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Japanese Drama Students Combine Theory and Practice

Japanese Drama Students 
Combine Theory and Practice

by Tiffany Liao '10

This semester, some students are doing more than just studying Japan's unique dramatic and performing arts traditions - they are putting down their textbooks and learning the dances firsthand. For the first time, Associate Professor of Japanese William Gardner is co-teaching The World of Japanese Drama and Performance with Isaburoh Hanayagi, an expert in a variety of Japanese dance and performance styles.

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Master teacher and performer Isaburoh Hanayagi is an expert in kabuki, folk dance, and taiko drumming.


"[Hanayagi] brings a whole new dimension to this class," Gardner says. "We can actually learn the movements from the stage traditions we are studying, and that really changes students' perspectives when they read a text or view a video of a professional performance."

A master teacher and performer, Hanayagi, or Isaburoh-sensei as he is known to his students, is the Cornell Visiting Professor for this academic year. Hanayagi has a long history with Swarthmore, visiting regularly to perform with his student taiko and dance ensemble from Tamagawa University in Tokyo.

For many students, the balance between the performance and academic sections of the class has been key to gaining an understanding of Japanese drama. "What is so extraordinary is that not only do we learn about the rich history of Japanese performance conceptually, but we also have the unique opportunity to study the movements physically," says Tamara De Moor '10. "Feeling the performance is just as integral to the experience, if not more so, than watching the act or studying the script."

The class, which meets twice a week, is structured to provide students with equal contributions from both academic and performance perspectives. Students spend one class with Gardner learning about Japanese drama through lecture and discussion, then spend the other learning a dance sequence with Hanayagi. The dance sequence, a combination of noh and kabuki dance movements, will be performed by the class at the Student Dance Concert at the end of the semester.

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Students cite the balance between the performance and academic sections of the class as key to understanding Japanese drama.


Sven Udekwu '09 credits the collaborative nature of the professors for the success of the class and is especially grateful for Hanayagi's tutelage when it comes to perfecting the nuances of the dance. "I was surprised it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be," he says. "It's a combination of little, specific things, like the placement of your feet or when you open your fan, and then putting that all together with what angles you place your hands. It's been great learning from such a fun and easy-going teacher."

De Moor echoes the sentiments of many in the class when she said she considered it an honor to learn from "a renowned virtuoso of Japanese dance" like Hanayagi: "For all of us in the class, this is truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."