TO the stage world, Japan's Kabuki theater is a respected example of traditional dance-drama. Its beginnings go back more than 350 years to an Izumo priestess, O-Kuni, who is said to have developed the Kabuki theater from ceremonial shrine dances. At first, most of O-Kuni's female players were young courtesans, and as time went on, their costumes, gyrations and behavior developed an air of such gay abandon that "many people were led astray," say Japanese authorities. In 1629, women were forbidden to take part in the Kabuki theaters, and male actors have played all the female roles ever since.

One dance-drama of...

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