Good news for Noh lovers in NY this summer! Check this out (original article here)
“Lincoln Center Festival opens on July 13 with two elegantly ritualized productions with origins in Japan and China. One of Japan’s oldest and most venerated Noh theater companies, Kanze Noh Theatre led by Kiyokazu Kanze, the 26th Grand Master of the Kanze School and a blood descendent of the founders of Noh, makes a rare New York appearance at the festival. Japan’s approximately 700-year-old classical theater art of extreme refinement is known for its resplendent costumes and masks, hypnotic music, and intricately stylized performance on an austere set featuring a single pine tree. In a Noh play, the divide between the natural and supernatural is bridged as spirits and humans interact in a world rife with symbolism. Kanze Noh Theatre will give six performances, July 13-17 on an authentic Noh stage that is being specially built by Lincoln Center Festival at the Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. The company will present five different Noh dramas selected from the repertoire of approximately 240, as well as two Kyogen, the customary comic interlude in a Noh program
Hello! I apologise to my readers for not having written much in a long time. I am working on multiple research projects at the moment besides teaching and writing duties as always. Anyway I though I would take five just to share my excitement about attending the Tadasu Kanjin Noh at Shimogamo Shrine this Saturday 30th of May 2015. I would love to tell you more about the place, the play and the importance of kanjin (subscription) performances in Noh but, alas, no time for that. Just a few key features: open air performance; hashigakari bridge installed behind the musicians as it was in the olden days (a long long time ago); the iemoto of the Kanze School (Kanze Kiyokazu) dances the Noh Kamo with an impressive lineup of top-notch performers; it is expensive but the money goes towards the renovation of the Shimogamo Shrine.
What I am going to do in place of extensive writing is to shamelessly copy/paste the English info on the organisers’ website so that people in the area who are interested can easily find their way to the booking system.
Tadasu Kanjin Noh
Commemorating the 34th renovation of Shimogamo shrine and the 550th anniversary of Tadasugawara Kanjin Sarugaku performance
Noh: Kamo Performed by: Kanze Kiyokazu (head of the Kanze school) Place: Shimogamo Shrine Date and time: May 30 (Sat), 6 PM (doors open 5 PM)
Situated on the north eastern (inauspicious) side of the ancient capital, the Tadasu area was traditionally a place for conducting purification ceremonies. Tadasu no Mori (literally “Forest of Correction”), Shimogamo Shrine’s sacred grove, was believed to be a residence of a guardian deity which “corrects” (tadasu) the malign influences. 550 years ago, there was a famous performance of Sarugaku (a precursor of Noh) held at the Tadasu area for the purpose of temple solicitation. For Shimogamo shrine, 2015 is a year of “Shikinen Sengu”, a renovation which is done according to an ancient tradition every 21 years. Let’s take this important year as an opportunity to once again feel the beauty of Japanese culture.
Today I went to the second Sōichirō-no-kai performance, organised by young Kanze school shite actor Hayashi Sōichirō. The main performance was Matsukaze, performed by Sōichirō and Sakaguchi Takanobu. The Kanze Iemoto, Kanze Kiyokazu (whose name is written 清河寿 and not 清和 starting this year) was the chorus leader, but also performed the maibayashi Tōru,shaku-no-maikogaki (staging variation) before Matsukaze. Since I will perform the maibayashi from the Noh Tōru next August I thought I would go and watch this performance.
What an interesting performance! The normal version of Tōru features a haya-mai rapid tempo dance in 5 dan or sections. The Kongō school usually stages it as banshiki haya-mai, where banshiki indicates a shift in the flute mode during the second section (shodan). Among the variations in the Kongō repertoire is also the extremely demanding jū-san-dan no mai, or 13 movements dance, which Udaka Michishige danced last year at the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo.
