A very early (1898) photograph of Ruth St. Dennis. There is a series of photographs associated with Japanese costumes. Although I collect Hiroshige prints I am no expert on the authenticity of the costumes, but they do not look far removed from other photographs I have seen of genuine historical costumes.
I've no doubt they were authentic, she liked dressing up. However, traditional theatre forms native to Japan are in no way as hammy and campy as these photos suggest St Denis's rather self-indulgent extravaganzas must have been. But lovely photos none the less.
The subjects in the photographs may well have had to hold their positions and facial expressions for a some time and as is typical of a lot of theatrical photographs of the era they appear somewhat stilted.
But on the other hand, I have been watching various forms of Japanese traditional theatre for many years and such highly stylised almost ritualistic poses are always present.
As mentiontioned earlier Ruth St, Dennis was much admired in Europe and the Far East. "During the first engagement at the Komische Oper, a special matinee was arranged at Charlottenberg ; preceding this was a luncheon at which Hauptman,Wedekind, Hofmansthal, Graf Kessler, Richter, Hofman,and others paid tribute to this dancer who revealed to them such unparalled beauty." Not a bad bunch of critics I think. She had witness Japanese Noh and had six weeks daily training with a professional Japanese dancer.
But as regards the authenticity of this production, of "The Japanese dance-play O-mika was founded upon one of Lafcadio Hearn's writings entitled A Legend ofFugen-Bosatsu. It is found in the volume Shadowings. For Miss St. Denis's purposes the story was put into condensed form, as indicated in the program which follows: O-mika, A Japanese Legend of the Buddha, in three scenes. The " story of a celebrated courtesan who became an incarnation of Fugen- Bosatsu. In this Japanese legend Miss St. Denis will introduce The Dance " of the Flower-Arrangement, The Chrysanthemum Dance, The Dance of " the Thirteenth Century Poetess,The Samurai Dance,The Dance of Fugen- Bosatsu.
As you can see from the following cast list, the majority of the cast were, yes, you guessed it, Japanese. Cast list: Shoku Shonin, BunlakuTokunaga; Kimura Hayato, Roi " Kojima; NakamuraYosake, MomotaroToyama; O-Yone,HanaYa- " mada; Samisen Pkyer, S. O. Hashi; Kamura,Theodora De Combe " and Regina Cipriano; Sake Girls, Elena Perry and Ruth Averill;
O. Hashi and A.Oki; Samurai Sword Dancer, B. St. Denis; " O-mika, Ruth St. Denis.
The Japan Society of New York, soon after Miss St. Denis's en gagement at the Fulton Theatre, requested a special performance to be given exclusively to the members of their society. This took pkce
in the Astor Hotel and the Japan Society officially proclaimed it the most artistic presentation of Japanese themes America had ever been privileged to see, and expressed a wish that Miss St. Denis might go
to Japan to inspire the Japanese girls to return to the classic dance of their own country instead of taking up the tango. The Japanese Times in its review of the performance said: We have nothing but praise and admiration for the part this famous actress played. The grace of her movement, the delicacy of her touch, the consummate skill she showed in mimicking different types of Japanese womankind, and the refined taste she displayed through out the performance all enforced by the inborn beauty of the actress leave no room for her critic to venture any unfavorable comment.
The costuming, scenic effects, and properties of this production were extravagantly but correctly splendid. The appointments of all three scenes were absolutely authentic, and in many cases the articles used
were not merely stage properties but genuinely Japanese. Because Miss St. Denis is "uncommon tall," it was necessary to have a Japanese dressmaker make her kimonos to order of imported materials.
Once when The Dance of the Flower-Arrangement was being given at Ravinia, a Japanese man-servant who was brought by his mistress to the performance, insisted that it could not be other than a Japanese
woman who was dancing. Truly, her make-up was marvelous. The wig of the courtesan, with its ray of fourteen gorgeous hairpins, the dead-white face of mask-likequality,the lips so red, and glistening with
powdered gold; last and especially, the exquisitely facile hands made her more truly the epitome of Japanese beauty than any real Japanese woman I have ever seen. She was Japanese, not in the grand opera
manner of Madam Butterfly, but of the quality in an Utamaro print.
"The Maharajah of Kuch-Behar,the Maharajah of Kapurthala,and the Gaekwar of Baroda, men who in India have given many a nautch of their own, saw Miss St. Denis, and have expressed their intense
admiration of her nautch dancing."
In a letter from a law student in Calcutta a certain J. Basu, wrote, "We appreciate your refined taste, thoughtfulness, and the amount " of kbor which you have given to studying the spirit and meaning of
" Indian dancing in its highest and noblest form. The unparalleled " success which you have rightly gained by your wonderful dances, " which are poetry, music, and religion combined, has given me great
" satisfaction and pleasure. You have caught the true spirit of the East, " its mysticism, its ceaseless longing for the infinite, its passionate ad" miration for the .energy or 'Shakti' side of Nature, a feat which
" I thought was impossible for any Western artist you have not only caught, you have also interpreted it. You are doing a great service Ruth St. Denis not only to India but to the world at large."