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IMAGE: Shibaraku (drawing by Utagawa Kunimasa, 1773-1810)
Shibaraku (暫,) is a play in the Kabuki repertoire, and one of the celebrated Kabuki Jūhachiban ("Eighteen Great Plays"). The flamboyantly dramatic costume and makeup (kumadori) used in this scene is famous and associated by the average Westerner with Kabuki in general. The English translation of the title is akin to "Stop a Moment!"
Originally staged by Ichikawa Danjūrō I in 1697 at the Nakamura-za, it was very popular, and quickly began to be included at the annual kaomise celebrations of each theatre in Edo. For a time, the main role was frequently different, depending on the whims of the theatre and the troupe. The piece was standardized somewhat in the early 19th century by Danjūrō VII, and reworked again by Danjūrō IX at the end of that century. This version has been performed since then.
A scene of roughly 50 minutes, Shibaraku is not a play unto itself, but a short drama inserted during interludes or in between full plays to provide variety and maintain a certain level of energy and interest on the part of the audience. Today it is played mostly on special occasions, such as to celebrate an actor's name changing ceremony.