate for ages 5+