A synthetic, yet touching account of a close encounter with Noh theatre. Thank you Travis.
This year’s INI International Noh Institute – Keiunkai Taikai, in celebration of 50 years of stage life of Master Actor Udaka Michishige, has come to a close. It is difficult to draw all the impressions on such a special event in one single post. There are so many aspects and viewpoints it would be necessary to include and, in the attempt to include everything (and everyone) I would end up not doing justice to all of them. I will maintain the very personal take that has been the line of this blog so far.
On the occasion of this Kai I could for the first time take part of the full production of a Noh play, Makiginu, in the role of the tsure. As in a dream, my memories of the performance are blurred and spotty. I stand behind the omaku curtain, in the kagami no ma mirror room, I can appreciate the quality of the lights coming from the stage, through the five colours of the curtain. The lights, and the cries of the hayashi call for my entrance. Although that of the tsure is a subsidiary role, its rather long initial chant substantially contributes to set the mood of the play. I felt invested of this responsibility while treading on the hashigakari for the first time. Slowly pivoting on my feet to face the matsubame pine on the backdrop of the stage, the beats of the drums give room to my chant, as I begin my long trip to Mikumano…
Taking part of a full Noh is a privilege that only a very few foreigners had in the century-old Noh tradition. Infinite gratefulness and deep respect go to those who are teaching me this way: Master-Actor Udaka Michishige, Shihan Rebecca Ogamo-Teele and Monique Arnaud, whose relentless efforts to transmit Noh theatre to foreigners is, I believe, the greatest, unconditional expression of love for the art of Noh.
This year’s INI – International Noh Institute Gala Recital celebrates 50 years of stage life of its founder, Master-Actor Udaka Michishige (Kongo School).
Noh: Yuki (‘The Snow’)
Makiginu (‘The Rolls of Silk’)
The program will also include a variety of chant and dance excerpts. Foreign and Japanese students of Udaka Michishige will perform on stage. Information material will be available in English and Japanese.
Place: Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto. Subway Karasuma line: get off at Karasuma-Imadegawa (K06), South Exit 6, walk South 300m and find the theatre on the right.
Time: 12 June 2010 (Sat) 1:00pm – 5:30pm.
Fee: Free of charge. The audience is free to come and go quietly.
A reception will follow from 6:30pm (fee: 1000 yen). Come share your impressions on Noh theatre and to talk to the teacher and the performers! Meet us at ‘Tenshokan’（天正館）2nd Fl., Mukadeya-cho 380, Shinmachidori Nishiki-koji-agaru Subway Karasuma-Shijo, Exit 24, walk West, then North at Shijo-Shinmachi (about 5 minutes). Click here for a directions from the Kongo Theatre to Tenshokan.
Map for the Kongo Nogakudo (金剛能楽堂)
Tomorrow I am embarking on a new journey to Japan. After I began to practice Noh theatre I went back to Japan almost every spring in order to undertake training with Udaka Michishige in Kyoto. For someone like me, coming from a non-Japanese studies background, it is rather hard to find opportunities to go to Japan and study there. So far I always managed with travel grants and research funding. This year will be my first experience as ‘official’ exchange student at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Among the choices were Waseda and Keio – with all due respect, the exchange programme committee was a bit surprised to see that my first choice was Rits. However Kyoto is the city I love and the headquarters of Udaka-sensei’s International Noh Institute. I am going to stay there until September, entering then my 4th and final PhD year at Royal Holloway.
This time in Kyoto is going to be very special. On 12 June 2010 I will take my first role as actor in a full Noh theatre performance, Makiginu, as companion of the main actor, or shite-tsure. The shite role will be taken by Monique Arnaud, advanced student of Udaka Michishige and licensed instructor of Noh (shihan). While this tsure is a rather static role, its function is primarily centred on the chant. As he opens the performance singing a rather long chant section, his responsibility is setting the mood of the play. I will post more information about this event as my training progresses.
The other reason that makes this performance particularly special for me is being on stage with Monique Arnaud, who has taught me Noh theatre while I was living in Italy. If I have a chance to be performing on a Noh stage today, I owe it to Monique-sensei. I will write more about her later on.
As for now, wish me good luck.