The shaku-no-mai (酌之舞) kogaki, exclusive of the Kanze school, begins with a special tachimawari circling of the stage, followed by a shortened version of the hayamai, filled with special movements (for example the tappai position that signals the beginning of the dance is unusually performed while kneeling at jō-za, in front of the taiko player). What makes this kogaki particularly special is that the initial tachimawari is actually derived from the okina-no-mai dance in the ritual Okina. The shite goes to sumi (downstage right) and waki-za (downstage left) and stands still facing front while the flute plays one long, piercing note. In the context of Tōru I interpreted this as the spirit of the minister Minamoto no Toru contemplating the scenery of his villa in Kyoto (and the scenery of Matsushima and Michinoku that the villa itself reflects), his heart filled with nostalgia. It is a rather intense moment. Then the shite stamps exactly like in Okina, before completing the tachimawari and getting ready for the beginning of the actual hayamai.
Another interesting thing is the name of this kogaki. The Kanze school performs the 酌之舞, where 酌 (shaku) is the act of pouring beverages, in this case rice wine. In the play, the spirit of the minister Minamoto no Tōru observes the full moon reflected on a cup of rice wine, as he used to let cups flow on the surface of the artificial sea he created within his Kyoto residence, Kawara-no-in, during the banquets he used to hold there. However, Konparu, Kita and Hōshō schools perform the 笏之舞, where 笏 shaku is the wooden rod that was part of the formal gear of high ranking aristocrats such as Minamoto no Tōru, and that nowadays only shinto priests use. In this variation the shite uses an actual wooden shaku instead of the fan.
PS: Yokomichi Mario’s book on kogaki Nō ni mo enshutsu ga aru (Hinoki 2007) comes in very handy for checking variations of many Noh plays.
People often wonder what differences are there between Noh stylistic schools, or ryū. In this video Kanze actorKatayama Shingo (on the left), and Kongō actorTeshima Kōji (on the right) demonstrate side by side a number of kata that exemplify various differences between shite dance styles. Ō-tsuzumi (hip-drum) player Taniguchi Masayoshi, conducting the experiment, introduces the two styles according to a well-established view of Kanze style as refined, purified from unnecessary movements, and Kongō style as elaborate, focusing on bodily technique. From 19:14 you can watch the performance of the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Yashima, followed by an analysis of the kata differences. From 30:00 the chant of the kiri final section of Hagoromo is compared. Again, Kanze is thought to be refined while Kongō is dynamic. Ask anyone in the Noh about the differences between these schools and they will most likely say something very similar to this. I have my reservations about what seems to be anoversimplification or even a stereotype, though I understand why marketing requires (over)simplification in order to enhance penetration. Kongō dance is often more theatrical, featuring wide movements, but Kanze dance can be very elaborate, too. If refined means heavily embellished then Kanze chanting style certainly is refined. However I think that, if properly performed, Kongō school’s more essential chanting style is equally sophisticated. Anyway here is the video – you don’t need to know Japanese to enjoy.
(sorry for the HTML code below the video – I don’t seem to be able to delete it when embedding USTREAM…)
Following the rumours that came out last fall, the Kanze Association has officially announced that the Kanze Noh Theatre will move from its current location in Shōtō, Shibuya to a new building in Ginza, Nōgaku Times (Feb. 2014) reports. The move will be completed in 2016, with the theatre opening in fall. The traditional wooden stage will be rebuilt in the new location, and the hall will be provided with the same number of seats of the current theatre, which will continue to host shows until March 2015. Kanze-kai performances will take place at the Umewaka Nōgakuin kaikan in Nakano until the moving operations are complete.
The rationale behind this huge operation stated in the article appear to be the ageing of the current early 1970s building. Moreover, the Kanze Association appears to be prepping up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will function as a huge attention catalyst for Japan, and a chance to promote traditional arts internationally. However, an article appearing on Gendai Bijinesu(Oct, 6th 2013) hinted at the unstable economic situation of the Kanze Association (i.e. the Noh establishment at large). It seems that, whatever difficulties Kanze is undergoing, they decided to face the crisis with an important investment rather than with austerity, a choice that is up to the expectations for a Noh school often considered to be representative of the Noh tradition in Japan and abroad, and that might well pay off in the long run.
