On February 25th (Sunday) 2018 two noh plays, Kinsatsu and Yoshino Shizuka will be performed at the Kongo Noh theatre in Kyoto.
Kinsatsu (shite: Teshima Michiharu) is a first category (god noh) play, not performed frequently. The main character is the demon-quelling deity Amatsu Futodama, appearing with bow and arrow in the second half of the play. (Illustration: Kinsatsu, by Tsukioka Kogyo)
Yoshino Shizuka (shite: Udaka Tatsushige) is a third category (women noh) play, centering on the figure of the shirabyoshi dancer Shizuka Gozen, lover of Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
Noh masks by Otsuki Kōkun and costumes of the Orinasu-kan collection are being displayed at the Orinasu-kan in Kyoto until February 25th (see map below). The event is a follow-up of the successful exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden in December 2017.
Today has been an eventful day at the Oe Noh theatre with performances of Yashima by Miyamoto Shigeki and Aoinoue by Washio Yoshiko. The latter is a young female performer belonging to the Kyoto Kanze group of performers. As it often happens, the mask and costume used for this performance did not suit the small stature of the main performer. This is all the more thought-provoking in the case of a female role. We watch a female body in female clothes designed to be worn by men – and it does not fit. The sleeves are too long, the bottom hem too low. The body is lost in the costume. The large mask hides the chin. As long as masks and costumes meant to be worn by men will be put on women, it will be hard to consider performances on par. I share this experience of unfitness on the other extreme: my arms, as those of many Caucasian males, are longer in comparison to our east-Asian ounterparts (this applies to buying shirts at Uniqlo, too), making kosode costumes such as karaori or atsuita difficult to wear.
While I do not see a pressing need for costumes that white males could wear, I think it is very important that efforts are put in creating costumes for women. Noh costumes are extremely expensive, and actors buy costumes individually – not everyone could afford a rich wardrobe in male and female sizes. But important households such as that of the iemoto grandmaster also purchase costumes with the intention of renting them to other actors. I think that a fair share of that budget should go to purchasing costumes for female performers. The same counts for masks. My teacher, Udaka Michishige, and some of his mask-carving students, such as Rebecca Ogamo Teele, have been making masks for women for several years now, and the results are excellent.
Event on katari (narration) in Japanese medieval performing arts. Prof. Fujita Takanori from Kyoto City University of the Arts talked about two traditions still performed today: Kōwaka-mai in Fukuoka and Daimokudate in Nara. Fujita analyzed musical aspects of the chant-narration such as melody and meter. It was interesting to compare styles of chant that are thought to pre-date noh (this point is currently debated by scholars) with noh chant. Videos of training and performance were also shown during the lecture. This is rare footage as these traditions are currently transmitted only within small local communities. The videos from Kōwaka-mai are available as DVD here.
In the second part of the event waki actors Yasuda Noboru (Hōshō school) and Arimatsu Ryōichi (Takayasu school) discussed narration drawing from the plays Aoinoue and Sumidagawa. It was interesting to see actors from different schools who usually do not appear together on stage (or backstage!) discuss differences in narration styles.
Yesterday I attended an event on the internationalization of Noh at the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo. The event was organized by the Nohgaku Performers’ Association and featured an award ceremony for the three winners of the English composition contest. These were carefully selected out of 80+ submissions. They all stressed the need for a better understanding of Noh in order to appreciate it more. Two papers, in particular, focused on the need for multilingual surtitlesand explanations as a way for the audience to appreciate performance through the understanding of the text. Does good art need explanations? Hard to give a single answer to this question… no, and yes. No, good art should be able to be at least partially appreciated for most of those who receive it. However, a greater appreciation of an artwork may (not must) depend on a deeper knowledge of its history, cultural context, techniques, etc. Does good art need explanations? The counter-question should be: who is the audience we are considering when asking the question? Greater appreciation of Noh will depend on the ability of its practitioners to understand their audiences better. As long as communication is one way (art producers instructing art consumers), we will see little improvement in the appreciation of noh. It would be a shame.
On June 15 2017 Kongo school actors will perform the plays Hashitomi and Kokaji as part of the research project on Noh as intermedia, led by musicologists Jaroslaw Kapuscinski (Stanford University) and François Rose (Pacific University), with Takanori Fujita (Kyoto City University of the Arts. Kongō Tatsunori will take the lead role in Hashitomi, while Udaka Tatsushige will perform the main role in Kokaji. I, along with Rebecca Teele, have acted as consultant and local coordinator here in Kyoto. The project is still in the works, so I should refrain from saying too much about it… Two full noh plays will be filmed live, and the resultant audiovisual recordings will be available as part of an educational website exploring the connections between the various media that constitute a noh performance.
Yesterday I went to see Kongō school actors perform an abridged version of the play Tsunemasa at Kyoto Porta Shopping Mall, B1F Kyoto station. Udaka Tatsushige took the shite role. The actors were forced to perform on a very small platform – quite a task when you wear a mask that restricts your vision considerably. The performance was a pre-event aimed at advertising the big 2-day Kyoto Takigi Noh 2017 @Heian Jingu June 1 and 2. This year’s topic is ‘A Fantastic Tour of Kyoto Powerspots’. The Kyogen Bōshibari was performed by Okura school actors.
Noh time like the present is a series of Noh-related performances taking place at LSO St. Luke in London 24 -25 February 2017, celebrating Kita-school actor Matsui Akira, one of the few professional Noh actors intensively participating in non-traditional performances. Matsui recently turned 70, just like Kanze-school shite actor Tsumura Reijirō, another pioneer of intercultural theatre emerging from the Noh world. My teacher, Kongō school actor Udaka Michishige, also turned 70 last year. A generation of Noh actors opening the doors of noh training to the ‘world outside tradition’.
All information and details are available on the Japan-UK Events Calendar website – here
“These two performances at LSO St Luke’s are a rare opportunity to experience the 650-year-old art of noh, and the genius of classical noh performer Akira Matsui, now age 70, in a bold collaboration with western opera, theatre, ballet, music and poetry. We are particularly pleased that this special programme will include ‘Rockaby’ by Samuel Beckett.
The project also includes a range of education activities ‘Getting to noh… more’, including a Seminar on Noh Theatre and Western Culture, at 6pm on 20 February 2017 at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and a series of lecture-demonstrations on Noh Maskmaking, in partnership with The Japan Foundation, from 17-24 February 2017 in Norwich, Oxford, Durham, London, Southend and Dublin.”
The 16th edition of the Men-no-kai exhibition celebrates Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday and will feature masks by him as well as several by his students. Michishige’s masks have been published in The Secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha International) and The Way of Noh (Casadeilibri).
Place: Kyoto Prefectural Center for Arts and Culture 2nd Floor
Kawaramachi Hironokoji-sagaru, Kamigyo-ku (across from the Prefectural Hospital) Time: January 6th-8th 2017, from 10:00 to 18:00 (closes at 17:30 on the 8th.
On Saturday 7th from 13:30 Udaka Michishige will demonstrate the noh costuming process.