How to pay my respect to one of the greatest masters of Japanese cinema? Well, first of all with a ‘thank you’. It is through one of Kurosawa-sensei’s films, Throne of Blood (1957) that I first encountered Noh theatre. While working on my MA dissertation at University of Verona (I was studying Shakespeare at the time) I fortuitously bumped into this screen adaptation of Macbeth. Kurosawa explicitly draws from Noh theatre to produce a masterpiece of black and white, sound and silence. Since then, I have seen Throne of Blood a zillion times, I wrote articles on it, produced the extras for the Italian DVD edition, etc.). Still the perfection of this film moves me as a few other things in my life did. My humble contribution to the genius of Kurosawa is in fact a token of thankfulness for having introduced Noh theatre in such a creative, yet ‘authentic’ way. Kurosawa not only loved Noh: he also understood it so well to know how to transpose its ineffable aesthetics on film, and with such a power. Akira Kurosawa has been long criticised by the Japanese for being too ‘Western’ – I say that it is thanks to artists who dare to do challenge the boundaries of genre, class, local criticism that an artistic dialogue, notoriously more effective than the political, can successfully take place. My reception of Noh started with his work, and I am doing my best to follow his example. So.. thank you, Kurosawa-sensei.
I would like to share some rare amateur videos of Kurokawa Noh I found on YouTube. Click on the video to be redirected on YouTube and find more videos on the performance before-and-after on the uploader’s page.
There is not a lot of literature on the subject in European languages: here are some resources:
– Martzel, Gérard. La fête d’Ogi et le nô de Kurokawa. Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1975.
– Grossman, Eike. ‘Under the burden of Noh: Community life in Kurokawa and ritual Noh performances’ in Noh Theatre Transversal. Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Christopher Balme eds. Munich: Iudicium, 2008.
Of all the shinsaku-noh (modern noh) I have come across this is by far the most bizarre.. an adaptation of the popular anime Neongenesis Evangelion in Noh style by shite Yamai Tsunao (Konparu school). Apparently Yamai-san has a wide range of interests including singing in a rock-band etc.. This is not the first time a manga has been made into Noh: a few years ago Umewaka Rokuro transposed the manga Kurenai Tennyo into a shinsaku Noh. I do not know either mangas and have not seen the plays.. surely these are images that make you think…
I am collecting ways the word Noh has been used to create more or less funny or catchy puns on Noh (usually titles for newspaper articles).
- ‘Noh Woman Noh Cry’ (reported by Melissa Poll) – this could actually be my current favourite
- ‘Nō to ieru kyōgen’ (‘The Kyogen that can say Noh’), probably after the essay No to ieru nihon (‘Japan that can say No’) – suggested by Helen Parker.
- ‘Japanese theatre bulletin: Noh news to report’. Random Tweet
- ‘Be in the Noh’ workshop at SOAS (Londond, 2001) ran by Matsui Akira (reported by Helen Parker)
- ‘Noh business and sho business’. Episode in a series of three programmes on Japanese music for BBC Radio 3, The Japanese Ear, in the early 1990s. (reported by Helen Parker)
- ‘Nohledge of Zeami’s treatises’ (suggested by Matthew W. Shores)
- ‘Noh news is good news’. (random tweet)
- ‘Are You in the Nō?’ (Vogue, 1/7/1916) suggested by David Ewick
- ‘When Noh means yes’ (American Theatre, 7/1/04)
- ‘Noh business is like Noh business’ (Various articles)
- ‘To be or Noh to be’ (American Theatre, 11/1/03)
- ‘Troupe says yes to Noh’ (News Tribune Tacoma, 27/3/07)
- ‘Noh theatre for you!’ (missing reference)
- ‘The American Who Couldn’t Say Noh’ (by Charles Danziger)
- ‘Japanese No-Noh: The Crosstalk of Public Culture in a Rural Festivity’ . an article by Bill Kelly in Public Culture suggested by Prof. Matthew Cohen
- ‘Japan’s magical landscapes: there’s noh place like it’. (Tom Yarwood, The Guardian 7/10/11)
Do you have more to suggest?
Claire suggested me this promo video by Canon, showing off the amazing capabilities of the 5D Mark II model camera. Interestingly enough, Canon used Noh for the concept of this advertisement. The images are just gorgeous and I love the superimposition of movements and non-Noh music. Philologically, the autumn sequences are a bit out of place as Hagoromo, the play shown, is a Spring play ‘par excellence’. The authors were probably inspired more by the colours of the choken, the dance cloak the shite wears in the second half of the play. Though my impression of the video is very positive, I know other people in the Noh would be annoyed by what is sometimes considered an over-aestheticisation of what should be more austere and less flashy. However, Noh is not in the Taisho era anymore and I wonder to what extent it is possible (and meaningful?) to leave it as it was…
Another children-oriented TV version of a popular Kyogen piece, 千鳥 Chidori. This time featuring the multi-faceted Nomura Mansai.