Kiyotsune 29 June 2013

I am pleased to announce that on 29 June 2013 I will take shite lead role in the Noh Kiyotsune「清経」on the Kongo Noh Theatre stage, in Kyoto, Japan. This will be my first performance as shite in a full Noh production. The event is part of the INI International Noh Institute 2013 Gala Recital, featuring other performances by Japanese and international students of Udaka Michishige, and is co-hosted by the Asahi Shibun Foundation, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, and Gochang Conservation Institute of Cultural Properties, in collaboration with ISEAS Italian School of East Asian Studies. I will post more on Kiyotsune during the following weeks, so watch this space for updates on rehearsals, thoughts, and pictures!

I look forward to meeting you all on 29 June 2013 in Kyoto!



Udaka Michishige no Kai 宇髙通成の会                                                                                                                         INI – International Noh Institute 国際能楽研究会

The International Noh Institute Taikai Gala Recital 2013


29 June 2013 12:00-14:00

Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto

Shite: Diego PELLECCHIA, Tsure: Monique ARNAUD

FREE ADMISSION Explanatory materials available in English, Italian, French and German. Kongo Noh Theatre  Subway Karasuma-Imadegawa (K06), South Exit 6,  walk South 300m.

Kongo map english

The event is co-hosted by:

The Asahi Shinbun Foundation

公益財団法人 朝日新聞文化財団


Gochang logo2

in collaboration with

iseas logo

Hatsubutai 2013

I am happy to announce that on June 29th 2013 I will take the role of shite (main actor) in the full production of a play from the traditional repertoire. The performance will take place at the Kongo Noh Theatre in Kyoto, on the occasion of the Udaka-kai Taikai, and will be my hatsubutai (初舞台, first appearance on stage) as main actor in a full production – with mask, costume and professional musicians. That’s all for now. I will be posting more about this event in the following weeks, so watch this space.

For now make sure you clear your schedule on June 29th (Sat). I am looking forward to meeting you in Kyoto and to celebrate after the performance!

Diego Pellecchia


Notes on MANABU 2012

An image from ‘Ikkyū’, by Sakaguchi Hisashi (Kodansha)

On October 23 2012 the twelfth edition of MANABU, a seminar for Italian researchers hosted by the ISEAS (Italian School of East Asian Studies) took place. The event, which I had the pleasure to organise, was hold in Italian so here are some notes in English for those who could not attend. The meeting brought together scholars from various research fields: Matteo Casari (Bologna) is an anthropologist, Katja Centonze (Tokyo) specialises in contemporary dance/performance, Monique Arnaud (Venice) is a Noh instructor and theatre director, and myself. Silvio Vita, director of ISEAS, has been a wonderful host, facilitating the discussion and organising post-meeting events.

Matteo Casari (University of Bologna) introduced the topic of Noh and Manga, looking at Noh-inspired manga such as Hana yori mo hana no gotoku and Ikkyū (which, I learnt, is surprisingly translated in Italian) and to manga-inspired Noh, such as Umewaka Rokurō’s Kurenai Tennyo. Katja Centonze described the work of dancer/musician/choreographer Alessio Silvestrin and his collaboration with Noh practitioner Tsumura Reijirō, presenting clips of Kakekotoba, Monique Arnaud talked about her directing work in Venice, showing  clips of her most recent production Silent Moving, taking place in the interiors of the magnificent Palazzo Ducale, Venice, implementing techniques borrowed from Japanese traditions such as bunraku in a modern ‘Theatre du Complicite’ style. My presentation introduced the issue of limiting the study of Noh to Japanese literature departments. I suggested that, in order to prevent Noh to become a museum piece, it should be also studied as performance in theatre departments, just like Shakespeare or Aeschylus are.

After the conference we went to my teacher, Udaka Michishige’s okeikoba in order to observe the training session. Since Arnaud and I are both students of Udaka-sensei, we were called on stage for our okeiko. This was not my intention as I thought we would go with the purpose of introducing our guests, but it is difficult to say ‘no’ to your teacher…

We enjoyed the day, especially the rare chance to discuss with members from different backgrounds, and we concluded the day agreeing on the intention of creating another similar event (in English) in the not-so-far future.

New Noh: ‘Shain’

The October issue of the Nōgaku Times features an article on Shain 『沙院』 a shinsaku-noh (new Noh play, not part of the classical canon) by actor Nagajima Tadashi (Kanze).

Shain is based on the character of Shakushain, an Ainu chifetain who led an important rebellion (Shakushain no tatakai, 1669-1672) against the Matsumae clan, the Japanese lords who occupied the Hokkaidō region at that time.

