Tag Archives: Nogakudo

New Kanze theatre to open in Ginza

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 current Kanze Noh Theatre in Shibuya
The current Kanze Noh Theatre in Shibuya

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.

Fashionable Ginza at night
Fashionable Ginza at night

10 years of Shin-Kongo Nogakudo

On Sunday 24th of November a special celebratory event marked the 10th anniversary of the construction of the new Kongō Nō theatre, in Kyoto. The old theatre in Muromachi-street was a landmark in the history of Kyoto Noh, as it was the only stage rebuilt after all three main stages in Kyoto were burnt during the the Meiji upheavals. In 2004 the new state-of-the-art Kongō theatre opened on Karasuma street, in front of the imperial palace. I never had the pleasure of visiting the old theatre, but I heard many stories about it from  actors in the school. It still had tatami mats instead of chairs, and large windows that let warm daylight illuminate the stage, across clouds of tobacco smoke lifting from the back seats. There, important guests would be able to sit in privacy, hidden behind lowered bamboo curtains, which they would lift only to watch the performance. Unfortunately the building did not conform to the modern health & safety (and fire protection) standards, and had to be demolished.

The Shin-Kongo Nogakudo

The Shin-Kongō Nōgakudō (New Kongō Nōgakudō) is one of the best Noh theatres I have ever visited. The design style of the building mixes traditional and modern, wood and concrete, in a unique blend that creates an atmosphere that is not too relaxed, nor too intimidating. It has comfortable armchairs (but not too dangerously comfortable), and the temperature usually is just right, unlike other places where you either freeze or steam.

Sunday’s performance opened with a special variation of Okina a ritual performance celebrating long and prosperous life. In this variation, called jūnitsukiōrai, the Iemoto Kongō Hisanori and his son Kongō Tatsunori took the roles of two Okina exchanging verses describing the characteristics of each lunar month. The choice of the variation was excellent because it emphasises the cycle of time and seasons with both the Kongō father and son on stage, symbolising the generational transmission of the Kongō heritage. It closed with a final left-right salutation from Kongō Tatsunori, who will be the future Iemoto.

The Kongo Noh butai

The maibayashi extracted from the Noh Ema featured three of the senior Noh actors in the Kongō school, Teshima Michiharu, Imai Kiyotaka and my teacher, Udaka Michishige, who took the strong role of the god Tajikarao, pulling the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu out of the cave where she was hiding.

Hagoromo (shōgi no monogi variation) featured the beautiful ‘phoenix robe’, a costume only worn by the Kongō Iemoto. In this variation the tennyō (celestial maid) dons the costume while sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage.

Shakkyō (The Stone Bridge) concluded the long day of performances, with Kongō Tatsunori taking the role of the lion (an avatar of the Bodhisattva Manjusri) frolicking among white and red peonies.

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Is the Kanze Noh Theatre for sale?

Selling Noh by the pound

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.

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The Kanze Noh Theatre, Shibuya, Tokyo (Google street view)

What crisis?

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?

Diego Pellecchia

Kiyotsune seen by Stéphane Barbery

Kyoto-based French photographer Stéphane Barbery has worked with a number of Noh actors in Kyoto over the past few years, and has developed a special eye for capturing meaningful moments in the performance. Photographers working with Noh have to endure the torment of being assigned a fix position from where they can only shoot using a powerful zoom, hence losing much of the tridimensionality that the Noh stage in particular is able to convey to its audience. Stéphane mostly works with B&W which allows him to sharpen details and recreate depth even in low light conditions. I am sure you will agree he has done a wonderful job.

I am reposting a couple of stills from Kiyotsune (both the performance and the dress rehearsal) but I invite you to visit his Flickr page to see more of his amazing work!

Enjoy!

Diego

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Moshiawase donning

Ageing Noh

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.