Old new Noh

20121225kokuritu1Bitter review on the Nogaku Times for the recent performance of Takahime, Yokomichi Mario’s retro-version of Yeats’s Noh-influenced play for dancers At the Hawk’s Well (1916), on stage at the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo on December 25h 2012. Takahime is a ‘shinsaku-Noh’ or ‘newly composed Noh’, the denomination of those plays that do not belong to the traditional repertoire. It is difficult to assess what constitutes the canon and what does not. The traditional repertoire (around 25o plays) has been updated throughout the years and many old plays that were not performed for generations have recently been ‘restored’ or ‘re-choreographed’. Ultimately there is no institution holding the right to decide what is in and what is out of the canon.

Tessen-kai (Kanze School) has included Takahime as part of its own repertoire, and has been performing it a number of times since it was written in the early 1950s. However, the Nogaku Times critic Murakami Tatau is disappointed by this latest staging, which he defines as ‘dull’, wondering whether the play is still talking to contemporary audience, or whether it can already be called an ‘old new Noh’. The review is very short and does not really go into details, but I can imagine how the conversion of a (once) experimental play into the Noh canon could lead to the petrification of what was instead meant to be an act of transformation. The politics of the re-appropriation of  At the Hawk’s Well have often been analysed through the lens of anti-nihonjinron criticism, and the provoking ‘old new Noh’ label could be interpreted as a way to problematise the canonisation of non-traditional plays.

3 thoughts on “Old new Noh

  1. I was under the impression that there was a council or organization – 能楽協会、 能楽宗家協会、 or something like that – comprised of members (or heads) of the five schools, which decided what is and is not canon. Apparently not?

    1. Hi Travis, the 能楽協会 is a syndicate that administers the professional activities of its members. It does not really decide on matters of katazuke, which remain the patrimony of the schools or families. To my knowledge there is no official list of noh plays. The margins of the canon are blurred and they might need to be considered case by case…

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