Music: Dancers to the Emperor

On the elevated platform, with its black-and-red-lacquered railings and its bright green flooring, four dancers in silk brocade robes turned their green-masked faces to the audience. The translucent music wavered hypnotically, swelling and fading in little drum-punctuated strands of sound. The dancers flexed their knees slowly, extended their slippered feet to describe airy figures on the dance cloth.

Thus in Manhattan's City Center last week, a 1,200-year-old dance ritual stirred to life. Occasion: the first appearance outside Japan of the Musicians and Dancers of the Japanese Imperial Household.

The highly stylized mixture of musical drama and myth that the Imperial Dancers brought with...

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