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Japanese Ancient Art -- Bunraku Puppet Theater -- To Perform At U.Va.

July 21, 1999 -- The celebrated Tonda Puppet Theater of Japan, touring in the United States for the first time ever, will give four performances, including one at the University of Virginia.

The Tonda Traditional Japanese Bunraku Puppet Troupe will present its ancient art at the 595-seat Culbreth Theater on Thursday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 p.m.

Started in the late 1600s, the Japanese puppet theater had become the most popular form of dramatic entertainment by the 18th century - the age of the Shoguns. Known as bunraku, the theater attracted outstanding playwrights, including Chikamatsu, who is sometimes called the "Shakespeare of Japan." Bunraku plays are some of the most important written dramas in all of Japanese literature.

The large repertory of bunraku drama includes plays about mythic warriors and heroes along with those about ordinary townspeople and portrayals of real-life events. Bunraku was especially popular among the business people of Japan and several of the most famous plays concern

ill-fated love affairs between merchants and courtesans. In the words of the "Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan," "The bunraku theater presents dramas both serious and entertaining, as well as beautifullychoreographed dances, for an audience primarily of adults with cultivated sensibilities."

Unlike the Punch-and-Judy marionettes of the European tradition, bunraku puppets are half-life-sized. Each puppet is manipulated by a puppet master and two assistants who are clothed in black and in full view of the audience. The puppets act out the play to the accompaniment of music andchanting.

The troupe will demonstrate puppet techniques as part of the show. Some of its puppets are more than 170 years old and the costumes include sumptuous antique silks and brocades. Martin Holman of Berea College, of Berea, Ky., will narrate the performance in English.

The Tonda troupe, in existence for almost 200 years, is from the historic area of Lake Biwa, near Kyoto. Traditionally, the art of puppetry was passed down from father to eldest son. In recent years, men as well as women from outside the puppeteering families have been welcomed into thetroupe. The Tonda troupe is now officially designated an "Intangible Cultural Treasure" of Japan.

The U.Va. sponsors of the performance are the East Asia Center, the U.Va. Library, the Division of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, the Bayly Museum, and the Drama Department.

After its initial stop in Virginia, the only one in the Southeast, the troupe will travel to Newton, N.J., on Aug. 13; Allendale, Mich., on Aug. 15; and Provo, Utah, on Aug. 18 and 19.

General admission tickets for the performance cost $5. They are now on sale at U.Va.'s Newcomb Hall, Room 436; at Mincer's, on the University Corner; in Alderman Library, Room 522. If seats are still available, tickets also will be sold at the door.

For more information, contact Kendon Stubbs at (804) 924-3026 or (804) 924-7849; or at

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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