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A Kabuki take on a classic fairy tale at NYSTI

Traditional Japanese Kabuki theater is marked by slow, deliberate movements.

The New York State Theater Institute's Kabuki-styled production of Sleeping Beauty keeps the emphasis on movement -- other than the narrator, characters have little dialogue -- but it picks up the pace.

"There's lots of action," co-director Anny DeGange said. "This is more of an homage to Kabuki."

The drawn-out Japanese style "probably wouldn't fly here," she said.

NYSTI's version, though, was a big hit when the company first debuted a Kabuki-inspired "Sleeping Beauty" in 1978. John McGuire played the prince in that production. This time around, he plays the king and serves as co-director with DeGange.

McGuire, who described "Sleeping Beauty" as a "sumptuous dance drama," said trying Kabuki was daunting at first, but he was excited that NYSTI created its own interpretation of the style.

"This had a stronger, more edgy posture to it," he said. "It really became one of our emblematic pieces."

McGuire said that the show's previous success gives the theater a bit of a safety net -- "We know that it works" -- but the cast is also bringing a fresh flavor to the production.

"It's new again," he said.

The prince, for example, is played by Toshiji Takeshima, a native of Japan and NYSTI newcomer. Takeshima has a long acting resume; he's been in a number of American theater productions, and he's done commercials for Coca Cola and McDonald's in Japan. He also has martial arts training, which McGuire credits with helping Takeshima make the fluid movements that are central to the story.

Beyond that, McGuire raved about Takeshima's work ethic. Takeshima has never done a Kabuki piece before, but "you give him a note, and he says, 'Let me try that,'" McGuire said.

Other leading roles are Joel Aroeste, reprising the role of The Storyteller that he originated, intern Laura Fleming as the queen, and Rosie Spring as Beauty.

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