“Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited is not just a revolutionary new mix of western chamber opera with Japan’s ancient Noh theatre. It’s a rare chance to see the rarest of Noh performers: women.”
“The first thing you come up against is just being non-Japanese is a challenge. None from outside the country have become professional Noh actors,” says [director and playwright Colleen][…] Lanki. “And I’m a foreign woman—I never even cared to or attempted to be a professional. Plus I started too late; you’d have to devote your life to it. I just love studying it.”
Being a woman and starting late may be the real challenges, and both apply to Japanese nationals, too. Should a foreign exchange student age 18 or 19 decide to relocate to Japan and start studying in earnest (read: dedicate all the time to practice) we may be able to see a non-Japanese become a professional. The real issue may be: all foreigners (including myself) start late, and do not want to (or cannot) dedicate their entire lives to the practice of noh. It makes sense: with a very grim outlook for getting a job in the noh world, even for the Japanese, it takes a fool or a billionaire to decide to give up everything for noh.
On Sunday 21st April I led a Noh theatre workshop for foreigners at the HUB Kyoto, Kyohakuin. It’s been a wonderful experience and a great chance to meet foreigners who share an interest in Noh and who are willing to try their best with Noh utai chant and shimai dance. Kyohakuin is an ex-school featuring a Noh stage which was not used for several decades. Recently the kagami-ita backdrop pine tree has been restored by Kim Hea-Kyoung and Ichimiya Keiko, and the participants of this workshop as well as myself had the privilege of dancing the shimaiOimatsu (‘Aged Pine’) in front of the renovated pine tree for the first time.
Teaching absolute beginners is a very instructing experience for the teacher, too. Teaching a full, albeit brief, dance to people who never even walked the suriashi sliding step is very challenging, yet I find fascinating how all participants identify dance elements differently and focus on various parts of the dance according to their own decoding tools and processes.
Photographer Stéphane Barbery joined us and took the awesome picture you see on this post. Stéphane has a long-term project on Japanese traditional arts, and has photographed a number of Noh professionals so far. You can check his work on his Flickr account here.
THANKS to Lucinda Cowing and Eri Suzuki of the HUB Kyoto for helping organise and promote the event: I very much enjoyed this workshop and I am looking forward to the next one!