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.


I am spending a couple of weeks in my hometown, Brescia, Italy, where I return quite often not only to visit my family and friends, but also to train with Monique Arnaud, the Noh teacher that first introduced me to Noh theatre. Arnaud is a shihan, a Noh instructor licensed by the iemoto of our stylistic school, the Kongō School of Noh. Arnaud, who is originally French, has spent most of her life abroad, first in China, then Japan, then Italy, where she currently resides, working as opera choreographer, and teaching theatre directing at IUAV University of Venice.

These days I am working on the maibayashi from the Noh Kiyotsune (清経). Maibayashi is one of the various canonical ways of performing excerpts of a Noh play, such as shimai (short dance with the accompaniment of a small chorus) or rengin (seated chant of a section of a play). Maibayashi (舞囃子) is a word composed by the characters for ‘dance’ (舞 mai) and ‘Noh instruments’ (囃子 hayashi). Unlike shimai, the maibayashi features the accompaniment of chorus and of the Noh orchestra, and is usually longer than an average shimai, often featuring an instrumental dance between two sections of the play. Kiyotsune is a play from the second category (Warrior plays) and tells the story of Taira no Kiyotsune (平 清経) a general of the Heike clan appearing in the Heike Monogatari epic who drowned himself at Yanagi-ga-ura (present Kitakyūshū) after realising the unavoidable defeat of his army, chased by the Genji clan. Just before committing suicide, Kiyotsune cuts his hair and gives them to his retainer Awazu no Saburo, instructing him to present it to his wife as a keepsake. The Noh opens with Saburo returning to Kyoto, where Kiyotsune’s wife awaits for the return of her husband. Once Saburo tells her about her husband, the wife is shocked and laments how Kiyotsune failed to keep the promise to reunite with her, and refuses the gift. Still in tears, she goes to sleep, where Kiyotsune visits her in dreams. In the second half of the play the ghost of Kiyotsune, in full warrior attire, appears, and discusses with the wife. This is a most interesting section, with Kiyotsune blaming the wife for having refused his gift, while the wife blames him for the selfish act of committing suicide. Blaming each other in what seems like a domestic fight, the couple realises how their condition is similar, both suffering from loss and longing, as this world and the other world are made of the same substance. Kiyotsune then recounts his last days, and, in the final dance, he mimes how he now suffers in hell, where rain is like arrows pouring from the sky, mountains are like iron castles, and enemy warriors advance inesorably like flags of clouds. As it often happens in Noh, it is thanks to the power of the narration of one’s own story (as in a psychoanalysis session) that the characters come to realise the inconsistence of their pain, and manage to get rid of the attachments that prevent them to reach enlightenment. In this case, Kiyotsune reaches enlightenment not only thanks to the nenbutsu prayer he recites before jumping into the water, but also because he comes to terms with his wife. In a way, it is not only the dissatisfaction with his own death, but also the resentment that his wife feels for him that cause his suffering.

Kiyotsune by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

I have already performed the maibayashi from the Noh Kochō (胡蝶) a couple of years ago, which contains a standard chu-no-mai medium tempo instrumental dance. However, in Kiyotsune there is no dance between the kuse and kiri sections, but a short exchange between husband and wife, before the kiri closing section where Kiyotsune recounts his torments in the hell of the ashura, the defeated warriors who remain attached to this world and cannot reach enlightenment are destined to suffer. This section is characterised by the guntai martial style, in which the kamae basic stance is performed in han-mi style, slightly lateral instead of frontal. This stance is typical of martial arts, and basically aims at avoiding to offer the front of the body to the opponent, while at the same time presenting the arm that would hold a sword or shield. As maibayashi are not in costume, this dance is performed with two fans – one is open and represents the shield, the other the sword. Handling two fans at the same time is not easy, though the greatest difficulty of the martial stile consists in performing jumps and other more acrobatic movements while maintaining the stability and solidity typical of Noh dance. As a ‘caucasian’ I also find that my legs are longer that the average east-asian: in order to take a good posture I have to bend my knees much more than the usual, which in the case of a warrior is already a lot! This puts much stress on knees and thighs, and naturally leads me to reflect on the extent to which Noh is a form of art tailored around a specific body type (male Japanese), and might not immediately fit other bodies. What is the future of the Noh bodies?

