I rarely publish pictures of myself on stage. Today I will make an exception as I received some great shots from Massimo Fioravanti, a very talented Italian photographer who has been following Udaka-sensei the past few months, taking pictures of performances and training sessions. Massimo has been working on various projects in Japan. Most notably, he published a photography book on Zuigan-ji in Matsushima, which has been severely damaged by the tsunami, and photographed the costumes collection of the Kongo family on the occasion of the 1989 exhibition at the Sforza Castle in Milan, published in a luscious volume.
In November 2012 Massimo came to Matsuyama where Sensei performed Sesshoseki (nyotai ‘female’ version). Before the performance there was a recital to which various members of the International Noh Institute took part with su-utai chant and shimai dances I did Yashima, which I have already blogged about here and here. Here are a couple of pictures that Massimo has kindly sent me.
For those new to Noh, a shimai is a short excerpt of a play, something like an aria in opera. Shimai dances are studied independently from the full Noh, and are often performed as complement of a programme featuring full plays. Masks and costumes are not used, but formal montsuki (a plain black or white silk kimono) and hakama – the equivalent of a formal Western suit. There is no hayashiorchestra playing, only a small chorus of four sitting in the back of the stage. A shimai is the adaptation of the dance that would be performed in the full Noh, so movements are slightly different, and props are rarely used. In the case of Yashima the shite holds a sword, here substituted by the fan – the open fan in my left hand is a shield (this is the way it is portrayed in the Noh, too).
Publishing pictures of Noh performances is not easy because of copyright issues. I will try and post more pictures of me – if I have decent ones – in the future. Massimo Fioravanti has been taking some amazing pictures of Udaka-sensei’s performances during the past few months and he is planning to hold an exhibition (in Venice and in Rome) and hopefully to publish a catalogue afterwards, which I hope will be available internationally.
Nō wo tabi suru is a collection of pictures and articles previously published in the magazine Fujin gahō. The pictures portray Noh actor Umewaka Rokurō Genshō wearing costumes and masks of various characters from various Noh plays against the background of the places where the stories of the plays actually take place, for example the Goddess Benzaiten on the shore of Chikubushima Island on the Biwa lake for the play Chikubushima, or Rokujō no Miyasudokoro walking the characteristic paths among bamboo thickets in Arashiyama, Kyoto, for the play Nonomiya.
This is an interesting book as it tries to visualise Noh character in real places, which is one of the beauties of Noh. I think it was Komparu Kunio who in his book Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspectives listed among the points of interest of Noh the possibility to learn about Japanese geography and to travel without moving, qualities that in Japan are characteristic of classic poetry. The pictures are truly beautiful and do an excellent service to the wonderful mask and costumes which I believe belong to the Umewaka Rokurō family.
In my view the most striking shot is that of the character of the mother in the play Sumidagawa. I think the picture conveys the sense of estrangement the mother who travelled from Kyoto to Tokyo seeking for her lost child, must have felt. At the same time it reminds me that so many of the beautiful sceneries described in Noh are not that beautiful anymore..
The book closes with a chapter on the local food that Genshō and his companions had the chance to taste on their journey… a typically Japanese note that reminds me of the upper-class elderly woman which represent the target of this kind of publication. Sob.
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.