Art on Tuesday: Dance

Katsukawa Shunsen 勝川 春扇 (1762-1830) made this triptych named
Three Actors in Beautiful Costumes Performing a Religious Dance around 1785. Due to the age of the picture the colors are bleached.

Three actors are performing a ritual dance. The actor in the centre is dressed like a samurai with two swords. He is holding an ugly puppet-like mask in his left hand. In his right hand a short knife threatening to stab the evil puppet. He looks at the woman on the left. Maybe this is a purifying gesture as of getting rid of an evil spirit or a hunting ghost.

The two female dancers on both sides of the central actor are moving apart from him in mirroring directions. They are playing flutes. The woman dressed in black holds her flute as if she is stabbing into her heart. On the contrary the dancer on the right  presents her flute leisurely whereas she is dressed in spring colors and floral patterns.

Given that it is a picture in three parts it is obvious the female dancers are the same person getting through a crisis symbolized in this play. One can read it also as generally symbolizing the circle of nature’s death and growth, winter and spring.

The stage is made of draped cloth placed somewhere in a garden – like in a temple or shrine. Behind the linen screen stands a musical instrument, probably a drum called 釣り太鼓 (tsuridaiko) like the one of the ukiyo-e by Gakutei Yashima 岳亭 八島 (1786 ?–1868) previously shown in Art on Tuesday: Concert.

 

(source: metmuseum.org)