The Noh follows a rather standard structure in which a monk (waki) visiting Hokkaidō meets a local man who tells him the story of Shakushain (shite) before disappearing. In the second half of the play the shite re-enters the stage in his real form, as the spirit of Shakushain. In the interview to the Nōgaku Times, Nagajima-sensei explains how the character for the nochi-ba (second act) was built around that of the Noh Kōu (on the Chinese general Hsiang Yu). One of the highlights of the play is the ezo-nishiki fabric costume for the character of Shakushain, of which you can find pictures on Nagajima-sensei’s website.

Unfortunately not much is said about the ‘post-colonial’ resonance of the play. Obviously the Japanese invasion and subjugation of Hokkaidō has an important meaning in Japanese history, especially if seen in the perspective of Tamura, the only classical Noh play dealing with a similar theme. In Tamura the general Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811) is sent by Emperor Heizei to Mt. Suzaku to contrast an Ainu invasion, whom he defeats with the help of the bodhisattva Kannon, who mercifully sends a thousand arrows on the ‘demons of the North’, killing them all. You can find a synopsis on, and perhaps also notice how they artfully avoided to mention that Tamura’s enemies were actually Ainu people.

Those interested in attending Shain can find more info on Nagajima Tadashi’s website.

‘Honourable guests’ and the promotion of Japanese performing arts

This is the worst of the off-topics of a Noh specialist, but… as I am preparing a Kabuki class for my 2nd year drama school students, I was browsing YouTube searching for interesting videos that might show the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of a Kabuki production. I bumped into the video below, a Kirin Beer commercial featuring Ichikawa Danjuro XII (thank you Matt for the identification) posing as Kamakura Gongoro from the play Shibaraku. So far nothing special – Kabuki actors often feature commercials for famous brands of tea, beer, etc. What caught my attention, though, comes towards the end of the commercial, when Danjuro is portrayed as having a refreshing beer after the performance, surrounded by a group of foreigners in tuxedos, who listen in amusement to his stage tales.

It is not uncommon to see foreigners featuring Japanese commercials, sometimes playing comic character, most often portraying cast-types of various Western ethnicities (a while ago I saw this ‘Italian’ whose nose really pierced the screen). However, this scene in the Kirin commercial somehow reminded me of the imagery of the ‘honourable guests’, Western visitors – diplomats and academics – that during the Meiji period attended Noh performances, and of whom the Noh establishment took much pride. In those days, Kabuki was considered popular and vulgar, hence unsuitable to entertain the high-ranking foreign guests. Of course, things have now changed, and despite a certain look of disdain from the world of Noh, Kabuki is by all means considered one of the treasure of Japanese traditional culture, and is often promoted internationally. Mukashi mo ima mo, the Japanese tradition takes advantage of the foreign eye on it in order to improve its self-image, and this seems to have been quite clear to the writer of the Kirin commercial, who carefully devised the script so that Danjuro would be the star not only of an indigenous product, but of an art of international value. And so is Kirin.

A life of dedication to Noh

I re-post here the article that appeared today on Japan Times online. I consider the work of Rebecca Ogamo Teele as a model for all those who would like to pursue the study of Noh in a serious way. I wish Rebecca-sensei all best for her next performance.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011  

American woman pours self into noh


Special to The Japan Times

According to Rebecca Ogamo Teele, an American instructor, performer and mask carver for noh, falling asleep is a perfectly respectable response to attending such plays.

In fact, she would almost recommend it.

A noh performance can be likened to a meditative state, with a rhythm forged from drum calls and breath-based vocalizations, she explains. This dreamlike world harkens back to the womb, pulsing with the mother’s heartbeat.

“The rhythms of noh can draw you into a trance state,” Teele says. “You may sleep, but at some point there will be a change in the tension, and you’ll wake naturally.”

Teele, 62, speaks about noh with familiarity born of 39 years of study, including three decades as an instructor of the classical dramatic and musical art. Her longtime teacher, Michishige Udaka, is a master actor and mask carver in the Kyoto-based Kongo school, one of the largest of the five major noh schools.

Teele’s first exposure to noh was as a child in Kobe, where her father, an educational missionary and scholar of contemporary literature, taught at Kwansei Gakuin University during two stints in Japan totaling nine years that began in 1950.

“My father studied utai (noh chanting) and often brought our family to classical art performances. I can remember when I was very young waking up at noh performances and feeling transported by the otherworldly sounds and the unexpected sight of masked actors,” she says.

After returning to the United States in 1960, Teele fueled her interest in Japanese arts with a fine arts major at Bennington College in Vermont. She returned to Japan in 1971, settling to Kyoto, to learn more about classical theater arts.

She first studied with a mask carver but desired a stronger connection to the plays themselves. Intrigued by Udaka’s insistence on carving the masks for his noh roles himself and his rare openness to teaching women and foreigners, she began to study at the Kongo school.