According to the business magazine Gendai Bijinesu (Kodansha) the Kanze Nōgakudō in Shōtō, Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most exclusive residential areas, may be soon put up for sale. In the article reporting the news, the land on which the theatre is now built, measuring 840 tsubo (approx. 2,777 square meters) is stated to be worth over 30 billion yen (approx. 30 million US dollars). Fujisawa Shōwa, owner of Yodobashi Camera, who lives in the neighbourhood, has been identified as a potential buyer. According to an unspecified major real estate company, the Kanze-kai (that is, the company that owns and manages most of the Kanze school property) is considering selling the theatre. Of course – I would add – selling does not mean shutting down the business, but simply relocate elsewhere while cashing what is an extremely valuable piece of land in the heart of Tokyo.
How to interpret the potential sale of the Kanze Nōgakudō? Could it be justified with a need to renovate the venue? Or is it yet another sign of the crisis that is tightening its grip on the Noh establishment? The post-Lehman financial shock is only an additional factor to a more specific, economic but also cultural (can we separate the two?) crisis that Noh is undergoing since the early 1990s. The Noh audience is ageing, therefore naturally reducing, a trend that might lead to its biological extinction within some 20 years, unless critical measures are taken. According to the Gendai Bijinesu article, the Kanze-kai has shown a loss amounting to 10 million yen between the 2009-2011 fiscal years. However, the manager of the Kanze Nōgakudō has explained that, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the construction of a safer building has been discussed, and that money is not really the issue. What we should be more concerned with is the ageing of the Noh audience, and the consequent need to make efforts to attract a new generation of young spectators.
This is certainly true, and it would impact on the economic condition of Noh the large majority of Noh actors, who are in need of financial support in order to continue to perform their art. Of the three great performance traditions of Japan, Noh is the only one which, after having lost its aristocratic patrons with the advent of the Meiji restoration, is struggling to survive while maintaining its economic independence, counting primarily on amateur practitioners who learn directly from professional performers (and pay directly to them). Kabuki is managed (owned?) by Shōchiku, a huge movie and theatre production company, and is supported by corporate sponsorship. Bunraku has lost the battle, and is now surviving thanks to public subsidy. Noh still lingers in a limbo between feudalism and capitalism. Meanwhile actors who can’t make ends meet sell their costumes, masks and books, while Wanya-shoten and Hinoki-shoten, publishers of Noh books, close shops in Tokyo and Kyoto. Does Noh need a new economic model in order to get out of this darkness?
I spotted this beautiful, Alphonse Mucha-inspired poster promoting the Todai (Tokyo University) Kanze students and alumni performance (December 21st, Kita Nogakudo, Tokyo). The image portrays the goddess of Mount Kazuraki appearing in the Noh Kazuraki 葛城. Not being able to use stage pictures of professional actors, university clubs usually draw their own posters, which I often find more interesting than the professional ones. As in the play, the goddess here appears bound with vines and ashamed to show her face, points that were used creatively by the artist who drew this, fitting perfectly in the deco-like graphic concept of the poster. Well done!
My teacher, Udaka Michishige was chosen by the Nihon Nōgakukai to perform the Noh Giō (祇王）at their annual “Noh appreciation event” on March 31st 2013. This year 3 performances will be held at the Kanzekaikan theatre in Kyoto: Ema, Giō, and Kokaji.
Giō is a play by Zeami, currently in the repertoire of the Hōshō, Kongō, and Kita (under the title Futari Giō) schools, though it is not often performed. Giō Gozen, one of the favourite dancers at the service of Taira no Kiyomori has helped dancer Hotoke Gozen to gain the lord’s favour. After having seen Hotoke’s dance, Kiyomori likes her more, but she promises Giō not to take her place.Similarly to the play Futari Shizuka, Giō has shite and tsure dancing in synchronous on stage.
See details below
Date and Time: March 31, 2013 (Sunday) 11:00 a.m. ~16:30 p.m. (doors open at 10:30 a.m.)
