Voir disparaître

This week, I went to the Kabuki : Costumes du théâtre japonais exhibit at the Fondation Pierre Hergé – Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. It’s on until July 15, so you’ve still got a few days to check it out. Knowing how Saint Laurent was inspired by other cultures, I had assumed that the items would be from his personal collection, but they’re actually on loan from a Japanese company, Shôchiku Costume, that supplies Kabuki theatre companies.

The exhibit shows the importance of the 400 year-old tradition of kabuki theatre that encompasses singing, dancing, and acting. The kimonos were encrusted with three dimensional embroidery on sumptuous silks that glowed. About thirty costumes were enhanced by props, films, and paintings. The plots of kabuki plays often center around historical events or traditional tales, so the characters are known to the audience through the symbolism of the costumes. Another important role of the costumes is to help men transform themselves into women, since only men have been allowed to perform Kabuki by Imperial decree since early in the history of the art form.

Today’s expression, voir disparaître (vwar dis-par-et-ruh) means “to see disappear.” It’s used in the context of seeing something vanish or die out, such as a civilization or culture. Kabuki is in danger of dying out – there are only about 1/10 as many kabuki performers now compared to a century ago. In 2005, it was declared to be an “Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. That may not be enough to save it, however.

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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3 Responses to Voir disparaître

  1. theinkbrain says:

    Not all traditions survive. Maybe the time has come to re-think the “no women” rule.

  2. That worked for Shakespeare!

  3. Pingback: Rive Gauche | One quality, the finest.

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