“Udaka-sensei felt that noh is universal; that if someone trains and has the necessary commitment, they can interpret a role, no matter where they’re from,” she says.

Teele began studying dramatic roles right away, along with daily stretching and vocalization exercises. “In the Kongo School you learn to read notation by parroting the teacher. You start with the simplest, most abstract movements and you learn to listen to and to later interpret the text.”

She gradually mastered the performer’s gliding walk, in which the feet never leave the floor, the elbows are held out and to the side, and fingers are folded in a fist. She demonstrates by gliding across the carpet, with posture held erect but the torso set at a low center of gravity and legs bent. In noh, she says, movement is controlled and usually slow, but it can sometimes unfold explosively fast.

“This posture creates a larger sounding board for your voice and nicely sets off the costume, which often features sleeves twice as long as your arms. Holding your arms this way is physically demanding, calling on stamina and strength,” she explains. The performer typically holds a fan to amplify gestures or mime movements, such as drinking or holding a shield.

“Kabuki has a wonderful flamboyance, but I was attracted by the depth of noh,” she says. “In noh the audience is a kind of witness, called on to participate in the performance. Rather than passively having things laid out for them, they must create something by listening to the chorus and watching the abstract movements, which assume meaning when attached to a text.”

In noh, costumes, dance, utai and poetry help to express overwhelming emotions, such as rage or sorrow, with stories often based on famous historical scenes or Buddhist themes. The main character, the shite, is assisted by an on-stage chorus and a wakikata, or secondary character, who acts as the foil for the shite.

A noh performance typically includes several plays as well as a farcicalkyogen performance.

Over the years, as Teele improved as a noh performer, she began to conceive of a role for herself, she said, “in facilitating communication and understanding among performers and learners.” After nine years of study she became certified as a shihan, or instructor, one of the three foreign instructors whom Udaka has trained. In 1996 she was accepted into the Noh Association under her noh name, Rebecca Ogamo (a play on words, since “kamo” means duck, and a “teal” is a small dabbling duck).

Most noh plays are performed wearing masks, although not all. When performing without a mask the face remains completely emotionless. For the Western actor, the face is the greatest medium of expression, but the use of a mask in noh, rather than serving as a handicap, allows for greater expression of creative energy, Teele says.

“Because the audience is not distracted by the face, you become more aware of the performer’s body and voice. It seems that it would be limiting, but it allows you to access greater powers of expression,” she says. “The mask is the focusing lens for the actor’s energy, and that can be quite transporting.”

She displays a lacquered mask she has carved herself from lightweight Japanese cypress, with straps and linen backing attached. Most masks are carved for specific roles or character types; this one is for Lady Rakujo, the betrayed wife of Prince Genji in the play “Aoi no ue.” The horns and the savage, tooth-bared grimace symbolize a woman transformed by resentment, grief and disillusionment into a demonic spirit, Teele says.

It takes up to a year for Teele to complete a mask like this. “The finest masks have an intense immediacy and can express love, devotion, or grief,” she says. “With an accomplished performer, the mask should seemingly come alive, with the expression changing as the viewing angle changes.”

Teele provides information on noh and teaches both foreign and Japanese students as associate director of the International Noh Institute, a Kyoto-based network of instructors and students affiliated with Michishige Udaka. She says Japanese have no problem accepting a foreign teacher: “Sometimes Japanese prefer a foreigner, since they can ask questions and admit their ignorance of noh without embarrassment.”

Much of the appeal of noh is in the texts, which are often very short narratives but with compressed layers of meaning. Although many of the most famous noh plays, like “Hagoromo” and “Dojoji,” date back more than five centuries, new plays are being written and performed regularly, many to address contemporary issues.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Udaka pondered the fate of the souls of those who died instantly in mass carnage, leading him to write a play about Hiroshima atomic bomb victims. In the play, “Inori” (“Prayer”), a mother follows the voice of her missing child to the underworld, where a guide escorts her to a site where victims of nuclear and terror attacks reside. Teele accompanied Udaka on a tour of the play to Paris, Dresden and Berlin in 2007, where it was met with enthusiastic, focused audiences, she says.

Teele has appeared on NHK TV, and has lectured and led workshops about noh in Latin America, Europe and New Zealand. In 2003 the Kyoto Prefectural Government recognized her dedication to the dance form by awarding her the Akebono Prize, for women who have contributed greatly to their fields.

She believes that she is the only foreigner to be accepted into the Noh Association, which recognizes professional performers.

She is currently working on a compilation of translated noh plays intended for a general readership, and she has embarked on a project to create smaller-proportioned masks specifically designed for female performers. Last June, she performed as the shitekata, or central character, of the play “Yuki” at the Kongo Noh Theater, a highly abstract role in which, as the spirit of the snow, she materializes before a lost priest and seeks his intercession for finding enlightenment.

