Among the various recent news from the Nohgaku Performers’ Association (Nōgaku kyōkai) is the announcement of their beautiful new logo, representing the silhouette of a nō stage – four pillars topped with a roof. In the announcement statement it is explained that the four “pillars” in the logo symbolize the four types of nōgaku performer (shite, waki, hayashi, kyōgen), while the roof is the ideogram for “person”. The logo represents the transmission of knowledge from person to person, constituting the history of nōgaku’s ancient tradition.
While the four types of performer represent those who stand on stage, it is worth remembering that there are many other people working “backstage”, including mask carvers, costume weavers, and fan makers, without whom nō and kyōgen performances would just not be possible.
The program for the Nogaku festival, a series of performances organized by the Nohgaku Performers’ Association to be held during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, has been announced (Japanese only – for now). The performances are part of the larger Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival, starting in April and ending in September.
The program features full nō and kyōgen performances but also recital versions of plays, allowing the audience to enjoy a wide variety of characters but also of performers. Looking at the list of performances, I am glad to notice that, in addition to the “usual suspects” – leading performers from the various nō and kyōgen schools which were announced back in August 2019 – female performers will also join the roster of superstar actors. They are Uzawa Hisa, Saeki Kikuko (Kanze school), and Kashiwayama Satoko (Hōshō school).
Three performances in a program of about forty plays (including kyōgen) may seem like a relatively small number, but considering the very little exposure female actors get I would accept it as an effort of the Nohgaku Performers’ Association to represent the spirit of inclusivity on which the Olympic and Paralympic Games are based. Let’s hope to see some female performers among the musicians, too!
The Discover Noh in Kyoto series has come to its 6th and last episode. This time we have organized an exciting event which combines the visit to shrines and temples to noh performance. For those of you who participated in the previous episodes of our series this will appear like a novelty. Instead of having actors explain various aspects of noh (costumes, masks, etc.) we have decided to focus this forthcoming event on performance. Don’t miss it!
On October 6 2019 at the Kongō Nō Theatre, Udaka Norishige is going to perform Takasago as part of the Udaka Seiran Noh series, produced by Udaka Michishige. This year Norishige is going to take on the challenge of performing in one of the most iconic noh plays from the first group, in which the main character is a deity. His elder brother Tatsushige will perform the shimai from the warrior play Tomonaga. As for myself, I will take on a different challenge: that of doing the honors and introduce the performance – my second time after Tatsushige’s Dōjōji back in July.
I will post more about Takasago as the day approaches. In the meantime, for those of you who speak Japanese, Tatsushige is also posting videos about the play on his YouTube channel.
On September 3 and 4 I had the pleasure and honor to introduce the Noh and Kyogen Performances organized as part of the social events program for the 25th ICOM General Conference in Kyoto. Hundreds of Japanese and international guests came to watch Bōshibari and Hagoromo on September 3 at the Kongō Nōgakudō, and Busu and Funa Benkei on September 4 at Kanze Kaikan. In my speech, I tried to explain how noh has the power of bringing together both intangible and tangible heritage, but also how it is in need of a new generation of patrons who appreciate and are willing to support its various arts. I was not planning to do so, but since many of the guests who attended the events asked me to put my little speech up online, here it is. I hope to see you all soon!
An interesting format. One nō actor dancing and singing on stage. Behind him, projections that come to life when seen with special 3D glasses. Of course, music and chorus are not live, but a recorded track.
While kyōgen shows features a minimum of two actors, mounting a full nō performance requires some twenty people. The minimum for dance with music and chorus would be 6-7 people, up to 10 if the actor is in costume and mask. A format that works well in Japan, but is difficult to take abroad. Could 3D nō be a kind of ‘pocketable nō’, providing the audience with an authentic experience?
3D Nō Aoinoue, Funa Benkei in Venice. 7 May 2019 LINK (Italian)
This is a big one. On July 14th 2019 Udaka Tatsushige is going to perform the nō Dōjōjifor the first time, making this one of his most important hiraki performances. Dōjōji is probably one of the most well-known plays in the repertory, telling the story of how a young woman who had been tricked into believing that a monk will marry her pursues him until she finds him hiding under a temple bell. Transfigured into a monstrous snake, the woman coiled around the bell and, spitting fire from her mouth, burnt him to death.
One of the most spectacular features of the play is the section in which the actor enacting the spirit of the woman reappearing at Dōjōji jumps into the bell (a 100kg heavy property) as it falls on the floor. Once inside the bell, the actor changes costume, wig and mask by himself, reappearing in the form of a demon as the bell is lifted.
Dōjōji is the first nō performance I have ever seen live. It was 2007, and the actor was Udaka Michishige, Tatsushige’s father, who on that occasion was celebrating his 60th birthday. For Tatsushige’s Dōjōji I will have the honor to introduce the event. I look forward to the day with trepidation.
Only the sound remains,by Kaija Saariaho and Peter Sellars, is a modern opera based on two noh plays Hagoromo and Tsunemasa, which Ezra Pound rendered into English working with Ernest Fenollosa’s translations of the original Japanese texts. There are several reviews of its performances available online – for example, The Guardian or Opera News.
The article on the Asahi Shinbun mentions the ‘ubiquity’ of noh. It seems to me that what is ubiquitous is the noh ‘brand’, not the art. I have not seen the performance but from the trailer below I wonder: what is left of noh?