Venue: Kanze Kaikan
Tickets: general admission 5,000 Yen (first floor) student 2,500 Yen (balcony)
A Program of Noh, Shimai dance excerpts, Kyogen, and Itcho, drum and chant duet
11:00 a.m. NOH featuring the Kanze School: EMA
13:30 p.m. NOH featuring the Kongo School: GIO Shite: UDAKA Michishige
Kyogen featuring the Okura School: NIO
15:20 p.m. NOH Featuring the Kanze School: KOKAJI Kurogashira
The Udaka Michishige-no-kai Office
(For questions or reservations.)
TEL: +81 (075) 701-1055
FAX :+81 (075) 701-1058
This year the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The article on the first page of the February issue of the Nogaku Times reminded me of something I wanted to blog about a month ago or so, after a friend (journalist Okada Naoko) gave me a heads up about it: the first performance to open the special programme will be philosopher Umehara Takeshi’s ‘super-Noh’ Zeami (April 15 2013), featuring Kanze Actor Umewaka Gensho. The play was recently performed at the Kanze Theatre in Kyoto, though I could not go (it was a Wednesday, and I had okeiko).
As Umehara explains in an interview for the Asahi Asian Watch, in order for Noh to be able to speak to a broader audience, it is important to modernise its language. As Noh audiences are progressively ageing, actors and critics alike are concerned about what will be of Noh in the near future. Since the Noh establishment draws almost the entirety of its resources from the aficionados who buy seasonal passes, donate to fangroups and study as amateurs, no generational turnover means jeopardising the survival of the art. Umehara’s answer to the question of how to bring new spectators to Noh is modernising its language. “Its outdated words prevent people from enjoying Noh. If spectators cannot understand the dialogues, naturally they cannot enjoy Noh.” Umehara says (in translation).
I am concerned with the health of Noh spectatorship as much as Umehara is, but I am not convinced by his proposal to modernise the language. Saying that not understanding the dialogues ‘naturally’ leads to not understanding is an oversimplification to say the least. There is so much more in Noh to enjoy besides poetry. But of course one of its most important elements is the poetry that constitutes its literary basis. How does modernised Shakespeare sound to you? Sure, most people don’t understand Noh poetry (even if you knew how the verses go, Noh pronunciation distorts the words so much it is hard to follow anyway). The question that comes to mind is – whatwould my aesthetic experience be if the language were so familiar that I understood everything? I am not sure that ‘understanding’ is crucial to aesthetic appreciation, at least not in the way Umehara seems to put it.
“The strength of classical performing arts is their excellent techniques to grab their audiences’ attention, which have been polished over a long period. Using modern-day words, they can grab the hearts of a wide range of people,” Umehara says. Yes, and those techniques clearly stopped addressing the popular audience several centuries ago, when Noh became the art of the aristocracy, thus refining its aesthetics in ways that would have been unthinkable outside the intellectual milieu of which it became an essential component. Do we want Noh to speak the language of dorama? I say that we can leave this to other performing arts. The beauty of Noh lies in the undefined, that is, in its poetry. I wish Noh playhouses still used candles or gas-lights. There’s too much light on stage these days.
Today I went to the Kanze Nogakudo to see the last Urata Teiki Noh. Today’s programme featured the rare Morihisa, and Hagoromo. There is a lot to say about the two performances I saw, but in this post I will talk about another aspect of today’s experience. Something that I am afraid contributed to an at least partially negative reception of the performance.
I’m not going to write an essay here, I will just copy here some thoughts that I jotted down during the play.
Today's average age of the audience: 70 years. There's all kinds of good reasons for this. Will write about them next time.
Issues resulting from the increasing age of the Noh audience:
Bad smell in the theatre. Most of it comes from cheap/old fashioned hair spray.
Huge queue at the toilet during the break.
Amateurs who bring their utaibon and take the Nogakudo for a Noh sing-along karaoke kind of place.
Grannies sucking on candies, usually taking ages to unwrap them from a very noisy plastic wrapping.
Bad hearing makes people shout instead of whisper.
No wonder young people don't want to go to the Noh theatre. If I took a friend today I'm sure he/she would have never wanted to come back to what seems to be a retirement house... AGE IS AN ISSUE!
This post is ironic but the matter is serious. Will expand it in a more academic fashion some other time.