This joyful dance, which has no story, is an expression of thanks to the gods and a prayer for future happiness. The Sanbaso Dance is always performed at the beginning of traditional performances, such as Noh or Kabuki theatre, to spiritually clear the stage for the rest of the show. The movements of the actors and dancers represent remnants of ancient religious customs in which the gods were asked for a rich harvest and abundant catch from fishing. In the first part of the dance, the puppets stomp on the floor of the stage to drive evil spirits away. In the second part of the dance, the gods are welcomed on stage and the puppets dance joyfully with them on the purified stage. In this part of the dance, the puppeteers hold a percussion instrument called "suzu", which is a "tree" of small bells attached to a wooden pole.
THE HIDAKA RIVER
The Hidaka River (HIDAKAKAWA, kawa = river) tells an old Japanese story of unhappy love of a girl called Kiyohime, the only daughter of the powerful Masagoshoji family in the Kii province (Wakayama Prefecture today), and a young priest Anchine. Kiyohime falls in love with Anchine and obtains her parents’ consent to meet him. Yet Aichine doesn’t turn up for the date. Kiyohime starts searching for him all over the country. When she learns that he fled to the Dōjō-ji Temple in Kishu across the HidakaRiver, Kiyohime chases after him burning with resentment. The story culminates at the Hidaka, River, which Kiyohime must cross to reach Anchine.
About the artists:
Kuruma Ningyo is a puppetry technique developed at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) in which each puppet is manipulated by one puppeteer. This distinguished it from other puppetry techniques of the time, in which three puppeteers handled the puppet (Bunraku). The Kuruma Ningyo technique has been cultivated by the Nishikawa puppetry family over a long period of time. Koryu Nishikawa V, together with his son, are now the leading artists of the Kuruma Ningyo technique. Their theatre and studio are located at the foot of the mountains, in Hachioji, the westernmost suburb of Tokyo.
About the Kuruma Ningyo technique:
The Kuruma Ningyo technique allows an actor to control a puppet in the style of Bunraku theatre, but it only takes one actor sitting on a small seat with wheels (kuruma - Japanese for vehicle or car) to manipulate it. During the performance, the actors will show how they control the puppet's legs with their feet, how the hands are manipulated and what mechanism controls the puppet's head, which is attached directly to the actor's head. In recent years, a new, easier style of manipulation has also been developed where the puppeteer's body manipulates the puppet's body leaving both actor’s hands free for a more effective control of the puppet’s hands.