New essay: Leoni che folleggiano fra le peonie in fiore

COPERTINA-Prove-1_2012.jpg.mediumThe new issue of the Journal Prove di Drammaturgia, entirely dedicated to Noh theatre, features my article on the first Noh theatre performance in the West in Venice 1954. The journal is available here. The journal is entirely in Italian, though I am currently working on an English version of the essay.

Prove di Drammaturgia n.1/2012

anno: 2012
numero: 1/2012
ISSN: 1592-6680
data di pubblicazione: febbraio 2012

a cura di Matteo Casari

  A partire dal Teatro nō: una dinamica a doppio binario
Atti del convegno 
(Bologna, Salone Marescotti, 10 novembre 2011)
Umewaka Naohiko, La fisicità nel prendere un caffè
Umewaka Naohiko, Passeggiata in casa: appunti di un attore nō sul confine tra il mondo interiore ed il mondo esteriore
Matteo Casari, Il nuovo nō: continuità di discontinuità
Bonaventura Ruperti, La creazione di nuovi nō in epoca moderna. Il fascino inesauribile di un’arte
Claudia Iazzetta, Il nō, l’arte dell’incontro
Giovanni Azzaroni, La tradizione resistente. Conservazione o innovazione: qui sta il problema
Lydia Origlia, Yukio Mishima e l’incantevole mondo del nō
Diego Pellecchia, “Leoni che folleggiano fra le peonie in fiore”: spettacoli di teatro nō al XIII Festival Internazionale ‘Biennale’ di Venezia (1954)
Umewaka Naohiko, Il ristorante italiano. Lo spettacolo più bello del mondo
Angela Grasso, Teatro nō. Polarità a confronto. Recensione dello spettacolo “Il ristorante italiano”

Sakura. Tribute to Japan

It is difficult to find words to illustrate what was meant to describe the indescribable.

This is Sakura. A Tribute to Japan: an Italian project by Gio’ Fronti,  directed by Alessandra Pescetta, and starring Monique Arnaud, a short film dedicated to the victims (dead and alive) of the Fukushima disaster. Arnaud, director of the International Noh Institute branch of Milan is the only Noh shihan (licensed instructor) to be currently active in Europe as teacher and performer. Her dance in the video is inspired by Noh movements, and she wears a costume realised by disassembling 10 paper tracksuits that recall those worn in contaminated areas, and by sewing them together into a Noh-inspired costume. The voice (in Japanese, subbed in Italian) describes the dreadful coming of the tsunami, when the clouds fell into the ocean, and the sky was left empty. But with the wind comes the beauty of cherry blossoms… Please click on the picture below to watch the video on Vimeo (I could not embed).

Sakura. Tribute To Japan from videodrome-XL on Vimeo.


AsiaTeatro is a new project coordinated by Carmen Covito (writer and translator), dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge of Asian traditional performance in the Italian language. AsiaTeatro is both a website and an academic journal. The website offers introductory notions of performance traditions belonging to the four geographic areas in which it is subdivided (Japan, China, India and South-East Asia). Subsections dedicated to specific genres explore in greater detail each topic, while a rich bibliography provides the reader with a general overview of the scholarship produced to date.

The content of the sections is written in a style devoid of specialist jargon or theoretical shorthand, and is a valid and much needed resource for Italian students, or for anyone who wishes to take an interest in Asian performance.

Lezione aperta di canto e danza Noh (via International Noh Institute – Italy)

Lezione aperta di canto e danza Noh L’International Noh Institute – sezione Italia, è lieta di annunciare che nei giorni 9 e 10 ottobre la maestra Monique Arnaud terrà due lezioni di prova aperte al pubblico sulla recitazione ed il canto del teatro Noh presso lo spazio Continuum di Via Stendhal, 43 a Milano, ingresso libero dalle ore 15:00 alle ore 19:30. Sarà un’occasione di incontro e di riflessione per approfondire la propria conoscenza e la propria cultura del mondo Giapponese … Read More

via International Noh Institute – Italy