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Ancient Japanese Art — Bunraku Puppet Theater Returning To Charlottesville

September 21, 2001-- The internationally known Tonda Traditional Japanese Bunraku Puppet Theater Group, touring the United States, will give its second performance in Charlottesville.

The troupe will present its ancient art at the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. The group first performed in Charlottesville in 1999 to a sold-out house at the University of Virginia's Culbreth Theatre. The performance will be sponsored by U.Va.'s East Asia Center, with the generous support of Jamie and Mary McConnell.

General admission tickets for the performance cost $12 for adults, and $6 for students. They are on sale at Mincer's, Plan 9 Records and New Dominion Bookshop.

Started in the late 1600s, the puppet theater had become Japan's 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 group will perform three pieces from the classical bunraku repertoire: a celebratory dance, the sanbaso, featuring a shinto priest puppet; an excerpt from "Keisei Awa no Naruto" about a tragic story of a mother who cannot reveal her identity to her daughter; and "Hidakagawa Iriaizakura," a humorous but haunting play about a woman who transforms herself into a serpent to win back her lover.

The Tonda Puppet Theater Group comprises traditional bunraku puppet-masters who manipulate half life-size puppets that act out dramatic scenes from plays. Bunraku puppetry poetry, along with haiku poetry and kabuki theater, is one of the high traditional art forms of Japan. The performances are set to samisen music. While dialogue in bunraku theater is in Japanese, the Charlottesville performance will include introductions, in English, to each scene. The troupe will also present a demonstration of bunraku technique, featuring sword-fighting, one of the hallmarks of bunraku theater.

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 are welcomed into the troupe, which has been designated an "Intangible Cultural Treasure" by the Japanese government. Though bunraku once had a large popular following in Japan, the Tonda troupe is one of the only remaining traditional performing puppetry groups.

For more information contact Jett McAlister at (434) 924-7836, or visit the Web at

Contacts: Katherine Jackson, (434) 924-3629 and Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 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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