Kaguyahime: The Impossibility of Capturing the Moon

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Jiri Killan Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Jiri Killan

The 10th century Japanese folk tale Kaguyahime has captured our imagination for a thousand years. It is the story of a humble bamboo cutter who discovers a young girl who turns out to be the earthly incarnation of the moon, and attracts the desires of many men whether peasant or noble, including the emperor. She refuses them all, giving impossible tasks which they inevitably fail, and eventually she returns to her celestial plane.

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens is presenting Jiri Kylian’s interpretation of the tale for the second time here in Montreal. Beautifully staged, with effective lighting and costuming, it is treat for the eyes. A neoclassical ballet, Kylian’s choreography straddles the line between classical and contemporary dance movement, incorporating aspects of folk dance and the movements of a kodo drummer, which was a major aspect of the production.

In fact, besides the moon princess Kaguyahime’s choreography, I was struck by the intense physicality and virtuosity displayed by all the dancers, but particularly the men of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It is nice to see a ballet (or any dance production for that matter) that showcases a male dancer’s abilities, because they are truly magnificent. It was also done in a way that was wholly masculine, with trick jumps and acrobatic feats. This is not to say the women were not as impressive. Their dancing was equally energetic and interesting, and the pure physicality was simply a delight to watch. There was also interesting partnering, in both trios and pairs, between both men and women.

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

Princess Kaguyahime’s choreography however was another thing altogether. Her movement was fluid, sustained, and while beautiful, a little more difficult to watch, and less accessible than her mortal counterparts. Of course this was intentional, as she is the goddess of the moon, ephemeral and impossible to catch. There were moments where she actually looked like a crescent moon hanging in the night sky. Her choreography was incredibly difficult to pull off well, but it was successful.

My only criticism of the production is the first twenty minutes, where Kaguyahime is introduced and five suitors try to complete her impossible tasks. The choreography for me was too monotonous, and the ambient musical environment made it difficult to stay present in the work. Miko Ishii’s musical landscape is heavily influenced by both the kodo drum and Japan’s traditional court music, which is characterized by its atonal nature. This can be a little difficult for Western audiences, and honestly it was a relief when the corps de ballet came on and we had more going on onstage. The work was danced beautifully in the opening; it just wasn’t for me.

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

Kaguyahime. Les Grands Ballets. Photo Joris Jan Bos

The second half was what I came to see Kaguyahime for. The opening of act 2 was powerful and exciting. The entry of the emperor with a stage filled with gold wasawe inspiring, and Kaguyahime’s pilate-esque solo was gorgeous. So, stay patient through those first twenty minutes, because you won’t be disappointed with the rest.

Kaguyahime is at Salle Wilfred Pelletier from October 15-30. Buy your tickets HERE.

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