“The character is essentially an accumulation of our memories, attachments and illusions,” she says. “In noh, plays like this allow us to experience an awakening of awareness of both the dangers of attachment and the importance of the living things on Earth.”

Repost: Interview with Ogamo Rebecca Teele

Ogamo Rebecca Teele is a Noh actress, mask carver, translator and scholar; she is the coordinator of the International Noh Institute, led by Noh Master-Actor Udaka Michishige. It is also thanks to Rebecca-sensei’s efforts to pursue the way of Noh that I have been able to begin my journey through this art.

I am copying here the full text of the interview that appeared on the Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 6, 2011).

Wedded to her art, noh two ways about it.
Yoshihiro Kitaura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

KYOTO–Face-to-face at a rehearsal hall at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Kyoto, the elder U.S. teacher and her Australian pupil bowed and engaged in a traditional “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (thank you for your support).

The teacher, noh actress Ribekka Ogamo, then began demonstrating a model performance, moving and lowering her center of gravity as if skating across some ice. She then coaxed her student into dancing more slowly and expressively.

Ogamo, 61, whose real name is Rebecca Teele, has described noh as having ongoing inspiration on her life. She has been learning noh for 39 years under the tutelage of Master-Actor Michishige Udaka, 63, a professional noh actor of the Kongo school. Udaka has much praise for Teele, saying, “She is good at noh chants and her performance is also solid.”

Born in Michigan, Teele first encountered noh as a child in Japan, at a performance she went to with her father who was then teaching at a university in Kansai.

Teele was mesmerized by the scene facing her when she woke from a nap. Orotund noh chants, emotive noh masks and the subtle rustling of long skirts all contributed to a profound atmosphere on stage that left an indelible impression on the young girl.

Teele, who later returned to the United States and graduated from high school there, majored in theater at a U.S. university. She thought while Western theater called on actors to possess certain physical charms, including a modicum of attractiveness, the noh she knew from Japan instead emphasized people’s spirituality. She thought she would be able to explore this theatrical expression, which she felt lacking in Western theater, by performing noh.

As her obsession grew, she again visited Japan and observed many noh performances. Fascinated with the beauty of the works staged by the Kongo school, Teele decided in 1972 to become Udaka’s pupil, as he had previously accepted foreign students.


Becoming Udaka’s pupil

Despite being accepted into the Udaka school, Teele faced much difficulty. First, she had to practice sitting seiza-style on her heels. She had no difficulty speaking conversational Japanese but it was a challenge to understand the noh chants written in classical Japanese.

Yet Teele was determined to succeed. Consulting her dictionary, she slowly made her way through many noh works. She also practiced the requisite chants in a loud voice at a riverside in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, swimming helped Teele developed a physique better suited to the art form and she eventually conquered movements such as how to shuffle properly. She was making her living working at an English conversation school and translating, but Teele was completely devoted to noh.

Teele’s journey to become a noh master took nine years. Upon being admitted to join the Nohgaku Kyokai association–itself an unusual move–she identified herself as noh actor Ribekka Ogamo.

“[Teele’s membership] has inspired Japanese disciples,” Udaka said.

Teele, who also serves as secretariat chief of the International Noh Institute, a body comprising of overseas noh students among others, now herself teaches foreign students, her efforts a testament of her devotion to the art form.

The work is not without its challenges. The quality of a noh performance depends not only on the actors’ expertise in traditional dances and chants but also how the noh masks are displayed to the audience.

The significance of these principles is not always understood among beginner pupils hailing from overseas. According to Teele, she was once asked by a non-Japanese student whether it was acceptable to make small changes to the basic style of noh dancing.

Teele also recalled a pupil from South America unable to imagine snow. On such occasions, Teele would advise the students to visit temples and shrines in Kyoto and look at pictures on display depicting the four seasons.

In spite of the fact that many foreigners visit Japan to learn noh just like she did many years ago, Teele is disappointed their Japanese peers seem uninterested in learning the traditional art.

In June last year, Teele took part in a performance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Udaka’s stage career. She played the main role in the program “Yuki” (snow), a snow spirit that dances in the moonlight for about one hour.

The performance was even more remarkable as Teele danced while enduring severe pain in her left knee. She had fallen down some station stairs six months earlier and injured the knee, which had already been broken once before. The accident prevented Teele from rehearsing enough before the performance.

“You should improve your dancing so that the noh mask becomes more expressive,” Udaka commented following her performance. His uncompromising attitude toward the art made Teele even more determined.

Teele has one unrealized dream: To perform noh in the United States. She hopes to fulfill this by almost any means possible, her will unchanged from when she first decided years ago to devote herself to noh.

(Feb. 6, 2011)

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