Obon Festival – a soundtrack for odori dancing

August 1, 2011

Sydney’s Japanese community came together for a cultural festival this weekend which roughly corresponds to the mid-summer Obon Festival in Japan. Obon is a festival for the ancestral dead and features community dancing.  The music for one of the favoured odori dances among the community is on Track 5 of this CD, issued by Columbia, COCJ33243.

The Sydney festival has moved indoors in recent years, inside the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House. By contrast, the dancing troupes from Japan who visited Sydney two years ago demonstrated  energetic and stylish dances in scintillating costume, outdoors at Darling Harbour.

The dance favoured by the locals here is bitter-sweet and gentler by comparison. The older members of the Sydney Japan Club turn out in traditional kimono; they’ve been practising the dance for the occasion.  Japanese spectators, living or working here, get up slowly in kimono, some have dusted off their haori or kimono especially – though it obviously feels strange to be wearing kimono in this foreign land. Other women, with babies and infants, have turned up in kimono without obi or obijime. The most reluctant of all to get up and dance are the Aussie spouses and partners, dressed in everday clothes without a hint of anything Japanese. The austere and hesitant placement of hands by everyone forming a giant circle, with the recorded plucky shamisen in the background, brings the entire community together so they’re hardly aware of spectators or dancing in public.

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